Why the Buccaneers Shouldn't Have Signed Josh McCown
If you’d like to judge Josh McCown based on the 224 passes he attempted in an offense with two stud receivers and a quarterback whisperer as head coach, be my guest. I’d rather look at the whole body of work, which includes a total of 1,337 passes and efficiency ratings that actually make Matt Cassel look like a good quarterback.
McCown did what he had to do in 2013, and finished with metrics that were through-the-roof good for a guy who’s never consistently been an NFL starter. I can only congratulate him – because, you know, he’s probably reading this – on his two-year, $10-million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I’m just having a hard time comprehending why the Bucs did this deal. It’s not necessarily one that will break the bank, though paying him that kind of money can certainly be a waste. It has more to do with who Josh McCown actually is as a passer, and what the Buccaneers already have in place.
Don’t Ignore Pre-2013 Data
If we were to judge Josh McCown’s play by only using metrics from this past season, then sure, his signing in Tampa Bay was fantastic. After all, he finished with the sixth-best Passing Net Expected Points total in the entire league, and only Peyton Manning added more points for his team with each drop back last season.
But McCown had a lot of things going for him last year. Conveniently, four of his five starts came against teams that ranked in the bottom half in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points, a measure of how many points a team allows above or below expectation through the air, fixed for strength of schedule. The lone game versus a decent secondary was against Baltimore, a contest that saw McCown throw just one touchdown pass and 216 yards – his worst totals of the year by far.
More importantly, McCown played under new head coach and known quarterback whisperer, Marc Trestman. As noted prior to the season, Trestman has had success coaching quarterbacks in the past, most notably Rich Gannon around the turn of the century. Trestman’s offense certainly helped McCown, allowing him to make easier throws than he would in other offenses.
Oh, and the running game. Not only is Matt Forte one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL, but Chicago was the ninth-best team running the football last season. That definitely doesn’t hurt.
It’s easy to forget, especially after the year he had, that Josh McCown has jumped from team to team throughout his career, mostly playing as a backup. And his numbers – a sample size that more than triples what he did with Chicago this year – are nothing to get excited about.
Prior to this season, McCown had never posted a Passing NEP score above zero – he’s always been a detriment to the teams he's played on. And it’s not like he hovered the zero range over the course of his career, either. From 2002 to 2011, a total of 1,216 drop backs, McCown lost 113.01 points for the teams he’s played for.
Of course we shouldn’t assume McCown performs as he did with Chicago, but to think he’ll come close is probably farfetched, too. Not only because of how poorly he's performed in the past, but because of the situation in Tampa Bay. The Bucs couldn’t run the ball this past season (25th in the league according to our metrics), and they lack the same type of weapons Chicago possesses (like just about every other team in the NFL).
But all of a sudden folks want to believe a 34-year-old quarterback is good? No, not even good – that he’s serviceable? I’m not sure you can make that claim. Considering the schedule he played, the guys he played with, the person coaching him and how he’s performed historically, the 2013 season is more of an anomaly than it is an actual indication of who Josh McCown is as a quarterback.
What’s Wrong With Mike Glennon?
Another reason I’m not a fan of this signing? The Bucs have a young player on the team who can probably produce like Josh McCown in Mike Glennon.
Laugh all you want, but there’s an argument to be made that, if the Bucs do indeed go with McCown as starter, they’re going with the guy who’s worse at quarterback.
I’ve already let it be known that I believe you can judge how good a quarterback is based on his rookie season. While many teams want to give their quarterback a chance, I say move on and find a guy that can actually win you a Super Bowl. And the numbers back up the fact that a player who looks like trash at the quarterback position early on in his career won’t all of a sudden become special.
That’s why the Jets are in bad shape with Geno Smith, and why the Bills are close to the same situation with E.J. Manuel. But Mike Glennon, who definitely has his flaws, at least showed signs of competency throughout his rookie campaign.
In 2013, Glennon dropped back to pass 456 times, accumulating a Passing NEP score of -23.43. Yes, he played far below expectation, but on a per pass basis he played better than plenty of starting quarterbacks in the NFL. And as a rookie, that at least gives a little bit of hope. In fact, Mike Glennon’s season-ending advanced numbers were a lot like Ryan Tannehill’s from a season ago.
Here’s the deal: prior to last season, McCown had a Passing NEP per drop back average of -0.09. In other words, every time he stepped back to throw the rock, you would expect his team to lose 0.09 points. And even when you factor in his season with the Bears, McCown’s average is still at -0.02, one that's worse than a 2013 version of Kellen Clemens.
Glennon’s mark was a decent (for a rookie) -0.05. Should we just assume that’s going to stay consistent? Or should we, like every other quarterback in the NFL, believe that it gets a little bit better with experience?
It seems a little backwards, to be honest. Some are giving the 34-year-old McCown the benefit of the doubt, while a second-year quarterback is labeled as a bust. Why?
McCown With the Bucs
New head coach Lovie Smith likes safe, experienced quarterbacks, which is more than likely the reason he went after McCown.
But all the Buccaneers have done is create a potential quarterback controversy with two very mediocre passers. And although there’s a slight chance McCown ends up being something worthwhile, couldn’t you say that there’s just as good of a chance that Mike Glennon develops as a passer into something just as meaningful? And at least then – if that were to happen – you have something to look forward to. With McCown, a couple of good seasons will maybe buy you a trip to the playoffs, and then poof, the man is retired.
So no, I don’t like the signing. I want McCown to succeed, because I like good stories. But analytically, things aren’t promising for his future in Tampa Bay.