Maybe it’s a sign of the sssslow times right now in the NFL, but I’ve become fascinated lately with the quarterback situation in Houston. Starter Matt Schaub enters the final year of his six-season contract, but no talks on an extension have occurred. Schaub says that he sees himself sticking around for the long haul, as he tries to finish what he has started (but hopefully not in the Colt McCoy way).
It remains too early to know with any certainty how this one will play out, but that won’t stop me from speculating about it. (Does it ever?) After discussing the situation earlier this morning in Houston, via a weekly spot on In the Loop with Nick and Lopez (SportsRadio 610), I decided to sit down (then again, I already was sitting) and type up the various factors that will influence Schaub’s future.
1. How much money does he want?
In 2007, he received a second-to-third-tier contract upon being traded to the Texans. As he makes $7 million in the final season of a six-year deal that averaged $8 million per year, the biggest and most important question is whether he wants to be paid at a significantly higher rate going forward.
2. How much will the Texans pay?
G.M. Rick Smith seems to be implementing a meticulous plan when it comes to building and tweaking and reloading and maintaining his roster. Right now, the Texans boast a great defense, a great running game, a great offense line, and a top-heavy receiving corps.
Given those realities, Smith surely has a number in mind, driven by considerations like Schaub’s value on the open market, the other areas of need on the roster (left tackle Duane Brown will be a free agent in March, too), the “need” to have a highly-compensation quarterback, and the team’s other options at the position.
3. So, what other options do they have?
While the Texans may not enjoy the broad array of free-agent and/or trade options at quarterback that were available earlier this year, they possibly have an in-house ace in waiting. T.J. Yates performed admirably as a rookie fifth-rounder, and he gives the Texans a low-cost option at the position, especially since the CBA prevents his contract from being renegotiated until after the 2013 season.
4. Can Rick Smith continue to be dispassionate about his personnel decisions?
Smith seems to pride himself (as he should) on making decisions with the name on the back of the jersey removed. That approach could face its biggest test with Schaub.
Yes, Smith was able to part ways with guys like Mario Williams (who left via free agency), DeMeco Ryans (who was traded), and Eric Winston (who was cut). But more than ever it’s a quarterback-driven league. Would Smith be able to watch Schaub walk away?
5. Would the Texans use the franchise tag?
For the same reasons the Ravens likely wouldn’t tag Joe Flacco, the Texans likely wouldn’t sink more than $15 million in cap space into a quarterback who has yet to play at a $15 million-per-year level. Even if it’s done to retain “dibs” as negotiations continue, the one-year guaranteed salary becomes the launching pad for the long-term deal. Besides, with Duane Brown also due to be a free agent, the Texans could be more likely to use the tag on him, especially since the franchise tender for offensive linemen better correlates with Brown’s value.
6. How good do the Texans think Schaub is?
That’s perhaps the most important question, something to which we’ll never know the complete and truthful answer. When considering the league’s other quarterbacks — via a simple exercise of “which guy would you rather have?” — it’s hard to see Schaub even in the top half of the league.
Schaub easily loses the quarterback version of the card game “war” with, by our count, at least 16 starters. Here they are, in no particular order: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco (the postseason record was the difference), Tony Romo, Cam Newton, Mike Vick, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, and rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin, III.
While there’s no reason to currently believe Schaub won’t be back with the Texans in 2013, there’s reason to believe it’s not as easy of a question as it may seem. In the end, Schaub may have to prove that he can do what Yates did in 2011: Take the team to the playoffs and win at least one postseason game.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the situation at the top of the hour on PFT Live with someone who knows a thing or two (or a million) about the Texans, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.