A few years ago I was regularly writing for the The Sporting News. Frequently those stories involved personnel evaluations. The magazine liked me to interview NFL general managers and pro scouts and get their unbiased opinions on opposing players. Leaving aside the question of whether those opinions were truly “unbiased,” I liked talking to these guys.
I remember one occasion when I was writing a short piece on Kurt Warner trying to regain his place as an NFL starter. It’s easy to forget now, but there was a time between the “Greatest Show on Turf” era with the Rams and Warner’s renaissance with the Cardinals when the quarterback was adrift. Specifically, his final years with St. Louis in 2002-03, and his year with the Giants in 2004.
Warner was frequently injured, he was taking a beating behind not-very-good lines, and he looked as though he had lost his poise. He was rattled, scattershot, and he was 5-11 as a starter in those three seasons.
When I asked one veteran NFL pro personnel director – I’d like to credit him by name, but I promised him then that he’d be off the record and I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on anonymity – he gave me one of the best descriptions I’ve ever used in a story.
I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this: Everybody remembers that one kid who peed his pants in first grade, right? We all get older. That kid gets older, too. He goes through school and has a normal life, maybe gets good grades, maybe is a good athlete. But no matter what he accomplishes, you can’t get that image out of your mind of the kid peeing his pants in first grade. Well, Kurt Warner is like that to me now. I can’t see him winning again, because to me he’ll always be the kid who peed himself.
Here’s why I bring it up: Matt Schaub has become the boy who peed his pants. And that’s relevant to the Raiders, because they very well may be angling to sign him.
Multiple reports have the Texans attempting to trade Schaub to either the Raiders or the Browns. Just three days ago, a Houston radio station reported that Houston and Oakland are “in serious trade talks for Matt Schaub.” And if that trade doesn’t happen – one reason it might not is the quarterback’s $10 million base salary for 2014 – everyone expects the Texans to release Schaub at some point, and for the Raiders to be among his suitors then.
Schaub should be an intriguing prospect for a team that desperately needs a passer. The guy has three 4,000-yard seasons, the most recent just years ago in 2012. In 2009 he led the NFL with 4,770 passing yards. His career passer rating is a shade under 90.
And yet it’s hard to get the image of 2013 Matt Schaub out of your head, isn’t it? It wasn’t just that the Texans were primed for a playoff run and he was a big reason for their disappointment. It wasn’t just that he was benched in favor of Case Keenum and wound up throwing 10 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. It was how horrible Schaub looked in doing it.
He faltered. He hesitated in the pocket. He threw the ball to the opposing team at an alarming rate – especially, it seemed, when the defender had a good chance of running to the opposite end zone untouched. He hung his head a lot.
Bay Area sports fans saw Schaub’s act twice. He was dreadful in a three-pick performance at Candlestick Park on Oct. 6, a 34-3 loss to the 49ers. And he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in a 28-23 home loss to the Raiders on Nov. 17. Oakland hasn’t won again since.
Schaub, 32, must still have a strong arm. Somewhere in his psyche is the guy who led the league in passing. But it’s hard not to think of him as the boy who peed his pants last year.
The good news for the Raiders, should they sign Schaub? My personnel director was wrong about Warner. His awful three-year stint turned out to be nothing more than a mid-career crisis. He rebounded in Arizona and, shown patience by the Cardinals, eventually took them to the Super Bowl. Now most of us hardly remember those lean years, and Warner is considered a Hall of Fame candidate.
In other words, winning is still the best sanitizer.