The Houston Texans' quarterback battle ended, 82 days before the team's opener against Washington, pretty much the only way it could: with Ryan Fitzpatrick locked into the No. 1 spot.
"He's a guy that earned the job," head coach Bill O'Brien said.
More accurately, Fitzpatrick did not lose it. At least, not yet.
The Texans bypassed an early round QB in this year's draft, in favor of Jadeveon Clowney, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Louis Nix and C.J. Fiedrowicz. They eventually spent their fourth-rounder on Tom Savage, also known as Captain Smokescreen in the weeks leading up to the draft as some speculated he could be in play as high as No. 1 overall. Reality painted a different picture of Savage, whose molasses-like release and plodding footwork might be to the benefit of NFL secondaries.
The other options at QB included Case Keenum and T.J. Yates, both of whom have started in the past for the Texans. One of the two is likely not long for the roster after O'Brien declared that he doesn't have enough practice reps for all four quarterbacks. Fitzpatrick is not going anywhere; neither is Savage. So, one of the Keenum-Yates duo will be packing his bags soon. (Update:
The Texans have released Yates, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.)
O'Brien's decision then was an obvious, if uninspiring, one. Fitzpatrick, 31, has 85 NFL starts and he ran the show in Buffalo from 2010-12, passing for 3,000 or more yards each season. Turnovers were a colossal Achilles heel -- Fitzpatrick led the league with 23 picks in 2011, and over the past four years, has fumbled an average of eight times.
He also gives O'Brien his best chance of winning in the short-term, while allowing Savage and the third QB time to learn this new offensive system.
What this decision probably will not do, however, is appease disgruntled wide receiver Andre Johnson. The Texans' offensive superstar skipped OTAs and was a no-show for minicamp this week as well, reportedly on account of being unhappy with the franchise's state.
"Nobody’s been here as long as I have. You just kind of look at things; I’ve been thinking about things this offseason," Johnson said last month, via the Houston Chronicle. "And I just kind of wonder sometimes, 'Is this still the place for me?'"
Johnson, 33 next month, has been with Houston for the entirety of his NFL career, stretching to when he was selected No. 3 overall in 2003. He continues to perform at a high rate, as evidenced by the 109 catches and 1,400 yards he produced last season despite uncertainty under center.
The Texans have Johnson under contract through the 2016 season at an average of $10.5 million in base salary plus an additional $15 million or so available in bonuses. A trade market would quickly assemble, though, if they opted to place Johnson on the block.
The current QB situation has helped sour Johnson, as the so-called "franchise" player at that position may not arrive on the roster until the 2015 draft or beyond. Savage appears to be the best hope for a rapid progression in the meantime, but he hardly jumped off the page like fellow rookies Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and others.
Getting Johnson back in the fold sometime between now and the end of training camp ought to be priority No. 1 for O'Brien and his staff. Without him, the offense has little chance of sustaining success during the 2014 season.
And with him, well, Fitzpatrick would have a legit receiver combination to throw to, in Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. There are no guarantees that Fitzpatrick will be able to take advantage of such talent, but the Texans rightly believe that he is more capable than any of the other QB candidates.
"This is where I wanted to be," Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. "I wanted another chance to be the guy." He's got it, though Houston really had no other choice.