Texans' Deal for Ryan Mallett a Low-Risk, Low-Reward Proposition

Rivers McCownNFL AnalystAugust 31, 2014

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The national NFL media finally got the deal it had been clamoring for since before the NFL draft. The New England Patriots received a reward for grooming Ryan Mallett behind Tom Brady, and the Houston Texans finally added another quarterback in an attempt to fix one of the worst positional groups in the NFL. 

But the end result of trading Ryan Mallett for a conditional seventh-rounder, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, should leave both sides feeling empty. It's not much of a return for the initial 2011 third-round investment for the Patriots, who had no choice but to accept the deal, as rookie signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo clearly beat out Mallett for his roster spot.

For the Texans, adding Mallett and waiving Case Keenum is like paying the extra 50 cents to go from Hydrox to Oreos. Mallett is still empty filler on a team's balanced diet—something it will likely regret eating later. But at least he's a brand name. 

Mallett's main advantage over Houston's in-house competition is that he is not Houston's in-house competition. Ryan Fitzpatrick's credentials scream backup to any team that will listen. Rookie Tom Savage's early returns remind us of the The Simpsons anecdote where Larry Burns meets an unattractive debutante who has just come out and says, "Whoa! She's not ready! Put her back in!"

Mallett is the unknown. Mallett's lone NFL experience came against the Texans and St. Louis Rams in blowout wins (combined score of 87-21) for the 2012 Patriots. He completed one of four passes for 17 yards and an interception. 

Mallett often looked overmatched this preseason, which helped kill his trade value. Obviously, it's hard to read too much into preseason statistics. What we know is that Mike Tanier hypothesized for Sports On Earth that sacks are the most important preseason thing we can suss out for a young quarterback and that Mallett's pocket timing seems to be fine.

We also know that Mallett's completion percentage is ugly. He did finish the 2013 preseason fifth in the NFL in passing yards. To show you how little that means, though, Case Keenum finished second. 

Ryan Mallett Preseason Statistics By Year
201233/67 (49.3%)3004.53/12
201342/76 (55.3%)4475.93/11
201414/26 (53.8%)1616.21/03

Physically, Mallett looks the part at 6'6" and 245 pounds. He'll take punishment in the pocket. And Mallett's strongest trait is, by far, his deep ball.

It is somewhat humorous that Houston head coach Bill O'Brien went on the record as telling team reporter Deepi Sidhu that he prizes accuracy and decision-making at the line of scrimmage. He has hand-picked all three quarterbacks on this roster, and the two youngsters he's landed on have shown little success at either of those things. (Savage had a very accurate preseason by almost never throwing more than five yards past the line of scrimmage.)

The big problem for the Texans isn't that Mallett hasn't shown much—it's that even if he shows something for them, he's on the last year of his rookie contract. That means any upside he flashes will automatically be capped, as Houston will have to pay him market value immediately.

Should Mallett showcase himself to be a quarterback along the lines of, say, Matt Cassel, the Texans won't see any real benefit from it. He will need to become a commodity rather than an asset almost immediately. And the last thing Texans fans need to see after the David Carr years is a commitment to a non-franchise quarterback. Even if Mallett hits his ultimate upside and has a Nick Foles-esque season, the Texans will have more questions than answers.

There's not a whole lot of upside to tap into here. Mallett's low completion percentages are reminiscent of Tennessee Titans signal-caller Jake Locker, and Mallett doesn't have Locker's ability to scramble in the pocket. Quarterbacks are an area where you get what you pay for, and while Mallett hasn't had a real chance in the NFL, there's not much reason to believe he'll seize on it given what we have seen of him.

Luckily, given what the Texans gave up to acquire him, there's also no real downside to the move in a vacuum. The biggest potential downside is if the Texans like any part of what they see and use that as an excuse to put the search for a franchise quarterback on hold in the 2015 offseason.