It’s hard to argue with Bill Barnwell’s recent assessment that your Houston Texans had the worst off-season of all 32 teams, in light of the criteria used to come to the decision.
To measure how each team performed, I’m comparing their roster, cap situation and future draft capital at the beginning of the offseason to what they have in mid-May. The most important thing a team can do is add talent, so those that made significant inroads in improving their roster will rank highly, while those that saw key pieces leave without replacements won’t. I also considered how each attacked their specific needs, how well they read the market and handled the financial side of their deals, and what they did to create future draft picks.
While this criteria is very logical (and hard to disagree with unless we apply homer bias), Barnwell left out a few other variables, such as coaching staff changes, scheme alterations, and a few of the other things you do with the talent you add. With all that in mind, here’s the official Red Zone Play Top 5 Rights and Wrongs from the Texans’ offseason.
How The Houston Texans Went The Wrong Way:
1. Getting Rid of DeAndre Hopkins.
This dead horse has been beaten beyond recognition at this point. Let’s move on.
2. Overpaying Players Who Aren’t Guaranteed Game-Changers.
You overpay for a position of desperate need. You overpay when the supply is far less than demand. You overpay in a situation where if you fail to do so, you won’t purchase whatever it is you’re overpaying for and you desperately need to make that buy.
The average kicker in the NFL makes $1.6 million/year. O’Brien handed Ka’imi Fairbairn $4.4 million per year with $9 million guaranteed. That makes Fairbairn the third highest paid kicker in the league. Then, B’OB turned around and agreed to pay David Johnson $11.1 million per year while trading away Hopkins, making the Texans responsible for paying the 4th highest running back salary in the NFL.
Making Laremy Tunsil the highest paid - BY FAR - offensive lineman in the NFL when he’s clearly not the best offensive lineman in the NFL is a puzzle of incompetence that further backs up Point #5 below if we follow the bread crumbs back to the initial trade that brought Tunsil to Houston.
For a guy who allegedly refused to pay Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins and used their monetary demands as an excuse to get rid of them, O’Brien’s actions prove he has no qualms about blowing through cap space like it’s Monopoly money.
3. Failing to Address Major Areas of Need: Pass Rush
In 2019, Houston hit the offseason in desperate need of offensive line help. O’Brien responded by using the team’s first two draft picks on Tytus Howard and Max Scharping - with or without the help of former General Manager Brian Gaine. He then leveraged the future draft pool to ensure Deshaun Watson would have a future by trading for Laremy Tunsil. Need addressed.
This offseason, Houston was in desperate need of pass rush help. While O’Brien did use two of Houston’s early draft picks to grab up defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and OLB/DE Jonathan Greenard, neither will take the place of D.J. Reader (another player O’Brien didn’t want to pay) or Clowney. Counting on J.J. Watt to impact all 17+ games this season is a fool’s errand based on his recent injury history, and without Watt, Houston has no pass rush. Guys like Everson Griffen and other veterans still might have been had for the right price. But keeping Reader and building around him and Watt would have gone a long way to fix the pass rush.
4. Failing to Address Major Areas of Need: Cornerbacks
The Texans gave up more passing yards than all but the Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals last season. While newly minted defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver suspects this was all due to the lack of pass rush, expecting the same group of corners to suddenly leap into the top tier of NFL secondaries is the very definition of insanity.
5. Elevating Bill O’Brien to the Role of General Manager.
This is another dead horse beaten into the dust subject, but Bill O’Brien couldn’t fully handle the responsibilities of his role as head coach, so handing him another full-time job makes no sense on any level other than it saved team owner Cal McNair the salary of paying another human. However, that theory goes out the window when you examine how poorly O’Brien has managed the Texans’ cap space since he got the gig.
How The Houston Texans Went The Right Way:
1. Elevating Tim Kelly to the Role of Offensive Coordinator.
Odds are there were a few more qualified offensive coordinator candidates out there for the choosing. Anyone who has illusions that Kelly will turn the Texans’ offense into the record-setting, yard gobbling, touchdown generating force of nature fans have been hoping for since Deshaun Watson came to town will probably find themselves disappointed at the end of the 2020 campaign. However, with just one thing to concentrate on (the duties of an offensive coordinator), hopefully Kelly can avoid the issues of clock management, poor/predictable play calling, lack of situational awareness, and other wounds that have inflicted so much pain on anyone paying attention to Houston’s offense since O’Brien took (back) over. Kelly may or may not be the right man for the job, but the job is the only responsibility for him, which is a huge upgrade from what the O’Brien era has brought to the field so far.
2. Elevating Anthony Weaver to the Role of Defensive Coordinator.
O’Brien came to the Texans heralded as an offensive genius (right or wrong), not a defensive one. To his credit, he went out and talked Romeo Crennel into taking over the other side of the ball and, for the most part, that’s worked out well. However, this is now the second time Crennel has stepped down, which is the right thing to do at this stage of his career. The man has been coaching since 1970 (for those keeping score at home, Bill O’Brien was the wise old age of 1 in 1970), and 50 years is a long time for anyone to do anything at a high level.
Weaver, like Mike Vrabel before him, has a great NFL pedigree, having spent time under another defensive genius Rex Ryan, son of former Houston Oilers defensive genius Buddy Ryan, as well as Crennel. He’s smart, passionate and loves the game of football. Unlike Tim Kelly, it’s not a matter of if Weaver becomes a head coach someday; it’s a matter of when.
3. Exercising Deshaun Watson’s Fifth-Year Option.
Let’s face it, Deshaun Watson IS Texans football at this point. Without that guy, O’Brien has nothing but an aging J.J. Watt and memories of what could have been had he better managed the team he inherited from Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips, and Rick Smith. While rumors ran rampant that O’Brien might trade Watson after the violent shock of the DeAndre Hopkins trade set in (odds are many teams tried to wrest the phenom from O’Brien’s grasp), instead of sending him off to New England for a handful of magic beans and a hair tousle from Bill Belichick, O’Brien locked Watson in through 2021 and entered contract negotiations to keep DW4 in H-Town for a long time. While the possibility still exists that Watson won’t sign a new deal here and wants out ASAP, at least O’Brien is trying to get this part right.
4. Signing Timmy Jernigan to a Team-Friendly Deal.
This one comes with a caveat we’ll discuss at the end.
Amidst all the commotion of losing DeAndre Hopkins, wasting a ton of cap space on guys like David Johnson and Randall Cobb, the Jernigan deal seems to have gotten lost. While he missed a lot of game time over the last two seasons due to a back injury and subsequent surgery, Jernigan (if he can come back at 100%) will go a long way toward freeing up J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham and the rest of Houston’s front seven. In 2017, Jernigan contributed 9 tackles for loss and 8 QB hits to the Eagles defense. He’s a run stuffer through and through.
However, Jernigan’s deal is still up in the air, as his jersey number was not publicly designated or his name present when the Texans announced their list of offseason additions recently. Maybe it’s simply due to the inability to have him medically cleared during the current pandemic. Only time will tell.
5. Houston Didn’t Trade J.J. Watt to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a 6-Pack of Iron City Light.
While Watt is one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history, Iron City Light is one of the worst beers in that time span. That deal would have sucked. With the news that Watt’s two younger brothers are both playing for the Steelers in the Iron City now, speculation has run amok that the elder Watt would join them sooner or later. Trading J.J. prior to his recent spate of injuries might have netted the Texans at least one - if not more - first round draft picks. These days, it would take a GM far more shrewd than we’ve seen from O’Brien to get any serious value in return for the wounded lion of a future Hall of Famer. Keeping J.J. in town, for now, was a win in the ‘addition-by-not-subtracting’ manner.
Five pros. Five cons. Which do you think should be #1 in their respective lists? What do you think should find its way onto this list? Give us your Top 5 rights and wrongs below.