Europe, Here We Come

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February 9, 2005
Europe, Here We Come

by Keith Weiland

I’m guessing Dave Ragone and B.J. Symons weren’t expecting to carry both a playbook and a passport when they were each drafted by the Houston Texans.

After being selected, each was probably intrigued, perhaps even elated, to learn that he would be learning from offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, the quarterback guru who made Drew Bledsoe a Super Bowler, Mark Brunell a Pro Bowler, and Rob Johnson a super pro teaser.

So getting an airline ticket from their "O.C." to fly across the pond and play in the NFL Europe League for a bunch of soccer hooligans at the wrong “football” match has to be a bummer for both of them.

Borrowing from a character named Luke on that new FOX teen drama I don’t watch, Bon voyage from the O.C., bitch!

With the imminent departure of current backup quarterback Tony Banks via unrestricted free agency, Ragone is left as the next in line holding the clipboard. Yeah, he’s a lefty, but he’s not going to be conjuring any images of one-time backup lefty Steve Young anytime soon.

The Texans’ cause for concern is palpable. Ragone could be just a David Carr sack away from being the man under center during a possible playoff run next season, and Palmer must know that Carr is sacked in front of cameras about as often as Paris Hilton.

But why is exile the answer for Ragone? Well, let’s take a look at how he made his way into the passport photo line.

Most of us probably remember Ragone from a pair of forgetful performances he had as a rookie in relief of his injured teammates, Carr and Banks. The not-quite-ready for Sunday gunslinger fired blanks in both games he started. His Texans offense amassed a whopping total of three points in both contests. C’mom, nursery rhymes are more offensive than that.

Ragone weathered a total of eight sacks and threw for just 135 yards. His rookie passer rating of 47.4 was amazing, but only because it matched the exact number of chewable Tums that Palmer was able to stuff into his cheeks at halftime in both of Ragone’s two starts.

Well, causing heartburn as a rookie quarterback is hardly news, but Ragone didn’t appear to be all that improved during training camp last summer. He still looked lost and was slow to make decisions. Ragone’s 2004 preseason game performances weren’t much better either. In limited action during four games, he threw just 11 completions (48 percent of his attempts) for 115 yards and no touchdowns.

At least Ragone’s deportation gives us reason to actually sit through an NFL Europe game this season. Honestly, I’ve tried to catch their games in the past, but those freakshow uniforms they wear make Zubaz pants and topsiders seem like haute couture.

Still, I can’t help but feel that watching Ragone play overseas triggers the same reactions in my brain as when I rubberneck an overturned vehicle on I-45. I mean, what the hell is he doing going over there? While a few success stories have come back from NFL Europe, they’re usually not from former third round picks with Ragone’s level of draft day potential.

The Texans are placing Ragone in harm’s way by sending him to Europe, and I don’t just say it because he’ll have to eat the food once he’s there.

On the surface, shipping Ragone out to sea smacks of desperation by the Texans. Sink or swim, Dave. And don’t forget your vaccinations.

The stated purpose of Ragone’s mission is for him to gain enough on-field experience on European soil to be relied upon as Carr’s backup heading into training camp. Playing half a globe away will give Ragone the opportunity to find his misplaced accuracy, regain his arm strength, and learn better decision-making. With or without Banks, this sounds like a good idea anyway.

But what the Texans likely leave unspoken is that they are also gambling on Ragone to show enough of those things to attract some interest within the next year from another NFL team. Ideally for the Texans, Ragone would be this decade’s Rob Johnson, once a spotty Jaguars backup for Palmer that garnered both a first and a fourth round pick in a 1998 trade with the wall-eyed Bills. In reality, getting anything more than a future third rounder for Ragone would be like finding oil in your backyard.

Ragone will be a restricted free agent after the 2005 season. At this point, even after ordering him to an overseas tour of duty, the Texans should still tender Ragone an offer next year. They probably wouldn’t be too heartbroken though if someone else offered him something more than the Texans were willing to match.

Then again, maybe Ragone will strengthen as a Euro. If that on-field experience could shake off a little rust, then maybe we won’t have to hold our breath each time Carr’s pocket surrenders like the French this season.

At least the round-trip airfare will help him rack up those frequent flyer miles. It’s just too bad though that Symons will have to count as one of his two carry-on items.

Keith Weiland is just doing his part to improve foreign affairs.

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