As the Houston Texans attempt to rebuild from last year's 2-14 debacle, the quarterback position is one of the primary holes new head coach Bill O'Brien needs to address.
The Texans took a step toward addressing the problem on Thursday, but the $64 question now is whether O'Brien and the Texans added veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up a rookie starter or serve as a "bridge" in 2014.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was among the first to report that the 31-year-old Fitzpatrick, who threw for 2,454 yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 games for the Tennessee Titans last year, had agreed to terms with the Texans:
Ryan Fitzpatrick is signing with the #Texans, source said.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 20, 2014
Rapoport also passed along details of the contract, which is another nice chunk of change for Fitzpatrick and his agent:
Backup QB money is unreal RT @McClain_on_NFL: Ryan Fitzpatrick gets 2 years, 7.5 mil, 4 mil guaranteed.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 21, 2014
However, Fitzpatrick quickly fell out of favor in Buffalo after that deal, and by last year it was on to Tennessee, where Fitzpatrick was supposed to back up Jake Locker.
That didn't go as planned, either. Locker (as he's been known to do) got hurt, and Fitzpatrick ended up starting over half the season for the Titans.
Per Pro Football Reference
And that's what no doubt appealed to the Texans. Twice in his nine-year career, Fitzpatrick has started all 16 games.
Of course, that isn't necessarily the plan in Houston, nor does Fitzpatrick's signing necessarily mean anything has changed concerning May's NFL draft.
How many games will Ryan Fitzpatrick start for the Texans in 2014?
For starters, there's the small matter of Matt Schaub, the former starter with all the pick-sixes last year and a $14.5 million cap hit in 2014.
As John McClain of The Houston Chronicle reports, the Texans have received trade feelers regarding Schaub from a number of teams. "If a team makes the Texans an offer they believe is worth dealing Schaub, whether now, closer to the draft or later in the offseason," McClain wrote, "general manager Rick Smith will do it."
If not, given that cap number and Fitzpatrick's arrival, Schaub will probably be shown the door.
Just as was the plan all along.
The same goes for May's draft.
It's easy to get caught up in "what ifs," especially when Fitzpatrick was signed the same day O'Brien raved about Central Florida's Blake Bortles at the UCF pro day, according to McClain:
“I was very impressed,” O'Brien told McClain. “He made every throw I wanted to see, and he showed good footwork.”
However, O'Brien's true plans for the first overall pick aren't made any clearer by his comments about Bortles than they are by the Fitzpatrick signing.
If there's a knock on Bortles (who appears the clubhouse leader among draftniks to be the first overall pick), it's that he lacks polish. Fitzpatrick provides a veteran backup and mentor with plenty of starting experience if O'Brien doesn't feel Bortles will be ready for Week 1.
Or, the Texans could draft a defensive star such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and wait a bit on a quarterback, all the while knowing they have Fitzpatrick in their back pocket.
And that's the thing. After last year's disaster, it would have been awfully hard to sell Schaub starting another game for the team. That bridge is burned.
That isn't to say that Texans fans want Fitzpatrick starting 16 games in 2014, but in signing him the Texans at least add to their options.
So, while it's a deal that doesn't shed much light on Houston's plans for the first overall pick this year, one thing appears relatively certain: Schaub ain't making $14.5 million in Houston this year.