Whether Ryan Mallett is a true starting quarterback in the NFL remains very much in question.
But there's no doubting Mallett's guts and nerve anymore. Not after Mallett embraced Bill O'Brien's wild, innovative rebooted vision of a Houston Texans quarterback competition. By resigning with the Texans for a short, relatively inexpensive deal, Mallett is clearly betting on himself. He has to be confident he'll beat out the more experienced, more Bill O'Brien tested Brian Hoyer in an open quarterback battle.
It's anything but a conservative business move on Mallett's part. After all, Hoyer's already beaten him out before in New England. And Hoyer would not be signing with Houston as well if he was not certain he can do that again.
Still, if you're a Texans fan or Bill O'Brien, you have to love Mallett's show of confidence.
If Johnny Manziel really held this type of all-out guts, he'd be locked in as the Cleveland Browns quarterback of the future by now. Instead Manziel mostly came across as a little immature, searching for validation wherever he could find it, before he finally stepped up and put himself in rehab.
Mallett's showing more belief in O'Brien than the coach has shown in him. Only a gutsy competitor embraces such a scenario.
Manziel still has time to find the true real bravado in the NFL he always showed at Texas A&M. At 26, with much less college success than Manziel and years of NFL waiting before the smallest of chances, Mallett is somehow already there.
His Texans teammates — including the much more established and much better paid ones like the newly minted $34 Million Man Kareem Jackson — can see this.
"He definitely is very talented," Jackson says, speaking in the lobby of NRG Stadium. "He has that big-time arm. He’s definitely a great leader out there. I think the coaches saw that as well."
O'Brien did. But the coach also made it clear he's not going to stake his success to one inexperienced quarterback. By targeting both Mallett and Hoyer, O'Brien's proving that his competition at every position mantra is not just lip service reserved for the fringes of the roster. This double move all but guarantees the Texans will have a quarterback controversy — something O'Brien seemed to run from in his first training camp when he wouldn't let Case Keenum compete with the unremarkable Ryan Fitzpatrick — at some point this season.
This is Bill O'Brien's Great Quarterback Experiment. It just may be brilliant. If it doesn't blow up in the Texans' faces, splattering their realistic playoff visions to kingdom come.
O'Brien's certainly not playing it conservative in planning for his second season. Yes, the Texans biggest moves of free agency have been retaining their own key future core pieces (Jackson, the most important member of J.J. Watt's supporting cast, right tackle Derek Newton for a well earned $26 million, five-year contract and Mallett for a prove-it $7 million, two-year deal.) But O'Brien's still very much charting a bold new course.
Andre Johnson — the All-Time Greatest Texan — found himself pushed toward the door with a still bizarre re-imagining of his role. The fact No. 80's still a productive force seemed to mean little.
Yet, showing the type of human touch his that mentor Bill Belichick never seems to, O'Brien has still managed to make the players he really wants to keep feel a bond that goes beyond dollar signs only. There's Johnathan Joseph, Jackson's cornerback partner, in the stadium lobby on this Monday, smiling, secure that he'll be paid the final $8.5 million of his big contract after he proved to be vital in O'Brien's first season.
"Everybody here is just kind of like family," Jackson says. "You come in and you see smiles from everybody. Everybody is always joking and stuff like that. That's some of the things that I like. It’s a business atmosphere, but at the same time it doesn’t really feel like that.
"Playing this game, you definitely have to have fun. Last year, I think we started to have fun again."
The Bill O'Brien Way
Jackson clearly belief the Texans are headed for runs at championships under O'Brien. But Mallett signing that deal with only $1.5 million guaranteed is the biggest testament to the coach's people player skills.
Jackson came back to top dollar, market value. Mallett returns knowing he still needs to demonstrate he's an effective NFL starter to land that monster money career cementing contract in two years.
Mallett's confidently betting on himself, banking on the notion that he can put up numbers over the next two seasons that will allow him to sign the type of mega contract by 2017 that will make any money he left on the table this time around look meaningless. To do that, Mallett must be certain that O'Brien will give him a real shot at being the starter and that this coaching staff gives him the best chance to harness his monster arm.
This double move all but guarantees the Texans will have a QB controversy at some point this season.
In many ways, Mallett's showing more belief in O'Brien than the coach has shown in him. Only a gutsy competitor embraces such a scenario. No wonder why O'Brien gets a kick out of Mallett.
"Ryan, he has a high ceiling," Newton says. "He knows the offense in and out. Given the time that he was the starting quarterback, I saw a lot in him. I feel like he’s going to come in and when it’s his time, he’s going to do what he’s got to do to help us get a win.”
With Hoyer on the way, the question quickly once again becomes: When is it Mallett Time?
Only Ryan Mallett himself doesn't seem to be sweating that. Instead, he's coming back like a Boss. Guaranteed nothing but the chance to become a free agent quickly again after a prove-it opportunity. Embracing a fight for playing time.
Maybe this is what a Bill O'Brien Football Player looks like. It's certainly something for Johnny Manziel to consider.