In many ways, 2011 was by far the best season in the ten-year history of the Houston Texans. They won the AFC South and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, then beat the Bengals at home in the playoffs before falling to the Ravens on the road.
Despite such success, Texans fans were left to wonder what might have been. When Albert Haynesworth fell on Matt Schaub’s right foot in a Week 10 win over the Buccaneers, the Texans were 7-3 and well-positioned to earn at least a first-round bye and possibly home field advantage through the playoffs. Rookie T.J. Yates played reasonably after backup Matt Leinart went down with his own season-ending injury, but the Texans still went 3-3 and slipped to the third seed.
Schaub is entering into the last year of his contract in 2012, so what does the future hold for him and the Texans at the quarterback position?
The first answer is that the job is Schaub’s in 2012. While Yates played reasonably well, his inexperience and limited knowledge of the playbook forced the Texans to play more conservatively, particularly on third down. It’s difficult to see a Schaub-led Texans team losing to either the Panthers at home or the woeful Colts, and Yates simply wasn’t up to the challenge of making plays against a good defense like the Ravens in the postseason.
While Schaub also lost to the Ravens in the regular season, he made plays in a way Yates or Leinart couldn’t do. If healthy, he’s the unquestioned starter for the Texans.
Whether Schaub can stay healthy is a better question. His foot injury shouldn’t provide any lingering problems in 2012. But this was the third year in his five with the Texans that he missed at least five games. The Texans’ unsurprising response has been to invest in backup quarterbacks, first in Sage Rosenfels, then Dan Orlovsky, and finally adding Leinart and drafting Yates in the fifth round. Head coach Gary Kubiak has said Leinart and Yates will compete for the backup job in 2012. Given the Texans’ cap situations and need to re-sign other players like Chris Myers, Arian Foster, and possibly Mario Williams, Yates’ play may make Leinart expendable.
Schaub’s injury history means that if Yates does make Leinart expendable, there’s a good chance Yates starts a couple games in 2012. The Texans are probably hoping it won’t be in the postseason again, but his injury history makes it a strong possibility. Can the Texans make a long-term commitment to Schaub, given that injury history?
Schaub when healthy has been a very good quarterback for the Texans. At 31 when next season begins, he’s not likely to radically change who he is. He has a couple flaws as a passer, notably not a great downfield arm and occasional over-sensitivity to perceived pressure up the middle, but has been a very prolific passer when he’s in the lineup. He threw for over 4,000 yards both years he started all 16 games, and has had an efficiency rate between above average and well above average every year with the Texans. He’s perhaps the best play-faker in the NFL and is well-suited for the Texans’ bootleg-heavy passing game. It’s not unreasonable to think he could play at his established level for three to five more seasons.
The question the Texans have to face, though, is should he be their quarterback for those seasons? 2012 is not a question, but the salary cap situation that may lead to Leinart’s release likely precludes them giving him a lucrative long-term extension until next season. Like Drew Brees in 2011, Matt Schaub will likely play out his contract and face a potential franchise tag designation next offseason.
Depending on Schaub’s actual health and level of performance in 2012, and Yates’ continued development, the Texans may make a different decision than the one the Saints will make this offseason and let Schaub go. Then again, maybe not. That will be up to Matt Schaub and how well and how often he plays this coming season.