When the Cleveland Browns signed quarterback Josh McCown in February he joined a long, but less than distinguished, fraternity in franchise history.
McCown is the latest “bridge quarterback” who will try and help the Browns will while holding the quarterback position warm until the next great quarterback arrives at First Energy Stadium.
General manager Ray Farmer said as much, without actually using the phrase bridge quarterback, in announcing the signing.
“Josh is your consummate professional,” Farmer said back on that late-February day. “He’s known to be a great guy in the locker room and will be great for the quarterback room. He knows how to get an entire offense on the same page and get a team to rally behind him. He has been exposed to a lot of different types of offenses and we think still has the drive and skill set to be a successful quarterback in this league.
“We are excited to get him and believe he will help continue to move us in the right direction and help us build the type of team that will bring winning football to Cleveland.”
Head coach Mike Pettine threw his support behind the “McCown in 2015” campaign recently when he confirmed that McCown is the team’s No. 1 quarterback as of right now.
“Josh has proven in the right circumstances that he can be successful,’’ Pettine said during an appearance on 92.3 The Fan. “I think it was pretty clear to us when we looked into the results of what happened for him a year ago that a lot of those circumstances were outside of his control that made the year as difficult as it was.
“We just look back to when he was in Chicago, when he had a pretty good supporting cast around him, and he was able to be more than functional. He had a very successful year. When you build the team right, it minimizes the importance of the quarterback.”
The Browns have tried to cross this bridge several times in franchise history – especially since returning to the NFL in 1999 – with less than stellar results.
The gold standard for the bridge quarterback, if you will allow us a loose application of that phrase, is Gary Danielson in 1985.
Danielson was brought in that season to play quarterback until rookie Bernie Kosar was ready to take over. Danielson started six games that season, and played in two more, while posting a 4-2 record while being juggled in and out of the lineup with Kosar.
The Browns would make the playoffs that season with an 8-8 record while employing a two-quarterback system that, if Pettine tried it now, would cause Twitter to explode. But the bridge was at least complete, as Kosar took over in 1986 and led the Browns on the last sustained run of success the franchise has seen.
Having 2015 play out in a similar fashion would excite the Browns and their fans alike. But the memory of Danielson and 1985 becomes more faded with each passing day. While it is fun to dream that McCown will be the bridge to a better day, the veteran quarterbacks the Browns have brought in over the past 15 years paints a different reality.