Houston, you have a problem.
There is no salient, cogent, believable, realistic football explanation for how the Texans are handling their quarterback situation in the aftermath of Deshaun Watson's horrible season-ending injury. There is no explanation that makes sense for these signings given the obvious alternative to them. There is no amount of salesmanship that would make any discerning fan believe the Texans' bevvy of recent QB maneuvers is actually about giving them the best roster possible and best chance to win.
Instead of simply extending an opportunity for Colin Kaepernick – one of the more productive and least-turnover prone quarterbacks of the last five years – to merely work out for the team, the Texans have opted to take on a much more difficult task: that of continuing to pretend that Kaepernick isn't actually a free agent. They have decided to continue the league-wide trend of systematically ignoring Kaepernick's body of work and pretending that he is not an option, outside of the most casual and cavalier exchanges when forced to address him nominally by the media. They seem to be hoping the football watching public will suspend all disbelief about what is going into these ongoing personnel decisions, while far inferior quarterbacks who have been less-than-marginal in the entirety of their careers get chance after chance.
Texans owner Bob McNair could end this ongoing saga with Kaepernick – and simultaneously send a signal to his locker room that he is truly trying to salvage this season and do whatever is possible to stay in the playoff hunt – by simply extending a legit contract offer to the former Super Bowl quarterback. But instead, he and his franchise prefer to dabble in ridiculousness and operate in anything but a meritocracy, – long removed from NFL consideration and someone who, like the other two QBs, has never come close to establishing himself as a starting quarterback – while shunning the very premise of Kaepernick on the roster.
This is preposterous.
And, trust me, Texans coach Bill O'Brien has now joined his owner, McNair, as a central figure in the Kaepernick collusion case. To go on record and proclaim that Kaepernick's lack of recent playing time is a primary reason why he doesn't fit their model … and then go out and sign a quarterback who hasn't played in years and has never been more than a fringe roster signing, will certainly merit further questioning, O'Brien is not on the original deposition list, as McNair is, but he is going to end up being grilled by lawyers, sooner or later – whether through preliminary deposition or at the collusion hearing itself.
We are now pushing nine months of transactions in the NFL since the league year began in March, and dozens upon dozens or quarterback singings, without Kaepernick getting so much as a chance to throw for an NFL team. You were never going to convince me this was actually about football, but even the faintest of guise that there were better options for a potentially winning team to consider outside of Kaepernick has long been expunged. In fact, these teams aren't even trying to pretend anymore.
The only reason not to at least give Kaepernick a look-see, as best these teams seemed to suggest, was that those in need of a quarterback for a short period of time (Ravens, Titans, Raiders at various points in time), or those with a long-term need (Packers, Texans, Cardinals) was that they already has their "system" guy in place or found him quickly on the street. But now that we've reached this late stage of the year, with seasons on the line and quarterback injuries occurring at a dizzying pace, that hollow argument is ringing even less true. Seems much more to the point that these clubs have decided that his alleged "distraction" factor and his political stand make him a pariah at the very same time so many players inspired by Kaepernick taking a knee continue to embody his demonstration and continue to be employed nonetheless.
This is going beyond the bizarre and into the absurd and I can't help but think it bodes poorly for the league, and many of these owners, as Kaepernick's collusion grievance plays out. There are no football arguments left to be made when Johnson – an athletic quarterback who I have long championed but who has been rebuffed by NFL teams over and over, having to take to the defunct UFL to find playing opportunities – is getting a shot before Kaepernick.
Let's be real – Jim Harbaugh is the central football figure in the pro careers of Johnson and Kaepernick. He coached Johnson in college and advocated for him at times in the NFL, and he pushed for the 49ers to draft Kaepernick in the second round. Harbaugh is a quarterback guru and a proven offensive mind and he pushed Alex Smith aside to make Kaepernick his young starter and reached a Super Bowl because of it and he continues to advocate for the quarterback now and he'd never in 100 years try to pretend that Johnson – whom he also feels very strongly for and knows inside and out – should be on a roster before Kaepernick.
It wouldn't happen. Harbaugh had numerous chances to have both quarterbacks and he won, convincingly, with one in the pro game and never played the other. Come on. What the hell are we talking about at this point. We are beyond anyone being able to pretend that this is about finding the best quarterback possible to round out a roster and help a team win football games. Are the Texans trying to do whatever they can to be the best team they can be in the second half of the season to continue to tap into some of the opportunity Watson opened up for them, or are they cool with the ugly offensive display from last week and just accepting that as their new normal? Do they want to win, or is tanking a viable alternative?
If the Packers want to keep pretending that Brett Hundley is going to eventually help them win football games – or at least, not directly contribute to their losing on a weekly basis – well, I guess you have to give Mike McCarthy something of the benefit of the doubt. He's a legit QB guru and he has a lot invested in Hundley in terms of man hours. I think he's overplaying his hand, and ability to make Hundley NFL-ready on the fly, and signing a quarterback who has actually destroyed his team in the playoffs and run all over the Lambeau turf as if he'd planted the sod himself would actually give Green Bay the best chance of saving the season. But I suppose you could say McCarthy has earned the right to play this out a bit longer.
But the Texans? Come on. Prior to Watson they had churned through like a dozen quarterbacks in rapid succession, lacking both the vision to identify the best candidates and the ability to cultivate whatever talent they had accrued. And then they finally found Watson, and discovered an offensive identity predicated on many of the same schematic principles which meld with Kaepernick's strengths, and yet they are systematically avoiding and ignoring the obvious signing at a time when their owner has thrust himself deep into the collusion suit with his ill-advised comments during the recent NFL owner's meeting.
It really does take some effort to get this deep down the rabbit hole. You have to really want to stay away from Kaepernick to continue to do so in a dire situation such as what the Texans face.
And, instead of acknowledging the overt potential improvement that Kaepernick's resume implies that he would provide, instead, they're going to bring in Larry, Moe and Curly without even acknowledging the existence of a longtime NFL starter, and one who threw for 16 TDs to just four interceptions for a horribly flawed and ineptly coached 49ers team a year ago, sitting right there on their free-agent list.
But make no mistake, as much as the Texans would try to tell you there is nothing to see here – it took mere minutes last week, once Watson was diagnosed with a torn ACL, before the team had let their beat writers know they were signing McGloin, who played for head coach Bill O'Brien in college – it comes with caveats. It won't fly in their locker room, where McNair is already embroiled in controversy, and it won't fly with discerning fans and it wont fly in the standings if they actually end up having to play any of the QBs they've reached out to lately.
Bottom line, the NFL has long ago run out of even quasi-half-competent quarterbacks to continue to sign, and with each new injury and each reach of a free-agent signing, Kaepernick's arguments for why he is being shunned would seem to grow stronger. And this scenario seems to have little to do with how far he can throw a football and how accurately he can throw a football and how effectively he can run an offense in comparison to the barely-journeymen who continue to be awarded with opportunity after opportunity to enjoy an NFL paycheck while Kaepernick cannot land so much as a return phone call from an NFL team.