Lions ink free agent QB McCown

In a move that likely augurs the imminent departure of starting quarterback Joey Harrington after four disappointing seasons, ESPN.com has learned that the Detroit Lions on Thursday signed unrestricted free agent Josh McCown, who had played his entire career with the Arizona Cardinals.

McCown, 26, signed a two-year contract worth $6 million, a deal that will pay him $4 million in 2006 between his signing bonus and base salary. The addition of McCown comes just two days after Detroit signed former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna to a four-year, $11.5 million contract that has a signing bonus of $3.5 million.

League sources said that the acquisitions of Kitna and McCown will result in the release or trade of Harrington, who was the third overall player selected in the 2002 draft. Harrington is due a roster bonus of $4 million on June 15 and is scheduled to have a 2006 base salary of $4.5 million.

Releasing or trading Harrington, who has compiled an 18-37 record as a starter, will save the Lions about $5.4 million in 2006 cap space.

First-year head coach Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz both suggested in recent days that they viewed Harrington as the starter. The public support aside, team and league sources acknowledged that the new coaching staff did not regard Harrington as much as they claimed and that the Lions were actively seeking out alternatives.

The plan now is to allow Kitna and McCown to compete for the starting job.

In McCown, whose résumé includes 22 starts, Martz is getting a young, talented quarterback that he might be able to mold in much the same manner he did past protégés like Trent Green, Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger. McCown has appeared in 33 games and completed 498 of 862 passes for 5,431 yards, with 25 touchdown passes, 29 interceptions and a 72.1 efficiency rating.

The strategy of McCown's agent, Mike McCartney, was to sign his client to a short-term deal and with a team where he could legitimately compete for the starting job, and then get back to the bargaining table for a bigger contract. The plan is the same blueprint McCartney and his associates at Priority Sports used with Jake Delhomme three years ago.

"Josh is ecstatic. We were looking for a spot where he could
compete for a job," McCartney said. "The word is that the best
man wins. He's excited. It's the right offense for him."

The Lions invested a lot of time and money in Harrington, a former Oregon star, but apparently have decided that, with a new coaching staff, his shelf-life in Detroit has expired. Harrington, 26, started in 55 of 58 appearances and completed 986 of 1,802 passes for 10,242 yards, with 60 touchdown passes, 62 interception and a 68.1 passer rating.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report