When the Cardinals take the field Sunday in Cleveland, they should see a familiar face starting at quarterback for the Browns. Familiar, that is, if you were part of the Cardinals organization more than a decade ago!
In 2002, The Cardinals drafted Josh McCown as the potential eventual replacement for Jake Plummer. McCown was selected in the third round (81st overall), well after David Carr (1st overall), and Joey Harrington (3rd overall). McCown wasn't as well known as the other two, having played at SMU and Sam Houston State, but the Cardinals saw a strong-armed, freaky athletic and smart player they could build around.
McCown didn't play much his rookie season, and only started three games in 2003. He made a franchise-changing play
at the end of that season. The Cardinals were in line for the No. 1 overall pick, which would have netted them Eli Manning. All they had to do was lose the final game of the regular season to the Minnesota Vikings. It looked as if the Cardinals would lose, until McCown found Nate Poole in the end zone on a Hail Mary to win the game, 18-17. The victory for Arizona knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs. The Cardinals finished 4-12, in a tie with several teams for the worst record in the NFL.
Arizona wound up with the third selection, and instead of getting Manning, or another quarterback (Rivers, Roethlisberger, etc.), they drafted the greatest wide receiver to even don a Cardinals jersey, future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals also changed coaches that offseason, and McCown, under the leadership of Dennis Green, got his shot to be the starter.
McCown was solid that season, throwing for over 2,500 yards, and more touchdowns than interceptions. He was up and down the following season and eventually lost the starting job to Kurt Warner. McCown was released by Arizona in 2006, and signed with the Detroit Lions, where Mike Martz tried to turn him into a wide receiver. It seemed as if McCown's NFL career was coming to an end. But he bounced around for a few years as a backup quarterback, had a stint in the United Football League, before resurfacing as a starter with the Chicago Bears in 2013 when Jay Cutler was injured. He played so well in relief of Cutler, even winning NFC offensive player of the week honors that December, Tampa Bay gave him a shot to be its starting QB last year. The Bucs struggled, got the No. 1 overall pick, and drafted Jameis Winston. McCown landed in Cleveland, where just a couple of weeks ago he was named AFC offensive player of the week.
Some might describe McCown's career as a failure, but I disagree. I think it's remarkable. Think of how many first-round, big-name college quarterbacks, including the aforementioned Carr and Harrington, are NFL busts. Yet, almost 14 years after being drafted in the third round from a small school, McCown is still an NFL starter and just threw for a Browns franchise record 457 yards in a win over the Ravens.
Plus, anyone that knows Josh can't help but root for him. He's one of the nicest pro athletes I've covered, and a tremendous leader. He's someone that backup Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel could certainly learn from. And, whether McCown can overcome injury and start Sunday or Johnny Football gets the call for Cleveland, there will be interesting headlines at kickoff.