By Nick Shook
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It was filled with plenty of bumps, bruises and blowout losses, but Josh McCown‘s time in Cleveland is coming to an end.
The Browns have released the veteran quarterback and cornerback Tramon Williams, the team announced. McCown, 37, intends to continue playing, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported, per a source informed of the move.
The release brings a close to an unmemorable two seasons in Cleveland for both McCown and Williams, who were signed as part of former general manager Ray Farmer’s spending spree of 2015. After being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, former head coach Mike Pettine and former quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo teamed up to lure McCown to Cleveland as a reliably average solution to the quarterback position while the uncertainty of Johnny Manziel festered in rehab and Brian Hoyer was packing his bags to leave for good. The results were two predictably forgettable seasons under center, a two-year campaign that began with McCown sacrificing his body in a vain attempt to score in Week 1 against the Jets (resulting in the infamous helicopter hit) and ended with McCown on the bench, watching Robert Griffin III play out the season.
When one in Cleveland reflects on McCown’s career, that person will think of ugly seasons, multiple injuries (two broken collarbones in two years, a concussion) and missed games (he played in 13 contests in two seasons), but they’ll remember his gutty play behind a line that saw two of its best three pieces depart between McCown’s first and second season in Cleveland. They’ll remember his blue-collar attitude, which was on full display after a difficult loss in 2016 in which he was again knocked around relentlessly.
Relatively speaking, McCown wasn’t that bad. He completed 276 of 457 passes for 3,209 yards and an 18-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But his play falls in line with the collective performance of the team, which was subpar if we’re putting it nicely.
Williams, meanwhile, won’t be as easily recalled, partly due to the high-profile nature of the quarterback position. The former Packers corner came to Cleveland in the same free agent class as McCown, signed to be a worthy corner opposite Joe Haden and to give first-round pick Justin Gilbert time to develop in a lesser role, which became a running theme in the Farmer era as Cleveland overpaid aging free agents to cover holes created by misses in the first round of Farmer’s 2014 draft.
The result was a decent season from Williams in 2015 — 15 games played, 69 tackles, 10 passes defensed, one interception — but anyone who watched the weekly play of the defensive back could tell midway through the season that he’d lost a step. Hue Jackson’s staff inherited Farmer’s acquisitions in 2016, and Williams’ drop in starts — from 15 to seven — showed that what everyone saw wasn’t a mirage.
Following its analytical approach (which includes a baseline rule of staying away from additions over 30 years old), Cleveland cut ties and shed salary. The Browns avoided paying a $750,000 roster bonus to McCown and $1 million to the 33-year-old Williams, and incurred just over $1.1 million in dead cap, according to Spotrac.com. This is peanuts for the organization with the most cap space in the league heading into the offseason.
Cleveland has since invested in cornerback Jamar Taylor and still has Haden, who is under contract through 2019, coincidentally the same year he turns 30. With McCown now out of the picture and free to latch on with a contender in the twilight of his career, the quarterback focus turns to the future of Griffin, Cody Kessler (who was hit just as often as McCown, if not more) and the possibility of adding yet another first-round quarterback via the draft. Year Two of the Sashi Brown/Paul DePodesta era should be the most interesting yet.