FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — When Josh McCown signed with the Jets in the offseason, it appeared as if he had gone from bad to worse. McCown, 38, spent two injury-filled seasons with the Browns, going 1-10 as a starter before his release in February. When he left Cleveland, he moved from one rebuilding effort to another.
The Jets (2-2) visit the Browns (0-4) Sunday with a chance to move above .500 for the first time since 2015, Todd Bowles’ first season as their coach. A month ago, this game projected as a battle of the winless, with the loser moving closer to the No. 1 overall draft pick next April. In a shocker, the Jets are tied with the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots for second place in the AFC East, while the Browns, as expected, are last in the AFC North.
Despite his struggles in Cleveland, McCown said he has positive vibes about the experience.
“Anytime you go through those types of environments, you’re rebuilding and not getting the wins you would like,” McCown said Wednesday. “Those things are tough. But I will say the people we were around, the guys we were in the locker room with, we made the most of it and enjoyed building those relationships.
“Wish (we) won more games and it had gone better. But we learned from it, and they’re in the process of building their own thing there and I wish them the best. But I look back on those years as things that made me stronger, for sure.”
In 2015, McCown signed a three-year deal with the Browns to become the starter and help mentor Johnny Manziel. McCown suffered a concussion in Week 1, then returned to finish 1-7 as a starter before missing the last five games with a broken collarbone.
The next season, with the troubled Manziel gone, the Browns brought in Robert Griffin III, who suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1. It gave McCown another chance to start, and he went 0-3 for a terrible Browns team that started three quarterbacks.
Near the end of last season, coach Hue Jackson said McCown would make a fantastic coach, but he wanted to keep playing. The Browns released McCown before a $750,000 roster bonus was to kick in with a base salary of $3.6 million.
“He’s an awesome player, he works extremely hard,” Jackson said on a conference call. “Very bright, understands football, studies the game, unbelievable teammate. He was outstanding here with me and I really appreciate my time with him. I grew close with him, he’s a good player.”
After McCown was released, there was a thought he could return to the Browns at a reduced salary. That wasn’t going to happen after the organization drafted Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer in the second round.
“I wasn’t sure. I had another year left on my deal, and my plan was to be there,” McCown said. “They made a decision to go in a different direction. So I was looking forward to the possibility of that happening. When that changed, it opened the door to be able to come here, and I’m glad it worked out the way that it did.”
The 15-year veteran signed a one-year, $6-million contract with the Jets to play a similar role to the one he had in Cleveland. He’s mentoring young quarterbacks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg while holding things down until they’re ready. During training camp McCown was the No. 1 quarterback, but Petty and Hackenberg were provided every chance to win the starting job. After neither did, the Jets were confident in McCown’s ability to lead them.
“He is what we thought he was,” Bowles said. “Smart, competitive, great teammate, great leader.”