Jets’ McCown still leads, competes even as Darnold emerges
With each practice, it appears increasingly likely that rookie Sam Darnold will be the starter when the regular season kicks off in three weeks. Not that McCown has done anything on the field to hurt his chances of retaining the job.
It’s simply a matter of circumstances.
McCown is 39 and been there, done that. Darnold is 21, was the third overall pick in the draft, has immense talent and is considered the future of the franchise — and that future could be now. He has shined in his last several practices and will likely start Friday night against the Giants in the team’s third preseason game.
“Like I said the whole time, obviously, we traded up to (No.) 3 to draft a quarterback to get Sam because there’s a plan in place,” McCown said. “So we understand that.”
That “plan” has been to give Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater the bulk of the work in the preseason and see how they perform. So far, so good — and that means McCown could slide down the depth chart very soon.
Coach Todd Bowles hasn’t announced a regular-season starter yet, and says he might not do so until after the fourth preseason game. From all indications, it’s trending in Darnold’s direction. But McCown isn’t necessarily reading into the fact Darnold is getting the bulk of the first-team snaps and that is causing the perception that the rookie will be the starter.
“No, I mean, obviously, he’s younger,” McCown said. “I was taking these kind of reps when he was 4 years old.”
Actually, Darnold was 5 when McCown was in his first NFL training camp with Arizona in 2002. But, point made.
“He needs the work and it’s good for him,” the veteran said. “Every rep is a great rep for all of us, there’s no doubt about it.”
Sure, he wants to start, but McCown is a realist. He knows his days as an NFL player, let alone starting quarterback, are dwindling.
“My goal for this is for the quarterback room to play well,” said McCown, who signed a $10 million deal in the offseason to return to New York. “And if that’s me playing out there, I want to play the best football that I can play. If that’s Sam or that’s Teddy, whoever that is, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Last summer, McCown also saw limited action in the preseason as the Jets tried to give Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty the opportunity to seize the starting gig. Neither could and McCown was the clear starter.
Darnold and Bridgewater have provided a different type of competition, a three-man race that is quickly becoming a two-man show — with McCown in the background.
“It’s fun to be out there playing and there’s no substitute for that,” McCown said. “That’s why we do it. At the same time, when you look at things from that prospective, if you can help be a part of finding that guy that can be that guy for this franchise for a long time, that means something to me, that’s competitive to me. That’s what we get up for work to do, that’s what makes it fun.
“I don’t feel like the forgotten guy because we’re busy every day working, and working on those things. That’s all that matters.”
McCown has been in just about every situation imaginable throughout his professional career, which is entering its 17th year.
He has been a third-round pick, an up-and-coming passer, a backup, a starter and a place-holder in his stops with 10 teams. He spent one year out of the NFL and played in the United Football League. McCown has also spent time as a volunteer coach for a high school team in North Carolina.
He has graciously handled the many ups and downs during his career. Those experiences help McCown balance his competitive nature and the willingness to help those trying to take his job.
“I think for me, it’s just a personal thing,” McCown said. “At the end of the day, you go to work and you work as hard as you can and you help as many people as you can. And when you lay down and you can have peace in your heart at night, and you know that I did all I could that day, and then you sleep good. That’s what I learned growing up and that’s all I know.”
McCown takes nothing for granted and that’s something he has stressed to the young players in camp, and not just the quarterbacks. He’s the closest example of a player-coach you could find in the NFL, a mentor who seems destined to be in charge of a team someday.
McCown’s days of leading from the huddle might be about over, though.
And, he’s OK with whatever happens next.
“At this point in my career, I don’t know how many more years of this will happen, so you treasure every moment,” he said. “I think when you keep those things in perspective, there are days — nobody is perfect — there are days when you want to take every rep and you look back and you go, ‘Man, I wish I was just starting out again,’ but (you put it) all in perspective. It’s been fun and I enjoy being a part of this group. Todd sets a great tone and tempo every day for us and it is just an honor to be a part of it.
“So that is really what keeps me going and what allows me to come and enjoy it and not get caught up in anything else.”