The Houston Texans' quarterback shuffling started in earnest Thursday night with some inter-division trading when the Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick less than a week after the Tennessee Titans released him. Fitzpatrick said on a conference call today that he’s coming in to compete, and that Bill O’Brien hasn’t boxed him into a “mentor” role or anything else just yet. But his ability to mentor whatever young quarterback joins the Texans' roster (or even one of the young guys currently there) will be important for the Texans this year.
Here, ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and I tackle Fitzpatrick’s move from both angles. So Paul, what kind of relationship did Fitzpatrick have with Titans quarterback Jake Locker as the two intersected in Locker’s third NFL season?
Kuharsky: They got along well. There was no tension about who was in what role. Locker won the starting job from Matt Hasselbeck a year earlier. The Titans thought Hasselbeck was starting to fade and was too expensive, so they cut him and brought on Fitzpatrick. Everyone knows he’s smart since he went to Harvard. I think he’ll be a good resource for a draft pick to lean on in terms of how to be a pro and all of that.
Is the sense in Houston that while Fitz throws too many picks, he’s a cheaper option to keep the seat warm and be a resource for a draft pick than Matt Schaub would have been?
Ganguli: There is no parameter under which it didn’t make sense to do this for the Texans. They had to move on; Schaub’s time was done. They just needed to make sure to get something for him. Fitzpatrick is cheaper while offering some of the same things Schaub would have offered on the field and in the classroom. They replaced what would have been an $11 million salary for 2014, which includes a $10 million base and $1 million in per-game roster bonuses, with Fitzpatrick, who will make $4 million this year.
You addressed why the Titans cut Hasselbeck, but why did they cut Fitzpatrick last week?
Kuharsky: GM Ruston Webster said they just didn’t play well enough when Fitzpatrick was at quarterback last season, and that’s fair. I have trouble imagining Charlie Whitehurst will be better -- at least Fitzpatrick has some real experience. But Whitehurst was with Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego last season, and the Titans avoided a roster bonus and saved $3.25 million by parting with Fitzpatrick.
He’s very much a shotgun guy who is not very comfortable under center. How do you see that fitting with Bill O’Brien?
Ganguli: O’Brien is adaptable, and I think he’ll be able to work with that. Intelligence, size and at least some mobility are important for O’Brien’s quarterbacks as they will be asked to process a lot. I think those things are in line with what they will get with Fitzpatrick.
One thing that was interesting from Fitzpatrick’s conference call today is that he said being released by the Titans turned out to be a good thing for him. He said he had a lot of options and wound up in what he considers a better situation. What do you make of that?
Kuharsky: No player who just got dumped says where he lands is a worse situation. But he could have avoided that topic altogether. We have a lot to learn about both the Titans and Texans with their new coaching staffs and schemes. Obviously the Texans have some talent. But this idea that they can bounce back into a playoff-caliber team from 2-14 in a year is getting a little tired for me. Both the Texans and the Titans have new coaching staffs. I’m not so certain the one that finished five games worse is the better situation.
Fitzpatrick said he drew a lot of interest. What was the draw of O’Brien?
Ganguli: Sounds like two smart football minds were drawn together. They're both Ivy League guys, though somehow you were let into an Ivy League school, so maybe that doesn't mean anything. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, to hear Fitzpatrick talk about his affinity for the mental aspect of the game and the strategy sounds a lot like what you hear about why O'Brien loves football. Fitzpatrick is also very well connected around the league, as you know, and he's talked with plenty of people who know O'Brien well and spoke very highly of him. "Not only his mind and the way that he thought about football, but treating guys fairly and demanding the best out of you and all that stuff," Fitzpatrick said. "It was nothing but positive reports from people I really trust."