As humans, we learn to see patterns and recognize signs. For better, and sometimes worse, we see similarities to prior situations that allow us to adapt our behavior. Last night, people saw many similarities between Josh McCown, who is suddenly lighting up the league at age 34. and Rich Gannon, who experienced a career revival that culminated in a Super Bowl appearance and league MVP, after being out of the league.
The two have many similarities, so let’s recount some of them.
- Josh McCown is 34 years old this year, and Rich Gannon was 34 years old when he signed with Oakland before the 1999 season;
- They both were mid-round picks from small colleges (McCown from Sam Houston State, Gannon from Delaware) who were athletic types. McCown once played receiver in a NFL game, and the Patriots, who initially drafted Gannon, wanted to convert him to running back;
- Both got an opportunity to start early in their careers, but could never take full control of a starting job;
- Both went through a down period where neither started much, and both were out of the league for a short period of time (McCown played in the UFL, and then was an assistant high school coach before the Bears came calling);
- Marc Trestman has coached both. Trestman was in Minnesota in 1990 and 1991 when Gannon was one of the quarterbacks, and later coached him in Oakland in 2001 and 2002;
- If you want to continue the comparisons, Gannon was part of a quarterback controversy in Kansas City after replacing an injured Elvis Grbac, and the Chiefs went with the younger Grbac and allowed Gannon to sign with Oakland.
Of course, we can point out differences as well. Trestman was not part of Gannon’s initial resurgence. Gannon started 16 games at age 32 and 33 in Kansas City, and did not put up the incredible numbers that McCown is so early in his comeback. They have different mothers.
Let’s take a look at other similar players. One could come up with any number of criteria. I settled on the following. The player was 32 or older (McCown is 34 this year), was an above average passer by adjusted net yards while throwing at least 150 passes, and had not started 8 or more games in any of the prior four seasons. Here are the other Rich Gannons and Josh McCowns.
We remember Rich Gannon, who went on to start 84 more games after playing at an above average level in relief in Kansas City in 1997, and made four pro bowls. We are less likely to remember Damon Huard. Steve Beuerlein and Doug Flutie are the others to go on to multiple years as a starter.
The Bears face a decision, because Cutler’s contract is up. Before the season, I declared that Jay Cutler was poised to be the breakout quarterback, because of Marc Trestman, the upgrades on the offensive line, the addition of a legitimate tight end in Martellus Bennett, and a healthy Alshon Jeffery going into his second year. I have been wrong only about the identity of the Bears quarterback.
Cutler is going to cost significantly more money. If McCown can operate the offense like this for a few more years, it has to be a tough decision. I don’t envy them the choice. The Chiefs once chose between Elvis Grbac and Rich Gannon, and I suspect that Jay Cutler and Josh McCown will be tied together as well.