In 2010, Colt McCoy was the latest quarterback tasked with ending the Browns’ lengthy playoff drought. As Cleveland closes in on a playoff berth in 2020, McCoy will start against his drafting team and provide a reminder of the leaner days.
Daniel Jones’ injuries have pushed McCoy into a “Sunday Night Football” spotlight in Week 15 as a fill-in starter for the Giants (5-8). The Browns (9-4) are in the midst of their first winning season since 2007 and close to securing their first playoff berth since 2002, and they may have finally found a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield. A 34-year old McCoy might not prove a difficult opponent for the Browns on the field, but what he represents is something Cleveland is only starting to get over.
Two decades of Browns quarterback misery
The Browns drafted Tim Couch No. 1 overall in 1999. He was supposed to lead a new Cleveland franchise, the replacement for the version that departed for Baltimore after the 1995 season. Instead, he set off a series of quarterback struggles that threatened to extend even through Mayfield.
Here’s the full list of QBs to start for Cleveland since the Couch selection, listed in chronological order of first start and with the number of their starts in parentheses:
- Tim Couch (59 starts)
- Doug Pederson (8)
- Ty Detmer (2)
- Spergon Wynn (1)
- Kelly Holcomb (12)
- Jeff Garcia (10)
- Luke McCown (4)
- Derek Anderson (34)
- Charlie Frye (19)
- Trent Dilfer (11)
- Brady Quinn (12)
- Ken Dorsey (3)
- Bruce Gradkowski (1)
- Colt McCoy (21)
- Jake Delhomme (4)
- Seneca Wallace (7)
- Brandon Weeden (20)
- Thad Lewis (1)
- Jason Campbell (8)
- Brian Hoyer (16)
- Johnny Manziel (8)
- Josh McCown (11)
- Austin Davis (2)
- Connor Shaw (1)
- Cody Kessler (8)
- Robert Griffin III (5)
- Deshone Kizer (15)
- Kevin Hogan (1)
- Tyrod Taylor (3)
- Baker Mayfield (42, through 2020 Week 14)
Colt McCoy with the Browns
McCoy wasn’t necessarily supposed to be Cleveland’s savior, but he was up next. The Browns selected the former Texas star with the 85th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Cleveland had moved on from Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, meaning McCoy was the potential best of a motley crew that also featured Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace.
His first start for the Browns came in Week 6 of the 2010 season, a 28-10 loss to the Steelers in which McCoy offset 281 yards and a touchdown passing with two interceptions. He won his next two starts but then dropped five consecutive games to close out the season.
McCoy opened the 2011 season as the relatively undisputed starter, but Cleveland didn’t have a competitive team for most of the year. McCoy threw for a career-high 350 yards in a 31-13 loss to the Titans in Week 4, and he finished the season with 14 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. He was 6-15 as a starter for the Browns.
“I was appreciative of my time with the Browns,” McCoy told reporters Friday on Zoom. “I wish we could have won more games. There’s some great people in that organization. The fans and the people in Cleveland are awesome. My wife and I really enjoyed our time there. Just didn’t win enough.”
Cleveland decided it needed to do better than McCoy for 2012, so it took 28-year old Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick of that year’s draft. That didn’t work out any better, and after McCoy appeared in four games in the 2012 season, the Browns traded him to the 49ers for draft capital.
How Colt McCoy reached a 2020 matchup with the Browns
McCoy’s only opportunities to start after leaving Cleveland came with Washington, where he joined a depth chart that included Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. Washington entrusted McCoy with a three-year contract extension during his six-year stint there, but he served mainly as a trustworthy backup.
The Giants signed McCoy for the 2020 season to serve as a veteran mentor to Jones, who is in his second year out of Duke after being taken sixth overall by New York in 2019. Jones has dealt with multiple injuries this season, including ones that pressed McCoy into duty for a start against the Seahawks in Week 13 and now again in Week 15.
Not only did McCoy start against Seattle, he also led the Giants to a 17-12 victory. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Two weeks after that win, McCoy will perform on a prime-time stage against the team that drafted him. New York sits only one game back of first-place Washington in the NFC East, too. It’s really an unlikely spot for McCoy, the Giants and the Browns to find themselves in during 2020 Week 15.
But unlike many of the quarterbacks who cycled through Cleveland, McCoy stuck around in the NFL. He became a reliable backup, and sometimes reliable backups get to start. A decade after Cleveland drafted McCoy, his reappearance should help Browns fans realize how good they now have it.