Lichtenstein: Jets, Darnold Will Miss Retired McCown

Steve Lichtenstein
June 18, 2019 - 10:16 am
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For a player who didn’t win many games in his two seasons with the Jets--or with the other seven teams for whom he served as quarterback in his 16 NFL seasons, for that matter—Josh McCown left an important legacy in New York.

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McCown, who announced his retirement from pro football in a Players Tribune article on Monday, was the perfect mentor for a rookie quarterback like the Jets' Sam Darnold last season.

A self-proclaimed journeyman, McCown had seen it all. More importantly, he was a selfless teammate. He understood immediately that Darnold was the Jets’ future. Even though he started 13 games for Gang Green in 2017, McCown’s mission from the get-go last season wasn’t to try to squeeze another year as a number one. It was to help prepare Darnold for the league’s mental and physical rigors.

McCown’s influence can’t be understated when you consider the incompetence of the Jets’ coaching staff last season under defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles and his overmatched offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. Maybe that’s why the Jets kept McCown on the payroll for a cool $10 million, which was tied for the club’s largest 2018 cap hit with cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

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McCown was in Darnold’s ear all season. They were inseparable on the sideline. They even lived in the same building.

Like the vast majority of rookie QBs, Darnold experienced ups and downs last season. A mid-season foot injury sidelined him for three games. When he returned for the final four games, Darnold looked a lot less like a rookie. Only MVP Patrick Mahomes had a higher passing grade in that stretch, per ProFootballFocus.com.

The main reason: Though sidelined, Darnold was able to watch McCown all those weeks from soup to nuts. Darnold admitted to the enormous benefits he received from just seeing how McCown prepared for games.

Sam Darnold and Josh McCown talk during a time-out in the second quarter at New Era Field.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, McCown, who will turn 40 on July 4, looked like he lost whatever semblance of a fastball he once had when he was forced into action last season. He wrote in the Players Tribune that he wants to spend more time broadcasting (ESPN announced he will join the network as an NFL studio analyst) and coaching. He’s highly qualified for both.

The hole created from McCown’s departure will have to be filled by multiple players. On the field, Trevor Siemian appears to have the inside track to the backup QB role. He’s not very good, but he at least has NFL experience. That beats third-stringer Davis Webb, the Giants’ third-round draft pick in 2017 who was cut prior to last season and then spent the year on the Jets’ practice squad.   

Siemian, 27, didn’t play a snap for Minnesota last season after going 13-11 in 24 career starts for the stacked Broncos.

Siemian missed connecting with new Jets coach Adam Gase, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator until 2014. But the two have a mutual friend in future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who reportedly nudged the free agent quarterback towards working with Gase in New York. Gase then advised (ordered?) former general manager Mike Maccagnan to sign Siemian for $3 million.

It now will fall on Gase to pick up where McCown left off in the quarterback curriculum. Though coming to New York with a reputation, however deserved or undeserved, of being a quarterback whisperer, Gase will surely have a different relationship with his young QB as a coach than the big brother-like McCown had.

McCown may have seemed like a blip on the screen in New York with a mere 5-11 record as a starter, but he leaves big shoes to fill.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.