NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - INSIDE SLANT
The Houston Texans announced they planned to release quarterback T.J. Yates on Tuesday afternoon. However, when interest developed around the league, Yates ended up being traded Wednesday to the Falcons for linebacker Akeem Dent. The move followed Ryan Fitzpatrick officially being named the team's starting quarterback earlier in the day.
With Yates gone, Case Keenum remains on the team and is expected to serve as Fitzpatrick's backup. Rookie Tom Savage holds the No. 3 spot, but will be allowed to compete with Keenum for reps during training camp.
Yates led the Texans to their first playoff victory in 2011 after taking over for an injured Matt Schaub. Yates was unable to capitalize on Schaub's 2013 fall though, with the Texans turning to Keenum in a failed attempt to save their season.
Yates, 27, was a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He started five games during his rookie season but played in just seven combined contests the past two years. Yates completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,100 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions.
Fitzpatrick came to the Texans wanting one more shot at making the playoffs. Coach Bill O'Brien needed an intelligent, veteran quarterback to guide a new, complex offense. The 10-year quarterback and first-year coach officially were bonded Tuesday when O'Brien named Fitzpatrick the Texans' starter.
O'Brien informed the team during an 8 a.m. meeting that Fitzpatrick beat out Keenum, Yates and Savage for the job.
O'Brien said a competition that began as "wide open" at the start of OTAs clearly was won by Fitzpatrick, who will enter training camp as the starter and receive the majority of repetitions.
"He definitely earned it," O'Brien said at NRG Stadium. "He earned it with his preparation. He earned it with his accuracy. He earned it with his command at the line of scrimmage."
Fitzpatrick, 31, was handpicked by O'Brien this offseason, as the Texans moved on from Schaub, who was traded to Oakland after a disastrous 2013 season.
Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft, will be asked to manage games in 2014, minimize mistakes while relying on star running back Arian Foster and running a spread-type offense that prizes crossing routes, tight ends and backfield passes.
"This is going to be a really fun system to play in," Fitzpatrick said. "The guys have really bought into what we're trying to do. As long as we continue to do that, continue to try to reach that level of perfection -- which we're very far from right now -- and strive for that every day, I think we'll be in good shape."
Fitzpatrick spent 2013 with Tennessee after four seasons in Buffalo. He's completed 59.8 percent of his career passes for 106 touchdowns and 93 interceptions.
Quarterbacks coach George Godsey and O'Brien have acknowledged Fitzpatrick must cut down on his turnovers for the Texans to be successful.
"All the great players we have on our side of the ball make my job a lot easier, in terms of ... watching playmakers make plays," said Fitzpatrick, who added he has an "easy" job if the offense is consistently placed in the right situation.
In 2005, Fitzpatrick was a St. Louis rookie and initially the fourth quarterback in a three-quarterback system. In 2014, a 6-foot-2, 223-pound veteran on his fourth team in 10 seasons is O'Brien's first NFL starting quarterback.
"Personally for me, this is kind of where I wanted to be," Fitzpatrick said. "I wanted another shot at it. I wanted another chance to be the guy. This is about so much more than me, in terms of all the different things we're trying to do."
The veteran could enter training camp in late July without his best offensive option. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is at odds with the rebuilding team and didn't attend Tuesday's no-contact practice, which was the first of three mandatory minicamp workouts. Fitzpatrick acknowledged he doesn't know Johnson well, but the quarterback said he's made progress with the receivers who've been in uniform during the last month.
"He's obviously a great receiver and his play certainly speaks for itself in terms of what he's done," said Fitzpatrick, referring to Johnson.
NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - NOTES, QUOTES
--Ryan Fitzpatrick is set as the Texans' starting quarterback. But a battle still remains for the team's backup role.
Coach Bill O'Brien said Wednesday he hasn't determined whether Case Keenum or rookie Tom Savage will play behind the veteran Fitzpatrick. Keenum is the expected backup. The former University of Houston standout started eight games last season and beat out T.J. Yates for a roster spot Tuesday.
"I've still got an opportunity to prove myself, to prove my ability as a quarterback, to take what I learn in the meeting room and transfer it to the field," Keenum said. "I have to show them I'm working hard to learn this offense and I'm capable of leading this team."
Savage, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, has been praised by the Texans. But O'Brien has regularly pointed out the rookie has much to learn. It's also difficult to envision the Texans immediately inserting Savage into an early regular-season game if Fitzpatrick goes down.
"He has a long way to go," O'Brien said.
For the first-year coach, it was a difficult decision to release Yates, whom O'Brien referred to as a "good pro."
"It's a weird deal," Keenum said. "(Yates) busted his tail since before I got here. We made each other a lot better. We competed since the day I got here and learned a lot. I've got the utmost respect for him, not just as a player, because he's also a great person. He helped me so much last year. There's not many people like that. T.J. is a good friend of mine."
O'Brien acknowledged the Texans could still add another veteran quarterback. But the team wants training camp repetitions split between three quarterbacks, which is part of the reason Yates was traded to the Falcons before minicamp was complete.
--Texans rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney had sports hernia surgery, coach Bill O'Brien said Friday at NRG Stadium.
Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft, has been dealing with a groin injury. O'Brien said Clowney was evaluated in Philadelphia and the team decided the best option was surgery. He will miss next week's mandatory three-day minicamp and is expected to return for training camp, which begins in late July.
O'Brien said Clowney had not been dealing with the injury for long. The Texans decided it was best to immediately address the issue, which was why surgery occurred Thursday.
"It was the best thing for J.D. and the best thing for our team and the best thing for our organization," O'Brien said.
Clowney is expected to return to Houston on Friday afternoon.
"He'll be ready to go for training camp," O'Brien said. "That's about all I'll say about that."
Clowney was limited during the NFL Scouting Combine and dealt with a groin issue during South Carolina's pro day.
NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Texans' picks:
Round 1/1 -- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, 6-5, 266, South Carolina
--Texans resisted opportunities to trade down and selected the highest-rated prospect in the draft. Has tremendous pass-rush skills, but must play hard on every down. Will play outside linebacker on weak side in base 3-4 scheme and drop down to right end in passing situations.
Round 2/33 -- Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, 6-4, 307, UCLA
--Completed a two-year mission and should start at left guard immediately. Says he tries to emulate Logan Mankins, the Patriots' Pro Bowl guard. He has the kind of nasty streak coaches love. Also played tackle but will focus on inside with Texans.
Round 3/65 -- C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, 6-6, 265, Iowa
--Perhaps the best blocking tight end in the draft. He fits because Bill O'Brien wants to use formations with multiple tight ends. He wanted a physical blocker to play with Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin, both of whom are better receivers than blockers.
Round 3/83 -- Louis Nix III, NT, 6-2, 330, Notre Dame
--General manager Rick Smith gave fourth- and fifth-round picks to Philadelphia to move back into the third round to get Nix, who should fill a big hole in the middle of the defensive line. Nix has to keep his weight under control if he wants to be more than a run-down player.
Round 4/135 -- Tom Savage, QB, 6-4, 235, Pittsburgh
--The well-traveled Savage was outstanding as a true freshman at Rutgers and exceptional as a senior at Pitt. Went 1,024 days without playing because he missed three seasons while transferring. Good size, big arm, solid mechanics. Will be coached hard and won't be rushed into lineup.
Round 6/177 -- Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, 6-3, 310, Alabama
--A one-year starter who's coming off shoulder surgery. Started 11 games as a junior and entered the draft. Should help as a two-gap end that can read and react. They need him to compete for starting job or at least provide enough quality depth to become part of the rotation.
Round 6/181 -- Alfred Blue, RB, 6-2, 223, Louisiana State
--Started 13 games in college. Suffered major knee injury that ended junior year and started two games as a senior. Tall back who makes an inviting target. To make the team as the third back, he'll have to play special teams.
Round 6/211 -- Jay Prosch, FB, 6-1, 256, Auburn
--A large, hard-nosed fullback who specializes in blocking. The Texans won't use many formations with a fullback, but when they do, he's got to be a powerful lead blocker. To make the team, he's got to stand out on special teams.
Round 7/216 -- Andre Hal, CB, 5-11, 188, Vanderbilt
--Defense is looking for depth a corner. He's a high-character guy who was a team leader in college. Plays hard all the time. Improved ball skills. Lacks speed to turn and run with receivers. Might be better in zone.
Round 7/256 -- Lonnie Ballentine, S, 6-3, 215, Memphis
--Mr. Irrelevant will have to make the team as a special teams player. The defense already has depth at safety. He's got good size and excellent 4.4 speed, but he's limited in coverage and doesn't play the run very well. Has natural talent but has to learn to become a player who can cover.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--OT Ryan Harris (not tendered as UFA).
--FB Greg Jones (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Deji Karim (not tendered as UFA).
--LG Wade Smith (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB Jadeveon Clowney (1/1); 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (3/65): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--NT Louis Nix III (3/83): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Tom Savage (4/135): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Jeoffrey Pagan (6/177): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Alfred Blue (6/181): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--FB Jay Prosch (6/211): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Andre Hal (7/216): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Lonnie Ballentine (7/256): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Garrett Graham: UFA; $11.25M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--CB Elbert Mack: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Ricky Sapp: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--RB Andre Brown: UFA Giants; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Chris Clemons: UFA Dolphins; $2.7M/2 yrs, $450,000 SB.
--LB Akeem Dent (trade Falcons).
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: FA Titans; $7.5M/2 yrs, $4M guaranteed.
--LB Paul Hazel (waivers Browns).
--S Kendrick Lewis: UFA Chiefs; $795,000/1 yr, $100,000 guaranteed.
--NT Ricardo Mathews: UFA Colts; terms unknown.
--DT Jerrell Powe: Not tendered as ERFA by Chiefs; terms unknown.
--WR Mike Thomas: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--OLB Bryan Braman: Not tendered as RFA/Eagles; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Owen Daniels (released).
--LB Evan Frierson (released).
--T Andrew Gardner: UFA Eagles; terms unknown.
--WR Lestar Jean: Not tendered as RFA/Vikings; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Danieal Manning (released).
--ILB Joe Mays: UFA Chiefs; $6M/2 yrs.
--CB Brice McCain (released)
--DE Terrell McClain: Not tendered as RFA/Cowboys; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Earl Mitchell: UFA Dolphins; $16M/4 yrs, $9M guaranteed.
--QB Matt Schaub (traded Raiders).
--ILB Darryl Sharpton: UFA Redskins; terms unknown.
--DE Antonio Smith: UFA Raiders; $9M/2 yrs.
--RB Ben Tate: UFA Browns; $4.7M/2 yrs, $1.5M SB/$2.5M guaranteed ($1.5M total potential per-game RB).
--QB T.J. Yates (traded Falcons).