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Bill O’Brien, Rick Smith Subtly Argue Through Media Who Loved Deshaun Watson More

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No one wants to admit they didn’t always know how brilliant the Texans’ rookie quarterback would be.

NFL: Houston Texans-Deshaun Watson Press Conference
Everyone loves Deshaun.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Texans fans know that rumors of a clash between Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien are nothing new. They date back at least two years to the handling of Ryan Mallett in the aftermath of Mallett missing the team flight to Miami. Shortly before the Texans hosted the Raiders in the NFL Playoffs back in January, there was talk that O’Brien could leave Houston for another job, with speculation about a possible trade and that Kyle Shanahan could succeed O’Brien here. Despite the gossip, nothing happened.

Then the Texans traded up to acquire the twelfth pick of the 2017 NFL Draft and selected Deshaun Watson. After an offseason of telling anyone who’d listen that Tom Savage was his starting quarterback and trotting Savage out against the Jaguars in Week One, Bill O’Brien quickly abandoned his plan after the first half of the first game of the regular season, and the rookie from Clemson has been Houston’s QB1 since. It appears to have been a wise decision, as Deshaun Watson has led the Texans to a 2-1 record as the starter, with the sole loss being one in which Watson played exceptionally well before coming up short to the defending champs at Gillette Stadium, thanks to last minute heroics by Tom Brady.

Now Deshaun Watson is the toast of the town, and the incredulity over how O’Brien could have ever thought Savage was a superior option to Watson has reached a critical mass.

Naturally, Rick Smith knew how special Deshaun Watson was all along. I mean, Smith not only traded up with the Browns to take Watson at No. 12; he even tried to trade with the Jets to acquire the sixth overall pick so he could take Watson there!

Oh, you’d never heard that before? Me neither. I learned about it this morning in this article by John McClain that was published last night. The money shot:

While the Texans prepare for the Chiefs, this is a good time to revisit the draft-day trade that brought Watson to Houston.

General manager Rick Smith, who had scouted Watson extensively, deserves credit for trading up from No. 25 to 12 to select Watson - the third quarterback taken behind Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago) and Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City).

Smith convinced Cleveland to swap first-round picks by offering the Texans' No. 1 draft choice in 2018.

Smith wanted Watson so badly he tried to trade with the New York Jets up to No. 6 but couldn't work out a deal that was suitable to both teams.

Now, at the quarter point of his rookie season, Watson is rewarding Smith's faith in him.

How’s that for timing? A few days after Deshaun Watson put up a performance so exquisite that the rookie was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week, we learn that the Texans’ general manager was so bullish on Watson that he tried to move up even more aggressively than originally thought to acquire Watson’s services.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because this morning, just hours after McClain’s story was published, we also learned that Bill O’Brien, for all his public posturing about how Tom Savage was the unquestioned starting quarterback, actually wanted to name Deshaun Watson the starter way back after the preseason opener against the Panthers. You know who talked him out of it? Rick Smith! The same dude who loved Deshaun so much that he moved heaven and earth to get him insisted that Watson stay on the sidelines! From Matt Hammond’s report (which was first brought to my attention by Wotan):

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, O’Brien wanted to promote Watson after his performance in Week 1 of the preseason against the Carolina Panthers, but was talked out of it by general manager Rick Smith.

...

But according to the source, when O’Brien approached Smith about his thinking, Smith said he should “give it time,” in part to ensure that Watson wasn’t being rushed.

“(O’Brien) knew what he had a long time ago,” the source said, adding that “it wasn’t a matter of if, but when” Watson would get the nod.

The decision to stick with Savage was collaborative, the source said, and one that O’Brien ultimately agreed to.

As the old chestnut goes, success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. It’s funny how the possible discovery of a franchise quarterback has everyone rushing to claim credit mere months after the same parties did everything they possibly could to distance themselves from the disastrous Brock Osweiler signing.

It’s also worth noting that the Smith-O’Brien relationship, long believed to be a loggerheads, is now, according to Hammond’s source, “better than it used to be.” While it once seemed that Houston wasn’t big enough for the both of them, it’s now thought, at least by Hammond’s source, that Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien will find a way to work together and maintain their partnership as long as the team is winning.

Never underestimate the magic that is Deshaun Watson.