For the past twelve years (minus the two years where I went back to school), I've spent nearly every Wednesday night playing soccer after work. While the group of players has varied over the years, there's been a core group of about four or five of us who have been there from the beginning.
The modus operandi for the day generally goes as follows: Go to soccer field from work, play soccer, go to bar from soccer field, drink beer, go home, shower, sleep.
I'm not going to lie to you. The part about going to the bar is the main reason this thing has held together for so long. Some have referred to us as a drinking club with a soccer problem. We've become a very tight knit group of friends and as we've grown older, gotten married, and had kids (or in the case of one guy, had grandkids), it's been the one constant night where we can get out and just be guys.
Of course, if you take pretty much any group of men, stick them in a competitive environment for an hour and a half and then give them beer, the discussion will inevitably steer towards stupid arguments, outlandish statements, and the occasional dumb bet.
Throughout the course of any given Wednesday night, you are unlikely to hear comments start with the phrases "I think," "it's my opinion," or "your point is well made, but," and far more likely to hear them start with "I know," "the fact is," and "you're full of crap, here's the truth," spiced with the occasional expletive.
Yet, despite the apparent confidence, the comment that follows is often just well crafted BS (or perhaps not so well crafted). The "truth" is almost never as clear or precise as we would like it to be. The fact is, we all think we know more than we actually do, and we would be well served to carefully acknowledge opposing views and alternate theories.
That's unlikely to happen on Wednesdays, but the same applies to the discussion of the Texans' potential off-season moves -- I have more hope for you guys than I do for my soccer crew (perhaps because there's less beer here). So in an effort to facilitate some of the discussion, I'm noting some potential alternate theories on some commonly accepted "truths". Some I agree with and some I don't, but I want to pose them all the same.Statement: The Texans must worry about Arian Foster first, Chris Myers second, and Mario Williams third.
Alternate View: Well, you could reorganize this prioritization any number of ways, but you could also make the argument that they don't have to be prioritized. The Texans may consider these to be independent activities that, while they obviously affect one another, are not necessarily intertwined. In other words, the prioritization in the Texans' eyes may not be Player A vs. Player B vs. Player C, but rather Option A (keep all 3), Options B/C/D (various combinations of keep 2/lose 1), and so on.
My Opinion: As a project manager, I know the importance of prioritizing objectives, so I'm sure the Texans have done so. Still, I believe the Texans are working this in tiers as I suggest in the alternate view. Their dream world is to find a way to keep all 3, so that would be the top priority, and I would guess that while they've discussed the other options from there. I would guess that by now, the Texans have their plan of attack set, but they probably have not wholly given up on retaining all three.
Statement: WR2 isn't much of a need because WR2 is the fifth option in this offense.
Alternate View: Here are Kevin Walter's receptions the past four years, starting with 2011 and working backwards, and where they rank on the Texans: 39 (3rd), 51 (t-3rd), 53 (2nd), 60 (3rd). Here are his targets over the same time: 59 (4th), 80 (3rd), 70 (2nd), 95 (3rd). Those don't look like the numbers of a fifth target.
My Opinion: I feel that the true answer is somewhere in between. Walter is clearly not the primary receiving threat, but to suggest that WR2 is not a big concern because he's a fifth option is probably too far in the other extreme. The numbers I threw out in the alternate view might be a bit misleading because of injuries to Owen Daniels, Andre Johnson, and the fact that Arian Foster wasn't an option in '08 and '09. Furthermore, it's impossible to say that anyone is the n-th option in the offense because it doesn't work that way. Walter will be the fifth option on certain plays and possibly the first on others. Lastly, you have to consider the chicken/egg idea. Is Walter not a higher option because of design or because the other options are just better? If a better option presented itself, would the WR2 suddenly play a larger role? Painting the WR2 with a broad 5th-option brush, though, is incorrect. At 30 years old, K-Dub is not yet over the hill, but an upgrade should still be a priority in the off-season.
Statement: Brooks Reed's performance this year proved that the Texans don't need Mario Williams.
Alternate View: Reed mostly picked up the scraps this year. Mario is still a dominant force, better against the run, and one of the best pass rushers in the league.
My Opinion: Here is my issue with the original statement: it is largely based on improvement of the defense as a whole, so Mario is being "punished" for being on the field during the 3-4 learning curve, while Reed is "rewarded" for playing mostly later in the season. Plus, Mario played during the more difficult stretch of the schedule. Look, I love the way Reed broke out and he definitely looks like he's going to develop into a fine player, but he's not yet in Mario Williams' class. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Mario had the second highest +EPA/G (the only "per game" stat) among the Texans linebackers at 3.02 (second only to Cushing's 3.28 mark). Reed came in at a very respectable 2.48. Again, I think Reed has a bright future ahead of him, and I'm very excited that that he'll be on the Texans, but to suggest that he's suddenly equivalent to Mario is a bit premature.
Statement: Mario Williams would be easier to replace than Arian Foster.
Alternate View: The Texans already have a potential replacement to Arian Foster in Ben Tate. Tate is a more capable replacement to Foster than Brooks Reed is to Williams. Besides, having three capable OLBs is more important than two capable RBs.
My Opinion: I think this is a lot closer than many people are thinking. I mentioned above already that Reed was very good, but not quite up to Mario's standard. The argument can almost be made that Tate is a closer replacement to Foster. Tate had a higher DVOA, a higher DYAR (on fewer carries, mind you), and a higher success rate. And, after I defended his fumbling during the season, Foster proceeded to fumble two more times, thus raising the issue from "statistical blip" to "legitimate concern". Were this the end of the discussion, I might actually agree with the notion that he's more replaceable, but when you look at the difference in DVOA and DYAR from a receiving perspective, Foster absolutely destroys Tate. The difference is such that it negates the close advantage Tate may have in the running game. Now, in the spirit of fairness, we don't have stats on how much better Mario plays the run than Reed -- it may be equally significant. In the absence of data, however, we will just have to go with a gut feel. I agree with the original statement that Mario is more replaceable than Foster, but I think it's very close and a strong argument could sway me the other way.
There is certainly more than what I've mentioned here, and I encourage you to add more in the comments, but it's always more enlightening to try to see things from the other side. The decisions made this off-season contain far more than two elements and many shades between black and white.
Now, I would appreciate none of you telling my wife (or my soccer team) about my willingness to consider other opinions.