FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
It remains to be seen how many games Josh McCown will win for the Jets this season, or even how many games he’ll play in, considering the uncertain status of a three-way training camp competition involving him, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. But this much is certain about the well-traveled 38-year-old quarterback: He unquestionably will be a benefit to a team that not only can use all the quality players it can get, but quality people as well.
McCown is about as good as it gets when it comes to fostering the right atmosphere in the locker room. Regardless of the role he eventually plays on Sunday afternoons — whether it’s as the starter or the guy holding a clipboard — he will make this a better team by virtue of how he carries himself and how he interacts with the two other quarterbacks who want the No. 1 job.
He is the consummate leader. Ask any of his teammates from any of the seven NFL teams he has been a part of, and they will vouch for him. So will teammates from the 2010 Hartford Colonials of the now-defunct United Football League, when McCown played for quarterback guru Chris Palmer. Despite not having the kind of career he might have imagined when he came into the NFL in 2002, McCown is one of those guys you want around because of all the help he gives the players around him.
Inside McCown lurks a coach’s mentality, and it’s what he eventually wants to do when his playing days are over. After reporting for the start of training camp Friday, he said the two years he spent as a coaching assistant at Marvin Ridge High in Waxhaw, North Carolina, not only stoked his passions as a coach but made him a better player. McCown coached there in 2011 and 2012, both times after being released by the Bears. In both years, he wound up being re-signed by Chicago after Jay Cutler was injured.
“What I learned is that when you have to stop at the [sideline] stripes and send somebody else to do the job, you have to know [the game] differently, because you have to be able to communicate it differently, because you want to be able to execute it,” McCown said. “It helped me as a player when I got back into the league and was playing in Chicago, and I played some of my best football. I think it was because I saw the game differently, preparation-wise, the way I studied, the way I talked to my teammates.”
McCown clearly is aware of his limitations as a quarterback and that his bouncing around from one place to the next wasn’t the way he planned it. But there is value to his career, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him use his football knowledge to coach at some level — perhaps even the highest level. He was offered a job as a Browns assistant by coach Hue Jackson, but McCown wanted to keep playing and wound up signing a one-year, $6-million deal with the Jets.
“This is my 15th year in the league, my 16th in pro football, and this has been an unbelievable journey,” he said. “Would I have wanted to be with one team and have one of those types of [elite] careers? Absolutely. But I’m so very thankful for it, and I want other guys to have that opportunity. So in my mind, to share that with [teammates] and say, ‘Hey, man, you might want to think about doing something this way or doing it this way, or as you build your process, maybe add this.’ Because the game has been so good to me. I want that for other people too, so that’s my mindset. That’s the way I go about it. I feel like at night, when I lay down, that’s what gives me the most peace is knowing that I was able to share and help somebody along that ride.”
It’s the right mindset, especially for a team that is about to endure what could be one of the most challenging seasons in recent memory.
McCown will shepherd Hackenberg and Petty through a formative time with the Jets, even if it means that the lessons he shares with them will be to McCown’s detriment in terms of playing time. But that’s how good team guys do it; they have enough awareness and self-confidence to help the players competing for the same position.
McCown comes off a two-year stint with the Browns in which he went 1-10 as a starter for two coaches and two lousy teams. But Jackson and Mike Pettine, a former Jets defensive coordinator, placed great value in McCown’s influence, even if he wasn’t able to overcome a major lack of talent around him.
So whether it is he or Hackenberg or Petty who winds up playing this season, McCown always will do what’s right for his team and his teammates. He won’t play politics, as do many quarterbacks whose own insecurity prevents them from helping those around them.
“I came here because it gives me the opportunity to try to get better and improve,” he said. “That’s the goal, to be the guy. That’s also Christian’s goal and Bryce’s goal. We’ll all do that together. Until you’re done in anything you do in life, you should be trying to improve to the last day. That’s my mindset being here.”