Texans' $37 Million Gamble on Brock Osweiler Not as Risky as It First Seems

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMarch 9, 2016

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Brock Osweiler #17 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after winning Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Three hundred and five pass attempts are an awfully small number of pass attempts on which to base a quarterback investment of $18 million per year, with $37 million guaranteed.

Drew Brees throws more passes before Halloween in a typical season than Brock Osweiler has thrown in four years. You can watch every single regular-season NFL pass that Osweiler has ever thrown—with a notebook out and free use of the rewind button—in less time than it takes to watch about four episodes of The Walking Dead.

It's terrifying to entrust the future of a franchise to a quarterback with 305 attempts. It's somehow much more terrifying than handing the keys to a rookie with zero attempts. Potential has a habit of rotting on the bench, even when it's stuck behind a legend.

One can be a Brock Osweiler skeptic because of those 305 attempts, particularly the final 22: the ones that got him benched in the 2015 season finale. More about those last 22 attempts in a moment.

But the Texans are not putting their faith in just those 305 attempts. Their investment—as reported by Mark Berman of Fox 26—is in all the things Osweiler did when he wasn't on the field throwing footballs.

Osweiler spent four years in meeting rooms and on practice fields with Peyton Manning while working for an organization run by John Elway. Few quarterbacks on Earth can boast a more impressive internship. Few had better mentors for how to prepare, how to watch film and how to be a professional.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 13:  Injured quarterback Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos, left, has a word with quarterback Brock Osweiler #17 as players warm up before a game against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 13, 2
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Osweiler participated in two Super Bowls, one as a young player on a mostly young team that lost badly and one as a veteran contributor on a more experienced team that upset everyone in its path. He learned how a team handles the change of atmosphere when it reaches deep into the playoffs. He stood before the media during media day and fielded semi-tough questions about replacing, and being replaced by, a fading superstar.

Osweiler is ready to handle the little rigors of life as a starting quarterback that other newcomers must learn on the fly.

Granted, the Texans have turned to the backups to Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the past. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett received some of the same learning experiences from Tom Brady that Osweiler got from Manning. But there are two key differences:

  • Mallett didn't really take advantage of his Brady tutelage. And not even a Brady blood transfusion could grant Hoyer the talent to be anything but a reliable, high-effort backup.
  • Bill O'Brien can teach a young quarterback Brady-Patriots secrets; that's one of his primary selling points. Now, instead of doubling down with one of his old pupils, he can mesh his wisdom with Osweiler's Manning-Broncos experience to create from Osweiler a Super Brady Manning Hybrid, but with a stronger arm than either of them!

Whoops, got a little carried away at the end of that last bullet point. Mallett left New England with an Osweiler-like skill set, but he had just four career pass attempts. Osweiler's 305 attempts, including fine performances in critical wins against the Patriots and Bengals, represent most of the margin between his $37 million guarantee and the modest investment ($1.75 million guaranteed, per Spotrac) a year ago in Mallett, a hand-selected O'Brien protege whose Texans career ended in frustration and shame.

That makes those attempts critical. Which is why Osweiler's last 22 attempts looked so troubling. He was cruising toward the playoffs when he suddenly produced a superficially ugly half of football against the Chargers: 14-of-22, 232 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and one strip-sack. The Broncos needed the win, and Manning's ailing foot had healed to the point where he could practice during the week. Gary Kubiak went to the bullpen; the rest is history.

When an inexperienced quarterback who is making his first tour of the league takes a step backward, it often means that opponents have figured him out and adjusted. Some young quarterbacks adjust and develop. Others plateau and fade away. It's a heck of a crossroads at which to place a $37 million wager.

Hence, the Osweiler skepticism.

But it turns out that the "bad" game that gave Kubiak an excuse to bring The Sheriff off the bench wasn't so bad after all. It only looked like a bad game if you saw the stat line and switched over from the Seahawks-Cardinals game after halftime, like many of us did.

Osweiler's first interception was a perfect pass that skipped off the hands of Jordan Norwood and into the hands of defender Steve Williams. Melvin Ingram got a piece of Osweiler's arm on the second interception.

Osweiler threw a beautiful pass to Emmanuel Sanders early in that Chargers game—a deep out, with Osweiler releasing a fastball before Sanders made his break—but the receiver fumbled at the end of a 46-yard gain. The Chargers blitzed like a team with nothing to lose, but Osweiler stepped up in the pocket, found his second or third reads and fired accurate passes to open receivers on third downs.

Osweiler's bad game was actually a good game, but Sanders fumbled, C.J. Anderson fumbled, Norwood had butterfingers and the line played like it expected the Chargers to sleepwalk through the game. The crowd turned on Osweiler—boos were audible after incompletions—and Kubiak decided to put age before beauty.

Those 22 Chargers-game attempts represent 7 percent of what we know about Osweiler. Change 7 percent of anything from a negative into a positive and it makes a difference. Osweiler looked like a quarterback who was ready to lead a playoff charge in that game, not a Hoyer-type being protected by a game plan.

He may not have looked like $18-million-per-year worth of a young quarterback. But then, who does?

The Texans were gambling on apprentice quarterbacks long before O'Brien began collecting Brady Babies. Matt Schaub arrived in 2007 with three seasons and 161 attempts worth of experience. Like Osweiler, he made a name for himself by playing well against the Patriots; a three-touchdown effort in a 31-28 loss to the 2005 Patriots was the beginning and end of Schaub's credentials as a franchise quarterback. The Texans signed him for $48 million ($7 million guaranteed) anyway.

We laugh at Schaub and his late-career knack for throwing pick-sixes nowadays. But he started for over six years, reached two Pro Bowls, led the Texans to the playoffs and posted three 4,000-yard seasons. Schaub took the Texans from an expansion franchise to a contender with a little help from Kubiak, the guy who must now replace both Osweiler and Manning.

Osweiler is a better pure passer than Schaub. He has experienced more success than Schaub did in Atlanta. He has had a better mentorship than Schaub, who spent his formative years with the young-and-troubled Michael Vick. The current Texans are much better than the 2007 Texans. They reached the playoffs with guys like Brandon Weeden at quarterback, for heaven's sake, and just supplemented Osweiler with an all-purpose big-play threat out of the backfield that they lacked last year in Lamar Miller, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

The Osweiler signing makes more sense than the Schaub signing did. It makes more sense than the Brady Baby acquisitions. It makes infinitely more sense than drafting Christian Hackenberg and trying to recapture the magic of the 2013 Penn State Nittany Lions. It's the best move the Texans could have made, and it pushed them forward among AFC contenders at the same time that it pushed the Broncos back.

So what if we only have 305 pass attempts to evaluate? Sometimes, you have to think like a jazz musician and have faith in the notes that Osweiler didn't play.

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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