Why the Houston Texans Might Be Overrating Brock Osweiler

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Why the Houston Texans Might Be Overrating Brock Osweiler
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

In their 14 years of existence, the Houston Texans have sent just one quarterback to the Pro Bowl. They've employed three different primary quarterbacks the last three seasons (seven in total), and their promising 2015 campaign came to an end when quarterback Brian Hoyer committed five turnovers in a blowout home Wild Card Game loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

While exceptions do exist, recent precedents still suggest it's nearly impossible to win the Super Bowl without a reliable quarterback. The Texans, who haven't drafted a quarterback before the third round since taking David Carr first overall with their first-ever draft pick in 2002, appear as though they've finally realized that.

"I don't think there's any question," owner Bob McNair said in January when asked whether finding a quarterback was the team's top priority, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

"We need to have reliable play at quarterback," McNair added in February, according to ESPN.com. "We don't need a superstar there, but it needs to be reliable play that won't take anything away from us."

It's apparent the Texans were desperate, which is why it wasn't a surprise to see them give a four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million guaranteed to free-agent pivot Brock Osweiler earlier this month.

Highest-paid quarterbacks below the age of 30
Quarterback Average annual salary Career starts
1. Russell Wilson $21.9 million 64
2. Cam Newton $20.8 million 78
3. Kirk Cousins* $19.9 million 25
4. Ryan Tannehill $19.3 million 64
5. Colin Kaepernick $19.0 million 47
6. Brock Osweiler $18.0 million 7
7. Matthew Stafford $17.7 million 93
8. Sam Bradford $17.5 million 63
9. Andy Dalton $16.0 million 77
10. Nick Foles $12.3 million 35

Spotrac (* franchise tag)

It's hard to come to grips with the fact a man who has started just seven NFL games and has a career passer rating of 86 is now one of the 15 highest-paid quarterbacks in football, but demand continues to triumph over supply on a free-agent market that is making unaccomplished players far richer than ever before.

You can't blame the Texans for swinging the bat, especially considering they and their opponents had an unprecedented amount of money to spend this offseason. But listen to them talk about Osweiler, and the Texans begin to sound like someone so determined to make a relationship work that they fail to see the faults in their partner.

Just look at head coach Bill O'Brien's comments to Pro Football Talk this week:

The one thing that stood out to me on tape when I watched him is all of the games that he played in were meaningful games. These guys were in a playoff hunt and he was in some tough ballgames.

I use the example of the New England game. He was being pressured quite a bit and he was taking some really good hits but he was delivering the football and I thought that said a lot about his toughness, his ability to keep his eyes downfield under pressure and deliver the football. It wasn't always complete, but I thought he did a nice job in that game.

So I think that's one of the things we're all looking forward to is working with that type of guy that's a tough guy, a good leader, a good teammate. That's what we're looking forward to.

"It wasn't always complete" might be the most revealing line from that odd endorsement, which indicates just how low the bar has been set as teams trip over themselves in desperate efforts to find quarterbacks who possess qualities that resemble those usually held by real-life franchise signal-callers.

Damn right it wasn't always complete.

Bob Levey/Getty Images
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien (left) and team owner Bob McNair.

In the Week 12 victory over the Patriots that O'Brien is referencing, Osweiler completed just 54.8 percent of his passes, going 23-of-42. Denver made a great comeback, but even when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter and overtime, Osweiler was just 8-of-17 (47.1 percent). Meanwhile, running backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman ran for 86 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries during that span.

It was by no means a bad performance for a first-year starter. Osweiler did complete two gorgeous passes beyond 30 yards to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders late in the fourth quarter, but he didn't face any pressure on either of those completions. And aside from that, he was just 5-of-14 for 56 yards (four yards per attempt) in the quarter.

A few more notes on that performance:

  • He put Denver ahead with a fairly easy four-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth, but that only came after Osweiler was let off the hook. He took an ugly sack in the red zone after becoming a deer in headlights against a tepid Patriots rush but was bailed out by a defensive holding penalty.
  • His only completed pass on Denver's game-winning touchdown drive in overtime was a checkdown over the middle. Anderson did the rest.
  • He did indeed face a lot of pressure, but he completed only 43.8 percent of his passes and posted a 30.7 passer rating when facing pressure that evening, according to Pro Football Focus.

The sample size O'Brien cites is comically small to begin with. That he uses that game in order to pat Osweiler on the back is precious.

Congratulations, kid, you played an entire high-pressure game without passing out or abruptly sprinting toward the locker room in a mad panic. Here, take $18 million.

The fact Osweiler has played in some big spots is positive. Teams would rather that than the alternative. But that alone shouldn't be enough to earn a player a starting job, let alone the kind of money and praise being thrown at a guy who completed just 55.9 percent of his passes and posted a passer rating of just 81.3 in the fourth quarter of one-score games last season.

Lowest fourth-quarter completion percentages, 2015
Quarterback Comp.%
Nick Foles 52.1
Matt Cassel 54.3
Brock Osweiler 54.8
Brian Hoyer 56.0
Ryan Tannehill 56.4

Min. 80 attempts (Pro Football Reference)

Osweiler's numbers in big spots were ugly. His numbers under pressure (52.2 percent completions, 66.9 rating) were ugly. His numbers overall (NFL's 10th-lowest passer rating) were ugly. He struggled beyond his first read and took too many sacks (23 on 310 dropbacks, which gave him the 10th-highest sack rate in football). What's more, he was ultimately benched in favor of the league's lowest-rated passer.

There's a reason the Broncos weren't willing to break the bank to keep him around, even after 39-year-old Peyton Manning retired.

There's a good chance Osweiler has plateaued and is only supposed to be the career backup many figured he'd become when he was an afterthought in the quarterback-heavy 2012 draft. He spent the first three years of his career holding a clipboard, and that only changed in 2015 because an injured Manning couldn't produce. Osweiler was in the right place at the right time, but if you look closely, it's hard to see what exactly he did to convince anyone he was suddenly a starting-caliber quarterback.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Osweiler (left) and Manning.

And yet, according to ESPN.com, McNair declared this week the 25-year-old "has a chance to be a real hero in Houston."

"If we didn't think he had the ability and the attitude to be a winner for us, we wouldn't have signed him to that kind of contract," he added, per Tania Ganguli. "I have every confidence he will succeed. How good will he be remains to be seen. Will he be average, or will he be a superstar? But I think he'll be more than adequate in any case. That's what we were looking for in the past."

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If that's all the Texans were looking for, they might have been able to find it for less than $18 million a year. Their 2014 starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was the ninth-highest-rated passer in football, throwing just eight interceptions in 12 starts. And last year, Hoyer posted numbers that were superior to Osweiler's pretty much across the board.

But it appears quarterback love is blind, at least in Houston this offseason. Either that or the Texans are trying to convince themselves they've finally got it right. It's possible they see something that most experts don't, but it's more likely they're attempting to justify a move that has a strong chance of backfiring.

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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