The 2013 NFL season was a disaster for the Houston Texans. Having made the postseason just 12 months earlier and with one of the best defensive players in the entire league (in the form of JJ Watt), expectations were high entering the campaign. Yet by the time the season was over the team had sacked Head Coach Gary Kubiak and tried three different men as their starting quarterback on their way to a 2-14 record. The only slight silver lining for Texans’ fans to take comfort in is the fact that their terrible season has at least given them the chance to select from the entire crop of the collegiate talent with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Following the appointment of former Penn State Head Coach Bill O’Brien to succeed Kubiak, the biggest question that still hangs around the Texans is the one of who will be standing under center for Houston in the 2014 season. There are numerous options available to coach O’Brien and the Texans staff and it remains to be seen which way they intend to go in order to be successful next season. Whatever the eventual choice, it is essential that they find solidity and clarity in the position prior to the start of the season. The issues that a lack of clarity have thrown up in Minnesota highlight just how important this choice is for the Texans.
With that in mind, what options are available for Houston heading into 2014?
- Stick with what they have
This must be an unlikely option, at least in terms of the starting quarterback. In 2013 Houston tried three men in the starting role; Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum. Of all these, Keenum has the best chance of still being in with a shot of game time in the future. Schaub was the incumbent at the start of the year, yet a series of pick sixes and injury cost him his role. His replacement Yates threw a pick six in his only start and left the Texans relying on the inexperienced Keenum. His rating of 78.2 was higher than both his experienced colleagues and hints at future promise. Yet it remains unlikely that he will start in 2014 and even more unlikely that Schaub is not traded away or cut in the offseason, unless he is kept on to mentor a rookie.
- Sign a Free Agent to lead them
Normally a sound option to improve a problematic position, the problem facing the Texans (and other quarterback needy teams) is the lack of quality options available in Free Agency. Top of the list are Michael Vick, Josh McCown and Matt Cassel. Vick has fallen below Nick Foles after his breakout season in Philadelphia and is openly courting a chance to start in 2014. McCown filled in well for Jay Cutler when he went down injured and, with Cutler’s new contract recently signed, may be tempted by the chance to start in new surroundings. Cassel, meanwhile, has taken the opportunity to void the last year of his contract with the Vikings to test the market. He could also be tempted to trade the cold of Minnesota for the warmth of Texas. Free Agency is an option, but not one I expect the Texans to use a huge amount of cap room on.
- Trade for a QB
There are other options out there in terms of quarterbacks who have NFL experience and may be looking to ply their trade elsewhere in 2014. Kirk Cousins of the Redskins is one such option, although it may require more than the Texans are prepared to give up in terms of draft picks. Other trade options include Ryan Mallett of the Patriots or Christian Ponder of the Vikings. Both of these are hardly the calibre of player Houston would be targeting to take them forward in 2014, but if they were available at a reasonable cost, either could be brought in as competition for a draft pick.
- Draft a new signal caller with the first pick
With a few options available to them, drafting a QB with the first pick in the draft remains the most likely option. Teddy Bridgewater remains a solid potential selection, despite his stock falling in recent weeks. By contrast, Blake Bortles’ stock has risen recently to the extent that he is now being openly talked about as a potential number one selection. Another tempting option (both in terms of football and commercially) concerns a player who has openly challenged Houston. Former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel’s selection would go down well with the fans as it would keep ‘Johnny Football’ in Texas and he has also stated that if Houston passed over him for the first pick then it would be ‘the biggest mistake they’ve ever made’. Strong words indeed, but it remains to be seen if the Texans do decide to draft him or another of his peers with their first selection.
- Trade down/pick someone else first and draft a QB later in the first round
There is also a strong case to be made for trading down or selecting a defensive player like Jadeveon Clowney with their first pick. With no Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III style ‘certainties’ available, Houston may feel that they could get better value by selecting a new quarterback later in the draft. If that is the case, expect them to try and get the maximum value possible for their first pick; which could include trading it away for a series of future selections. While unlikely, this is a scenario that will be being considered by coach O’Brien and the rest of the decision makers in Houston.
So where does that leave the Texans? With a big decision to make, that’s for sure. Time will tell in terms of which way they decide to go, but don’t be surprised to see a veteran (and less high profile) Free Agent signed to back up and mentor the number one draft pick. And if the Texans do decide to pick a QB with their first section, then it would be a brave decision to overlook the fans’ favourite in Manziel. Don’t be surprised to see Johnny Football standing under center when the Texans’ start their first 2014 regular season game. Watch this space: you have been warned…