Former Texans running back Arian Foster has a podcast, Now What? with Arian Foster, and his most recent guest was former Texans tackle Duane Brown. As a cursory overview of the events that happened, for the uninformed, here’s how that relationship went from 2016 on:
- Duane Brown was suspended for PEDs because of hormones he ingested during a bye week in Mexico, fought to get the case dropped, and won.
- Brown injured his quadriceps in the final game of the 2015 season and was not healthy for the start of the 2016 season.
- Brown held out of OTAs and Training Camp hoping to get a contract extension.
- Brown raised his fist during the National Anthem against the Patriots in 2017.
- Brown finally got healthy enough to play one game, against the Seahawks in Seattle.
- Brown was traded to Seattle after that game.
Now, some people will get to this point of the post and expect this to be a rant about the racial aspects of the timeline and how they clashed with Bob McNair’s political beliefs. I am going to put those aside, as much as I think McNair is in the wrong for them, and focus on the actual treatment of the player. I’m also going to put aside the obvious scarequote of the “disrespected” player that goes viral for reasons that I hope we all know.
Brown’s side of the story, revealed on Foster’s podcast, showed an organization that completely distanced itself from Brown. The organization cancelled a planned public relations appearance by Brown to explain his decision to raise his fist. Brown spoke of a front office that didn’t believe his story about violating the league’s PED policy, and perhaps believed he was more likely to get injured moving forward. Management had almost zero communication with Brown the entire offseason, after he had laid out terms in hopes of finishing his career in Houston. When they did come to him, it was about how they had no plans to re-negotiate contracts because of some team policy about players with two years left on their deal that was, kindly speaking, a polite way to tell him they wouldn’t negotiate.
This story isn’t only revealed in Brown’s telling of the events, but in the way he talks about them. He doesn’t name the GM for a solid 45 minutes of talking (Foster eventually stumbles upon “Rick Smith” somewhere.) They both refer to upstairs only as “the front office,” and create a portrait of an aloof, reactive culture that insulates itself from even understanding the views of the players.
I left this podcast thinking three things.
One is that Houston’s front office has a very limited point of view on the usefulness of tackles if they can’t understand Brown can be both old and good. Andrew Whitworth led a transformative change for the Los Angeles Rams last year, and many older tackles play well into their mid-30s. Perhaps trading Brown made sense from a pure football perspective -- I would argue draft picks are not worth a sure thing for a few years, but I could be convinced otherwise. The way they treated Brown on the way out the door, however, lacked any semblance of curiosity or humanity. They don’t look at these players as human beings; they look at them as names in a spreadsheet. This guy got hurt, older players get hurt...do we investigate it? Nah, he’s a defect. Toss him out.
Two: If this is the way an organization treats its best -- and Brown is far and away the best lineman in franchise history -- why would anybody want to sign there if everything was equal? If your options are $20 million from an organization that will barely talk to you and wants to limit your belief to express yourself, or the same amount of money in Seattle, why would a player want to sign with the Texans?
Finally, and I want to throw this out here purely because of the people who will say “most NFL franchises operate like this” and dust their hands like they’ve solved the problem: Why choose to operate this way? Why would you resist front office change for all these years if the state of the front office is so bad that your best players won’t even say the general manager’s name? What is the upside? It wouldn’t cost any real money to be up front with the team, to stay ahead of issues like this, to keep in touch with rehabbing players. All it takes is the ancient art of giving a damn.
Duane Brown deserved better. The Texans’ front office needs to be better.