The Texans' long-term QB solution probably isn't on their current roster
Just months ago I wrote that Houston handing Brock Osweiler a $72 million contract based on seven games of mostly average play was the single worst move of the offseason, and while nothing is set in stone yet, the Texans just benched the player they were sure was the future of the franchise before he even made it through his first year with the team.
The fact that Tom Savage received an ovation upon entering the game rivaling the kind of applause somebody who has just thrown a playoff game-winning touchdown might get tells you all you need to know about how Osweiler has played so far this season.
Osweiler is currently 35th in the PFF QB rankings with a grade of 40.9, and it’s worth underlining the point that there are only 32 starting quarterbacks in the league. Effectively, Osweiler has been worse than three backups, and can count himself lucky that some (like Matt Moore) haven’t yet played enough to qualify for the full-season rankings, because on current pace others would be ahead of him.
He is one of six QBs to have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season, and of the other five, three were benched, one (Jared Goff) came in for one of those benched QBs (Case Keenum), and the last (Matt Barkley) has been very harshly represented by some atrocious receiver play and hasn’t been nearly as bad as those numbers suggest.
Osweiler, though, has been exactly that bad (see passing chart below). Only Philip Rivers has thrown more interceptions, but Rivers has 15 more touchdowns and more than 1,000 more passing yards to his name than Osweiler.
Strangely, for a QB that is one bad decision away from leading the league in interceptions, it’s not even the bad plays that are Osweiler’s biggest problem, it’s the total lack of anything positive to offset them. Josh McCown has had the league’s highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays this season (plays that are graded in the lowest couple of gradients of PFF’s scale) at 4.6 percent. At 2.9 percent, Osweiler is only 12th on that list, lower than players like Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger. You can be a successful and even good quarterback by being as prone to bad plays as Osweiler has been, but not without making good ones.
While Tom Brady leads the league in big-time throw percentage (throws that earn the highest grades PFF gives out) at 3.7 percent, Osweiler has managed one of those plays on just 1.5 percent of his snaps, the lowest rate of any QB that has been a full-time starter.
And herein lies the problem with handing Osweiler a boatload of money in the offseason, even if the amount the team is on the hook for is significantly less than the $72 million headline figure.
Osweiler started seven games in 2015 and in those games his PFF grade was almost exactly average. He had OK performances, but he had bad ones too, and his passer rating shook out to 86.4, just below the league’s average for all throws that season of 88.1. There was the odd flash, but there was nothing in his tape that suggested this was a QB that had more in the tank waiting to be unleashed, and he wasn’t making big plays that raised the level of the offense that was just treading water while the defense did all of the heavy lifting. In the end the Broncos benched him for a hopeless Peyton Manning because they felt that gave them the best chance of winning games, and a championship.
Manning is an all-time great, but the 2015 iteration of that player was poor, throwing 17 picks in just 10 games and managing only nine scores in the other direction. Yet in the eyes of Denver, Osweiler was worse.
Effectively the Texans — a team that has been in QB hell for years — decided to put all the chips down on the table and go all-in with the idea that if the gamble paid off it would be worth the money.
The team’s real problem is that with that gamble looking like a bust, they are right back in QB hell. While the fans may have given Tom Savage a welcome befitting the savior of the franchise, there is even less evidence that he can be that guy than there was for Osweiler only months ago, though at least it won’t cost the team millions of dollars to find out.
Savage has played just 126 snaps in his career, and 65 of them came Sunday after Osweiler was called ashore. To be fair to Savage, he played pretty well from that point, but the high-water mark of his career is coming out of a game against the Jaguars with a passer rating of 85.4, so it’s probably a little soon to get excited.
There are three NFL preseasons worth of snaps to look at for Savage though, even if the three combined account for only 102 pass attempts, many against guys that are now working 9-to-5 jobs outside of football. In those games, Savage has better numbers, throwing nine touchdowns to only two picks (and an eight-to-one ratio in his past two seasons), but his PFF grade on those plays has not been stellar, and the raw numbers flatter his play.
The bottom line here is that Tom Savage is unlikely to be the savior of the Texans, and given how much Houston has invested in Osweiler, may not even get back on the field next week, but we’re perilously close to being able to nail the lid on the coffin of Brock Osweiler’s chances of being a franchise QB.
Osweiler’s $72 million contract is in reality more like a two-year, $37 million deal, and if the team cuts him after the 2017 season they lose just $6 million in dead money against the salary cap, a move they would be more than happy with if he doesn’t improve. The issue though is that if they want to get out of the deal before then, they see $25 million in dead money hit their cap, so whatever happens they are likely stuck carrying his $19 million cap hit next season, which would be excruciating for a QB they have given up on.
Quarterbacks take time to develop, and it’s possible Osweiler turns things around for the team going forward, but rather like the offseason decision to throw money in his direction, that is now an act of blind faith more than it is one of empirical evidence-based evaluation.
Just months after they thought they had climbed out of QB hell, the Houston Texans are right back there, and an otherwise-talented roster (the team is 8-6, and tied for first place in the AFC South) is going to waste because while they might make the playoffs, they can’t win a Super Bowl without a QB.