“I have so much respect for Lovie’s character and integrity. As we talked, I said, ‘Let’s lay out what the expectations are and move forward from there.’ We were open in those communications. He understands that, regardless of starter or not, it’s about helping our team be good at the quarterback position. … If I’m the starter, I go and play as hard as I can. But, at the same time, I try to help whoever is in that room get better.” -Josh McCown
To talk about Josh McCown merely in terms of whether or not he’ll start this year trivializes all he’s done to get to this point. Yes, last year he started five games for the Bears, playing well enough to garner attention on the free agency market from multiple teams. Even serious NFL fans would have thought McCown simply bounced around the league as many career back ups do, but his path wasn’t that simple.
He found himself on four different NFL rosters from 2006-2009, and after ending the 2009 season on injured reserve in Carolina, his career may have been over. But he wasn’t content to allow himself to disappear from the league’s radar. He joined the upstart UFL, and when the Chicago Bears offered him a contract mid-season, he turned it down. He had committed to being the Hartford Colonials starting quarterback in 2010, and he didn’t feel right leaving them halfway through. He’d finish the year with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions across eight games.
In 2011, the San Francisco 49ers had drafted Colin Kaepernick but weren’t sure how he’d play in training camp, so they brought in McCown. Despite a decent camp, there wasn’t room for him. With no other jobs readily available, he coached high school football, keeping himself in shape for when he got a call.
Soon after his high school team was eliminated from the playoffs, Jay Cutler got hurt, and McCown was brought in by Chicago at the end of 2011. He bounced back and forth on their roster until last year when he was finally given his moment to shine.
As McCown alludes to in the quote above, the expectation is for him to start this season. Lovie Smith would enjoy nothing more than for McCown to perform well enough to allow Mike Glennon a chance to sit and learn on the bench. But McCown knows better than most how fickle the NFL can be, and that while he may be the starter going into camp, he might not be the starter leaving it.
But even if he isn’t chosen to contribute on the field, he was a wealth of knowledge to share. Purely from the example of his past, players around him can see the type of determination and passion it takes to hold on to a job in the league. Tampa Bay fans hope McCown can provide results on the field, but results in the locker room could prove just as vital.