Why Benching Mike Glennon for Josh McCown Moves the Buccaneers Backwards

The Buccaneers are halfway through yet another losing season, and made another curious decision this week by benching their quarterback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith said on Monday that he believed having two quarterbacks on his roster to choose from on a week-to-week basis was a "strength" of his football team, according to the team's official website. Smith decided to take advantage of that "strength" this week by informing second-year signal-caller Mike Glennon that he'd be relegated to the bench for this weekend's matchup with the Atlanta Falcons in favor of Josh McCown.

Smith's comments about the strength of the Tampa Bay quarterback situation are either coach speak or reveal just how ignorant he is of his team's horrible quarterback situation. So far this season, only the Jaguars have a worse Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) total than the Bucs, who rank among the worst teams in every major metric we measure teams by at numberFire. But did Smith make the right call in going back to the veteran McCown?

This situation is very, very similar to the one in New York, where the Jets moved young quarterback Geno Smith to the bench in favor of veteran Michael Vick. Neither team is competitive in their division, so the decision to move on from the younger quarterback to go with a veteran on the tail end of his career seems misguided at best. I wrote recently that the decision to bench Smith for Vick was a mistake, so did the Bucs make a similar error in moving on from Glennon?

Conflicting Information

The biggest issue in evaluating the Buccaneers quarterback situation, and especially Josh McCown, is the sharp conflict his 2013 season presents when compared to the rest of his career. McCown finished with one of the best NEP totals among quarterbacks last season despite dropping back to pass at least 200 times fewer than nearly every other top player at the position. But that's a peak in a career full of valleys for a player who has never posted another positive NEP season in his career, which spans back to 2002.

The fact that the Buccaneers pursued McCown this summer and signed him to be their starter indicates that they believe what he did last year is reflective of the quarterback he is now, and therefore an upgrade on Glennon. But through the first half of this season, those numbers don't show on the field.

YearNameDrop BacksPass NEPNEP per Drop BackSuccess RateRushesRush NEP

Glennon was among the worst in the league last year on a per-drop back basis, finishing just ahead of Christian Ponder and Chad Henne in NEP per opportunity. On an average play, McCown produced over one-third of an expected point for his offense, while Glennon lowered the expected scoring outcome of the Bucs offense with his mean performance.

But this season, Glennon has taken a considerable step forward, moving into the land of the mediocre, and out of the negatives. He's still only 29th among the 40 quarterbacks with 70 or more drop backs this season, but his year-over-year improvement is noticeable in his numbers. McCown, on the other hand, has returned to his past form, turning the ball over and tanking his NEP despite a Success Rate which indicates an ability to consistently move the football better than Glennon. (Success Rate measures how often a player's performance on a play earns positive NEP for his team.)

So is that what the Bucs are chasing? Do they want a more consistent quarterback, turnovers be damned? If so, McCown certainly brings a better Success Rate and more upside as a runner, but his ability to give the ball to the other team this season has been well-documented (and quite hilarious to the casual observer).

The problem with that theory is that the Bucs are doing what the Jets did, and throwing away a lottery ticket at quarterback in what amounts to a lost season.

Benching the Future?

Lovie Smith has gone on the record in the past declaring Mike Glennon as the "future" of the quarterback position in Tampa, a fact he'll probably claim is unchanged by the decision to move McCown back into the starting lineup. But is the decision to bench Glennon a mistake for the sake of his long-term development?

Here's a look at where Glennon stands among quarterbacks during their first two seasons under center, ranked by Total NEP (which includes rushing statistics, obviously not Glennon's strength but indicative of overall production).

PlayerTotal NEP
Colt McCoy-10.16
Ryan Tannehill-10.65
Bruce Gradkowski-14.91
Kevin Kolb-16.63
Mike Glennon-25.82
Brandon Weeden-34.57
Anthony Wright-38.42
Mark Sanchez-39.81
Matt Moore-43.68
Matthew Stafford-43.78

You'll notice a couple of serviceable NFL quarterbacks on that list (Stafford and Tannehill), and were we to dig further down this list, Drew Brees and Alex Smith would show up with worse metrics during their first two seasons.

But those players are outliers, as our JJ Zachariason pointed out in an article about Tannehill earlier this year. The top 10 among quarterbacks in their first two seasons includes all of the big names you'd expect (Rodgers, Romo, Luck, Newton, etc.) while lacking in players like Glennon and Geno Smith, who appear to be a far cry from a truly dominant quarterback.

But the fact that Glennon has had better production through two seasons than Stafford or Brees should at least give the Bucs a reason to allow him to play out this season and see if he can continue to show improvement over his rookie campaign. A look at the tape reveals Glennon is still inaccurate and struggles under pressure, but has improved his pocket presence and his deep ball accuracy in an inconsistent but notable fashion.

That's why the decision to bench Glennon makes less sense on a logical level than it does a statistical one. Keeping Glennon out there just because he's "young" and "has promise" is foolish, because not every young quarterback is going to follow a linear path to greatness. Some of them just aren't very good, and that could be the case with Glennon. The statistics show that Glennon has similar two-year production to many of the most mediocre (or worse) players at his position in recent history, and that is enough to move on from him if all we're considering is the numbers.

But from a logical perspective, the Bucs are moving on from Glennon to a veteran with no more than two or three years left in his NFL career, and doing so during a season in which they can't finish with any better than a 9-7 record if they somehow win every remaining game on their schedule. "Seeing what they have" in Josh McCown doesn't make sense, especially not with a second-year player trending upward being moved to the bench to facilitate McCown's "evaluation."

Instead, this seems like a "win now" move from a team that has only won one game this season, and has the third-worst point differential in football. Josh McCown may give the Buccaneers a better chance to win games this season, but those victories would be hollow and at the expense of giving a young quarterback his shot to earn a shot at a starting job in the future by proving his worth on the field.

Both the statistics and my evaluations on tape reveal Mike Glennon to be not that great of a quarterback, but also show a player who has improved from year-to-year. And this is why the Bucs' decision to sideline Glennon and shut down his opportunity to build on those improvements makes no sense in what is another lost season on the Gulf Coast of Florida.