Here is why the NFL Houston Texans should replace their head coach and use their first draft choice in 2014 to draft a quarterback.
There are two ways for a team to become a Super Bowl contender in the NFL:
- Load up with a balanced roster – several stars or A players, lots of B players, no below-average starters, decent coaching and quarterbacking – and hope that everyone stays healthy and that you can retain all your A players despite the salary cap; and
- Hire an outstanding head coach and an outstanding quarterback, and surround them with the best other players that you can afford with what’s left under the salary cap after you pay what it takes to keep your quarterback.
The Texans, throughout the Gary Kubiak/Rick Smith era (the latest 7 years), have tried to get there with Plan 1: the balanced roster. Up to a point, it worked pretty well. In the glory years – 2011, 2012 – the Texans had an extraordinarily talented team and did very well, despite having neither an elite quarterback nor an elite head coach. Had it not been for key injuries and unusually bad luck, they could have gone all the way in either of those years – especially 2011. Think about their roster: level A offensive talent at wide receiver, tight end, running back, fullback, left tackle, and center; and level A or level B defensive talent at 5 of the front 7 positions plus 2 out of 4 in the secondary. Neither the quarterback, Matt Schaub, nor the coach, Gary Kubiak, was more than Level B at best (C or C+ more realistically), but until Schaub went down in 2011, that was good enough. In 2012, Schaub was available all year, but salary-cap issues and too many injuries to other key players meant another one-and-done.
What the Texans showed, in 2011 and 2012, is that mediocrity at QB and head coach is never going to offer a durable solution, because every single year is a year when too many other people (including the General Manager) have to stay healthy and have a good year.The point of this analysis is simple: the Texans must switch to Plan 2.
The first step is to deal with the Kubiak case. Kubiak is not an elite, level A coach. The record is clear and convincing: 8 years with only 2 playoff appearances (both one-and-done), and a grotesque history of collapses in the 3rd and 4th quarter of a game – strong evidence of an inability of the coaching staff to make effective mid-game “adjustments.” Regardless of Case Keenum’s performance at QB during the remainder of this season, the Texans should invest – and be prepared to invest again and again in the future, if necessary – in a new head coach, until they finally come up with an elite one. And this time, the owner had better choose with his head, rather than his heart.
The second step is the Keenum case, and it is nearly as clear. QBs like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, and RG III have shown that you do NOT need 3 or 4 years of seasoning to become a level-A NFL quarterback, if the talent is there. Yes, Keenum throws a better pass than Schaub and is way more mobile, and yes, he shows signs of improvement in dealing with the rush and reading the defense, and he might eventually develop into a capable starter for an NFL team, but if he hasn’t shown a whole lot more talent by the end of this year, it will be reasonable to assume that Keenum will never be in the Wilson/Luck class.
Unless Keenum shows that much more talent by the end of this season, the Texans should use their first pick in the 2014 draft (possibly #1 overall) to pick the best available quarterback – and they should go with the recommendation of their new head coach. They might be tempted to pick, say, a major upgrade at nose tackle or outside linebacker, or a new right tackle, or a package deal where they could trade down and replace the entire linebacker corps, whatever. But picking anyone other than a QB? That would be doubling-down on their failed investment in the Plan 1 approach of trying to assemble an All-Pro lineup around Case Keenum and Gary Kubiak.