If you’re a fan of the Houston Texans, then the word “quarterback” has almost become a swear word to you, making you cringe and take offense. In our short history in the NFL, we’ve had a lackluster bevy of :”franchise” quarterbacks on the roster. David Carr started it out, and his sac-tastic start and failure to bring wins (which, of course, one could argue were heavily influenced by lack of offense, and one would be correct) brought us Matt Schaub, a back-up from Atlanta who, arguably, could have taken us all the way in 2011 if not for a season-ending injury, but relied more on his team’s strengths than his own when it mattered.
In between, we’ve had a scattering of forgettable (unless you’re a Cougar alum) back-ups and placeholders. With former Head Coach Kubiak’s insistence that he could turn both Carr and Schaub, successively, into formidable players, we held onto both perhaps a few years too long. Of course hindsight tells us that a little more clearly, as nobody could have predicted the downfall of Schaub. However, the colossal meltdown that was our 2013 season brought in an urgent need for a new game plan. We didn’t even wait until the season end to bring an end to the Kubiak era in 2013, and Schaub followed shortly in the off-season.
O’Brien came in to build a new team in 2014 and all eyes turned to the quarterback selection. Widely known in the football world as a quarterback guru, although primarily for his work in the defiled Penn State football program and not for his role in building Tom Brady in New England, O’Brien would surely turn his attention to the top quarterback prospects in the 2014 NFL draft, and use his influence to turn away from the purported “once in a generation” Defensive End talent, Jadeveon Clowney, slated to go #1 overall. Certainly, O’Brien would manufacture a trade to nab any one of the propects in the saturated Quarterback class, in which few were arguably 1st round material – if not, that is, for the veritable need to fill holes in the NFL.
But, lo and behold, we signed consummate journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as Quarterback, drafted the #1 overall projection, Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney, and yanked up Tom Savage, Quarterback from Rutgers/Pittsburgh. A questionable pick, as it seemed that Savage spent as much time transferring schools than starting in the NCAA, but a pick that also made it clear that we were going shopping elsewhere (or, to a few diehard fans, maybe we were keeping fan-favorite Case Keenum, who came out and dazzled with his passes, but just couldn’t get a win). Rumors pointed haphazardly around the league, but one such rumor seemed legit – a possible trade with the New England Patriots for back-up Quarterback Ryan Mallett.
The move made sense – O’Brien had a year with Mallett in New England in 2011, and knew what he could do as a first year rookie back-up. He was there in the backroom discussions when the Patriot chose Mallett in the 2011 draft (3rd round, 74th overall). The Patriots knew they’d have an aging back-up on their hands if and when Brady finally retired, and were looking to release Mallett from his contract (a move made obvious with a 2nd round QB pick in the 2014 draft). So, the Texans worked up a deal, including trading a compensatory draft pick (6th or 7th round, depending on Mallett’s playtime), and added Mallett to the roster. Finally, we had a possible contender.
A contender, though, who had less than a game’s worth of experience in his 4 year career in the NFL.
The move was lauded by some and questioned by others. Fans started chanting “New England South,” excited by all the Patriot throw-backs the organization was collecting. Skeptics started pointing out other failed Head Coaches from the Belichick era coaching staff. Hopefuls celebrated his success in turning around a heavily-sanctioned college program in the span of a couple of years. Everyone pointed out this was his first jab as a Head Coach in the NFL, so nobody really knew what we were getting into. And now we have a new, and relatively unknown, Quarterback.
However, Mallett was not relatively unknown in the 2011 draft. He was widely discussed as a potential future starter in the NFL, and was even projected as a 1st round pick. His weaknesses included consistency and footwork, but also a few off-field concerns. Nothing, physically, that could not be worked out with some training and work in the NFL. What made his draft stock fall, however, could have been his “other” concerns. He was arrested on a public intoxication charge his sophomore year, and rumors of partying and drug use were rampant (but unconfirmed). College antics, perhaps, but nothing should be overlooked when picking up a player for the NFL.
So, Mallett would be groomed to be the future starting Quarterback for the Houston Texans. Fitzpatrick held down the fort while Mallett was trained into form (and for as long as he could without doing too much damage so we would lose a 7th round pick instead of a 6th round), and Mallett finally got his start in the 10th game of the season against Brian Hoyer and the Browns. It was a great time to start, as Mallett would be competing against another former Patriots team member, whom he competed against and lost the #2 back-up quarterback position to in 2011.
Mallett won that quarterback shootout, and played a great game against a Cleveland Browns team that wasn’t yet collapsing on itself. Mallet completed 20 of 30 passes, throwing a long one at 42 yards, and finished with 2 touchdowns, an interception and a 73.1 quarterback rating. Not elite level, but a sound start for a first game – and he looked good on field. Unfortunately, due to an injury during warm-ups for the next game against the Cincinnati Bengals, his stats wouldn’t hold, and he’d be knocked out for the season when it was discovered that injury was a torn pectoral muscle that required surgery.
This is where things get interesting. And no, I’m not going into the scramble we had in the last few games of the season, burning through 3 different Quarterbacks. The interesting story begins in March, when Mallett was re-signed to a 2 year deal, and Brian Hoyer inked a 2 year contract with the Texans right on his heels. Hoyer, the former rival in Mallet’s first start, and former teammate with whom he competed for a back-up role to Brady (and lost) was coming in to compete with him again. What brought about this about-face? Did O’Brien lose his confidence in his former choice? Was there more to the story?