After a flurry of moves since the start of free agency, the Oakland Raiders and General Manager Reggie McKenzie made arguably their biggest move yet, reportedly trading for Houston quarterback Matt Schaub:
From the outside, the move is underwhelming on a number of fronts. First, Schaub was terrible last season — throwing for more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (10) on a team that finished with the worst record in the league. Second, everyone seemed to believe that Scuab was on the verge of free agency, so why trade for a guy due $10 million this season when you could have waited to sign him?
While those were my initial reactions, some more careful thought has brought me around on the idea.
First, there's no arguing that Schaub is far from being an elite quarterback in the NFL. While blessed with Andre Johnson as a receiver, however, Schaub has posted some impressive numbers in the past seven seasons as the Texans starter. If we ignore last season, Schaub had twice as many touchdowns as he did interceptions from 2009-2012 (90 TD, 45 INT), while throwing for over 4,000 yards in three of the four seasons (in 2011, Schaub played in just 10 games).
If you break down the quarterbacks in the NFL, I see there are four tiers. At the top are the elite — Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Manning in some order. Next, you have the almost-elites — Luck, Wilson, Newton, etc. Third is the middle-of-the-pack group, headlined by Stafford, Ryan, Rivers, Romo, Roethlisberger, etc.
In my opinion, I think Schaub rounds out the middle-of-the-pack group, falling somewhere in the range of being the 15-18th best quarterback in the league (or at least capable of landing there). My point is that once you get past the top 10 or so, there's a big group of guys who are all on the same level.
I'd classify Schaub in the same sense I would classify guys like Alex Smith, Eli Manning and maybe even Joe Flacco. Sure, the last two guys have won Super Bowls, but I'm not sure either of them, right now, deserves to be much higher than the middle of the pack.
Regardless of whether you agree with those rankings, my point is that Schaub is an average NFL quarterback that isn't going to be that much worse than the guys who fill out the middle of your quarterback rankings — and for Oakland, that's a massive upgrade.
Aside from 2012 with Carson Palmer, you could argue the Raiders haven't had a league-average quarterback since 2005 with Kerry Collins (20 TD, 12 INT, 3,759 yards) — my apologies to the Jason Campbell fan club. SINCE 2005!
For me, Schaub is that guy — he's a stop gap for somewhere between 1-3 years depending on when Oakland decides to bring in a rookie, and he'll do a fine job.
As for the cost, I've even come around on that too. The good news about Schaub's deal is that there is no more guaranteed money, meaning if Oakland has him for one year and doesn't like what they see (or finds a replacement), they can cut him without penalty.
Sure, it sucks paying the guy lots of money this season, but had he hit the open market, Oakland would have probably paid him close to that plus a bunch of guaranteed money over a long-term deal. In this case, however, Oakland can keep him for up to three years or cut him at any time. As long as the pick they're sending is around a 6th rounder (Update: the pick Oakland is sending is a 6th round pick), I've got no issue with that. (Let's also remember Oakland needs to spend money just to hit the salary cap floor).
So is Matt Schaub the answer? The path to the playoffs?
No, unfortunately he's probably not. But what he does bring is some credibility to the most important position on a football team, which is something Oakland is desperate for. If Oakland made all the moves they did and didn't upgrade the quarterback position, it would all have been a waste — with Schaub, at least Oakland has completed the transition from irrelevant to competitive.
Maybe not a playoff team, but they're getting there.