The NFL season officially kicks off in two days in Seattle, where the defending champs will take on the Green Bay Packers, and the week before the season starts is not typically a time for big, unexpected changes to team rosters. Perhaps an aging former star who is near the end of his career will be cut. Maybe a young player filling in depth at the bottom of a roster will be churned through as teams sift through each other’s discards. Or a position battle might even be settled late. But for the most part, by Labor Day Weekend, there aren’t a lot of questions left to be answered about whose jerseys fans are going to be buying.
In that way, the 2014 NFL season is already shaping up to be an exception: a number of teams whose quarterbacks have names familiar to fans from Texas have made significant changes pretty quickly.
Of most interest to Houston Texans fans is the team’s last-minute acquisition on Sunday of quarterback Ryan Mallett from the New England Patriots. We’ve speculated before that Mallett, a promising backup who spent three seasons behind Tom Brady after a strong college career in Arkansas, would be a good fit for Bill O’Brien’s Texans team, especially given the struggles of newly-acquired starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, a journeyman who’s currently on his fifth team. For weeks, O’Brien spouted platitudes about the veteran player, seemingly ignoring the potential trouble brewing at the quarterback position. But with a week to go before the season started, Mallett was shipped to Houston in exchange for a late-round draft pick.
Best-case-scenario for Fitzpatrick? Maybe he’ll recapture the form he very briefly displayed in Buffalo in 2011, when he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month following a string of quality performances. But he was unable to do it either in Buffalo or, after farting out of the AFC North, during his run in Tennessee last season in relief of injured starter Jake Locker. This means Mallett’s is a name that Texans fans should get to know. Backup quarterbacks are usually pretty popular in towns where the starter is struggling, but had Fitzpatrick struggled with only the winless Case Keenum and undeveloped fourth-round rookie Tom Savage behind him, fans would have had few places to direct their passion. Now an unproven veteran sitting in the number-two slot who, fans can hope, may have only ever needed an opportunity, those Mallett jerseys may prove to be a hot seller.
As we mentioned, the best stretch of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s middling career thus far was in Buffalo, and now it’s the scene of a unpleasant reality for the Cowboys. During a slow offseason mostly distinguished by the number of defensive stars who were either cut or injured, the saga of who would back up Tony Romo became one of the more interesting pieces of Dallas drama. For a brief moment—that Jerry Jones still seems unable to get over—it appeared that Romo would share a quarterbacks coach with Johnny Manziel when Jones had the opportunity to take Manziel with the sixteenth pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. However, when cooler heads (namely, Jones’ son Stephen) prevailed, the question became: What will happen with tenured backup Kyle Orton, who had begun talking retirement?
Orton, for his part, seemed to not want to play for Jones or the Cowboys anymore, and refused to show up for training camp, threatening retirement. Jones opted to release him mid-July, allowing Orton to keep a $5 million signing bonus that Jones paid him. Orton subsequently parlayed that into another significant payday over the weekend: He signed a deal with the Bills worth $5.5 million this season alone. That’s a lot of money to pay for a backup quarterback, and it suggests that perhaps Orton will find himself starting for Buffalo before the season is out, if incumbent starter EJ Manuel struggles.
Taking Jerry Jones for $5 million before taking Buffalo for another $5.5 million might make Orton one of the shrewder financial dealers in the NFL, but while there may be some fans of the ‘Boys who resent the quarterback for essentially manipulating Jones out of his money, the NFL quarterbacks whose names are most despised by fans in Texas are probably still “Schaub” and “Carr.” Coincidentally, both of those names belong to the two quarterbacks who struggled to claim the starting position for the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders have both the hated former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and the rookie brother of hated former Texans quarterback David Carr under contract as signal callers. The competition between Schaub, who was traded to Oakland in the offseason after throwing so many pick-sixes that Houston restaurants began naming hamburgers after him, and Derek Carr, whose name Texans fans dreaded the prospect of hearing during the draft despite being a solid, pro-style college passer, didn’t exactly capture the imaginations of the nation—but for fans in Houston, a Schaub/Carr battle is a slice of delicious schadenfreude that could only be tastier if the team stuck with the two quarterbacks were somehow based out of a rival city like San Antonio.
That struggle ended this weekend, finally, when Schaub lost the starting spot to the second-round rookie. That’s got to be satisfying for Texans fans who are still sore at Schaub for his disastrous performance last season, and whose memories of David Carr are dimmer, and thus less harsh, by comparison—and especially because this Carr is merely related to the former number-one bust.
Schaub took most of the first-team reps with the Raiders during the preseason and offseason, which makes the ascension of Derek Carr a bit surprising. But it’s not more surprising than the fact that the Texans have a backup passer who will be gunning for a starting job who wasn’t even on the team a week ago. Or that the Cowboys’ former backup managed to screw Jerry Jones out of millions while simultaneously putting himself in a position to steal a starting job for himself. In all, quarterbacks with names that are familiar—or about to become familiar—to fans in Texas have been doing a whole lot of surprising shuffling the past few days.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)