Passing on Baker Mayfield Trade, Houston Texans bet on Davis Mills

HOUSTON — Wednesday’s trade news probably means little to Houston Texans fans. Internally, that probably means something for quarterback Davis Mills.

Although there was little movement from the front office, not trying to trade Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield helps confirm that the Texans have faith in Mills. They’re also likely closing the door on any chance of a top veteran taking snaps at NRG Stadium in 2022.

Houston has been linked to San Francisco 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo due to ties to New England general manager Nick Caserio. Mayfield — who has patiently waited for a trade since the Browns added former Texans starter Deshaun Watson in March — was sent to the Panthers for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2024.

This selection could become a fourth-round pick if Mayfield plays at least 70% of the snaps. Perhaps the part that’s overlooked in the former No. 1 pick’s willingness to take a pay cut. Mayfield left $3.5 million on the table for Cleveland just $10.5 million off his $18.8 million salary.

Garoppolo, who just had shoulder surgery and has yet to throw a pass since the NFC Championship, is expected to earn just under $25 million this season. The Texans weren’t interested in the $18 million Mayfield. Based on that: Does anyone think Caserio is willing to ditch the capital project for Garoppolo and pay a high price for what a one-year hire would be? Better yet, is San Francisco ready to eat, say, $17 million? Maybe more?

Mills, Caserio’s first selection as Texans general manager, isn’t guaranteed after 2022. He’ll start Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts. Barring injury, he will likely hold the QB1 title through Week 18 of the regular season.

Think of it as an audition. Mills won’t have to worry about competition from Jeff Driskel or Kyle Allen in the coming year. That doesn’t mean he’ll forget the Texans have two first-round picks in 2023 and 2024.

He also needs to understand that the quarterback class of 2023 is being heralded as better than the 2022 class.

Ohio State’s CJ Stroud often finds himself at the forefront of simulations with the Texans clinching the No. 1 pick. There’s very little difference between him and Alabama’s Bryce Young in terms of potential at the level. next.

Stroud and Young point out the impending class, but they’re not the only ones watching. Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke has been praised for his accuracy and frame. Kentucky’s Will Levis was praised for his quick decision-making and pocket-consciousness. Others like Spencer Rattler of South Carolina, Anthony Richardson of Florida, Hendon Hooker of Tennessee and many more have the potential to break out before April next season.

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You had the idea. The Texans have quarterback options. One of these options is Mills.

Which version of Mills will new coach Lovie Smith see in 2022? Will it be the Week 2 one that was savaged in games on the road? The one who struggled consistently in the down passes? The one who threw seven touchdowns and seven interceptions while posting an 0-6 record?

Maybe.

Of course, Mills could be the version of himself who showed off the last five starts with gusto. His passer rating of 102.4 was the eighth highest among all active starters during that span. His completion percentage hovered around 69% while throwing twice for over 300 yards. Total touchdowns went from seven to nine while interceptions fell from seven to two.

This version of Mills? Yes, Texans have work to do.

The best thing a young quarterback can have from a coaching staff is confidence. Houston gives that to Mills while believing he’s the best option for 2022. “Best” could mean a lot depending on the overall plan.

Let’s hope Houston wants Mills to prove that last year’s season-ending success is the start of something good. It would certainly save a franchise that is looking for the fundamentals of an early pick on a rookie quarterback who could crumble out of the league by year three.

Mayfield was likely the only quarterback Houston would have considered after reports surfaced that Cleveland was willing to pay part of his salary. Caserio kicked the tires on that idea and decided he’d rather bet on Mills than go bust with Baker.

By this time next year, Mills could be the future in Houston. He could be a replacement. He could be on a different team if the right price comes along. For now, he has a chance of being something.

It also has the front office seal of approval.