FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Another year, another chance to be a starting quarterback, and another highly-drafted young passer behind him.
Welcome to Josh McCown’s world: It’s Ground Hog Day once again.
After an unexpectedly productive 2017 season in which he threw for career highs in touchdowns (19) and yards (2,926) and produced his second-best rating (94.5), the 39-year-old McCown earned the right to be the Jets’ starter. For now, anyway.
As was the case in Cleveland, when the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel in the first round a year before McCown got there, and in Oakland, when the Raiders took JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007, McCown’s hold on the job is tenuous at best. And where Manziel and Russell turned into two of the biggest busts in NFL history, the Jets aren’t expecting Sam Darnold to join that group.
Which means there’s no telling how long McCown remains No. 1 on the depth chart.
McCown smiled the other day when reminded of the similar backdrop to his situation but didn’t express even a hint of concern. After all, when you’ve survived in the NFL as long as McCown, one of only two players left from the 2002 draft, resourcefulness is his strong suit and will be once more in 2018.
“It is kind of interesting, isn’t it?” McCown said, harking back to his days in Cleveland and Oakland.
Having been through the experience before, he willingly accepts the challenge. For that matter, he’s glad he’s even still playing, having gone through some moments of doubt when he suffered a broken hand late last season against the Dolphins.
“Absolutely, just learning from different situations,” he said when asked about things he can use from past seasons in similar situations.
McCown beat out Manziel and Russell, both of whom failed to acclimate to the NFL after spectacularly successful college careers, but few people expect him to hold off Darnold beyond this season. And there’s a reasonable expectation that the Jets will look to play the No. 3 overall pick as soon as he’s ready, given how convinced they are that Darnold represents the team’s future.
In the meantime, the Jets have the luxury of having McCown as one of the best mentors any young quarterback could want. He has seen almost every situation imaginable in the NFL, and he can draw on that experience to help Darnold – whether McCown is in the lineup or on the bench.
“I think the main thing I’ve learned over the years seeing top picks is that when they’re here, they’re focused on football, maximizing their time and making good work,” McCown said.
He likes what he sees from Darnold, especially the rookie’s ability to recover from mistakes.
“In the NFL, you have to be able to overcome adversity, and bad things are going to happen,” McCown said. “That’s the biggest difference in most guys, their ability to process any negative play and get back out there and go. Since [Darnold] has been here, he’s shown an ability to do that, and I think that’s going to serve him well throughout his career.”
One of the biggest things McCown can impart to Darnold is what he took away from his brief experience with the Dolphins in 2008. McCown went into camp that year as the starter for Tony Sparano, but when the Jets acquired Brett Favre in a trade with the Packers, it set the wheels in motion for McCown’s ouster. With Bill Parcells as the Dolphins’ director of football operations, Pennington was signed after being released from the Jets.
“Bill told me I was going to be traded in a couple of weeks,” McCown said. “But in that time, I learned so much from Chad. We played a game 48 hours after he got there, the third preseason game, and he’s telling every receiver, going over every route. I’d never seen that before. I said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He said, ‘It’s my job. I’m on the line here.’ I had been in the league eight years, and for first time, I understood what it meant that he owned it.
“So that was a great lesson for me,” McCown said. “As he was learning the playbook, I was running routes and catching passes. We had a blast. I would have loved to be teammates with him for 10 years. It doesn’t get any better than Chad.”
And these days, it doesn’t get much better than McCown, which means Darnold can rely on one of the best resources you could want.
McCown hopes he can preserve his football life a little while longer, but he understands better than anyone that his time is limited. On the field, anyway. But he is uniquely suited to be a tremendous asset for the Jets’ franchise quarterback. And no matter what happens over the course of the season, Darnold will be a better quarterback because of the lessons McCown is already delivering.