After bouncing around the NFL for nine years, Luke McCown could be the poster boy for athletes whose hopes and dreams of playing professional football are routinely shattered by the cold, hard business side of the game.
Less than a year ago, the Saints released McCown after he spent two months on the depth chart behind quarterbacks Drew Brees, Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield.
It should have been enough to send most athletes into early retirement. But from McCown’s perspective, things weren’t as they appeared because the Saints usually keep only two quarterbacks on the 53-man regular-season roster.
That kept McCown in the game and eventually brought him back to the Saints this spring, when Daniel departed in free agency.
With Daniel now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, who take on the Saints at 7 p.m. Friday in the preseason opener in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there will be some symmetry at the position. Daniel will come in for Alex Smith, and McCown likely will replace Drew Brees after a series or two.
“There’s really a great lesson for some of these younger guys,” McCown said. “Never give up. … Keep working. Keep putting in your time. You just never know when the opportunity will present itself in this league.”
It did again for McCown last Aug. 28, a day after the Saints released him. The Atlanta Falcons needed a backup for Matt Ryan after Chris Redman was waived, and they quickly snapped up McCown, a former Louisiana Tech star.
McCown, now 32, didn’t throw a pass in the regular season in two mop-up appearances, but he enjoyed the ride even though the Falcons came up just short of Super Bowl XLVII. Despite that heartbreak, McCown said it was a great reminder that you can’t get down — which would have been easy to do after he was cut loose by the Saints.
“You don’t know how things might change,” he said. “You can’t get too down or too low because the next thing you know you’re in Atlanta and you’re 10 yards away from being in the Super Bowl.”
McCown, who signed a one-year contract with the Falcons, was back with the Saints two months later after Daniel accepted a three-year, $10 million deal from the Chiefs. McCown signed a one-year, $840,000 contract with a $65,000 signing bonus.
The Saints also brought in Seneca Wallace, who like McCown is a 10-year veteran. They shared second-team reps for the first week of training camp before Wallace suffered a groin injury and missed four practices.
McCown is likely to be the second guy in Friday night, and he should get a better chance to show what he can do after just one preseason appearance last season. He was 9-of-16 for 86 yards and had a 71.4 rating in the second game at New England.
But he wasn’t upset about his brief stop in New Orleans.
“I understood the situation,” McCown said.
Daniel was the No. 1 quarterback during offseason workouts because Brees was negotiating what became his five-year, $100 million contract. Then, in one of the team’s last offseason workouts, Daniel broke a bone in his thumb, and the Saints needed a little insurance for training camp even though Brees’ deal eventually was completed in mid-July.
“I didn’t receive a lot of reps for obvious reasons,” McCown said. “I understood the deal here last year with Drew’s contract situation and the uncertainty. And with Chase (being hurt), they needed a veteran just in case. I understood that I wasn’t going to get a ton of live reps.”
It’s a lot different this year for the 6-foot-4, 217-pound McCown. He has looked sharp in practice and was 8-of-11 for 86 yards with an interception in the Black and Gold Scrimmage on Saturday.
“Being around the guys, the camaraderie, the chemistry and building daily interaction always helps,” he said. “Reps make all the difference. So, obviously, there’s a higher comfort level for me now that I’m getting to play more and getting more reps.”
It always helps to be working with someone like Brees, McCown said, because of his knowledge of coach Sean Payton’s offense. And he’s enjoying the competition with Wallace and rookie Ryan Griffin of Tulane.
“It’s a great group; it really is,” McCown said. “We look out for each other and push each other. We compete in the weight room. We have throwing drills every day that we compete at.
“That just makes a close bond, knowing that you are looking out for each other and that you want each other to succeed.”