Buccaneers Release QB Josh McCown

Tampa Bay has announced the release of starting qurterback Josh McCown, who was set to make $5.25 million in 2015. McCown was essentially out of football in 2013 before re-joining the Chicago Bears and having a surprising run in relief of an injured Jay Cutler where he went 3-2 and posted an impressive 13:1 TD:Int ratio. McCown was able to springboard that brief run into a $4.75 million salary from the Buccaneers just one year removed from making the minimum salary. McCown finished the year with a 1-10 record as a starter and his number driftec back to his career averages as he put up just 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

With the first pick in the draft there was really no need for the Buccaneers to waste more time with McCown. Even if they do not select a quaterback they don’t need a 36 year old under center when there are younger players they can target. By releasing McCown now he will get a jump on free agency, but my own belief is teams will wait before really making a move. McCown did not draw tremendous interest in free agency last season and he was a minimum salary player before that.

The going rate for a backup of his skillset is probably in the $1.6 to $2.0 million range. Teams with poor QB situations such as the Bills, Jets, and Titans might show some interest. It’s also possible that at this stage of his career he would rather hook up with a coach he is familiar with play a backup role such as backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore.

The Buccaneers will create $5.25M in cap room with the release as he had no prorated money in his contract. Tampa should have close to $30 million in cap space following the release.

Jay Cutler Gets Paid: Thoughts on the Bears Big Moves


The Chicago Bears were a busy team today re-signing starting QB Jay Cutler, G Matt Slauson, and CB Tim Jennings. With the exception of the Oakland Raiders the Bears had the smallest committed roster in the NFL in 2014 with 28 unrestricted free agents as of two weeks ago. The Bears have now reduced that number to 23 following the singings of these three players to follow up the extensions of K Robbie Gould and FB Tony Fiammetta towards the end of the season.

The reason I would assume that these three signings took place this week instead of last week was the lack of 2013 salary cap space that the Bears had. Prior to the Gould and Fiammetta signings, Chicago only had $1.7 million in cap room. Any contracts signed prior to the end of the regular season that contained signing bonuses would see the bonuses prorate in 2013, which the Bears would not have had room to use. While option bonuses could have been used for 2014 those do not give the team the same protection when it comes to forfeiture clauses.

The rapid extension of Cutler was a bit surprising. Most, myself included, assumed they would have franchised Cutler and potentially shopped him to the highest bidder. To me Cutler is a tough player to judge. He has a tremendous arm but that arm has not translated into wins or statistics, but he has been compromised by a poor performing offensive line and terrible receiving corps. until this season.

Terms of the deal are unknown but his teammate Brandon Marshall seemed to indicate it was 7 years for $18 million a season and it was also reported that he would earn $54 million in the first three years of the contract. Those numbers are essentially identical to the numbers of Tony Romo’s contract with Dallas which was a 6 year, $18 million a year extension with $54 million in the first three years.

That seems like an incredibly steep price for Cutler who has not played 16 games since 2009. He has failed to throw for more than 3300 yards since the 2009 season, though his 238 yards per game in 2013 was his highest total since 2008. By contrast Romo’s lowest total was 255 yards a game, which happened this season. There are better statistical measures to compare the two which can at least paint Cutler in a better light if he threw the ball more often, which I would guess is something that the Bears believe he can do with Marc Trestman as head coach. If you want a comparison of Cutler with Romo prior to this year you can do so by checking out this link to an earlier article I wrote.

I have to assume because of the injury history that a significant amount of money in this contract is tied to being active on gameday. Aaron Rodgers, the highest paid QB in the NFL, has such bonuses in his deal. The length of the deal is likely an indication of two things. One is that significant money is tied in the final two years of the contract and the second is that there will be possible bonuses paid out in year 2 and 3 of the contract that can be prorated for cap relief.

Like the Romo contract its probably best for the Bears, who were going to enter the year with about $36 million in cap space, to simply have base salary in those years and consider prorating it later on once they determine how much cap room is truly needed in 2015 and 2016. Provided that the salary is not fully guaranteed upon signing that can also provide some relief if Cutler does not develop  as expected or is injured and you want to negotiate the price tag down.  That also helps in trade talks in the event another QB emerges from nowhere to take a job when someone is injured.

Romo’s contract contains $54 million over the first three years but then just $14 million in year 4 to bring his 4 year total to $17 million season before the salaries rise again in the 5th and 6th seasons of the contract, two years that he will likely never see. I have to think the cash flows for Cutler would be very similar with a year 4 number that is very affordable and drags the 4 year annual value down to Romo’s level or below. Considering his is 7 years I would also think that the 5 year annual value could be $17 million or less as he should be earning less than Romo and perhaps that was the compromise the two sides reached.

Cutler’s contract also illustrates the lack of NFL talent at the QB position in the NFL and how the CBA has re-shuffled money so poorly to the QB that even questionable QB’s that have talent and a pedigree will be rewarded. This contract has to make Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers very happy as they prepare for potential extensions in the next two years. Teams realize if they don’t have a high draft pick the odds of finding a championship caliber QB are almost nil so its best to stick with what you have if your QB has a pulse.

Free agency for the QB position is non-existent. With Cutler gone from the market the next best available player will likely be Matt Schaub who should be released by the Texans. Given the lack of options even coming off a terrible season it may help him get a modest salary. Beyond Schaub is Matt Cassel, who can void the remaining year of his contract in February, and the pure free agents of the always injured Mike Vick and Jaguars starter Chad Henne. Its an awful marketplace.

The re-signing of Slauson and Jennings is a solid move for the team. Slauson was an underrated guard of the Jets who fell out of favor with Rex Ryan and the front office for reasons unbeknownst to me. He is a tough player who helped solidify what had been a terrible line for Chicago. He played for about $820,000 in 2013 and had another $585,000 in available incentives but his goal was to play for a home and he has now found one. Slauson will just be 28 years old next season so Chicago should have him for the prime of his career.

Jennings is a quality veteran cornerback that has been productive in the Bears defense. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and is a player capable of creating interceptions which is always a trait teams pay for. There is always the possibility of a cornerback playing Safety on the backend of the contract making a four year contract a solid investment.

The next question for Chicago may be what to do with QB Josh McCown who excelled against an easy schedule in the offense this season. Given Cutler’s injury history it would seem smart to keep McCown who should be one of the more sought after backup QB’s on the market despite being 35 next season. The Bears can’t sign to a new contract worth more than the minimum until March due to his playing on a minimum salary benefit qualifying contract but they could agree in principle on a new contract and then wait until the start of the new League Year to execute the deal. He’ll likely be able to push for a Kyle Orton style contract worth in the $3 million a year range.

Chicago still has a number of free agents to decide on as well as a possible extension  for WR Brandon Marshall, who is entering the final year of his contract. The Bears should also negotiate with DE Julius Peppers to see how open he is to a pay reduction. Peppers is slated to earn $14 million in 2014 with a cap figure of $18.183 million. Releasing Peppers frees up $9.8 million in cap room. If he were to agree to a salary of about $6 million the cap hit for Peppers should be about equal to what it would cost to release him and sign a replacement player worth $2 million to take his spot. Considering he could have upside that is a price that may be worth considering.




A Closer Look at McCown vs Cutler and the Bears Future Decisions


One of the hot debates in the NFL right now involves the Chicago Bears decision concerning Quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. The two QB’s are almost polar opposites. Cutler is a former first round draft selection with an arm that is among the strongest in the NFL. McCown is the definition of a journeyman, having played on five teams in twelve seasons and only starting a total of 28 games. Cutler will be a free agent in the offseason and a candidate for a franchise tag. McCown will be a free agent as well, and entering the season would have been lucky to receive a $65,000 bonus.

But McCown has captivated the Bears fanbase as well as the eyes of the media. He is the classic underdog that is outperforming the higher paid and better known player. Cutler should soon be returning from injury and Bears head coach Marc Trestman has stated that Cutler will regain the starting job, which is a decision already being criticized. The debate even rages to the offseason with some reasoning that the Bears are better off keeping McCown and letting Cutler walk in free agency.

One can not discount the success that McCown has had since getting his opportunity to QB the Bears. In terms of Yards Per Attempt McCown has surpassed Cutler on every type of throw this season.

Cutler McCown YPA

In terms of incremental yards, a statistic I keep that measures how many yards a QB generates compared to the average NFL performance based on distance of throw, McCown has generated a positive 249.9 yards compared to a negative 24.6 yards for Cutler.

cutler mccown incremental yards

Interceptions only push the scales in favor of McCown further. McCown has thrown just 1 interception while being expected to throw 5.5. Cutler has thrown 8 picks on a set of throws that should have produced 7.3 interceptions.

That said sometimes these stats don’t tell the full story. Though the two players play on the same team, the strength of schedule has been incredibly different for the two players. Taking out Cutler’s game against the Redskins and McCown’s game against the Lions (since both were short cameos) the pass defenses that the two have faced have put up these numbers in games against other QB’s:

cutlermccown opponents

Overall Cutler has had a much more difficult schedule this season, with the only better areas being the 40 yard pass category and pass rush faced. Lets break down the actual percentage increase or decrease that Cutler and McCown post in each category based on their strength of schedule:

cutlermccown improvement

This paints a pretty different picture. McCown is producing slightly more yards per attempt but partially that is from working against such a bad defensive set. His completion percentage actually represents less of an increase than Cutler’s has this season. McCown clearly is producing less interceptions, but given his career history it would be amazing for that level to keep up. Cutler produces more touchdowns and is far and away the more productive big play passer, though both are below average.  Cutler has also done a better job avoiding sacks this season, though both are good in that regard.

When looking at the numbers in this manner you can see how an argument can be made for Cutler beyond just having more name value. The difference is not great and Cutler has the higher upside to run a more explosive offense.

When it comes to 2014, however, the numbers are close enough to say that there is far more value in the 35 year old McCown at a few million for the year than tagging Jay Cutler for $16 million, But this conclusion is only valid if the Bears do not believe Cutler is a long term solution at the position.  To expect McCown to blossom into a quality starter after all these years of being a journeyman is lunacy. Rich Gannon and Steve Beuerlein are the only two to probably have success this late in the career after never establishing themselves as a starter. Gannon would go to have multiple good seasons as QB of the Oakland Raiders while Beuerlein fizzled out.

Bears GM Phil Emery indicated a reluctance to using the franchise tag on Cutler because of the cost of the tag and impact it would have on the salary cap. Emery was willing to spend over $14 million on a relatively unproductive pass rusher in Julius Peppers this season so I think that debunks the fact that $16 million on a QB is unsustainable, especially in light of the Bears cap situation being very open next year compared to  this season. In addition the $16 million cap figure in 2014 would rank around 10th in the NFL, nowhere near the top of the position.

The problem with tagging Cutler can be that it sets a baseline value in negotiations that the Bears do not value Cutler at. If you tag Cutler at $16 million and he signs the tender you will need to work that figure into the new contract. Even if he fails to sign it the argument is going to be that the Bears need to negotiate up from that price not down. Cutler is realistically closer to a $11.5 to $13 million per year performer, a number the Bears might not be able to get to if they tag him.

If the Bears new GM sees no reason to sign Cutler long term than there is no need to waste $16 million in cap room and be stuck with someone you do not want. That is exactly what happened with the Chiefs and LT Branden Albert this offseason. Though Albert worked out well for Kansas City and was one of the most effective Left Tackles in the game they only tagged him to trade him. When they were unable to work out a trade that were stuck with a player they did not want and they ended up with a much tighter salary cap situation than they wanted in the first place. That could be a situation Emery wants to avoid.

If the Bears allow Cutler to walk they will not receive compensation for him. They have so many holes to fill and so much cap room there is almost no way that they would not offset his loss in free agency to gain a 3rd round compensatory selection. The Bears gave away multiple first round picks for Cutler a few years back and tagging him gives them a chance to recoup some of that cost from a desperate QB team.

But I don’t think this is a situation where the Bears can simply view McCown as the better player or as a long term answer.  This is a situation where the decision is going to be made based on what the Bears internally think of Jay Cutler and if they want to move forward with him. The Bears could be in full rebuild mode next season and when you do that you are better off working in either a young draft pick or a cheap veteran than paying $16 million on a one year rental if they plan on blowing the team up. But it’s not a decision based on McCown’s current performance changing the course of action for Chicago. Chicago was going to face the same decision making process if Matt Flynn was the backup QB. McCown just may make it easier to sell to the public.