HOUSTON – New Texans coach DeMeco Ryans witnessed firsthand during his final game and season as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator how important health and efficiency are at the quarterback position.
The 49ers reached the NFC championship game behind strong performances from third-string quarterback Brock Purdy after losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending injuries only to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles as Purdy injured his elbow and fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson suffered a concussion.
The Texans’ unresolved quarterback situation is one of the AFC South franchise’s biggest question marks.
Davis Mills was benched for two games and replaced by Kyle Allen before regaining the starting job. Mills regressed during his second NFL season with inconsistency defining his year. He completed 61 percent of his throws for 3,118 yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for a 78.8 passer rating. In two seasons, Mills has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 5,782 yards, 33 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
Armed with salary-cap space and the second and 12th overall picks of the draft, the Texans have a myriad of options to address the position this offseason. They could draft a quarterback, choosing from a class that includes Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis and Anthony RIchardson and/or look at the merits of veterans that include Derek Carr, Garoppolo, Geno Smith and Lamar Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens’ likely franchise player.
During his introductory press conference, Ryans was noncommittal on a plan at quarterback that’s still being formulated as he’s only two days into the job as a first-time head coach. Mills, a former third-round draft pick from Stanford who has displayed flashes of strong potential at times, is the only quarterback under contract as Allen and Jeff Driskel are free agents.
With the 49ers, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch took several swings at the position. That included trading up to tab Lance and trading for Garoppolo from the New England Patriots and signing him to a $137.5 million contract. The 49ers, the only team Ryans has coached for previously, are a prime example of investment in the all-important quarterback position.
“We understand,” Ryans said. “We have one quarterback here on our roster, and we have to add more at that position. We know everybody gets excited about the quarterback. The quarterback is one piece to a team. As I’ve seen in San Francisco, what happens when you don’t have that one guy? Is the season over? Are you just booking it? No. How do you build around that quarterback?
“Yes, we want a great quarterback, but, no, we need a great offensive line to protect the quarterback. We need great running backs, great tight ends, great receivers. We need a great defense, special teams. We all play together. That’s the awesome part about football is it’s not on one guy’s shoulders to go out there and win the game for us. It’s all about building around each other and playing together. That’s how we’ll win games.”
Mills passed for 298 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the final game of the season, engineering a game-winning drive to beat the Indianapolis Colts. He connected with tight end Jordan Akins for the game-winning two-point conversion and touchdown.
When the Texans’ season was over, Mills expressed confidence in entering next season as the starter. There’s no commitment from the AFC South franchise to do that, but it’s not out of the question to think that Mills could enter the season as the starter and hold down the job until a rookie is deemed ready or operate as the backup.
“I’d like to think to myself that I’ve shown enough,” Mills said. “Personally, I think that my best football days are still ahead of me. There are always going to be questions, and I don’t have full control over that decision.
“I want to continue developing as a player and as a person. I know my mindset is always going to be the same. I’m just going to put my head down and get down to work regardless of what happens.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com