Yesterday, it was announced the Houston Texans declined Gareon Conley’s fifth-year option.
Texans not exercising fifth-year option for corner Gareon Conley, according to a league source— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 29, 2020
Some people were surprised and frustrated by this, thinking Houston spent a third round pick to acquire Conley from the Raiders last year for nothing. However, Conley remains under contract for 2020 and can still be re-signed for the future. Let’s look a bit deeper into the deal that landed Conley and how he performed as a Texan.
Last October, the Texans traded a 2020 third-round pick to the Oakland Raiders to land Conley, a former first-round pick in his own right. The Texans were already lacking draft capital in 2020 and 2021, so sending a third-rounder was seen as yet another short sighted move by Bill O’Brien. Oakland ended up trading that third-round pick (#91 overall) to the New England Patriots, who selected TE Devin Asiasi. It will be interesting to see how Asiasi turns out, but I am pretty happy Houston has Conley instead.
While being traded midseason and thrown into the raging fire that was the 2019 Houston Texans, Conley performed better than most thought. The biggest change for him had to be going from an extremely zone coverage heavy defense with the Raiders to a primarily man coverage heavy defense with the Texans. Despite this drastic scheme change, Conley played admirably. According to Pro Football Reference, in the eight regular season games Conley appeared in for the Texans, he accumulated 11 pass break-ups. His best game came in the Wild Card Round against the Bills, where he had three pass break-ups. Let’s take a look at that great Buffalo game, where Conley made some game altering plays.
The play below came on a crucial drive. The Bills were driving downfield and were only down three points. The Texans, usually led by Deshaun Watson’s heroics, held a slight lead late into the fourth quarter. However, Buffalo had the final possession, and our porous defense was forced to close out the game. This story has ended poorly for the Texans on more than one occasion. While the Bills ended up tying the game, Conley did his best to stop history from repeating itself.
Wide receiver Duke Williams (#82) is running a back shoulder fade and does a decent job stopping on a dime and creating space. Conley (#22) covers this pretty well; when the WR turns his head, Conley follows suit. He slaps his hands around the receiver’s hands, trying to knock the ball loose and achieves just that. While a better receiver may hold onto this ball, Conley does a good job of remaining close and preventing a catch.
Let’s look at another crucial play, where Conley stops a potential touchdown. QB Josh Allen throws the ball up for Williams (#82) and while Conley (#22) is in tight coverage, Williams is able to jump over him, high-pointing the ball and getting his hands on it. Conley is left underneath Williams, but he does a great job pulling down on William’s left arm. This makes it much harder for Williams to come down with the ball. The question is, if this were another receiver; Julio Jones, Michael Thomas or dare I say DeAndre Hopkins, do they bobble the first catch? Who knows? In this case, it’s just Duke Williams, so Conley is credited with a pass break-up and saved touchdown.
This final play encapsulates the good and bad that was Gareon Conley. The good? He remains just close enough to the wide receiver that he is able to lunge forward and get a finger tip on the ball, breaking it up. The bad? Conley gets beat on this play. John Brown creates a ton of space, but the ball is slightly under thrown, giving Conley the opportunity to make a play on it. Nonetheless, the Texans’ cornerback saves another likely touchdown.
Unfortunately, this was a reoccurring theme for Conley throughout the 2019 season. Often times he would get beat by a receiver but recover enough to make a play on the ball. It’s great that he made so many plays on the ball; I just worry that him being beat so often is going to catch up to him. I fear regression is coming.
All in all, Conley had a promising first season with the Texans. However, I believe declining his fifth year option was the right decision. There is no reason to be locked into paying Conley $10.24 million dollars in 2021 if he’s injured after just an eight game tryout.
It would have cost Texans $10.24 million in 2021 to pick up fifth-year option for corner Gareon Conley. Team declined to do so, per league source. He's due $1.892 million base salary in 2020. Team likes the way he played last season and envisions big role for him.— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 29, 2020
Give Conley another 16 games to further prove himself and show his talents—this is a similar situation Vernon Hargreaves III found himself in last year. If Conley plays well and up to his first round pick potential, the Texans can work out an extension midseason or sign him to a long term deal in the offseason. With newly extended Laremy Tunsil’s contract now on the books, along with potentially massive Deshaun Watson and Zach Cunningham extensions looming large, there is no reason to commit a double-digit contract to Conley just yet.
What do you think? Should the Texans have taken the fifth-year option and locked in Conley early? Or were they right to wait and let him prove himself over a larger sample size?