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Houston Texans What If: Looking Back At Some Monumental Franchise Decisions And Wondering What Could Have Been

A look back on the history of the Houston Texans and some coulda-woulda-shouldas of the franchise.

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Imagine this in steel blue, battle red, and liberty white.
Imagine this in steel blue, battle red, and liberty white.
Chris Graythen

"If only I had done so-and-so, or had not said such-and-such-my God, the damn thing might not have happened. Finding this potential in my own mind, I can suspect it in others, but I will never know, for one never tells."

-John Steinbeck "Travels With Charley in Search for America

What If? The quote above is what if? stated the most articulated and beautiful way to ever dig into this simple yet complex two word, two syllable question. It is a question every human life on this planet riddles and ponders over. What if I sell everything I own and just get up and move? What if I did not go to the doctor when I did? What if God was one of us? What if ... and the other 7,680,000,000 results and questions that show up when searching for the phrase on Google. The point is that every decision made is not made in a 4x4 cell where X only effects X; X effects Y, Z, and hundreds of other people as well.

The same is true in athletics and in all of professional sports, especially the NFL. Each draft pick, free agency signing, each trade, changes the space time continuum for not only one team, but the thirty-one other teams as well. Every decision takes the league down a rabbit hole of millions of different roster combinations and permutations of how a season would play out. Be careful when taking a dip into the pool of the absurd this question brings; when you try to go deeper, you will just be here all day talking about it making diagrams with straws.

So I'll just ask a question. A lonely simple question. I'll just ask one question. Alright, maybe a few questions.

Creed - What If (Video) (via CreedVEVO)

What if the Houston Texans selected Joey Harrington with the first pick in the 2002 NFL draft?

On April 20th 2002, as 99.99% of the site's population knows, the Houston Texans drafted David Duke Carr to be the cornerstone and leader of Houston's newborn franchise. In his senior year at Fresno State ,Carr threw for 4,299 yards, 42 TDs, 7 INTs, and had a completion percentage of 64.7%. He did all of this while upsetting Colorado, #10 Oregon State, and #23 Wisconsin. The draft expert Mel Kiper stated:

"He is a franchise-caliber quarterback with accuracy and velocity reminiscent of another No. 1 overall pick, Troy Aikman...His sidearm delivery is a concern because there is a possibility for his passes being batted down. Plus, he won't scramble around and make things happen with his legs... The Texans had to pick him. His maturity and leadership are critical aspects of his makeup."

The rest was history. Carr could never get his throwing motion right and spent most of his career running from defensive lineman like Tom running from Jerry. Each season, Texans fans clung to the possibility this would be the year Carr would make the leap, but it never came. Kubiak and Smith had enough of the Carr era after one season and cut him after being unable to trade him. Carr would become the scapegoat for Houston's miseries in the first half of the 2000s.

At first, Joey Harrington faced the same type of lugubrious situation as Carr did, except in Detroit. Poor O-line play, being thrown into the starting role before he was ready, and offensive coaches who had no how to raise and coddle a QB. After being unable to win on awful team after awful team in Detroit, Harrington was cast off the island. He actually had the chance to start in the NFL again in Miami and later in Atlanta, only to keep throwing garbage into the wind. He just simply was not good.

At the time the idea of taking Harrington may have been as nonsensical to Texans fans as being sexually attracted to balloons, but no other draft pick other than QB at the time would have been plausible. Houston would not have addressed defensive line to take Julius Peppers after using the expansion draft to plunder the Jaguars' Gary Walker and Seth Payne. The only player other than Carr Houston could have drafted would have been Joey Harrington.

Kiper's analysis on Harrington:

"Harrington, who has a Brett Favre-like flair for the dramatic, was a highly productive quarterback and one I had rated only slightly behind Carr. But he outperformed Carr at the NFL scouting combine, showing tremendous touch and accuracy on deep balls and more than adequate arm strength."

Let's play the greatest game in the world. Which QB is who? The stats are for their first team they played for:

Player A: record- 23-56 TD-59 INT-65 Completion %- 60% Quarterback Rating- 75.5 Approximate Value- 45.

Player B: record- 18-37 TD-60 INT-62 Completion%- 54.7% Quarterback Rating- 68.1 Approximate Value- 25.

Player A- David Carr w/ Houston. Player B- Joey Harrington w/ Detroit.

If Houston took Harrington, they would have been worse and would have been able to pick even higher in the draft. The unintentional comedy would have been greater if Harrington, instead of Carr, would have been sacked 249 times. Despite that, the Texans' drafts would not have changed much until 2005. Then the fun really starts with this what if. You can make the argument Houston would have finished with the Lions' record of 5-11 had Harrington been Houston's QB in 2004 instead of the 7-9 that Carr "led" the Texans to.

At 5-11, Houston would have drafted somewhere between 4 and 10. They would have had the opportunity to take DeMarcus Ware, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Derrick Johnson or Shawne Merriman instead of the illustrious Travis Johnson. Or they could have even gone QB after realizing Harrington was a bust a year sooner than they would have with Carr; that could have meant the opportunity to take Jason Campbell or Aaron Rodgers. Talk about making diagrams with straws and the unexpected results that stem from decisions. Yes, we could have lived in a world where Mario Williams and DeMarcus Ware played on the same team or Aaron Rodgers rocked the Battle Red.

The only other thing that would have changed is when Matt Schaub throws the ball right to the defender or limps a deep ball that falls 15 yards short to Andre Johnson, we would be cursing Harrington's and not Carr's name. My 12 year old self is still upset neither of these QBs panned out; I have a Carr and Harrington rookie card siting in my closet that should be worth thousands of dollars rather than only being useful to do cocaine off of in between slurps of a Frosty in a Wendy's bathroom.

What if Tony Boselli had never had his shoulder surgery in 2001 and retired before playing a snap with Houston?

Tony Boselli claimed that his right shoulder was really the injured one, yet the Jaguars' team doctor had the left one operated on instead. Boselli was a great player who would have looked even greater in blue, red, and white and not ghastly teal. Boselli was gone even if he was 100% healthy because of the Jags' inability to understand how to work a salary cap; he came in with Payne and Walker via the expansion draft. After sitting out all of 2002, he was hoping to come back in 2003, but experienced pain again in the left shoulder. If he had the correct surgery and a decent doctor, he would have had the chance to play about four more years at a high level.

The looniest part of this story is how much better medicine is today. If Boselli was injured in 2012, he would have lived in a world where Adrian Peterson and RGIII can come back from a torn ACL in less than a year and play at a high level. Instead, he reached his prime and was injured in a world where "Pimp My Ride" was drawing millions of viewers and sports medicine could not achieve the miracles it can today. Now what would have happened if he actually played a snap with Houston?

Texans History: Feb 18 2002 Expansion Draft Part 1 (via swisherHOU)


"If you are a quarterback or running back and come to this Texans franchise, you're going to have some beef in front of ya. You are going to have protection for the QB and room to run as a RB." Luscious words by the great Ron Jaworski.

If Boselli had been able to play for about four years, the Texans would have improved dramatically. They could have put Chester Pitts at LG and run the ball extremely well on the left side. Carr would actually have had time to throw the ball. In his five seasons in Houston, Carr was sacked 76, 15, 49, 68, and 41 times. He played like he had PTSD after his first year at QB and spent most of the time scanning for defensive linemen barreling towards him instead of looking for wide receivers coming out of their breaks. If he had a decent O-line to play behind or was given a year to hang out,his career could have turned into something much different.

It is a big IF, but if Carr had Boselli and other satisfactory offensive linemen, he could have led Houston to their first .500+ season and maybe, just maybe, a playoff appearance. I still don't believe Carr was any good, but any QB playing with Andre Johnson who is able to keep head up the field is infinitely better than what Carr was. Maybe there could have been something more than 7-9 during his time in Houston.

What if the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal occurred two months sooner?

On March 22, 2007, the Texans traded their second round picks in 2007 and 2008 and flipped first round picks in the 2007 NFL Draft to acquire three-year backup QB Matt Schaub, back when he was innocent and had hair. At the time, new head coach Bobby Petrino was sold on QB Michael Vick as his QB and was looking forward to coaching him.

Then, on April 25, 2007, a warrant was served to search Vick's cousin's house for drugs, only to find the pit bull fighting operation that Vick and company had been running. The rest of the events which occur afterwards are a desolate stroll down memory lane as the truth gets more gruesome as the timeline progresses.

On April 28th, the NFL draft goes live and the Falcons take Jamaal Anderson with the eighth overall pick. The Texans take Amobi Okoye at No. 10. With Houston's second round pick, the Falcons take OG Justin Blalock to complete first part of their haul from the Schaub trade.

On July 23rd, Roger Goodell tells Vick not to report to Falcons training camp as the inevitable jail sentence comes to a fruition. The Falcons' season is like a wreck on I-35 where a chicken truck flips over and rams into a school bus as a truck carrying chemicals drives off the highway into the San Marcos River, leading to permanent environmental damage. Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, and Byron Leftwich replaced Vick by going 4-12. Bobby Petrino cowardly ran out of the Georgia Dome like George Sr. after 13 games.

However, as bleak as things looked, the Falcons would turn things around quickly when they drafted Matt Ryan with the third pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, then trading both of their second round picks and fourth round pick to Washington for the Redskins' first and fifth round pick. The trade landed Atlanta Sam Baker and Kroy Biermann (Washington took Devin Thomas and Fred Davis).

The history does not =stop there. In 2008, Houston flipped first round picks with the Ravens to make up for the lost picks they gave away in the trade for Schaub. Houston traded pick #18 to Baltimore for pick #26 (1st), 89(3rd) and 173 (6th). Baltimore picked Joe Flacco. Houston obtained Duane Brown, Steve Slaton, and Dominique Barber.

Now if Vick gets in trouble for his despicable hobby one or two months earlier (why couldn't Vick pick a normal hobby like poetry, homebrew, horseback riding, watching movies, clarinet or square dancing?), the Falcons would have kept Schaub for at least another season. He was highly regarded around the league as a potential starting QB and Atlanta made the highest qualifying offer to keep Schaub to back up Vick. With Schaub off the table and Kubiak still needing someone to replace Carr, Houston either (a) signs a stop-gap QB like Jeff Garcia, Kerry Collins or gulp Joey Harrington to fill the hole or (b) uses a 2007 draft pick on Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb or John Beck. Yes, we all could have lived in a world where Houston went from David Carr to Quinn or Kolb as their starting QB (and then taking Sidney Rice with their second round pick instead of Jacoby Jones in third).

If Houston signed one of those stop-gap turd baskets, they would have drafted a QB the next year after watching Garcia or Collins under center. In 2008, they would not have gone 6-10 (even if Schaub was hurt). They could have taken Flacco with their first round pick. Matt Ryan would have been drafted by either Kansas City, Buffalo or possibly could have fallen all the way down to Houston, who would have picked around pick ten or so in that scenario.

If the latter occurred and Houston missed on the QB, they could have hit a home run in the coming years. By 2011 or 2012, Houston would have realized their QB was awful. They would have abandoned ship and overhauled the team. If they made the decision by 2011, they would have ended up with Cam Newton or Jake Locker (gross) or Andrew Luck/ RGIII/Ryan Tannehill/Brandon Weeden in 2012. The interesting part of this what-if is that Smithiak would have been long gone and Houston would have cleaned house for the second time in ten years as a franchise.

Man, my head hurts. The state of Virginia swung at least one title (Flacco not playing for Baltimore) and countless other QBs would have played in other towns, all because of when they were able to bust Vick. Both Andre Johnson and I are doing the Schaub fist shake in happiness over how everything unfolded.

What if Gerald McCoy never tore his bicep?

Let's keep the skeletons dancing and dig up even more bad memories out of this pet sematary. Entering Week 10 of the NFL season, the Houston Texans were rocking and rolling through their schedule. They entered Raymond James Stadium with a record of 6-3. Tampa Bay was playing .500 ball as usual and had just received news their 3rd overall draft pick, Gerald McCoy, would miss the rest of the season after tearing his bicep. Tampa's GM Mark Dominik needed a replacement. On November 9th, newly unemployed Albert Haynesworth became a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On game day, four days later ,Houston dismantled the Bucs. The fun started on the first play of the game when Schaub threw an 80 yard play-action TD pass to Jacoby Jones. The fun continued when Arian Foster turned a simple pass in the flat into a 78 yard touchdown. Everyone was grinning and celebrating as the Texans won 37-9, entering the bye week 7-3 and slathering over an AFC South Championship and a possible #1 seed. However, amid the party, tragedy struck.

It was not until November 15th that news broke that Matt Schaub would have season-ending surgery to repair a torn Lisfranc. The injury occurred late in the second quarter of the Tampa game, with Houston backed up on their goal line. On their own one yard line, Schaub ran a sneak up the middle and had his foot tied up in the pile by Haynesworth. The report was that it was not intentional and accidents happen in piles, but I imagine Haynesworth at the bottom of the pile twisting and tearing at Schaub's foot like a dog trying to get the last drop of peanut butter out of a Kong.

You know how the the story unfolds: Matt Leinart takes Schaub's place, but breaks his collarbone against Jacksonville. T.J. Yates is the next arm from the bullpen to come in and play QB. Houston wins their next three games and clinches the AFC South on a game-winning touchdown with one second left to beat Cincinnati. The Texans then go 0-3 to end the season. They win their first playoff game in franchise history by beating the Bengals again. The ride finally ends the next week to Baltimore after Yates throws 3 Interceptions and the offense sputters in a 20-13 loss.

What happens if Haynesworth is not signed by the Bucs and Schaub gets out of Tampa without an injury? Well, Matt Schaub is still healthy and plays at least the next game and most likely the rest of the season. The playoff matchups would have changed very little since the Ravens and Steelers finished 12-4 and the Pats 13-3. 12-4 was possible, but Kubiak probably would have rested everyone, taken his foot off the gas, coasted to a 11-5 record and the team would have had the same Bengals, Ravens, Pats schedule before reaching the Super Bowl. If Schaub is healthy, Houston beats the Ravens by about 14 points. They were the better team that day, even in spite of Yates and lost because of turnovers, the inability to throw the ball farther than twelve yards, and the Jacoby Jones muffed punt. With Schaub healthy, the game is completely different and the offensive problems that plagued them against Baltimore would have been largely eliminated.

The intriguing part is what would have happened in Foxboro in the AFC Championship Game. In one game, anything can happen, as we have seen in the NFL playoffs the past ten years. Some people are in the camp that Houston was the best team in 2011 and would have won the Super Bowl if Schaub was healthy. I don't think they can beat New England and won't until I actually see the light from the game where Houston wins enter the rods and cones in my eyes. Healthy Schaub or not, the Texans would have gone 0-3 against the Pats over the past two seasons and would have just poured butane all over the embers of the Patriots hatred that flows throughout my veins. So if Schuab never was injured, Houston would have played for their first ever AFC Championship and would have had the chance to take on their old #1 pick in the Super Bowl. I hope you are having a great time on your speed boat right now, Albert Haynesworth.

What if Houston drafted Reggie Bush over Mario Williams?

The New Year's Day game versus the San Fransisco 49ers lived in infamy in the minds of Texans fans as the day the Bush sweepstakes was clinched. Both the 49ers and Texans were 2-12 entering Week 16 of the NFL season. Then the unthinkable happened: The 49ers won a game. They beat the Rams 24-20 and had a record of 3-12 entering the last week of the season. If Houston won their Week 17 matchup, the 49ers, Saints and Texans would all be tied for the #1 pick with a record of 3-13. Instead of a conglomerate of teams' #1 pick fate determined by a coin flip, the Texans took care of business and missed field goals, threw an interception that turned into a touchdown to give up the lead, and lost in OT. The Texans would draft first for the second time in their history. The question the media asked at the time was not who the Texans were going to pick, but when they would make the announcement that Reggie Bush was the #1 pick.

Here are the stats to prove how gag-worthy Houston was in 2005. Their defense amassed 37 sacks, gave up 5,824 yards (31st) and 431 points (32nd). On offense, they gained 4,053 yards (30th) and scored 260 points (26th). Yes, that is a point differential of 171 points. Their sack leaders were Shantee Orr with seven and Antwan Peek with six. Their rushing game gained 1,816 (15th) yards on 437 attempts, and they would lose leading rusher Domanick Davis in the offseason. The air attack went 270 for 449 for 2,237 yards, with 15 TD and 13 INT (30th).

After watching the offense slog through sixteen games, the entire city of Houston was waiting for the constipated offense to get a jump start and come to life like a Mary Shelley monster. Of course, the opposite happened. The Texans skipped over Reggie Bush, Vince Young and went with the best defensive player in the draft--Mario Williams. They drafted Mario due to economic reasons; you can't pay a third down back $9,000,000 per year and under Kubiak's system anybody who can run fast and make a cut can be successful. They also skipped over InVINCEable because they did not believe he was a NFL QB, wanted to give Carr another year, and if you draft a QB with a high pick he stays your QB.

As Mario reached the podium, he was bathed in boos and disappointment by the fans from Houston. Mario would feed on the hatred like David Murphy and become a two time All-Pro with Houston, but he would never reach his full potential in Wade's defense after tearing his pectoral in 2011. It's scary to think how many sacks he would have had as a backside rusher in Wade's scheme if he was not injured. 23 could have been possible. He would leave Houston the following year because of salary cap constraints, and the league fist-pumped in celebration when he went to Buffalo. Reggie Bush was stuck as a third down back in New Orleans and despite spectacular plays, he never would look like the magician he was when he played with USC. Vince Young would battle with Jeff Fisher over control until he was benched in favor of Kerry Collins, lose all of his money, and pick up unemployment checks with Albert Haynesworth.

If Houston drafted Reggie Bush, I don't believe much would have changed for Houston. Their current defense would not have changed much because of William's injury in 2011 and Houston's love of drafting pass rushers. If Houston had drafted Reggie, he would have carried the ball around 200 times a season to make up for Ron Dayne being the best runner on the team in 2006. Reggie would have either ended up hurt or torn up defenses in the best run blocking scheme known to mankind.

Can you imagine Bush accelerating cutting back across the grain in the zone blocking scheme? He could have run for 1,500 yards a season and created priceless YouTube highlights. I believe he could have handled the load of being a #1 back after seeing him take on 200 carries and play well with Miami. Reggie Bush's career could have been All-Pro caliber if Houston drafted him. Additionally, I still think Arian Foster would have ended up a Texan since Houston stocks up on undrafted running backs every year. He would have sat back waiting for his chance just like in 2009, and his career would have hinged on a Reggie Bush injury. If Houston drafted Bush, Reggie's career would have changed dramatically, but the Texans' record would not have changed much.

The other aspect is what would have happened to Mario Williams? He probably would have been drafted by the Saints with the second pick since their defensive line was just as porous as Houston's. Will Smith was their sack leader in 2005 with 8.5 and has been the only bright light on that defensive line during the Sean Payton era. However, the boos and taunts that came with being picked #1 turned on the FU mode switch on and led to Super Mario working his ass off to become the player he was with Houston. He would have lost this motivation if he was picked by New Orleans. Despite this, I still believe Williams would have been very good with NOLA and it would have been sweet to see him sack Peyton Manning a couple of times in Super Bowl XLI. On top of that, there is the chance he would have taken part in the scandal and would have been blackballed like Vilma, Fujita, and others in a he said/she said suspension situation. If Houston had picked Bush, the Saints would be even better than they have been the past five years.

What if the Lions drafted Andre Johnson instead of Charles Rogers?

Dear Lord. I am going to just leave this here.

Charles Rogers- Receptions 36 Yards 440 Touchdowns 4 Approximate Value 4 Games Started 9.

Andre Johnson- Receptions 818 Yards 11,254 Touchdowns 56 Approximate Value 104 Games Started 137.

Thank you once again for Matt Millen. Houston was going to take whatever scraps the Lions left because they needed weapons to help Carr succeed. The only other choice would have been offensive line, which would have been Jordan Gross, but the Texans were handicapped by the possibility of Boselli still possibly playing with Houston. This idea of Charles Rogers and not Andre Johnson evokes nightmares like the Witches movie gave me as a child. Not just because of the Joan Holloway sized bust Rogers was and how much worse Houston could have been. But also because of how much fun we all have watching Andre Johnson play football 16 times a year as the rock of the franchise, knowing one day he will become the first Texan chiseled in bronze in Canton.

Without 'Dre, Houston pulls a Detroit and keeps picking wide receivers out of a hat until they end up with a #1 WR, whether it would be Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, or other busts like Roy Williams and Braylon Edwards. They would have lost at least one first round pick like Brian Cushing, Okoye, or Travis Johnson. The Lions could have lived in a world where Matt Millen still has his job and their starting WRs are Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson. Had that happened, the Lions might actually have won a playoff game these past 15 years and there would be no 0-16 season.

Other possible Texans What-Ifs...

What if Chris/Kris Brown was somewhat decent in 2009?

What if the Bengals did not rest their starters and let the Jets beat them in Week 17 of 2009?

What if the Texans hired Kirk Ferentz or Jerry Gray instead of Kubiak?

What if Arian Foster had been drafted?

What if Cushing was not cheapshotted cut from behind by Matt Slauson?

What if Houston drafted Nick Fairley over J.J. Watt?

What if Joe Marciano had been fired five years ago?

What if the Chargers drafted Peyton Manning?

What if Rick Smith mistakenly resigned Dunta Robinson?

What if Bud Adams never moved the Oilers to Nashville?

What if the Cowboys were nice to Wade Phillips?

What if Houston signed Glover Quin instead of Ed Reed?

What If?

Unsolved Mysteries (via Aaron David Ross)