The Texans are somehow both in the race for the playoffs and the race for the first overall pick at the same time. Let that sink in for a moment.
This putrid, borderline unwatchable ball club that "showed up" – and I use the term loosely – against the Falcons and Dolphins is also the same team that just eviscerated the Tennessee Titans. Assuming (and hoping) the Colts get annihilated by the red-hot Carolina Panthers tonight on Monday Night Football, that would put both teams at 3-5 in a dead heat for the division.
I say again: Let that ridiculousness sink in for a moment.
The horrible 2014 NFC South that put out a 7-9 winner last season has nothing on the dumpster fire that is this year’s AFC South, and I have yet to decide if that is a good thing for this franchise or not. On one hand, the Texans making the playoffs means I get to watch J.J. Watt play in the middle of January again, which is always a welcome sight. On the other, there is nothing about the 2015 Houston Texans that screams "contender" to any rational viewer of football, and in all likelihood the only thing that winning the AFC South would accomplish in the long run is a pat on the back and a draft pick that is too low to have a realistic shot at a highly-rated quarterback prospect.
Winning this unbelievably awful division while losing the chance to move on from Brian Hoyer is the NFL equivalent of dominating a potato sack race against three other people that have no legs. Sure, you get to pop some champagne and enjoy the sweet taste of victory for a while, but did you really win anything? Will emerging victorious from that sad sack sprint help you contend in the next race against a bunch of bigger, stronger, tougher people with legs that can lap you without even breaking a sweat? Probably not.
Make no mistake about it, I will still root for this team until the day I die. Seeing Houston host yet another playoff game just two years removed from having the first overall pick is what we all hoped for when Bill O’Brien got the job, but it is only natural to watch each win with a strong sense of trepidation that prospects like Christian Hackenberg, and therefore the future are slipping further and further away. All of that being said, however – and this is a bizarre twist of fate if I have ever seen one – recent powerhouses like the Ravens and 49ers are now down in the dumps right alongside the traditional "losers" of the league. The Texans may be afforded a rare opportunity to secure their "franchise guy" without repeating their disastrous 2013 season simply due to the fact that so many equally dreadful teams ahead of them already have their quarterback.
Here is what the top 10 would look like if the draft were held this morning:
2. Tennessee Titans
3. Baltimore Ravens
6. San Francisco 49ers
10. Houston Texans
Giving a cursory glance at the competition as it were, there may only be two or three legitimate threats to Houston’s ability to secure a quarterback. Detroit is financially committed to Matthew Stafford whether they want to be or not through the 2017 season. The Titans just drafted Marcus Mariota. The Ravens will not be getting rid of Joe Flacco anytime soon. After that, Cleveland seems to be trying to develop Johnny Manziel the old fashioned way as a bench warmer (which is the right thing to do, by the way), and the Chargers just signed Philip Rivers to a five-year extension back in August.
Pick No. 6 is where it gets interesting because technically the 49ers can cut the underperforming Colin Kaepernick loose at any time they want to due to the structure of his contract. Would they be willing to replace their former golden boy under center despite having gaping holes at receiver and offensive line that need to be filled in as well? I do not buy that narrative, personally. If anything, I think San Francisco rebuilds the offensive line, grabs a few more weapons, and gives Kaepernick one more shot to turn into the quarterback they are paying him to be.
After the 49ers, the Jaguars obviously already have their guy in Blake Bortles and are out of the discussion. At No. 8, the Bears may or may not make a move for Jay Cutler’s eventual replacement considering Cutler’s dead money savings is reduced from $13 million in 2016 to just $2 million in 2017. That would give Chicago a reason to finally jettison Jimmy Clausen as their backup quarterback while also developing their new draft pick on the bench for a year or two (again, which is the right thing to do if it is an option). At the ninth pick, the Cowboys could be looking at something similar and make a move for Tony Romo’s eventual successor, though with Romo and Dez Bryant reuniting on the field soon, they may well play themselves out of the top 10 by season’s end.
Overall, as it stands now, Houston’s biggest competition for a signal-caller may not be as prevalent as once thought. If San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas all start to look for their Plan B at quarterback outside of the first round while addressing other "win now" needs elsewhere, Bill O’Brien has a legitimate shot to land the future of his team without making a single move up or down the draft board. In a season where the Texans are remarkably in two different races that are moving in opposite directions, they may just be the luckiest unlucky team of them all.
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