The Matt Schaub era in Houston could finally be over. On Monday, Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak told Kevin Patra of NFL.com that second-year quarterback Case Keenum would get the start in Week 9, "Matt's health is fine. It's a decision based on what I saw take place this week with Case."
This came as a surprise after Kubiak delivered a contradicting statement during an interview with Chris Wesseling of NFL.com just one week prior:
Obviously, Matt's our starting quarterback. Case went in and played extremely well. I'm going to sit down, we're on a bye week, (and) I'm going to evaluate where we're at as a team and move forward from there.
Yes, Kubiak did have one valid point—Keenum played a fantastic game during Houston's 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, the second-year quarterback's 110.6 passer rating was higher than every performance delivered by Schaub this season.
But, is that a good enough reason for Schaub to lose his job at this point?
After all, Kubiak is in dangerous waters right now. This Texans team had high expectations coming into the 2013 season after making two-consecutive postseason appearances in 2011 and 2012. This injury-riddled team could force its head coach into the hot seat if the wrong moves are made.
Multiple points need to be taken into consideration when evaluating this change at the quarterback position.
Performance is at the top of the list.
Keenum looked poised against a dangerous Kansas City defense during his first NFL start. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 271 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, he did not throw an interception. Schaub, on the other hand, has thrown nine interceptions to just eight touchdowns over the course of the 2013 season.
|Opponent||Completion %||TDs||INTs||Passer Rating|
Schaub has never been a big-play threat at the quarterback position. He has always maintained a presence as a steady game manager—the most touchdowns he ever threw in one season was 29 in 2009. However, game managers do not lose games due to turnovers. For the first time in Schaub's career, he is struggling in that department.
Over the five seasons ranging from 2008 to 2012, Schaub's passer rating never dropped below 90.7. Due to an increase in turnovers, his rating fell to just 78.8 in 2013.
The drop in performance from Schaub—and intrigue brought about by Keenum's outstanding Week 7 performance—gives Kubiak's move validity.
I think Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder, and Matt Schaub were cheated out of starting jobs this year by staffs trying to save their jobs.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) October 28, 2013
Once performance is evaluated, money must be taken into consideration.
Schaub is set to get a hefty pay increase in 2014. His base salary will rise from $7.5 million this season to $10 million according to Spotrac.com. Along with his signing bonus and incentives, Schaub stands to make a total of $14.5 million next season.
That is simply far too much money to spend on a quarterback with a diminishing skill set.
Keenum, however, is a different story. He will be in the second year of his two-year, $900,000 contract with the team and receive a 2014 salary of $495,000. This bargain price allows the Texans to evaluate Keenum going forward without any significant monetary risk to the team.
Why is that important? Because Houston must decide where to spend money next season.
The Texans currently have just over $3.5 million available in cap space according to Spotrac.com. With running back Ben Tate set to become a free agent in 2014 and high-priced Arian Foster a constant injury liability, Houston may have to free up money for use in that department.
#Texans RB Arian Foster has what is being described as a “mild” hamstring pull. Won’t know if he’ll miss time until Wed or Thurs practice— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 21, 2013
The Texans cannot rely on the oft-injured Foster to shoulder the load alone. Having a backup running back with Tate's skill set is a great commodity for Houston—especially with an inexperienced quarterback at the helm. Re-signing Tate may turn out to be a high priority.
Not only is cap space needed there, but the multi-talented J.J. Watt will need a big contract extension, as he will be a free agent in 2015.
Again, looking at the not-so-fantastic money situation that Houston will face in the near future, Kubiak's move to Keenum at the quarterback position makes sense.
The last point of emphasis in this situation is experience.
Clearly, the Texans cannot afford to move forward without a veteran presence at the quarterback position. This is one area where Schaub will continue to hold a great amount of leverage.
Third-year quarterback T.J. Yates has played in 13 career NFL games. Keenum has played in one. Their combined 14-game experience level is not even close to Schaub's track record of 124.
Texans "fans" cheered Matt Schaub's injury, then T.J. Yates threw a pick-six. http://t.co/UbG6skdX3a Karma?— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) October 13, 2013
This is not to say that Schaub must be kept around for his experience alone—that would be foolish. However, if the Texans are to part ways with the veteran, they will need another to take his place.
There are plenty of good reasons to keep a veteran quarterback on the roster. Not only is his familiarity with the league and ability to step in when needed highly valued, but the importance of having a mentor for a young quarterback is priceless.
Is starting Case Keenum the right move for the Texans?
Keenum has been lucky to have learned from Schaub over his first two seasons in the league. In fact, Schaub should be praised for Keenum's solid outing against the Chiefs. It was Schaub who partly had a hand in his development.
If Keenum is to continue to improve and thrive in the NFL, he will need another veteran as a mentor—perhaps someone to push him and make him earn his starting role.
All indications right now suggest that Schaub has taken his last snap as the Texans starting quarterback. At this point, it would take either a failed performance or injury to Keenum to cause him to lose the starting role this season. Switching quarterbacks on a whim is not something that is regularly practiced in the NFL.
Welcome to the Case Keenum era in Houston.