By A.J. Weinberg (@Fantasy_AJ)
Back on March 12th, the Buccaneers gave 34-year-old veteran Josh McCown a 2 year $10 million contract. New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith made quick work in saying that McCown is the Bucs’ quarterback for the upcoming 2014 season. Obviously, a lot can change between now and the kick off of Week 1, but it is unlikely the Bucs shelled out a pretty significant chunk of change to have McCown sit behind Mike Glennon or any QB they draft in May. What fantasy players care about is how McCown’s move from Chicago to Tampa affects not only his value, but the fantasy value of the other players in Tampa. Let’s dive into it.
First, it’s important to address what value McCown could hold as the starter for the Bucs. He’s had a pretty up-and-down career, with the real “ups” coming last season when he appeared in 8 games, and started in 5, due to injuries to Bears’ starter Jay Cutler. He enjoyed tremendous success, especially during a 3-week starting stretch in which he posted at least 18 points each game. On the year, he had 13 TDs to 1 INT and his production was one of the bigger surprises of the 2013 season. So, a guy who posted back-to-back-to-back weeks of 348+ yards with at least 2 touchdowns while only throwing 1 INT in that span must be a sure-fire top 10 QB option heading into next season, right? Well, not so fast. While McCown was certainly excellent during his run from November 24th-December 9th, there are a few important things to take into account in order to put those numbers in perspective.
First, he was playing with weapons in Chicago that Tampa Bay cannot match. Having the luxury of throwing to arguably the best WR duo in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferey while having a top-flight running back in Matt Forte at his disposal was definitely a boon to McCown’s production. The teams that McCown played during that hot stretch are also important to factor in. His biggest weeks came against the Green Bay Packers, the St. Louis Rams, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Dallas Cowboys. Those defenses allowed the 9th, 14th, 2nd, and 3rd most net passing yards in 2013, respectively. His two highest scoring games were 22.2 points and 39.4 points which both came in the games against the terrible Vikings and Cowboys defense. The fact that he was playing against mostly poor passing defenses during his big games certainly doesn’t discredit his performances entirely, but it lends credence to those that doubt McCown is as good as his 2013 numbers suggest.
What does McCown’s signing do the Glennon’s value? Essentially, it kills it. I am one of the seemingly relatively few Glennon believers out there. Glennon, a rookie third-rounder last season, became the starter early on in the season for the Bucs. The results? Overall, pretty “meh,” but better than I, or likely anyone else, expected from the lanky QB entering into a pretty chaotic situation with in Tampa last year. He threw 19 TDs to only 9 INTs last season, but his 59.4% completion rate leaves something to be desired. Glennon’s arm strength is above-average thanks in large part to his imposing stature, but his athleticism is overall a bit lacking. It was his relative lack of pure athleticism that kept him largely out of the discussion of who the top QBs entering the 2013 draft were, and it is in this area that he pales in comparison to McCown. While McCown has certainly lost a shade of the athleticism that made him a combine standout prior to his rookie season (little known McCown-athleticism fact: he actually lined up at WR a few times with the Lions in 2006), his mobility is much better than Glennon’s which should help him evade a lot of those 40 sacks he took in only 13 games.
As a Bears fan, I got to watch plenty of McCown in his starts last season. I came away not overly impressed with McCown’s arm strength or accuracy, but his accuracy is serviceable. Many of his big plays came by throwing the ball in the area of one of his monstrous targets (Marshall, Jefferey, or Martellus Bennett) and letting them fight for the ball. It’s hard to knock a guy for not having pin-point accuracy, as most QBs outside of the elite few don’t, but for a guy with underwhelming arm strength it is important to mention. Glennon, for his part, wasn’t always tremendously accurate with his throws. But, as a rookie thrown into the mix early on, he made plenty of nice throws and gave glimpses of future potential as a pocket-passer. None of this is to suggest that McCown will be any worse in 2014 than Glennon would have. All in all, they are both fairly average QBs at this point in their respective careers. But, considering Glennon is entering only his second year in the league, I would have liked to see the Bucs give Glennon another go over playing a stop-gap guy in McCown who is keeping the seat warm for the Bucs future franchise QB.
The Bucs have two notable fantasy assets in Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin. Jackson was really the lone consistent producer for the Bucs in 2013 (huh–I would have never thought I’d mention “Jackson” and “consistent” in the same sentence without a “not” in the mix). He hauled in 78 passes (a career high) for 1,224 yards and 7 scores. Whoever is at the helm of the Bucs offense in 2014, Jackson can still be viewed as a solid fantasy option at wide out. I mentioned previously that McCown tends to be a bit of an area-thrower and relies on his targets to make plays occasionally. Well, thanks to Jackson’s size and propensity to make ridiculous catches like this one, he shouldn’t have a problem with QB that asks his WRs to make catches that require a little muscle. Martin had a pretty disastrous 2013 after having such a great 2012 rookie season. He’s expected to be fully healthy heading into 2014, and will serve as a nice safety valve to McCown should he become the starter officially. Martin’s hands are an underrated aspect of his game, and after a 49-catch rookie season, there is reason to believe that Martin could play a Forte-like role in the offense. Forte had 16 catches during McCown’s 3 start stretch I mentioned earlier, and had 7 in two of those games. Clearly, McCown isn’t afraid to utilize the RB in the passing attack, and this could help pad Martin’s stats nicely next year.
But back to McCown for a second. It’s common knowledge that McCown benefited a lot from being paired up with the QB whisperer, Marc Trestman. James Todd (@spidr2ybanana) did a great job on Rotoviz profiling Trestman leading up to the 2013 season, and suffice it to say it’s almost the polar opposite of Lovie Smith. Instead of only looking at the 2008-12 seasons, I’ll compare Lovie’s Bears history (2004-2012) to Josh McCown’s 2013. McCown only had 224 passing attempts, but if we extrapolate his numbers for all of the numbers 579 attempts, here are his numbers: 4727 passing yards for 33 TDs and 2.6 INT. Now, since the TD/INT ratio was clearly a fluke (coming into 2013 McCown had thrown more INT than TD for his career), I’ll focus only on the passing yards.
In Lovie’s 9 seasons as Bears head coach, the team’s QBs passed 498.6 times for 3215 yards. Now one can argue that 2004-05 should be excluded based on much lower passing totals so even doing so, those numbers become 514 times for 3442 yards. So let’s say that McCown improved as a player enough that he can maintain his 66.5% completion from 2013 (career 59.4%), just on volume alone, his passing total would reduce by over 8% to 4197 yards. Now, McCown had an average yards per attempt of 8.2 in 2013 with the Bears. In Lovie’s seasons (still excluding pathetic 04-05), the average yards per attempt was 6.72. Therefore, applying that to the McCown’s numbers, we are left with only 3438 yards, a pretty pathetic total for a fantasy QB. Lovie has never had a team throw for more than 3701 yards in his career as a head coach, do you really want to invest in a QB with that kind of limited upside?
Overall, the transition from Glennon to McCown shouldn’t result in a tremendous upgrade to everyone on the Bucs’ roster. But, given the culture change brought in by Lovie Smith, coupled with the veteran leadership that McCown brings, it can reasonably be expected that the Tampa offense functions a bit more smoothly than it did last year. The other weapons on the Bucs offense surely won’t skip a beat when McCown takes control of the offense, so draft Jackson and Martin (and Tim Wright as a sleeper) confidently. Lovie Smith is no offensive-guru, but he brought in former Cal coach Jeff Tedford to be the offensive coordinator who has a well respected offensive mind. Don’t be blinded by McCown’s big performances when he played last season, but don’t be scared away by my seemingly negative feelings towards McCown. He is good enough to be extremely relevant in 2-QB leagues, and if Tedford has a positive impact on Lovie’s offenses and they start getting a little more pass happy and vertical, he could be worth calling upon in 12-14 team leagues in 2014. I’m just skeptical, Lovie’s history doesn’t bode well for fantasy success and I don’t believe his skills compare favorably to the above average NFL quarterbacks. In 2014, personally I’d look elsewhere for my QB2.