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The Texans have not had a reliable and talented quarterback since their inception in 2002. Matt Schaub was the closest Houston had to a franchise quarterback, but his tendency to throw pick-sixes led to his banishment from town. Prior to the 2016 season, the Texans signed Brock Osweiler to a four-year $72 million dollar contract, of which $37 million is guaranteed for his first two seasons. He never threw for more than 269 yards a game and threw 16 interceptions against just 15 touchdowns. He rarely threw to star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, which was one of the myriad of reasons head coach Bill O’Brien benched Osweiler in Week 15 against Jacksonville. It would seem as though trading for more successful starters like Tony Romo and Jay Cutler or a well-coached backup like Jimmy Garoppolo would be the Texans’ top priority as they try to make a deeper playoff run this season. Yet, this is the exact opposite of what the Texans need to do this offseason.
There is no way to sugarcoat Osweiler’s performance in 2016. He tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the league, was 32nd in average passing yards per game (197.1 yards), was ranked 27th in completion percentage (59%), and was 30th in yards per attempt (5.8 yards). The Texans only made the playoffs because the AFC South is a weak division, their defense was one of the best in the league, and kicker Nick Novak made 35 field goals after drives that Osweiler failed to finish. His release after the 2017 season is inevitable, but the large sum of guaranteed money is keeping him in a Texans uniform for another year.
Osweiler’s backup Tom Savage showed some potential after leading Houston to a comeback victory over Jacksonville in Week 15. He threw for 260 yards in just over one half of action, which almost matched Osweiler’s best passing performance in four full quarters. Savage was average against Cincinnati and Tennessee, before he exited the latter game with a concussion. If anything, Savage does not elicit the irate boos from Texans fans that Osweiler does. He is likely not a long-term solution at the quarterback position, given his limited development since he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. His contract is much more favorable than Osweiler’s, as he signed a four-year contract worth about $2.5 million with a paltry $300,000 in guaranteed money.
Tony Romo has frequently been linked to Houston as either a piece in a trade or a possible free agent signing if he is released by Dallas. Romo would be an instant improvement for the Texans offense, and his experience with star Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant could help him find ways to get the ball to Hopkins. Not including the 2016 season, during which he attempted just four passes, Romo has thrown for 254.86 yards per game since becoming Dallas’ starter in 2006. His consistency in the regular season has not carried over into the playoffs, where he only has two career wins. Still, the Texans desperately need any type of consistency at quarterback. What Houston does not need, though, is a quarterback who will be 37 at the start of the 2017 season and who is coming off a fractured vertebrae in the 2016 preseason. While he claims he is fully recovered, he also fractured two transverse processes in his back in 2014. Romo’s durability is questionable, and he should demand a high salary, as his Cowboys contract pays him $14 million for the 2017 season. Even if Romo can stay healthy for 2017, he may only have another season before he retires. The Texans have had so many short-term quarterbacks such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, and Brian Hoyer. Houston should focus on finding a quarterback they can start for at least four to five seasons.
Jimmy Garoppolo has won two Super Bowl rings as the backup quarterback for New England. Garoppolo started two games in 2016 while Tom Brady served his four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate. Garoppolo won both games and threw for 498 yards and four touchdowns. In his second start against Miami, he sprained the AC joint in his shoulder and did not play in the last two games of Brady’s suspension. Unlike Romo, age and a hefty salary are non-issues with Garoppolo. The Patriots have been rumored to be looking for a first-round selection in exchange for Garoppolo, a second-round pick in the 2014 draft. Cleveland and San Francisco could explore a trade for the Eastern Illinois product, and since they own the first and second overall picks, respectively, Houston may have to include a second-round pick or an established starter to complete a potential trade. The Texans should hold on to their first few selections because they need to replace cornerback A.J. Bouye, who will likely command too much money to stay with Houston, and fill needs on the offensive line. Moreover, Garoppolo becomes an unrestricted free agent after 2017, so if he has a breakout season, the Texans could be forced to pay him as much as $20 million a year, which is becoming the going rate for reliable starting quarterbacks. In 2018, DeAndre Hopkins, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz will hit free agency. The Texans are projected to have $63 million in cap space in 2018, but much of that could be wiped out by just re-signing Hopkins and Garoppolo. The cost of trading for and then later re-signing Garoppolo may be more than the Texans bargained for with a player who has 94 career pass attempts.
Jay Cutler represents an option between the aging Romo and the inexperienced Garoppolo. If no team trades for him, he is expected to be cut by the Bears. His base salary is $12.5 million on his current contract, but he likely will get less than that on the open market. He will be 34 in April, and he could have a few more seasons in him. His injury history is varied with a concussion, a broken thumb, a high ankle sprain, and a torn labrum causing him to miss multiple games each over his career. None of these injuries has been as serious as Romo’s back surgeries. Cutler has completed 61.9% of passes and averaged a QBR of 85.7 in his career. His 208 touchdowns and 146 interceptions create a much more favorable ratio than Osweiler’s statistics do. The Texans, on the other hand, may not be able to afford Cutler and still re-sign Bouye this offseason. Houston may be better off starting Tom Savage rather than Cutler and using the extra money to sign free agents at other positions. In his limited game action in 2016, Savage has completed 63% of his passes and has an average QBR of 80.9. The difference between Cutler and Savage is so minimal that the Texans should not consider paying millions more to sign Cutler.
Tom Savage is not a long-term solution, but he can start until a quarterback the Texans draft this year is ready to start. DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, and Deshaun Watson should be gone before the Texans make the 25th pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Many talented quarterbacks will still be available in the third and fourth rounds, where Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, and Kirk Cousins have been drafted in recent years. Brad Kaaya threw for 9,968 yards and 96 touchdowns in three seasons at Miami. He has experience in a pro-style offense and can read coverages well. Improving his accuracy is a must, but Texans quarterback coach Sean Ryan helped Eli Manning reach the Pro Bowl in 2012 and could fine-tune Kaaya’s throwing motion. Nathan Peterman of Pittsburgh could be another solid option. He passed for 47 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions in his two seasons as a starter, which speaks to his excellent decision-making ability. Peterman can be mobile when he is under pressure, but like Kaaya, he needs to improve his accuracy after completing just over 60% of his passes in college. Whomever the Texans draft, he will have four to five years on a cheap contract to develop into a starter. In that timeframe, the Texans can fill holes on the rest of their roster and re-sign key free agents for years to come. The draft is a risky avenue to find a franchise quarterback, especially in the later rounds, but a mistake in the draft costs a whole lot less than $37 million, a number that has become infamous for the Texans.