Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Josh McCown made the decision to hang up his cleats this week. At a time in the NFL league year that’s particularly quiet, the announcement was one of the major news stories of the week. It’s quite befitting that the quarterback who has embodied the word “journeyman”, should garner the most attention as his NFL journey comes to an end. Although his name isn’t synonymous with the Raiders, his time under center in Oakland plays a part in the stories of both franchise and player.
The dictionary defines journeyman as “a worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding.”
It describes McCown perfectly.
Coming out of Sam Houston State in the 2002 NFL Draft, one scout described McCown as anywhere between the third and eighth quarterback in the class. He was taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the 81st overall pick, and so began a 17-year journey through 10 NFL teams. As he ends his career, just one shy of 100 league appearances, his numbers help evidence a picture of reliable but not outstanding performance.
17,707 passing yards. A 60.2% completion percentage. 98 touchdowns to 82 interceptions. They’re not numbers that jump off the page as excellent. As a starter, McCown holds a 23-53 winning record. His inability to win as a starter helped define him as a career backup. In his last years in the league, it was his ability to mentor a young quarterback with a clipboard in his hand that helped keep him on a roster. His relationship with budding quarterback Sam Darnold was invaluable for the New York Jets.
Josh McCown has announced his retirement.
Thank you Uncle Josh for being a mentor on and off the field for Sam Darnold. You will never be forgotten and played a huge role in Sam’s development. Wish you nothing but the best! @JoshMcCown12 ? pic.twitter.com/KCJoIgHEts
— NYJ MEDIA? (@NYJets_Media) June 17, 2019
Back in 2007, being the Raiders starter was the only thing on McCown’s mind
“Josh sees himself as a starting quarterback, and I agree with him,” said his agent at the time. After a season spent as the Detroit Lions backup, McCown demanded a trade and found himself in Oakland. The Oakland Raiders were a team trying to discover their next franchise quarterback, with the success of Rich Gannon seemingly years behind them. Although they’d taken JaMarcus Russell with the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the quarterback competition was well and truly open.
It was a competition that McCown won. Head coach Lane Kiffin announced him as the starter for the opening game of the season. McCown would have an immediate chance for revenge against his former employers from Detroit.
The revenge wouldn’t be so sweet. The Detroit game would be the beginning of a roller coaster of a season for McCown and the Raiders. He threw for 313 yards and 2 touchdowns but added 2 interceptions and a costly fumble in a 36-21 loss.
Despite suffering a foot sprain and finger injury in the defeat to the Lions, McCown started again the following week. In a run-heavy offense, he managed just 73 passing yards in a close-fought 23-20 overtime loss to his division rivals in Denver. Turnovers were killing the Raiders, with McCown tossing 3 interceptions to just 1 touchdown.
Injuries and interceptions would define his time in Oakland
After starting 0-2, the Raiders entertained the Cleveland Browns in Week 3. McCown started the game, and his 41-yard touchdown to Ronald Curry gave them a 13-0 second quarter lead. Although the Browns came back and even held a lead of their own, the Raiders won 26-24 for their first victory of the year.
However, it came at a cost for McCown. He suffered another foot injury and was replaced by Daunte Culpepper.
When Culpepper put the Miami Dolphins to the sword with a dazzling 5-touchdown performance in Week 4, the injured McCown could only sit and watch. Was his time as the starter over before it had really begun?
Culpepper had a 4-game stretch at the helm. However, after a Week 8 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Kiffin made the change back saying: “I felt Daunte played really well for us, but with Josh coming back and looking healthy again, we’re going to go back to Josh”.
The injury was gone, but unfortunately for McCown and the Oakland Raiders, the interceptions were not. In his comeback game against the Houston Texans, he threw another 3 errant passes that were picked off on the way to a 24-17 defeat. Another miserable performance, and defeat, the week after to the Chicago Bears, secured McCown’s relegation to the bench. If it wasn’t for an injury to Culpepper two weeks later, it may have been his final start for Oakland. After suffering a quadriceps injury against Kansas City, Culpepper didn’t play again. McCown was set to start in the divisional rematch against the Broncos.
It was Josh McCown’s greatest performance in the silver and black
With 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, McCown achieved the highest passer rating of his career to date. The Raiders comfortably beat the Broncos 34-20 for just their fourth win of the year. It was a knife to the heart for the Broncos, extinguishing any slim hope they had of catching the San Diego Chargers at the top of the AFC West. It was sweet revenge for McCown after the close defeat at Mile High Stadium back in Week 2.
But the fairy tale was short-lived.
The following games saw defeats to the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars game would be McCown’s final start as the Raiders’ quarterback. Nearly 8 months after being drafted with the number one pick, the ill-fated Jamarcus Russell era in Oakland began in Jacksonville.
McCown’s pass to Dominic Rhodes, for a gain of 3 yards on 3rd and 13, was his final one for the Raiders. His season in silver and black was over, and his journey through the NFL moved on to Miami, Carolina, San Francisco, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and New York.
Almost immediately after announcing his retirement, he was hired as an analyst for ESPN.
Maybe there, he will prove to be more outstanding than just reliable.