In the first frenzied days of NFL free agency, Texans fans were frustrated and baffled. The team watched some functional players walk, and did almost nothing. The eventual re-signing of Garret Graham and the addition of DT Jerrell Powe — a depth-type player — did little to move the meter.
But the Texans were never going to be in on the early big names. They had to sort out quarterback first, create some cap room by getting rid of Matt Schaub, then start adding a few pieces to augment what will be perhaps the most important draft in the team’s history.
Step 1 happened on Thursday, when the Texans added veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 31-year-old was 3-6 as a starter last year for the Titans. His best years were in Buffalo. He is a solid short term fill-in, keep-it-warm-for-the-rookie type of player who will be a quality backup once whoever the Texans draft is ready to go. He is never going to be a great player, but he can win a few games for you. He throws too many picks (12 last year to 14 TDs; 93 to 96 TDs for his career) but also takes more chances than Schaub. He has a career passer rating of 77.5, but the last four years have been 81.8, 79.1, 83.3 and 82.0. Schaub has been considerably better: 130 TDs to just 84 interceptions and a career passer rating of 89.8. Last year’s 10 TDs and 14 picks with a 73.0 might have been an aberration, but considering how poorly he played at the end of 2012, the arrow was clearly pointing down.
So Step 2 is happening today. Schaub is being dealt to the Raiders, according to several reports. The Texans will receive a late-round pick, gain a little cap space, and can now begin to shape some other areas of the roster where they need help. In truth, neither the 32-year-old Schaub or the 31-year-old Fitzpatrick will be the starter on a playoff team. But by making these moves, the Texans can now move on to their QB of the future without having an overpaid, bitter Schaub on the roster. Fitzpatrick has been a backup most of his career and is likely yo handle it better. Like Schaub, he was badly overpaid by the Bills and released. He signed as a backup in Tennessee and played OK when called upon. Unlike Schaub, he has never been part of a winning team, and the best the Bills managed in his four-year run was a 6-10 mark. In all fairness, he was simply on some bad teams. Having said that, we still don’t know what the Texans will be.
So what does it all mean? Schaub gets to start over in Oakland and try to rediscover the form that made him a QB capable of leading a team to the playoffs. If he does? He’s a better player than Fitzpatrick. But it was unlikely it was ever going to happen in Houston. The Texans didn’t get better, just different. But they did put themselves in position to get better. The fact that they were able to get anything for Schaub is a bonus; the fact that two teams (the Browns being the other) wanted him made it possible to pick up a late round pick and not have to cut Schaub.
The Texans get a fresh start, have an adequate replacement on the roster and can now move forward. There is speculation that this means they are more likely to take a quarterback No. 1, but don’t be shocked if they have pick No. 33 tagged for a QB and go a different way at the top of the draft. They have options either way.
This team is still desperately in need of linebackers of all kinds, a heavy nose tackle and defensive end. They will likely bargain shop and cherry pick what’s left in free agency now that the Schaub mess is over and try to fill some of those needs. At least one will have to be in the draft with one of their high picks, however. Running back and offensive line need help, too. But at least the Texans are in a position to address some of those holes now.
Fans will likely celebrate Schaub’s departure more than Fitzpatrick’s arrival, and that’s totally understandable. The real celebration should be that the Texans have answered one of their biggest offseason questions and can now move on to other pressing needs.