June 10, 2004

Not Great

After the Browns finally cut Tim Couch today, Len Pasquarelli speculated on where he might land:

Couch could strike a quick deal in Green Bay, since he is further along with the Packers than with other franchises, but the odds are that he will take a few days to at least explore potential other options and to see if the phone rings. Just 26 years of age, with a resume that includes 59 regular-season starts, the quick consensus of a few personnel directors contacted on Wednesday afternoon is that Couch will have some alternatives.

The phone has not been ringing much so far, but that's mostly because Couch has been trying to position himself with a team where he has an opportunity to be the starter, and he has found out that there are precious few of those. Now that he is resigned to being a backup, I'm sure he'd be an upgrade, with his 59 NFL starts, for a lot of teams in the league, if the salary numbers work out for Tim. The fact that he has made about $30 million in five years with the Browns should encourage him to be somewhat flexible, you'd think. But that track record and his pride won't let him settle for a mere $1 million contract as a backup QB.

In the rearview mirror Couch looks like a good guy and a tough football player who just made the mistake of not being great. When you're drafted with the first pick in the entire draft, you're supposed to be great. John Elway great, or Bruce Smith great. Maybe even one step down from Hall of Fame great...say, Keyshaun Johnson or Troy Aikman great. But the first pick is never a sure thing. Sometimes you get Irving Fryar. Or Courtney Brown. An average player, not a great one. So your team ends up four or five years down the line paying an average player a great player's salary. And that can't last.

Couch had the misfortune to be a pretty good guy on a miserable team for at least the first two, and probably three years. I've seen all but a couple of his home games in person the last five years, and he always impressed me with his toughness and stoicism, the one tearful postgame interview notwithstanding. He never criticised his offensive offensive line while they were setting a season record for sacks allowed, either during the games or in the press afterwards. He embraced the city and the budding franchise, and demanded little more in return than simple respect from fans and a competent left tackle. If Couch came up short of their expectations, both the city and the team came up short on their end of the bargain too.

He came into the league one year before Peyton Manning, and soon was eating Peyton's dust, as it became apparent fairly early that Tim Couch was not going to be another Elway or Aikman. He never had the accuracy or the arm strength of those two guys, and while he was fairly athletic and coordinated, he didn't have Elway's speed or Aikman's instincts. That said, the Browns from 1999-2003 had so many holes and so little "star" caliber talent, that we never got to find out if the reason we weren't better was the quality of the quarterback play. Would John Elway have taken that team to the playoffs?

It never made sense for Tim Couch to be anything but the starter as long as he wore the orange hat. Once he proved to Cleveland that he wasn't going to be great, it was really all over. He deserves a fresh start, and he deserves a whole lot less than $7 million a year in salary. Neither of those things could realistically or amicably happen in Cleveland. But I hope good things happen for this guy. Good luck #2.

UPDATE 6/10: I read Terry Pluto's column this morning, and he echoes a lot of the points I made about Couch's time in Cleveland. Tough guy, team player, not great, better off elsewhere.

Posted by dan at June 10, 2004 12:42 AM