David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
File under "offseason fish in barrel."
Look, I'm sure there is going to be some splashback on this post. I will preemptively attempt to curb some of that by saying that, yes, Kevin Walter was a very good receiver for some very good Texans offenses in the late 2000s. Great guy to have on your team, and I enjoyed cheering for him. And yes, in general, Gary Kubiak being a player's coach is a good thing. Obviously, your coach backing his players is a good thing, and you don't want him to get down on them or trash them publicly.
But come ON.
"Anything you could ever want your organization to stand for in this business, that's what Kevin Walter is all about," said Gary Kubiak, Texans head coach, in an interview with FOX 26 Sports.
"Hopefully, there's a small window that there's a chance he might come back. We'll see. He's been a class act on and off the field in this city. We are all better people for having been around Kevin."
Kevin Walter could be the best blocking wide receiver on the planet, and his work habits and mental acumen could slay Titus Young impersonators across the country -- he was a supporting player on this team at his peak. Walter was barely worth a roster spot in 2012, and he hasn't been a productive receiver since 2010. Pining over his loss like he was the Ray Lewis of the Texans is, at best, a sign that the loyalty at Reliant has reached creepy Pat Boone-ish levels. At worst? Well, this is what comes to mind when I read the quote.
This insinuation that there might be a small chance that Walter comes back is the height of absurdity. Bringing Kevin Walter back as anything more than a coach is an admission that this offseason was an abject failure. Yes, it's a shame that DeVier Posey's Achilles was torn during the postseason, making the wide receiver position shakier coming into the 2013 season. (Kubiak noted on Wednesday that he was looking at Posey as a "second-half player.") To hide behind that and proclaim that it's just poor injury luck again ... well, that's an excuse that shouldn't have been made five years ago, and certainly not one that should be made now. Andre Johnson can't hold up a Super Bowl trophy with a foundation of excuses under him.
And yet, we're a week-and-a-half into free agency and the Texans have done dip diddly about actually fixing the problem. No visits lined up. No "reported interest." The defense continued to be the focal point with a Brice McCain re-signing and an Ed Reed sideshow that finally resolved itself in the affirmative late Wednesday. The Texans (in my mind, foolishly) let Glover Quin leave without a fight. Or an offer. Or a paean from Gary. So, even if you want to give Reed credit for being an upgrade on Quin (and I don't, but I'll let it happen hypothetically), it's not like he was replacing a scrub. If I squint my eyes I can see where Rick Smith would be coming from, but I don't think Reed is likely to be a drastic improvement on Quin.
And yes, the draft will help. The drafts always help. But look at the current question marks on this roster. Quarterback (yes, quarterback), No. 2 and 3 wide receiver, tight end depth, fullback, right tackle, nose tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, dime safety, special teams. Maybe the draft resolves well, the guys you'd expect to take leaps (Whitney Mercilus, most notably) take them, and some players take unexpected Brice McCain-esque jumps next season ... but that's not really something you want to enter a year needing to happen. There are a lot of holes on this roster that need to be settled, and while the Texans have had some big hits in the draft process (hello, Mr. Watt), they aren't exactly drafting with the efficiency of the Ravens or anything. They themselves will happily admit that players take their biggest leaps from year one to year two.
Rather than make a bold move, rather than restructuring or releasing Antonio Smith for cap money, rather than making a play for established NFL talent, or even making a minor move like the Eagles did to haul in Arrelious Benn, the Texans are pining for Kevin Walter. Kevin Walter!
Time to talk about a dirty little secret: NFL teams love to talk about "the process." The Texans love to talk about building through the draft. Do you remember what happened during the offseason where they leaped from 6-10 to their first division crown? I'll spell this one out for you: it was the Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning signings. Take those guys out of the equation, and Wade Phillips could have coached his balls off and it wouldn't have been enough to get that secondary out of the seven-to-nine win range. Building through the draft works great when you draft J.J. Watt and wind up with one of the most spectacular seasons in NFL history. That isn't going to happen every year. I'm not saying this to shame Rick Smith, because I think he's a fine talent evaluator, but the Rick Smith "process," like most "processes," is a self-sustaining machine capable of winning eight games a year. There are some dumb teams (though less than there once were), but fundamentally there is not much of a difference between the Rick Smith process and say, the Jerry Reese process. It's the bold and calculated risks, along with the true draft home runs and the ability to keep giant roster holes from developing, that build a team capable of winning the Super Bowl.
To be brutally honest, I'm not sure that Matt Schaub is going to bounce back to what he was before the funk of turnovers and awkwardness ended the 2012 season; however, if the Texans are going to go into the season with the thought that he is, maybe finding some actual targets for him to throw to should be a priority. I know that some people are happy with a playoff appearance and think it becomes a bit of a crapshoot when their team arrives -- i think that's an over-simplification, but there's some truth to that. However, I don't think this team as currently constituted is a surefire playoff team. They'll get some help from the poorness of their division and a few games against the Arizonas and Oaklands of the world, but the Colts are a legitimate threat to the crown.
Maybe gambling and shifting some assets around to make a bold and calculated move for elite talent (that, yes, could screw up the cap or "the process" somewhere down the line) is a better idea than envisioning the best-case scenario from the draft. You know, like it was when the Texans robbed from the 2011 and 2012 caps by signing Joseph and Manning. Maybe Ed Reed is that sole move in Rick Smith's eyes -- I don't agree, but I'm willing to entertain the thought. I just think that expecting that to be the move that gets the Texans over the top while praying for best-case scenarios in every other position is a bit much. The Texans have made just one significant new investment in their offense since drafting Duane Brown in 2008. That was Ben Tate, and that was before Arian Foster made him irrelevant. It's starting to show.
Maybe it's time to focus more on finding the next Andre Johnson and less on finding the next Kevin Walter on that side of the ball.