With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position for the Houston Texans:
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Deshaun Watson -- $3,148,746
Taylor Heinicke -- $705,000
Key stat: Nine. The Texans have had nine different starting quarterbacks since Bill O'Brien took over as head coach in 2014: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, Yates, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, Savage and Watson. The Texans haven't had much stability at the position and hadn't had a true franchise quarterback since their inception in 2002 before drafting Watson in 2017. In just seven games -- six starts -- in 2017, Watson threw for 1,699 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He tore his ACL in practice on Nov. 2 and the Texans won just one of their last eight games with Savage, Yates and even a brief appearance by Heinicke.
Money matters: Houston thought it had fixed its long-standing hole at quarterback when it signed Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016. Instead, the team ended up benching him down the stretch of a playoff run in 2016 and traded his contract to the Cleveland Browns for a 2018 second-round pick. Given the Texans' 4-12 season in 2017, that second-round pick (No. 36) is a huge price to pay for salary relief that they didn't utilize in 2017 free agency. Luckily for Houston, if Watson can stay healthy, it will have a cheap solution at quarterback for a few more years.
Big picture: The Texans have not had stability at quarterback since Matt Schaub from 2007-13, who helped them to back-to-back AFC South titles in 2011 and 2012. Since Schaub left five years ago, the Texans have only drafted two quarterbacks: Savage in the fourth round and Watson in the first. While the Texans struggled at quarterback for so many years, Houston hopes to have turned the corner after Watson's performance last season and hopes he can be the end of the carousel it has had at the position in recent years.
The game plan: The Texans are set with Watson as their starter moving forward, provided he can recover from his November ACL surgery and play with the same athleticism and mobility as he did as a rookie. The key for the Texans now is to find a reliable backup quarterback. When Watson go hurt it was clear they didn't have a good option to take over. Although Savage and Yates were very familiar with O'Brien's offense, neither had much success in 2017. Since the Texans don't have a first- or second-round pick, the front office might prefer to save their draft picks and instead sign a veteran quarterback to back up Watson. One option is Fitzpatrick, who played in 12 games for the Texans in 2014 and played in six games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in place of an injured Jameis Winston last season.