The Texans entered the off-season with 2 Quarterbacks signed to 2-year contracts: Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer. At first glance, this seemed like a reasonable option for the Texans. This allowed the Texans to trade then-back-up Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Jets for conditional draft picks (7th round compensatory picks, which could become 6th round based on Fitzpatrick’s playing time – it bodes well for Texans that Fitzpatrick is starting for the Jets this season and into the future w/ Geno Smith injury).
The signing of Hoyer, by all appearances, made it clear that the starting position was up for grabs again. Hoyer, who was at the end of his contract with the Cleveland Browns and was a free agent, had just finished off a 2-year stint where he was named starter on a week-to-week basis in Cleveland in 2013, until an injury ended his season. Hoyer went into 2014 as the starter for the Browns, but lost his starting job to the newly-drafted Manziel after his 6-3 start turned into a 7-6 record with a playoff spot on the line.
When looking at Hoyer’s recent track record, one would question why a former back-up-turned-starter, largely by default, just finishing off a downward spiral season and being benched for a drafted rookie would be the Quarterback signed to compete for the starting job in Houston. Fitzpatrick would have been an immediately-cheaper option (negotiable, considering the future compensatory draft pick), and already knew the system. Fitzpatrick had given the Texans an even split, 7 wins, 7 losses, in the games he played. However, Fitzpatrick was never brought in to be a potential starter, long-term.
So, why was Hoyer considered? His career playtime didn’t outshine that of Fitzpatrick. By all appearances, Mallett was firmly considered to be the eventual starter for the immediate future back in the 2014 season. QB Tom Savage was drafted in 2014, and given a 4-year contract, leading one to believe that Savage would eventually be given a real shot to compete for the starting position. With the Texans recent record of QB woes, it certainly made sense to have 3 QBs on the roster, and Head Coach Bill O’Brien’s philosophy was one of direct competition for each and every roster spot.
The competition aspect is why Hoyer was chosen to compete with Mallett for the starting position, instead of letting Fitzpatrick ride out his contract. Both Hoyer and Mallett, as mention previously, competed for the back-up position for the New England Patriots after Mallett was drafted in 2011. Hoyer eventually beat Mallett out for the spot, until his release (essentially pre-determined with the drafting of Mallett). Mallett then took over and was back-up QB until the 2014 draft yielded another back-up QB for the Patriots. Essentially, Hoyer was meant to light a fire under Mallett and get him to perform at the level expected when he was going into the draft.
This wasn’t a bad angle to try. After all, Mallett had originally been considered to be the top QB of the 2011 draft class by the Patriots (a draft class that also included first overall pick Cam Newton, as well as current starters Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick, who were all eventually picked up before Mallett) but had some character and maturity concerns heading into the draft. This most likely dropped his draft stock from the originally designated likely 1st round pick to his actual 3rd round position. In fact, 6 other QBs were drafted before him. Even with this dramatic fall-off, the Patriots were lauded with his pick.
So, was it character and maturity issues that made Mallett’s draft stock slide, and were these character issues still a lingering factor for Mallett? When enough rumors about his past drug issues were too loud to be ignored, Mallett opened up to NFL teams before the draft about his past drug use. This may have turned some teams away. Other character issues, such as ego and attitude, also came into play pre-2011 draft, which likely further sullied his reputation as a potential long-standing talent in the NFL. He was still eventually picked up by a team that was already building a reputation on having a keen eye for QBs, and that can’t be discounted.
If Mallett was chosen to be the starter, and now his former teammate and competition was brought on to be his new competition for the starting position, one could surmise that perhaps Mallett still had some “intangibles” to check before assuming the leadership position for the Texans. If Mallett’s ego and attitude still needed to be corralled, then bringing back a former competitor that beat him out for a spot makes perfect sense. If Mallett still needed to step up his game and throw with more accuracy, who would be better than a former competitor to make him rise to the occasion or fall flat?
Bill O’Brien knew exactly what he was doing when bringing in Hoyer to compete with Mallett. This move was not so much about the potential that Hoyer could bring to the Texans organization. This move was all about pushing Mallett to the next level that he could go to, and beyond. This was as much of a psychological move as it was a physical move, because the NFL is as much of a mind game as it is a body game. O’Brien didn’t see anything in Hoyer that made him think Hoyer could eventually be a starter after a long-standing career as a back-up with several teams, and a short stint as a starter by default.
When Hoyer was picked in the preseason to start the 2015 season, it wasn’t because Hoyer out-performed Mallett. The common fan could see this in their direct competition on field in the preseason, and Hoyer was named starter half-way into the preseason. The most telling aspect that everyone saw (in-part, thanks to the Texans starring role in HBO’s Hard Knocks) to why Hoyer was chosen over Mallett was the now-infamous incident of Mallett missing practice due to oversleeping after being knocked out of the starter position.
Perhaps his days of partying are over (Mallett has never tested positive for any substance, both in college and in the NFL), but perhaps he still needed to build upon his overall character. One can certainly argue that his attitude and ego were put in check when he lost his starting position to a mediocre-at-best Hoyer, who also beat him out in a previous challenge. One can also argue that Mallett has done an about-face, as far as discipline, in practice after being bumped and after being told to go home when he arrived late that fateful day in practice.
Also, one can easily surmise, after watching both Hoyer and Mallett play in the first game of the season, that Mallett has a clear talent and physical force on field that Hoyer lacks. We also saw a thankful and humble Mallett during that game (stepping up next to Hoyer and congratulating him, as well as standing in for the post-game presser with a stone-cold sobriety that one would expect after such a game), which could mean that he’s turned a page in his book of character. So, if we are to assume that perhaps, just perhaps, Bill O’Brien was trying to build a formidable player in Mallett, could we assume that Mallett is finally going to get it?
Only time will tell. However, starting out the season 0-2, after a heart-breaking loss in Carolina, the time-clock is ticking.