I think it’s fair to say that expectations for Brian Gaine heading into the 2019 offseason were fairly high. His 2018 offseason and draft were solid, especially with the resources he had. Heck, even signing Tyrann Mathieu to a one year “show me” deal was a mighty fine move, especially at the price.
With a metric kitten-ton of both draft and salary cap capital, the Houston Texans had the resources to be a much improved team in 2019. Instead, it went south pretty quickly, starting with free agency.
When the Texans signed Brandon Dunn, I mean Christian Covington, I mean Angelo Blackson to a three-year, $12MM contract, it was a serious head-scratcher. He’s just a body who does nothing to improve the Texans. Sure, this is an “on the edges” kind of signing, not really a team-killer, but to give such a fungible player a contract like this is questionable.
Then, we got lucky! Gaine’s apparent free agency strategy seemed to be that he draws a line in the sand for salary; if that line gets crossed, he’s out. This worked out swimmingly for the Texans when the Kansas City Chiefs backed the Brinks truck up for Mathieu, who wasn’t worth the $7MM we paid him in 2018. Despite of himself, Gaine got lucky when Mathieu signed with the Chiefs.
March 12th started out well enough. After losing out on Mathieu, Gaine picked up Tashaun Gipson, probably a better player at this stage of their careers, for far less than what Mathieu received. Gipson’s three-year deal was a good move.
For me, losing Rodger Saffold to the despised BE-SFs of Methoptamia was the beginning of the end. Saffold’s four-year, $44MM deal would have easily fit within our cap constraints, and as one of the best guards in the NFL, he would have quickly upgraded the offense line AND given a rookie left tackle a great veteran presence. Alas, it seems that Saffold’s salary number crossed Gaine’s line in the sand, so shrug emoji.
Signing both Bradley Roby and Briean Boddy-Calhoun to one-year contracts means you really don’t care, just like you really didn’t care with Mathieu. There were several other CBs to chase, but we settled for a guy who can’t play against WR1s or WR2s and a guy who has been terrible in the slot the past two seasons. If they play well? They’ll chase the money like Mathieu did. I would have taken a shot at Steven Nelson or Jason Verrett to multi-year deals. You gotta take risks to be successful, and neither player would have hamstrung our salary cap. Speaking of, Morris Claiborne is still without a team.
Gaine then signed AJ McCarron to back up Deshaun Watson. That’s akin to an Indy driver’s back-up car being a Yugo.
All throughout the offseason, Gaine failed to find help for the interior pass rush, probably feeling pretty proud of himself for that sweet Blackson signing. We could have handled Malik Jackson’s (three years, $30MM from the Eagles) or Sheldon Richardon’s (three years, $36MM from the Browns) contracts easily. Or Gerald McCoy’s deal with the Panthers, which broke a particular writer. Ndamukong Suh and Muhammad Wilkerson are both still free agents, at least.
We also signed the worst OT in football, Matt Kalil, to a contract.
Then, of course, there was the 2019 NFL Draft. In retrospect, it seems like the only film Gaine watched was from the Senior Bowl, as the first three picks—Tytus Howard, Lonnie Johnson, and Max Scharping—all participated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Gaine watched any other game tape.
The Iggles, of course, jumped ahead of us to grab Andre Dillard. Passing on Jawaan Taylor is also terribly confusing. If you believe that Howard was our first choice all along, I have mountain property to sell you in Conroe. As of now, Howard seems to be a less athletic version of Julie’n Davenport. At best, he’s a major project.
Continuing the theme of passivity in the second round, we didn’t move up to take a pro-ready CB (who is apparently already running with the 1s) in Greedy Williams. Instead, we passively waited for Lonnie Johnson, whose tape is simply awful. Look, maybe Williams can’t tackle. Fine. Johnson can apparently neither tackle NOR cover.
Max Scharping seems like a fine right tackle prospect, but he’s still another project. So, if you’re counting along, the Texans’ offensive line projects include Howard, Davenport, Scharping, and Martinas Rankin. Do you really think Mike Devlin and Bill O’Brien are the best candidates to coach up those guys?
To be fair, Kahale Warring looks like a fabulous pick. But taking a fullback who doesn’t know how to play his position in the seventh round is next level stupid. The Texans should have been far more aggressive in moving up to help the team in 2019. Instead, our first three picks in the first two rounds are serious projects. Sure, this might turn out to be the best draft in NFL history EVAR, but all signs currently point to no.
Because of the timing of Gaine’s firing, I believe the Texans coaches got together, looked at what they had after OTAs, and panicked. Placing Gaine’s termination on Jadeveon Clowney’s contract situation makes no sense because it’s been like that for a while now. No, this is about the offensive line.
Ultimately, Brian Gaine had one job during the 2019 offseason: improve the offensive line and better protect your wunderkind QB. Gaine failed miserably.
Instead of signing Saffold (or any other real offensive lineman in free agency), Gaine passed. Instead of being aggressive in the draft to grab Dillard, he got jumped. He panicked by taking Howard. Scharping’s ceiling is pretty middling.
Gaine overly focused on offensive line versatility. Look, if you want to have a guy who’s comfortable playing both OT spots and another guy or two who can play all three interior positions, great. However, your starting offensive linemen should not be mixed and matched. This same strategy killed the offensive line early last season, and it’s going to kill us again this year. Versatility does not create cohesion and continuity, two things that greatly helped the offensive lines during the Gary Kubiak years. We still do not have adequate talent on the offensive line to mitigate the risk to Watson, and the risk is amplified by the “versatility” we keep hearing is so prized.
In today’s NFL, you win by getting the other team’s QB dirty while keeping your QB clean. This afternoon, Brian Gaine was fired for not doing nearly enough, or really much at all, to better protect Deshaun Watson in 2019. It was undoubtedly the correct move to ax Gaine.
The Texans need to make one more change to get this franchise back on track.