The big offseason decisions are over. As such, I asked the masthead what their extended thoughts on the offseason were. What grade would they give Rick Smith and the Houston Texans for the moves they made this winter and spring?
It’s been a weird offseason. This one was supposed to be nice, cozy, and quiet. The team appeared to use up their cap space last season after signing [name redacted], Lamar Miller, and Jeff Allen. This, combined with the selections of Will Fuller V and Braxton Miller, led us to believe the offense was supposed to be fixed. A viable offense and a top ten defense were supposed to come together to transmogrify Houston from an AFC South champion to an actual title together. This didn’t happen. Life is one funny rascal, ain’t it? Instead Houston was thrust back into a murky offseason filled with important decisions again.
During this offseason, the Texans almost didn’t do anything I liked. They didn’t franchise tag A.J. Bouye when they should have. They didn’t re-sign Bouye when they could have. They traded Brock Osweiler and did nothing with the salary benefits it created this year, and they got no real return for the 2018 second round pick they handed to Cleveland. They re-signed players who they should have replaced. Their only unrestricted free agent signing so far, Breno Giaocimini, is strong, slow, and awful.
Despite this, despite all the disagreements I have from my childhood bedroom, I can’t completely hate this offseason. Houston had a great draft, finding players that matched talent, need, and fit. They used actual draft capital to continue to make an effort to find a quarterback. Thanks to Deshaun Watson, we will be saved from watching Tom Savage be horrendous for twelve weeks. There is an actual future at the position for the first time since the franchise’s conception. Even if I didn’t like Houston trading a first round pick in 2018 to move up thirteen spots and still feel that Watson is just as flawed of a quarterback prospect as DeShone Kizer, I’m still ready to live in a future filled with Watson to DeAndre Hopkins back shoulder fades instead of the one I envisioned when the new league year began.
I'm still really bitter we didn’t keep Bouye, considering there was cap space to do so. Still having that money available, however, means that there is more room to give DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney the enormous contracts that both of them will likely command on the open market—that's something at least. I'll be happy, as long as we can keep those two in Battle Red for a long time to come.
The Deshaun Watson pick (and all the capital used to get him) is still kind of a hard pill to swallow for me when I had a second round grade on him. That being said, in keeping with my theme of looking for the silver linings, at least Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien did not fall for the Patrick Mahomes hype. That was the pick that I was most afraid of, and I'm happy to see that Kansas City fell on that sword for us. Speaking of Kansas City, I still see Watson as basically a younger version of Alex Smith, which was why I had a second round grade on him in the first place. If the Texans had Alex Smith under center last year, they might be celebrating a Super Bowl victory right now.
If Watson becomes a stable yet unspectacular starter for the Texans for the next decade, I suppose it will be a first round pick well spent. I'm just not sure that I expect anything more than that right now. I root for the kid. He had a tremendous college career, but I'm not exactly convinced that he will be superstar at the next level. Hopefully, and I mean this with complete sincerity, Watson proves me wrong and becomes the savior that Houston desperately needs under center. We know this city deserves one by now.
Johnathan Joseph can't continue to sip from the Fountain of Youth forever, and Kareem Jackson is no longer a viable option at CB. That makes our third cornerback Robert Nelson. Nelson did flash at times last year, but it's frightening to think about our cornerback depth. Not franchising/signing A.J. Bouye may bite us in the butt sooner than later. That we did nothing else for the team, even with a massive amount of cap space post Brock Osweiler, is a net negative. Right tackle and interior offensive line are going to be troublesome.
That said, your Houston Texans took Deshaun Watson in the draft. Even though he wasn't my favorite quarterback coming out this year, and we've given up a big chunk of our future for him (which is the right move, though it hurts), I'm far from disappointed. I love everything about the kid aside from his arm strength, so if Bill O’Brien can use him appropriately, Watson could perform well enough this year.
And well enough is all we're asking for, right? Even with Osweiler and offensive special teams play, the Texans still made the playoffs in 2016. With Watson at quarterback and any microscopic improvement on special teams, it's fair to set expectations that the Texans make the playoffs again in 2017. With the rest of the AFC South Dumpster Fire improving while we idled during free agency, it's still possible to hit those expectations, but it will be more difficult.
I have consistently been unhappy with how the Texans have handled (I will not say "addressed," because I struggle to believe that Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, et.al., were ever part of the team’s long-term plans) the quarterback position, so the decision to move up for Watson, regardless of how he pans out, is something I'll credit the front office for.
My hope is that the decision to let Bouye walk away was made with the intent to use that money instead on Hopkins and Clowney. I expect both players to be extended before the final years of their rookie deals (including that optional fifth year, of course).
There are other aging vets that the front office will need to find replacements for, and they will need to do that soon. My wish is that the Texans are not confronted with that need during the season due to an unforeseen injury, and can, instead, continue to push that further into the future. Our offensive tackle situation scares me right now, and I question whether the position will hold up for the season. Given how frequently Tom Savage has been injured due to shoddy offensive line play, any poor play there could force the Texans into playing Deshaun Watson before he's fully ready. There's something to be said about the belief that any quarterback drafted in the first should be the day-one starter, but there's also something to be said about not traumatizing a young QB.
The fact that the front office appears to be held in high esteem around the league gives me some cause to be more patient with them. I often think Rick Smith is out of his depth and makes some decisions that harm the team in the long run (I shall not discuss Glover Quin, because I'd like today to remain a good day), but I get the luxury of not having to figure out how to make all the pieces fit and the money work.
I can't judge the offseason at this point when I haven't had the opportunity to see the shiny new pieces in uniform and real game action. Oftentimes, the decisions made in one offseason can't even be judged following the regular season and playoffs. So I'll just say I'm not ready to burn Rick's house down after this offseason (and for some of y'all, you remember that there's been times I couldn't even say that much).
There was some good and some questionable actions/inactions during this off-season for Houston. Let's start with four "questionable" items first:
Brock Osweiler should have been waived instead of traded. Him being eliminated from the roster was a net positive, although waiving him as a June 1st designation would have made the most sense in the big picture rather than burning a second round pick in 2018 to send him and his cap hit to Cleveland. Had the Texans used the cap space cleared by that trade with the Browns to retain A.J. Bouye, or to acquire a free agent, I could understand the logic better. Some might argue that the cap space, which can be rolled over to next year, would be valuable in retaining players like DeAndre Hopkins and/or Jadeveon Clowney, but the NFL cap continues to increase each year. I have confidence that both of them would have been retained without the unnecessary cost of a second round pick.
A.J. Bouye should have been franchise tagged. His departure in free agency will all but guarantee the Texans a third round compensatory pick in 2018. I would rather have kept Bouye on this roster for 2017 than lose him for a third round pick. One great season in 2016 didn't warrant a huge contract like he received from the Jaguars, but this was a perfect time to utilize the franchise tag to ensure that his performance was not a fluke. If he performed well again, he'd earn a big long-term extension in 2018. Not to mention the Texans obviously would have had the cap space to do so. Retaining Bouye was necessary for four reasons: 1.) He might just be a consistently good top-10 corner in the NFL for many years. 2.) Kevin Johnson is great, but hasn't been able to stay healthy due to issues related to a broken foot injury in two consecutive seasons. 3.) Johnathan Joseph isn't getting any younger. 4.) Kareem Jackson is still vulnerable on the perimeter, and may be moving to safety.
Ignoring free agency to shore up the offensive line. I'm not advocating overpaying for someone, but the Texans' offensive line is in dire need of starting talent and depth, especially at right tackle. They should have put some of that cap space they got from Cleveland into the right side of the line.
Brian Gaine's departure for a parallel job in Buffalo smells like big trouble in Houston. The rumors of a rift, or more likely a festering power struggle, between Bill O'Brien and Rick Smith have made headlines for long enough now that many assume there has to be something going on behind closed doors. This move by Gaine, who O'Brien liked, may be the first chunk of movement in a shifting foundation in Houston's front office. My guess is that O'Brien is working an exit strategy for a departure after 2018 to return closer to his New England home, but I hope that's not the case.
"When Gaine left for Buffalo last week, I took that as a bad sign for O’Brien’s future. O’Brien liked and respected Gaine. For Gaine to makes a sideways move to the Buffalo Bills may not be a great sign for the long-term prospects of the O’Brien administration."
The four good things Houston did this offseason:
Selecting a quarterback high in the draft for the first time since 2002! I'm still concerned about the cost of moving up to get Deshaun Watson, but if he ends up being a top-15 signal caller, this team finally has a chance to compete for a championship (or several). Time will tell, but perhaps (soon) the quarterback will no longer be the reason why the Texans lose close games or exit the playoffs sooner than a team with a league-best defense should.
Getting (a/k/a "stealing") two solid players in the draft in Rounds 2 and 3. Zach Cunningham and D'Onta Foreman were too good to pass up, and they fit areas of high need as well. They were both my top picks available as Houston's time on the clock approached in each respective round. I couldn't be happier for what they can immediately bring to this team.
Not overspending in free agency. Notwithstanding my preference for them to have signed a free agent to bolster the offensive line, or franchise tag A.J. Bouye, by holding acquisitions until May 9th, they will now have no negative impact calculated against them with respect to compensatory picks in 2018 for the free agents who departed. That is a huge deal, given that Houston traded their first and second round picks to Cleveland. With the real possibility of getting a maximum of four compensatory picks in 2018, including at least one third round pick for A.J. Bouye, Houston may have enough draft capital in 2018 to trade up into the second round if there is a player they really want. The other benefit of not overspending in free agency is that it allows them to front-load an extension to DeAndre Hopkins; a transaction I expect to take place around August.
I am more willing to be tolerant of the small ticket items if the big picture at least tries to address the major hole this team had at quarterback. I like Watson. I don't know that I'd rather have him than a first-round pick in 2018, a different first-rounder, and DeShone Kizer. But I don't actually care, because the Texans passed the minimum amount of allowable give a sh*t when they actually traded up for a quarterback.
Good or bad, Watson is going to end something. Either the Texans will be good enough to win a playoff game against a good team, or Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien will be unemployed in two years.
I think you guys bring up several fair points. Bouye played very well last year. Osweiler didn't technically have to be traded before Tony Romo was signed, sealed, and delivered. But look, the team has a legitimate chance to be more than a playoff spoiler team now. That's all I ask.
Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic. I've resigned myself to the fact that offensive line is always a blind spot for Rick Smith. Year in and year out, the talent pool of the offensive line seems to regress while other teams continue to show how great o-lines can have a huge impact on the game. But no one is perfect right?
There's no way anyone is convincing me that letting Bouye go, not signing anyone, dumping Osweiler, and trading to draft Watson was always the offseason "master plan.” I'm willing to bet large that Smith and Co. wanted something else they couldn't manage to pull off. They went to Plan B once the writing was on the wall.
But I love Watson. I'm pretty excited to continue watching him play for Houston now that he's no longer a Tiger.
With the remaining cap space, they obviously need to address Clowney and Nuk's contracts. I certainly hope they use some of it to target and acquire a replacement for Derek Newton. The revolving door on the right side of the line decreases the offensive playmakers’ potential. With teams like New England, Pittsburgh and Oakland loading up their offensive firepower (and each team solidifying their o-line), the path to February will require the ability to remain in some high scoring games. Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman, DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller, and Will Fuller V would all see huge productivity gains if the line was as solid as what the Raiders or Cowboys have right now.
Defensively, the team has gotten stronger, despite the loss of Bouye. I wasn't quite as bullish on him as everyone else and still wonder if he'll end up as the next Nnamdi Asomugha in Jacksonville. One great season really isn't enough to warrant handing the guy the keys to the checkbook when players like Clowney and Nuk are awaiting bigger paychecks. Drafting Cunningham and getting back a healthy J.J. Watt, Kevin Johnson, and seeing year-over-year improvement from a lot of the other younger players should make Houston’s defense even better this year.
If Smith had landed a starting caliber right tackle, I'd say this offseason was a rousing success. As it stands, it's a base hit, not a home run.
I give the offseason a Smashburger. It certainly could have been better. I feel okay about it right now, but not sure how I'll feel later. It’s rough anytime you lose both a first and a second round pick in the same draft, but the result was getting Brock off the books and landing a premiere rookie quarterback. None of us know if Watson will be great, terrible, or somewhere in the middle, but it was a bold and very un-Texan move that I'm happy/shocked the team made.
Having sat out free agency, there are still some obvious holes on the offensive line, that, at this point, there is no fix for other than negligible free agents, players currently on the roster that would need a tremendous, bigly improvement in performance, and/or position-switching magic. Beyond that you hope there are some cuts later in the summer that the Texans can snatch up. The secondary is also unquestionably weaker after the loss of A.J. Bouye.
With DeAndre Hopkins' new contract looming, perhaps the Texans can use some of that extra cap space this season to pay out a bigger chunk of his guaranteed money, or roll the maximum amount over in order to prepare for the Jadeveon Clowney contract (which I'm not entirely convinced is going to happen).
In totality, it could be very easy to be a little bit pessimistic in regards to the changes that came about this offseason.
We gave away a second round pick to get rid of Brock Osweiler.
We traded a first rounder to get a rookie QB, thus leaving us without our first two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
We let A.J. Bouye walk away, despite the fact that Kareem Jackson has regressed and Johnathan Joseph is in his mid-30s.
For a team whose moves as a whole indicate a willingness to contend for a Super Bowl now, there has to be an acknowledgement that it could be two to three years before we really see what Deshaun Watson can actually do. It's quite confusing to see the Texans make these moves, because I'm really not sure what their timeline is. Do they want to compete now and hope a rookie quarterback can carry them (something which has rarely happened), or is this an investment in the future?
These are important questions that we're not going to get answers to for another few years. However, I won't care about them if Deshaun Watson turns out to be a permanent solution to the seemingly endless quarterback quandary we've endured over the past three years. If this offseason gave us anything, it was hope. Hope that I no longer have to drink myself into a stupor to think that Brian Hoyer is a good enough quarterback.
Please be good, Deshaun. My liver can't take any more abuse.
I'll go with a B-. I have to believe that the Texans' decision to stay out of free agency this offseason was motivated by (1) Tony Romo's decision to retire and (2) earmarking of funds to sign DeAndre Hopkins, and then Jadeveon Clowney to extensions.
I do think the Texans erred by not franchising A.J. Bouye, but I get it; they assigned a value to Bouye that was presumably less than the franchise tag amount and the guaranteed dollars Bouye got from Jacksonville. I am nervous about counting on Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson to stay healthy throughout 2017, especially with so little proven depth behind them. That said, John Butler has done yeoman work developing defensive backs in Houston, so all hope is not lost.
I wish the Texans had been more aggressive addressing right tackle this offseason. I get the feeling the free agent market got too rich for them too quickly. I am quite concerned about Chris Clark entering the season as the presumptive starter at right tackle; here's hoping Julie’n Davenport is ready to contribute faster than most have speculated.
With regards to the draft, I like what the Texans did. They took a shot at finding a long-term solution at quarterback in Deshaun Watson. They addressed a need at linebacker in the second round, getting great value to boot in Zach Cunningham. I'm bullish on D'Onta Foreman as a change of pace back and immediate contributor behind Lamar Miller. If the Texans hit on those three picks, the rest of the draft is gravy (though again, it'd be really nice if Davenport's physical tools translate into NFL success). I am intrigued by the possibility of Carlos Watkins siphoning snaps in the defensive line rotation as a rookie.
I'm not sure the Texans are markedly better than they were entering 2016, though I do believe they’re better than when they ended the 2016 season. If nothing else, the return of a healthy J.J. Watt ensures that. Watt will strengthen a strength, but this team's fortunes hinge entirely on whether Bill O'Brien, in his role as offensive coordinator, can turn Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson into a positive (or at least not a gigantic negative like their predecessor under center).
What Grade Do You Give The Texans’ Offseason?
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