How Expectations Went Out of Control for Tim Couch
Tim Couch improved for four straight seasons and got the Browns into the playoffs in his fourth year. That 2002 season, however, he wound up with an injured shoulder that prevented from playing at the same high level ever again.
The narrative is that Couch was a draft bust who could not hit the broad side of a barn, but it is absolutely untrue. He was on a terrible team, he improved each year he played, he got the team into the playoffs, but he got injured.
It doesn’t make sense that when someone gets injured playing the hardest and most violent game in the world, that sportswriters are going to hold that player up for ridicule on some all-time bust list. The toughest guy in the NFL was not Brett Favre, it was the guy who was getting sacked 56 times for the Browns. It might be interesting to see a sportswriter get sacked 56 times in a season and see if they can still use their freaking laptops, never mind throw a football.
Truthfully, quarterback hype is part of the game, because it is a business and the team has to sell tickets. But that 1999 draft was one of the wildest in history not only because of the return of the Browns, but because Mike Ditka came out of retirement to coach the New Orleans Saints.
When he the talent on his roster he panicked because there was no Walter Payton on the roster like there had been on Da Bears. So Da Coach publicly begged to make a huge deal so that he could move up and draft halfback Ricky Williams, the closest player to Walter Payton. Ditka and the Bears were offering the entire slate of 1999 draft picks (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and most of 2000 (1, 3)
Even more amazingly, the Browns didn’t want to play ball with Ditka, because Browns head coach and quarterback guru Chris Palmer had fallen madly in love with Couch, and believed he would become a historically great NFL quarterback. The scuttlebutt was that Palmer had tweaked Couch’s throwing grip and delivery during a private workout session and convinced himself that these changes had been transformative. The fact of the matter is the coach Palmer was pretty good at helping young quarterbacks, but in this case, he had just gotten carried away with himself.
Anyway, Palmer had to justify not taking some version of the Ditka deal, so he was gushing to the press about how great Couch would become and sharing his fantasy that he could transform quarterbacks into superstars by tinkering with their mechanics. That is how Tim Couch became the guy worth eight draft picks, right from the get-go.
That 1999 draft was hilarious because Ditka and the Saints got other fan bases riled up, as well. When the Eagles drafted Donovan McNabb at second overall, the fan base booed lustily because they wanted Williams. When Indianapolis had the gall to draft another running back in Edgerrin James ahead of Williams, the boos were so loud there was fear the rafters might fall in. Incidentally, James wound up making the NFL Hall of Fame. Key takeaway: most of the moves that the fans cheered were bad. Most of the moves that were booed, turned out well.
What exactly do people think Tim Couch should have done for the Cleveland Browns? In years three and four, he went 15-15 as a starter though Kelly Holcombe had to sub for him in the playoffs due to injuries. Nevertheless, the Browns made the playoffs in the Couch’s fourth year. Why does that make him a draft bust?
The narrative should be that Tim Couch improved all four years for a terrible team and got them into the playoffs (which they almost won with Kelly Holcombe at the controls, by the way), but Couch was injured by the end of the year. He was sacked too often and never fulfilled his potential. He might be compared to Greg Cook of the Bengals, who was a tremendous quarterback but played through a torn rotator cuff that ended his career.
This is America and you can write whatever you want, but calling someone a bust after they get injured in the NFL seem grossly unfair and a miscarriage of justice. Tim Couch was not a draft bust, not in the sense of Johnny Football or Jamarcus Russell. Not at all.
On the other hand, it would be fair to say that Couch never came close to meeting the highly inflated expectations of the media and fan base. Egged on by starry-eyed Chris Palmer, who had totally gone overboard by turning down an eight-for-one draft trade, the fan base believed that Couch was a future Hall of Fame player or close to it. That’s a lot to pile onto a kid playing for an expansion team.
Tell you what, if sportswriters want to put Couch on their All-Time Bust List, that is their prerogative. However, I will place those sportswriters on my All-Time Bust Sportswriter List. Tim Couch was not a draft bust.
By the same token, the fans and media do not have to put additional pressure on Mayfield to make the Hall of Fame or the Pro Bowl. Hopefully, he wins all sorts of shiny hardware for his display case, but even if he does not, the team can still win games. Let’s just worry about getting the season started this year and see how it goes. There’s a lot of good football to be played.
This next list discusses a few quarterbacks who were so not franchise quarterbacks but were good enough to lead their teams to the Super Bowl. Even, if Mayfield is not considered a franchise quarterback, the team can still win, so there is no need to lose any sleep over it.