A New York writer friend of mine, Damon Salvadore, has oft voiced his displeasure at the current state of movie scripts. To him, they are a constant repetition of the same plot lines that are twisted up into sequels, relaunches, caricatures, or given a change of scenery.
“How many ‘Fast and Furious’ are we going to get?” was essentially one of his Facebook statuses. No one is producing anything new with the exception of Pixar.
Damon’s thoughts came to my mind as I looked at the stat sheet of the Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars and saw that Blake Bortles who had a pathetic game (12/28 for 92 yards and an interception) finally had an opponent worse than him. Brock Osweiler, the $72 million free agent quarterback, was finally so bad (6/11 for 48 yards and two interceptions) that Houston benched him for Tom Savage, a career backup.
The Texans still managed to edge the Jaguars 21-20 and are still in the race for the AFC South crown. Osweiler has been permanently benched by Head Coach Bill O’Brien.
The future of Osweiler is grim. He has given little reason to think he’ll improve and looks to be an all-time free agent flop who the Texans will have to either keep, cut or trade (maybe somebody is dumb enough to take that contract). The 2016 season and the immediate future 2017 season are in grave doubt because the Texans made a mistake; thus the lesson of Brock Osweiler.
Except that, this isn’t a new lesson. It’s the same old movie script that’s been juggled up, added a new twist here and there, white-out has been slapped on, and new names were written over. The lesson of Brock Osweiler is the lesson of Albert Haynesworth, the lesson of Neil O’Donnell, the lesson of DeMarco Murray, the lesson of Carl Crawford, etc.
The lesson of these lessons being: Don’t just sign players just to sign players or self-convince yourself into a trap. This is what happened in all of these cases.
Take the cinematic classic: Gigantic lazy blob formerly known as Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth was a beast of a defensive tackle in his tenure as a Tennessee Titan. In 2008, he was considered early as an easy DPOY winner and a candidate for MVP. That faded, but he still received AP first-team All-Pro honors. Free agency hits and the Redskins and Dan Snyder signed him to a $100 million contract. In a vacuum world, this is a match made in heaven.
But anyone who knew or covered Albert Haynesworth closely or even looked at the tape closely could see that it was no coincidence that he suddenly became a dominant defensive tackle in his last two years in Tennessee. Haynesworth was playing for the money and once Snyder gave it to him, he lost all motivation because he already had his carrot. Then the Redskins converted to a 3-4 defense and he didn’t want to play nose tackle then drama followed alongside national disgrace on Monday Night Football He stands as arguably the worst free agent bust of all time.
Neil O’Donnell was the same type of movie script with a twist of he wasn’t lazy, but he was overhyped because he was a QB on the 1995 Steelers that went to the Super Bowl. The Jets signed him to elite QB money when he really was a game manager who last threw two interceptions in that Super Bowl loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Hint: if a franchise lets the quarterback go AFTER a Super Bowl, logic states to not go near him. O’Donnell was nearly beaten to death in New York with no supporting cast to help him.
Then there’s DeMarco Murray is a more current movie, but the same plotline of bad scouting and I’m ashamed I didn’t see it coming sooner since he was on my favorite team. Murray was a great running back for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, rushing 1,845 yards and winning Offensive Player of the Year behind a great Cowboys offensive line in an I-formation quarterback under center potential play-action set.
Here the Eagles sign him to play in Chip Kelly high-octane, fast-paced, quarterback in the shotgun and hands the ball off to the running back next to him type of offense. Murray was not used to it, was not a fit for it, and did not produce in it (702 yards in 15 games). This blegh of a signing was among the top reasons the Eagles got rid of Kelly and traded Murray to the Titans, where he’s having a renaissance season currently (1,224 yards in 14 games).
Carl Crawford. Who is Carl Crawford? Well, for those of you who are just NFL fans, Carl Crawford was an outfielder in Major League Baseball. The movie scripts can even change sports but not the end result! Simply put, Crawford was a pretty good, more exciting than good, outfielder who in his final year before free agency had an MVP-caliber year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Division rivals, the Boston Red Sox, signed him to a seven-year $142 million contract.
The problem was he had already peaked (29 years old at the time of signing) and immediately started to decline and it was a dreadful mess that led to firings, a history making trade and a reload for the Red Sox. Crawford got his money, but he certainly didn’t earn it.
Osweiler was no different from any of these guys, just a variation of the same script. He was just the latest of players to enter a weak free agent market and had ominous foreshadowing written all over him. It was desperation combined with pressure from media and fans that ballooned his value beyond rational measurement. I’ll even bet that it led GM Rick Smith into saying to himself, “Yeah, it’ll be all right.” Not because he genuinely believed it, but because he wanted to.
Granted Osweiler is a big guy, as tall as an offensive tackle at 6’6 7/8, and only 26 years old, he simply did not have the body of work to justify his exorbitant contract. His collegiate stats aren’t even that convincing. After two years of backup time, he started his junior season at Arizona State (threw for 4,036 yard and 26 TDs) then entered the 2012 draft where the Denver Broncos took him with the 57th overall pick in the second round.
I remember at the time thinking he had a solid makeup, loved his size, liked his potential, but definitely would not start him immediately. A project quarterback. Denver was the perfect spot because Peyton Manning had just signed there in free agency and it was once-in-a-generation luck for Osweiler to learn from the grand master.
The downside is that quarterbacks like that spend significant time on the bench and Osweiler had a combined 30 pass attempts over his first three years in the NFL. What propelled his value was when in 2015, Peyton Manning went down to injury, Osweiler got to play in eight games, starting seven.
So the apprentice got a chance to unseat the declining master and he goes 5-2 in the final seven games. But here’s the catch. He had a 10-6 TD-INT ratio over these 7 games. That’s fair, but 1.5 TDs a game is more 1970s good than 2010s good and he struggled in back to back losses against the Raiders and Steelers.
The Raiders below average defense limited the Broncos to four first-half field goals and the Broncos did zilch on offense in the second half while the Raiders scored 15 unanswered points and won 15-12. Osweiler did get a chance to have a conversation with Raiders defender Khalil Mack, who sacked him five times, though.
Then the following week, Osweiler had his best game. Or rather half. He threw three touchdowns against a pretty good Steelers defense and then in the second half, Osweiler did nothing and the Steelers scored 21 points and won 34-27.
Ok, that’s unfair. He didn’t do “nothing,” he did throw an interception to give Pittsburgh the ball to score the go-ahead points.
Fast forward to the final game of the regular season, Osweiler throws a TD and two interceptions and is benched for Manning, who supervises a 20-point comeback that secures the top seed in the AFC. Manning is eventually chosen to be the playoff starter and the defense carries Manning along with whatever points he can muster to the Super Bowl. Brock Osweiler definitely earned his ring because, without his game management, it’s quite unlikely they finish 12-4 or even make the playoffs.
The media and fans want and say Denver needs to re-sign Osweiler. Sam Bradford, the universally acknowledged best quarterback of the free agent class, re-upped quickly with the Eagles and Osweiler was the next best thing.
So the Texans gave $72 million to a glorified game manager, who couldn’t beat out a broken down* Peyton Manning for a starting job.
This is what the Texans cornered themselves into when they didn’t draft Derek Carr in 2014 with the 33rd overall draft choice (and I was yelling at the TV: “YOU FOOLS!” the entire time) and instead took an offensive guard named Xavier Su’a-Filo. Carr is now in Oakland, I still can’t pronounce the guard’s name, the Raiders are now going to the playoffs and Houston looks plain incompetent in the front office.
In the offseason, everyone was saying “Denver put itself into a hole! Denver put itself into a hole!” by not keeping Osweiler when the truth is that they were smart to be picky with their money and not overpay for him. Great front offices resist the urgings of a not-so-informed press and fan base. Osweiler was a decent fit for their system, but now Denver has a chance at playoffs still with Trevor Simian, a QB to develop in Paxton Lynch, and there’s a great chance that the Broncos get Tony Romo from the Cowboys in the offseason since the writing is on the wall that Romo will be gone soon.
And it’s not the money that was the problem. The NFL’s cheapest franchise is at least $800 million and the annual revenue is over $10 billion a year easily. The Texans could easily lose the $72 million. The problem is that a franchise QB if he’s not on a rookie deal, is going to take up around $20 million ($18 in Osweiler’s case) of the cap space which is set at $155.27 million. That’s roughly 12% right there for one player and the roster needs 52 more, so it has to produce. It cannot afford to be a dud. Denver doesn’t have a dud at the QB spot, and Houston now does and their cap space is severely damaged if not unfixable depending on the contract structure. So now they’ll have a massive parasite eating valuable cap space and will have to hit on draft picks versus re-signing some players to cover important spots on their roster. All because they forced themselves into signing a dud.
So to sum it up: the lesson of Brock Osweiler is GMs shouldn’t force themselves into signing a dud. Unfortunately, I doubt they’ll learn this lesson and we’ll have a remake of the same movie in a year or so all over again. Thankfully, there’s still Pixar.
*With all due respect, which could fill the four oceans, seven continents, and the entire Milky Way; Peyton Manning was absolutely awful in 2015 compared to the standards he had set for himself. He had 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in the nine starts he had. It was painful for anyone with an ounce of affection for the legendary brand name to watch him struggle as he did. His arm was gone, he was slow and immobile, and it was wince-inducing to see him sacked, hoping it wouldn’t be the final blow to a great career. And Brock Osweiler couldn’t beat him out for the starting job.