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Lack of O’Brien-Osweiler meeting a hallmark of modern NFL free agency

This a risky move on both sides, says Mike Florio.

It was regarded as a surprise this week when Texans coach Bill O’Brien said he hadn’t met quarterback Brock Osweiler before the Texans agreed to pay him $37 million fully guaranteed as part of a four-year, $72 million contract. As Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes, “This move has owner Bob McNair’s signature all over it, and you have to wonder how comfortable O’Brien is with his owner making football decisions.”

The reality is, however, that plenty of free agents currently get paid plenty of money without the player and the coach ever meeting. The legal tampering period encourages this kind of sight-unseen dealmaking, with agents negotiating contracts that technically are unenforceable agreements in principle but that almost always become binding business arrangements without the principals ever shaking hands or exchanging pleasantries. (They’re also not even supposed to talk during the legal tampering period -- and that’s a provision that needs to go away.)

The practice carries risk for both sides. At a time when the coaching staff and the front office are still digesting every little thing that dozens of draft picks said and did during speed-dating sessions at the Scouting Combine, teams are making much larger investments in guys they don’t know at all. The player is rolling the dice as well, assuming that the willingness to give him a whole lot of money means that when he shows up for work and meets his new supervisors and coworkers he won’t soon say to himself, “What in the hell have I done?”

Given the manner in which this specific deal was done, of course O’Brien never met Osweiler. When Osweiler was going through the pre-draft process in 2012, O’Brien had just become the head coach at Penn State. But for a passing glance or a quick handshake during joint practices, there was no reason for the two men to talk -- and there was definitely no reason for O’Brien to think Osweiler could become the team’s quarterback until midway through the 2015 season.

Still, as O’Brien explained it during a visit this week to PFT Live, he had plenty to do with the decision to land Osweiler.

“The one thing that stood out to me on tape when I watched him is you know most of the games, all of the games that he played in were meaningful games,” O’Brien said. “These guys were in a playoff hunt and he was in some tough ball games. I use the example of the New England game. He was being pressured quite a bit and he was taking some really good hits, but he was delivering the football and I thought that said a lot about his toughness, his ability to keep his eyes downfield and under pressure deliver the football. It wasn’t always complete but I thought he did a nice job in that game. So I think that’s one of the things we’re all looking forward to is working with that type of guy that’s a tough guy, a good leader, a good teammate. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

O’Brien, who also studied Osweiler’s tape from Arizona State, was particularly impressed by that Sunday night performance against the then-unbeaten Patriots, a team for which O’Brien previously worked and a franchise that repeatedly has bedeviled the Patriots.

“It stood out to me,” O’Brien said of Osweiler’s performance against New England. “That one game, knowing the type of team he was going against, what was on the line in that game, I thought he did really nice job.”

The fact that O’Brien didn’t actually meet Osweiler before the Texans made Osweiler a very rich man doesn’t mean O’Brien failed to do his job, or that McNair usurped the coach’s authority. It means that O’Brien was simply operating within the confines of a free-agency system that premises leaps of faith on the exchange of large sums of cash.