Waiver wire time in the NFL is like fishing through the discounted $4.99 DVD bin in your local Walmart.
One by one, you pick up, glance at and summarily toss aside classic time wasters like A Fish Called Wanda, Can't Buy Me Love, or any of the '90s superhero movies involving a protagonist other than Batman or Superman. Nothing in that bin is ever really good enough (even for only $4.99); you're just settling for it because it's there and fills a latent void.
The quarterback position in the NFL is a little different at waiver wire time, though. You can't just slide anything into that slot. Finding a quarterback by any means requires a little bit of thought and a little more discretion than filling other positions.
In Walmart DVD sales parlance, sometimes the $4.99 bin isn't good enough. Sometimes you need to pay a little more (say, $8.99) for the final copy of Deliverance in the store.
Enter, Ryan Mallett!
On Sunday morning, just as the "post-53 player limit trim-down" pickup period for the waiver wire was popping (a wire for which the Texans, courtesy of their 2-14 debacle in 2013, sit at the front of the line to make pickups), the Texans brought the long-awaited guillotine down on the Case Keenum era in Houston, trading a conditional seventh-round pick in 2016 (the draft's real-life equivalent of which is a homeless person's shopping cart full of cans) to the New England Patriots for Mallett.
(NOTE: The pick can become a sixth-round pick in 2016 if Mallett reaches certain snap counts, which is essentially piling a few more cans on top of the homeless shopping cart.)
The trade was first reported by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and Mark Berman of FOX 26.
Shortly after the trade was consummated, the Texans unsurprisingly put Keenum on waivers, a process that brought an end to Keenum's time in Houston, which goes all the way back to 2006 when he was a true freshman under Art Briles at U of H, and began the vetting of the truth as to what the league thinks of Keenum, as he's now available for pickup for the low, low price of zero.
Let's take a look at how this affects everyone involved, shall we?
RYAN MALLETT In New England, Mallett had fallen far enough out of favor in the final year of his rookie deal that he was behind not only Tom Brady, but also rookie second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo on the depth chart. In Houston, at least there is a glimmer of hope that he could see the field in something other than a catastrophic spate of injuries to those in front of him on the depth chart. Mallett immediately goes to a head coach and position coach with whose system he has familiarity, and if he is able to get a handful of starts in a contract year, and looks decent, then who knows? The ceiling on this deal from where Mallett sits is high -- maybe not a Kolb-to-Arizona level contract payoff, but certainly a Flynn-to-Seattle type payoff as an absolute max is not unreasonable. The downside is Mallett gets time and proves he's not a viable starter in the league. I would say the upside is worth the risk for Mallett. Without question.
CASE KEENUM Despite what anyone with a collegiate rooting interest in Keenum thinks of people who are critical of him as an NFL quarterback, I personally wish Keenum nothing but the best. I hope he goes somewhere else and has a long, prosperous NFL career. All of that said, unlike what you would hope to see from a young quarterback, which is gradual improvement, Keenum, it seemed, became more and more exposed with every NFL series. From the first three starts of his career, it had largely been gradual backward steps, as evidenced by his passer rating of 59.98 over his final five starts of 2013.
There will be Keenum truthers out there who will complain about his lack of opportunity in Houston with a solid supporting cast, as if every other quarterback (let alone an undrafted free agent) has an opportunity to come into the league under optimal circumstances and prove himself. It's the NFL; nothing's perfect. Actually, it's mostly highly imperfect. Some will complain about the amount of opportunity Keenum received at all, but I beg you to find me an undrafted free agent given eight starts in his first season on the 53-man roster, total backing from the owner, and then optimal snaps in preseason the following year (even with a drafted rookie project to groom in camp).
I like Case, but the myopic window dressing of his loyalists, dwindling in numbers as they may be, became tiresome. I wish him the best.
BILL O'BRIEN This I think we can safely assume -- if Bill O'Brien loved Ryan Mallett, he would have already been a Houston Texan prior to Sunday. At the very least, you would have to believe O'Brien would have rubber-stamped a fourth-round pick for Mallett since that's what they used on Tom Savage. Even if O'Brien doesn't love Mallett, that's fine now. As a backup, he merely needs to tolerate him. In short, the combination of Mallett's knowledge of the O'Brien/Godsey system and his physical tools is far more tolerable to O'Brien than whatever Case Keenum represented as a solution. Deep down (or maybe even not all that deep), O'Brien knows that his quarterback of the future is playing collegiately somewhere right now. (By the way, Christian Hackenberg looked pretty solid Saturday for Penn State. Just saying. Also, he's two years away. I can't do this "QB jumble" bullshit for two more years, Bill. So you know.)
So that's Bill O'Brien, the head coach. What about Bill O'Brien, talent evaluator and personnel contributor....
RICK SMITH/BILL O'BRIEN I lump these two together because I'm guessing when it comes to selecting quarterback, the collaborative effort between them is roughly Smith 1.23 percent, O'Brien 98.77 percent. The fact that Mallett's expendability from the Patriots' perspective is tied to the rapid progress of Garoppolo is another stark reminder of the potential backlash Smith and O'Brien could receive from not selecting a quarterback higher in the 2014 draft, especially if the Texans are just mediocre enough in 2014's regular season to play their way out of the mix for Mariota/Winston/Hundley. Which brings us to....
TOM SAVAGE It will be interesting to see if/when Ryan Fitzpatrick starts to go sideways (as it seems inevitably he always does) and salvaging the season is out of reach (which is a very real possibility with still several weeks to go) what the prevailing thought process will be among the coaching staff. Will it be "Well, let's see what we have in Mallett, since he's heading into free agency. We may be sitting on something decent here."? Or will it be "Well, time to get the experience odometer moving on Tom Savage."? My hope is that, if indeed the season is unsalvageable at that point, whichever option they choose fails so that they can get into the mix for Mariota/Winston/Hundley.
(NOTE: We need a name for the three-headed "top of the 2015 NFL Draft" QB monster. I'm going with JaMarcus Hundliota. Mariota gets repped in the first and last name because he's the best of the three, in my opinion.)
RYAN FITZPATRICK Fitzpatrick's leash definitely got shorter on Sunday. Now, if he plays poorly the first month of the season, Fitzpatrick will be subjected to a legitimate quarterback controversy with someone who has actual NFL tools as opposed to a minor uprising from U of H fans who are trying to distract themselves from the fact their school just spent $120 million on a palatial stadium that will have lower actual crowds than that dump Robertson did toward the end of the Sumlin Era. (UTSA, Coogs? REALLY?!)
For now, we will watch the Texans pop in their $8.99 copy of Deliverance and see where this thing goes.
Cue the banjos!