Imagine your dream girl had a boyfriend, but said boyfriend was cheating on her. She knows, and you know they’re eventually going to break up, so you don’t bother asking anyone else to prom. And then, the moment the inevitable actually does happen, you find out she’s already started hooking up with a college guy two towns over. Any other worthwhile dates are off the market. You’re either going to prom stag or taking that weird girl who still has a Tamagotchi.
This is, essentially, where the Houston Texans are right now. They built their entire offseason around getting Tony Romo, and now Tony Romo isn’t even going to play football anymore. So they’re left to pick out a less than ideal candidate to shepherd their top-of-the-league defense through the playoffs and potentially into a Super Bowl. So who’s it going to be? Besides the internal options (which are no fun to discuss anyway), there are three realistic candidates:
It’s fun to hate on Jay Cutler. He scowls. He throws interceptions. His teams tend to lose. He played in a big market. But is he really that bad of a quarterback?
When things were going right for the Bears, the answer is no. With Adam Gase at the helm of his offense in 2015, only 2.3 percent of Cutler’s passes were interceptions. That’s not Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady level greatness, but it’s better than either Ben Roethlisberger or Philip Rivers last season. He led a Bears team with a similarly great defense to the Texans all the way to the NFC Championship Game in 2010. And, had he not gotten injured, they could’ve won the Super Bowl. And a career quarterback rating of 85.7 isn’t all that bad. It’s better than Joe Flacco’s 84.5, and he won a Super Bowl. It’s also better than Eli Manning’s 83.7, and he won two.
You’re never going to win a Super Bowl because Jay Cutler is your quarterback. But, you probably could win a Super Bowl with Jay Cutler as your quarterback. Especially with the support system in place in Houston.
The Texans had the 12th-best pass-blocking offensive line in football last year, per Football Outsiders. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best receivers in football, and Will Fuller is a first round pick who has shown promise. The Texans ran for the eighth-most yards in football last year, and they did so with teams stacking the box knowing Brock Osweiler couldn’t beat them deep. Beating teams deep is what Cutler does best.
Of the bad options available, Cutler is probably the most palatable.
There was a unidentifiable point in Colin Kaepernick’s career—maybe it was 2014—when the 49ers started their fall from grace. Maybe it was 2015, when Jim Harbaugh was replaced by Jim Tomsula, where the 49ers made an organizational decision to try to turn Kaepernick into a pocket passer. It made sense. The team had invested quite a bit in him and expected him to be their quarterback for a decade or more. That dream turned into a nightmare rather quickly, as Kaepernick never developed into a quarterback who could consistently beat teams in the pocket.
There are a lot of reasons teams haven’t signed Kaepernick yet, most of which are ridiculous, but that idea of him as a pocket passer is the one that actually makes some sense. Teams don’t want to invest in a quarterback who’s bad (as Kaepernick has largely been over the past few years). And they don’t want to invest in one that’s vulnerable to injuries (as most running quarterbacks are).
But here’s the question as it pertains to the Texans: why should they care about Kaepernick’s longevity, at least organizationally? They’re trying to win the Super Bowl right now. Kaepernick has already led a team there and come close another time. Why not sign Kaepernick, build an offense around his talents as a runner in the read-option, and accept the fact that he’s not going to be their quarterback forever? A marriage doesn’t have to be long to be happy.
I know it’s morbid to openly admit you’re placing a quarterback in a system that leaves him vulnerable to injury, but Kaepernick doesn’t have to join the Texans. The arrangement would have to be mutually beneficial. If Kaepernick would rather have a short but potentially great career rather than one that seems to have already ended, he can sign on and take the risk. And if it doesn’t work out? The Texans are right back where they started, with no cost undertaken.
In some ways, Fitzpatrick is just a worse version of Cutler. But he has one advantage Cutler doesn’t: scheme familiarity with the Texans.
For all the attention his 31-touchdown season with the Jets got, Fitzpatrick’s best season by quarterback rating came in 2014 with the Texans (95.3). The running game is better now. DeAndre Hopkins is older and wiser. And the defense is far more complete now that their non-JJ Watt young players have developed in his absence.
If the Texans aren’t comfortable with any external options, Fitzpatrick might as well be internal. He’s actually played for them. They know his habits, how he fits in the offense and what he’ll be like in the locker room. There are no surprises. For a team so close to a championship, that’s hugely relevant.
NFL teams are notoriously risk-averse. After Houston’s last big one, the Brock Osweiler trade, blew up in their faces after Romo retired, they might not want to take another one with Cutler or Kaepernick. If that’s how they’re thinking, Fitzpatrick is the odds-on favorite to be Houston’s starting quarterback next year.