When a dead thing is stumbled upon, whether it’s the family pet or the boomer, the reaction is the same. Boy, so and so has been sleeping for an awful long time. The eggs are getting cold, Susan. You call its name, but it doesn’t move. You yell louder, and it still doesn’t move. The heart is a bolus plummeting into the stomach. You shake it. Nothing happens. It’s rigid. You kick it. Your toes break. You scream upon the realization.
After the first wave of free agency, Texans fans yelled, but the Texans didn’t move. Oh, well; it’s fine. The 2019 NFL Draft will be here soon and the Texans have multiple top 100 picks to get better. Then the draft happened. The team was pummeled; the orange film around its mouth it never moved. Nothing dramatic happened to improve the roster. The Texans are nearly the same team now that they were last season.
This wasn’t an offseason like the previous one. Sometimes the spring isn’t a time for rebirth and growth. Sometimes, it’s time to sit, watch, and wait, to just enjoy the sun again. Last offseason was one for sunbathing. Stretching thin resources as far as they possibly could. The [NAME REDACTED] trade took away a second round pick for cap space never fully utilized and a first round pick that was used to select Deshaun Watson the year before. The cap space available lent itself to rusted sign haggling.
However, this offseason, the Texans started with an estimated $67 million in cap space and seven draft picks, including four top 100 picks.
The cap room jumped up to $78 million once Demaryius Thomas was released. The Texans could sign any player they wanted to and do whatever they needed to make the team better now. That was the point of this offseason. To improve the team this season.
This isn’t myopic. The Texans have a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract. That’s the golden ticket to team building. Deshaun Watson has a cap hit less than Senio Kelemete this season, just $3.7 million this season and $4.4 million next season. He should count around $20 million against the cap once his fifth year option is activated.
After that? Football may not exist, the Earth maybe cold and dead, and terrestrial wars to overthrow robot overlords may have erupted, but probably not. Things usually just keep on staying the same. After that, Watson will probably be paid like Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco or Russell Wilson, complete with a cap hit around $30-$35 million.
When that happens, Watson has to make the entire team better. He has to be the main reason why Houston wins football games. There’s no such thing as a complete team once a quarterback is paid this much. Free agency becomes a dream. Teams have to get lucky and hit in the draft to make a roster with competent players on cost effective contracts—see Seattle in 2019. With the current salary cap, every team has weaknesses, when a QB is paid $35 million, entire units, or entire sides of the ball, become weaknesses.
If a team maintains incredible quarterback play but doesn’t hit the draft, they end up like the Chargers or Saints for the majority of the 2010s—thin roster depth, awful defense, great offense, and constantly mediocre records until, in the case of the Saints, an incredible run of defensive draft selections and a YOLO focus on the now carries them out of the drudges of whateverness. Or worse yet, the team pays a hilarious amount to a quarterback who is just pretty good—see Matthew Stafford.
To ensure this perfect opportunity, the best opportunity the Texans have had to compete for a Super Bowl, the Texans needed to improve their team this offseason, and eventually next offseason, to burst through this championship window before Watson’s contract becomes a first world obstacle for the team.
It didn’t happen. The Texans dumpster-dove and clearance shopped once again, running their team like a rebuilding squad trying to scour up diamonds until a quarterback is eventually found, or like a team gasping up against the top of the cap, trying not to drown in a sinking ship. In free agency, the Texans collected numerous tickets and sprayed coins across the roster without making a substantial investment.
They didn’t lose much in the way of released talent. They cut Demaryius Thomas, who would have had an insane cap hit in 2019; Kevin Johnson, who looks like a lost cause that will never recover from the injuries that zapped his ability to zap to the football; and safety Mike Tyson.
They did lose talent in free agency. Kendall Lamm learned how to pass block, but was still an atrocious run blocker; he signed with Cleveland. Tyrann Mathieu wasn’t great and he fooled you into thinking otherwise; he went to Kansas City for an insane $15 million a year. The witch is dead; Alfred Blue signed with Jacksonville. Christian Covington, who’s just like Angelo Blackson, Brandon Dunn, and Joel Heath, went to Dallas for a year. Andre Hal retired and will be missed as a third safety who can cover the middle of the field. The biggest loss is going to be Kareem Jackson, who will start at safety in Denver; I already miss watching him tackle, and he should fit in perfectly up there. None of these losses are deadly, though. They are all surmountable.
Houston retained most of their own. The Texans franchise tagged Jadeveon Clowney, and praise be the Texans didn’t trade him, it was the smartest decision they made this entire offseason. They resigned Angelo Blackson, who can’t rush the passer, for 3-years $12 million for some absurd reason. They resigned DeAndre Carter, and Joel Heath. Seantrel Henderson is back after breaking his ankle, despite not really playing since 2015, and never having a competent year in his career. They made offers to restricted free agents Brennan Scarlett, Brandon Dunn, and Ka’imi Fairbairn, and all still remain on the team.
In free agency, the biggest move they made was signing Bradley Roby, who is great when he’s the third best cornerback on your team, but a horrifying proposition when he’s your best cornerback. They replaced Mathieu with Tashaun Gipson, who should be a better coverage safety than Mathieu, and opens the door for Justin Reid to 100% play strong safety. Other than that they just added a lot of names: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Darren Fells, AJ McCarron (a backup with skills that don’t even come close to resembling Watson’s), Matt Kalil, and recent signings Taiwan Jones and Jahleel Addae.
After the first wave free agency ended, it still wasn’t time to worry. The team could still get up. They had four top 100 picks in the 2019 draft. The Texans needed players who could walk in and and start right away after the free agent spelunking they had. Aside from Kahale Warring, they didn’t get any players like that. Instead of moving up to take Andre Dillard, someone who Peter King has reported Houston wanted, a guy who could come in and pass protect at left tackle right away, or selecting Jawaan Taylor, who could start at right tackle right away, the Texans instead drafted projects at offensive line and cornerback with their first three picks.
Tytus Howard is a big, quick body. Houston doesn’t know what to do with him. Bill O’Brien loves that Howard can hypothetically play every position but center; this pursuit of versatility may disrupt Howard development. In the second round, they selected Max Scharping, who doesn’t have a pass set that translates to tackle right now but could play guard, because of course he can; he is also a project. The Texans paired offensive linemen who may be good once the clock ticks enough times with a coaching staff that has shown little ability to develop the position. The Texans needed to add starters on the offensive line in the draft. Instead they threw two more men onto the island to compete.
For the rest of the draft, they added Lonnie Johnson Jr. Like Scharping and Howard, he’s a project. He’s long and strong, a great athlete, but he doesn’t know how to press, doesn’t have the foot quickness to play man, and he’s bad against the run. They also selected Warring, who should come in and be the team’s best tight end and may end up being the team’s best rookie. In the fifth round, they added Charles Omenihu, who despite his collegiate sack totals probably won’t be able to rush the passer in the NFL. To end the draft, they selected cornerback Xavier Crawford and fullback (LOL) Cullen Gillaspia.
The Texans had two major position groups that needed to be upgraded this offseason—the offensive line and the secondary.
To fix the offensive line, they retained Seantrel Henderson, added Matt Kalil, and drafted Howard and Scharping on a team that has Juli’en Davenport, Senio Kelemete, Nick Martin, Zach Fulton, Martinas Rankin, and Greg Mancz. I have zero idea who’s going to play this season. Competition is good, but the average Fulton being the only secure starter isn’t. You can come up with any offensive line lineup for the opening week against the Saints on Monday Night Football and I’d believe it. Kalil—Rankin—Fulton—Scharping—Henderson, sure. Howard—Mancz—Rankin—Fulton—Davenport, let’s do it. It’s going to be a bloody, never-ending sponge bath. The offensive line will be a confusing mess that will constantly slosh around for the entirety of 2019. Watson was the most pressured quarterback in 2019 and was sacked 62 times, partly because of offensive line mismanagement. It should be better by default in 2019; maybe he’s only sacked 45 times, but he’s still going to be beaten up and hollering.
To fix the secondary, the Texans added Tashaun Gipson, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Bradley Roby, and Lonnie Johnson. The defensive backfield is better, but it still isn’t good enough to cover a true number one wide receiver, Roby can’t do it or limit the quarterback when the pass rush isn’t there. Johnathan Joseph can’t hang with vertical routes. Aaron Colvin and Boddy-Calhoun are slot unknowns. Johnson has a long way to go to be a contributing outside cornerback.
The 2019 season will be like the 2018 season in Houston . It’s going to be up to J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney to get to the quarterback, because when they don’t, the defense will be shredded. Houston never added an interior pass rusher despite Malik Jackson and Sheldon Richardson being available. Blackson, Reader, Dunn, and Heath can’t rush the passer. Whitney Mercilus is playing out of position as a wide rusher since Clowney and Watt primarily rush as defensive end now. It was a bad secondary market this year. The Texans used a first round pick on a tackle instead. Houston needed to add an interior rusher to help things out. They didn’t do it.
To top it all off, the Texans have a schedule filled with teams that can throw the football. Houston plays New Orleans, Los Angeles (C), Carolina, Atlanta, Kansas City, Oakland (maybe), Baltimore (probably not), New England, Denver (probably not), Tampa Bay (maybe), and also get the Colts, Jaguars (Nick Foles, plus a healthier offense in 2019), and Titans (Ryan Tannehill). Unlike last season, the Texans won’t be able to win games by doing just enough to beat atrocious passing offenses that were forced to run the ball against the league’s best run defense.
Houston is projected to have one of the hardest schedules, if not the hardest schedule in the NFL, this season. Using last season’s win percentages is a scam and waste of time. An obscure website credited Houston’s opponents with 138.5 expected total wins in 2019, 21 more wins than New England, which is projected to have the easiest schedule. Football Outsiders and other sites will have similar projections, predicting a hellacious 2019 slate for Houston.
With Watson on a rookie contract, Watt exiting his prime and finally playing 16 games, Clowney entering his prime, DeAndre Hopkins in his prime, and a roster filled with talented players, the time was now to go all in on this season. The Texans didn’t do it. They merely created offensive line competition, a better but not good secondary, and they are counting on Watt and Clowney to be healthy and comprise their entire pass rush again. Unless Watson makes a jump to MVP, this is looking more and more like a .500 team as August comes closing in.
Because of where this team is in their life cycle, the 2019 schedule, the resources they had available, and the holes they still have, the Texans botched the offseason. Houston is still sitting on $40 million, money that could have gone to Rodger Saffold to lock down the left guard spot, Jackson or Richardson to rush from the interior, or Ronald Darby or others to further infuse talent into the cornerback room. The Texans added a lot of players, but not the individual talent they needed to. In the draft, they didn’t find players who should make an impact in 2019.
They ruined an incredible opportunity to chase future possibilities.