Comparing the Careers of Josh McCown and Brad Johnson


Nov 24, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown (12) looks to pass the ball against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

When Josh McCown was signed and named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting quarterback for 2014, fans got a little ahead of themselves.

You see, the idea of having a journeyman quarterback as the team’s starter isn’t new to the community. In 2002, we witnessed Brad Johnson, an average quarterback who bounced around the league before signing with Tampa Bay, lead the offense all the way to a Super Bowl championship. Of course, it was behind one of the NFL’s greatest all-time defenses, but still–play along with me for a bit.

With Johnson being so revered for being the quarterback of the Bucs’ Super Bowl championship team, many fans in Tampa see a lot of the same potential in Josh McCown.

McCown, like Johnson, has taken many steps in his football career before landing in Tampa Bay.

That got me wondering: what else do the two have in common?

Let’s take a deeper look to see if the comparisons are justified, or just wishful thinking.

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson was drafted in Round 9, No. 227 overall, to the Minnesota Vikings. He spent both the ’92 and ’93 seasons on the bench before getting his first look at NFL action in 1994. He never played a full season Minnesota before his departure in 1999, when he joined the Washington Redskins.

Johnson started all 16 games in the ’99 season, throwing for over 4,000 yards, 24 TDs and 13 INTs. It was easily the most successful he had been in his career to that point, but he couldn’t sustain it through the 2000 season, in which he faltered with only 11 TDs and 15 INTs.

In 2001, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Johnson with low expectations. That was probably a good thing, as Brad was painfully average. He was accurate, and threw for over 3,400 yards, but with only 13 TDs and 11 INTs, he failed to push the offense far enough to match the team’s defensive skill. The Bucs were eliminated by the Philadelphia Eagles once again, and head coach Tony Dungy was fired.

Enter Jon Gruden in 2002, and suddenly, Brad Johnson became the captain of offensive efficiency. Johnson posted the best QB rating of his career with a 92.9, and threw only six interceptions in the 13 games he started to the Buccaneers that year. Following the defense’s lead, Johnson stayed healthy enough to play in the playoffs, where Tampa Bay was finally able to put up enough points to get through the gauntlet and win the Lombardi Trophy. Make no mistake, this may not have been the case had Tampa’s defense been less than what it was: one with Hall of Famers, All Pros, and Pro Bowlers at every corner.

Johnson played two more seasons for the Bucs before being replaced by Chris Simms early in the 2004 NFL season.

He went back to the Vikings for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, before spending his career’s final two seasons in Dallas as a backup.

Nov 17, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown (12) makes a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Josh McCown

Much unlike Johnson, Josh McCown came into the league with somewhat high expectations. A third round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2002 (the year Johnson led the Bucs to the promise land), McCown didn’t get any significant reps until he made his first NFL start in 2003. Although he was a bit of a disappointment in his three starts that year, he still won the starting job for Arizona in 2004, but only completing 57% of his passes while throwing for 11 TDs and 10 INTs.

The Cardinals gave him one more chance in 2005, but decided enough was enough.

McCown signed with the Detroit Lions in 2006, but never played in a game for them after only being dressed for two.

The Raiders decided to take a chance on McCown in 2007. Josh started nine games for the silver and black, but only completed 58.4% of his passes en route to a -4 turnover ratio.

He spent his next two seasons as a backup for the Carolina Panthers, and then a year in the USFL, before finally landing with Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears.

In three games with the Bears in 2011, he completed an impressive 63.6% of his passes, but only for 414 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

After failing to get into any game action in 2012, McCown got his chance to shine in five starts for the Bears last season after Jay Cutler went down with an injury.

McCown completed a career-best 66.5% of his passes for over 1,800 yards, 13 touchdowns and only one interception. Somewhere along the line, things just clicked, which led to Josh’s contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

So upon further review, while neither had a great career before joining the Buccaneers, Brad Johnson definitely had more success leading up to his arrival in Tampa Bay. He was more accurate, had more game experience, and didn’t have to leave the league to find work.

However, with that being said, Josh McCown has shown more upside at 34 years old. At one point last season, McCown looked like a top five quarterback. It was completely unexpected. And while Brad Johnson led us to a Super Bowl, he couldn’t have dreamed of being that efficient during his playing days.

Still, while I get the comparisons between Johnson and McCown, I think they’re a bit silly.

Johnson was far less mobile than McCown is, had the better defense behind him in Tampa, and enjoyed more NFL success that McCown had before joining the Bucs.

Josh McCown really doesn’t compare to any former Buc because his journey to get here has been unique. Never have I seen a quarterback that can look so blatantly average at best, then get ousted from the league as a whole, before coming back, waiting his turn, and then looking like a Pro Bowler in his mid-30’s. It is a career trajectory that just does not happen in pro football anymore.

The fact that both men were career journeymen before flying into Tampa Bay is where the similarities begin and end.

I understand that it is hard, but we need to stop comparing our current teams to 2002. Let their glory live on, and let today’s players try to get out of the shadows cast by nightmares of the last five seasons.