Ah, the pre-free agency, pre-draft smokescreen.
On Tuesday, Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was seen at Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo's pro day. On Thursday, word leaked out that O'Brien and the Texans might be interested in free-agent to be quarterback Matt Cassel, and that he in turn might, you know, like them too.
Hmm, so what, if anything, might this mean for the Texans' No. 1 overall pick in the draft?
First, the news: Cassel is set to hit the market after opting out of his contract with the Minnesota Vikings, leaving $3.7 million on the table, after a solid performance there last season. Looks like a fairly smart move now, considering that Cassel not only could get a chance to start — or be a bridge quarterback for a rookie — and maybe make more than what the Vikings would have paid him. It is, after all, a weak free-agent crop of quarterbacks.
Cassel and O'Brien have a connection ... sort of. Cassel played in New England when O'Brien was the Patriots' wide receivers coach in 2007 and 2008 when Cassel was Tom Brady's backup that first season and then in '08, the man who replaced Brady when he went down with a torn ACL. Cassel started 15 games that season and led the Patriots to 10 wins in that stretch, earning him a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs.
O'Brien became the Pats' play caller the following season, in 2009, after Josh McDaniels left to take the Denver Broncos' head-coaching job. So O'Brien never directly worked with Cassel, but they obviously crossed paths a lot in those two years in Foxborough. And the concepts O'Brien will use with the Texans clearly would have a lot of familiarity to Cassel.
So back to Tuesday. O'Brien personally worked out Garoppolo, who is considered a late-first or early-second-round possibility. The Texans currently own the first pick of the second round. Could they go defense — say, Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack — with the first pick and swing back and take a quarterback with their second selection?
That would mean that none of the top tier of quarterbacks, which include Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, has got O'Brien all hot and bothered. Which is entirely possible. We say that because even if O'Brien felt one of those defensive players was truly elite, it also would be tough to see a quarterback-needy team pass on one if it felt there was someone worth building a franchise around. Quarterbacks trump everything else, even pass rushers.
The plot thickens. This much we know: Cassel signing with the Texans will not definitively state the team's intentions with the first pick. But it would give them options. Stay tuned.
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