Heading into the 2013 season, Josh McCown was a 34-year-old journeyman backup, a quarterback with all of two starts since 2007.
However, when Jay Cutler went down for the Bears last year, McCown didn't just step up. He went off. His stellar play resulted in a free-agent deal from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who installed McCown as their starting quarterback for 2014.
It begs the question: Was McCown's "late bloomer" act last year a limited engagement, or can McCown build on last year's success and keep the show rolling in his new digs?
|Josh McCown Career NFL Stats|
One thing can't be questioned. To call 2013 a "career year" for McCown is akin to saying that politicians occasionally say things that may not be entirely accurate.
McCown saw his most extensive action last year since starting nine games for a 4-12 Oakland Raiders team in 2007. That's the year the Raiders drafted one JaMarcus Russell, by the way.
The McCown that took the field for Chicago last year was nothing like the one that floundered all those years ago in Oakland. McCown's 85.1 QBR at ESPN last year led the NFL and was over 50 points higher than his rating as the starter in Oakland.
McCown threw 13 touchdown passes against only a single interception in 2013, helping to keep the Bears in the NFC North race by posting a 3-2 record over his five starts with the team.
The performance caught the attention of former Chicago head coach Lovie Smith, now running the show in Tampa Bay. The Bucs inked McCown to a two-year, $10 million contract, and Smith made it clear back in March what McCown's role would be in his new home:
It's a great story for a player who has played for nine pro teams, including a stint with Hartford of the United Football League back in 2010.
However, great story though it may be, that last sentence should be the first clue that something just might be amiss. It wasn't that long ago that McCown washed out of the NFL altogether.
We aren't talking about Kurt Warner here, a player who just didn't get a chance to start until later in his career. McCown made 22 starts over three seasons in Arizona a decade ago in addition to the stint in Oakland.
Last year was the first time that McCown has won more starts than he lost in a season.
While speaking with Pat Yasinkas of ESPN, McCown chalked it up to being that late bloomer I mentioned earlier:
I'm a super late bloomer. My first driver's license said 5-foot-4. At 16, I was 5-4. Physically, I was a late bloomer. I've always been a late bloomer. Maybe that's just my destiny.
Others might chalk it up to McCown never having had the supporting cast that surrounded him in Chicago.
Well, that's another problem, because McCown doesn't have it in Tampa, either.
Granted, in veteran Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, McCown has a pair of big, athletic targets available at wide receiver. But in Chicago, McCown had Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, arguably the best one-two punch at wideout in the NFL.
It's the same at running back. Doug Martin had a great rookie season, but he got off to a terrible start last year before a shoulder injury cut his season short. In Chicago, it was Matt Forte, one of the NFL's most consistent and durable backs over the past half-decade.
The offensive lines? According to Football Outsiders, the Buccaneers ranked 27th in run blocking and 21st in pass protection in 2013. The Bears were 20th and fifth, respectively.
Then there's the matter of second-year pro Mike Glennon. Glennon had his share of struggles in 13 starts for the Buccaneers as a rookie, but he did throw 10 more touchdowns than interceptions and post a passer rating of over 80.
In fact, general manager Jason Licht told Sirius XM Radio (via Alex Marvez of Fox Sports) the Buccaneers remain committed to Glennon as their quarterback of the future:
We looked at all the tape of last year. Having him in the building and going through that first minicamp with him and seeing how he was in meetings and interacted with the team -- and more importantly how he was on the field -- just secured our feelings of how we evaluated him and felt about him.
Unless something unforeseen happens, McCown will all but certainly open the season as the starter. However, with Smith's arrival in Tampa came increased expectations from Bucs fans eager to scrub the Greg Schiano era from their minds.
If McCown and the Buccaneers falter out of the gate, the calls for Glennon aren't going to take long.
In all honesty, this is an instance where I hope I'm wrong. In an era where players like Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon seem hell-bent on squandering their immense physical talents, McCown has done more with less. He plugged away and plugged away, and eventually McCown was rewarded.
However, a 35-year-old quarterback coming from essentially nowhere to post career numbers is rare enough.
But that same quarterback backing those numbers up, on a new team, in a new scheme, with a lesser supporting cast and a young signal-caller breathing down his neck?
That's rarer still, and an awfully tall order.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!