“Slow down, let’s pump the brakes. We’re not done yet.”
Since making that statement after the worst trade in Houston sports history, Houston Football Czar O’Brien has failed to do much to give anyone hope he’s really “not done” “improving” the Texans. While the 2020 NFL Draft did bring in some promising young players, none of them scream “day one game changer” and neither does the addition of Brandin Cooks or the release of Tashaun Gipson.
1 + 1 equaling 2 would lead us to believe O’Brien still has moves to make to get this roster where he sees it as a dominant force in the NFL. It’s hard to say if the retooled offense, with the additions of David Johnson, Randall Cobb and Cooks, the subtraction of DeAndre Hopkins (no sign of an Alfred Blue - #BulletDodged) and the No Man’s Land of players like last year’s draft-day-exciter Kahale Warring, ostracized yet electric wideout Keke Coutee, and 2020 lighting strike Isaiah Coulter will be an improvement over 2019. It will certainly look different. Especially if O’Brien truly relinquishes play calling duties to newly minted offensive coordinator Tim Kelly.
Houston’s secondary and pass rush needed some serious work in the offseason, but the Texans have yet to bring in an obvious needle-mover on defense at all. They did manage to retain the services of Bradley Roby, which should help, but Roby alone does not a great secondary make. In fact, with Roby as the best player in the cornerback room, that’s more an indictment of how bad that position group really is. Don’t take it wrong; Roby can make some plays and is the solid corner Houston needs, but he graded out at 82nd best in solo tackles, 22nd best in interceptions, 59th in targets and 63rd in receptions allowed in 2019 per Pro Football Focus. Definitely not the ratings of a shutdown corner or a player who changes games every week, no matter how much we love the guy. Granted, those numbers might reflect his lack of peer-level help and solid defensive scheme.
On the front side of the defense, the Texans fielded the 28th best rush-win-rate in the league last season, according to ESPN Stats. This was a unit projected to be fifth in the league before the loss of Jadeveon Clowney. Imagine what the front seven would have looked like without D.J. Reader last year. That is what Houston faces in 2020.
Hold on, pump the brakes! Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby aren’t done yet. Since they’ve not pulled the trigger on anything so far this week, let’s take a few minutes and offer up some suggestions of what they can do to make an immediate impact on the roster’s areas of need.
SIGN EVERSON GRIFFEN.
I might start to sound like a broken record, but Griffen still has a lot left in the tank. Putting him in the mix with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Charles Omenihu, Ross Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard and Duke Ejiofor should take the Texans’ front 7 from mediocre to fearsome pretty quickly. Having Griffen and Watt around to teach the younger players is also a priceless investment - the sort of thing savvy, wise GMs do. These are two men who elevate the guys around them. If Houston is serious about taking the next step in the quest for a Lombardi Trophy, the best foot forward is bringing in Griffen.
DO NOT TRADE KENNY STILLS.
This is more of an addition-by-not-subtracting thing. Rumors are everywhere that Stills is the odd man out with the acquisitions of Cobb and Cooks. Cobb has only participated in 79 of the 144 possible games over his nine-year career. Cooks has played in 77 of the 96 games over the last six years, suffering five concussions in that time. Will Fuller V... well, no one reading this should think Fuller will ever be dependable, having only been available for 42 of the 64 games over his career.
All three of these players are electric when healthy, but with a combined 106 games missed over their collective careers, thinking Kenny Stills is a luxury Houston can part with is fool’s logic. Stills also has the benefit of having a year with Deshaun Watson and the offense. Placing him in the WR1 role until the new blood gets up to speed would make life a lot easier for DW4, particularly with the pandemic-abridged offseason training program.
TRADE FOR A PRO-BOWL CORNERBACK.
This one might hurt, either now by giving up another solid player at a position of strength, or later by coughing up even more future draft picks, but if O’Brien really is in “win now” mode, Houston’s cornerback group just won’t cut it in 2020 in a pass-happy league. Counting on Deshaun Watson and the rest of the Texans’ offense to put up 30+ points every week to overcome a poor pass defense isn’t sound strategy. If O’Brien is all in for real, like he’s shown he is with the Laremy Tunsil trade, he needs to do the same with the cornerback group. Maybe Bill Belichick will part with Stephon Gilmore. Jimmy Smith might make a move if O’Brien offers up enough to Baltimore in return. Logan Ryan is still couchsurfing as well.
Anyone who hasn’t realized how special his little brother Justin Reid really is, hasn’t been paying attention. Without Tashaun Gipson, Houston has a who’s-who of second stringers and situational bodies behind the younger Reid on the safety depth chart. Unless they can somehow lure Andre Hal out of retirement (which is as likely as re-signing Jadeveon Clowney), bringing in Eric Reid is the best option to upgrade the safety group. The Reid brothers have grown up as football “twins”, with the older Reid mentoring Justin throughout his entire collegiate and pro career. Having them both on the field at the same time would pay huge dividends for the Texans, especially if they signed Griffen to stiffen the front seven.
LEARN TO MOLD THE GAME PLAN TO THE ROSTER TALENT, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
Some teams are led by predators, some by prey. NFL history is littered with head coaches who tried to force their players to match their system while ignoring the unique talents and abilities said players brought to the table. With few exceptions, these coaches have failed to ever achieve Super Bowl glory. Taking a player like Duke Johnson Jr and slamming him into the A-Gap to “establish the run” is a prime example of this. This sort of game management creates a dissonance between what fans are excited to see from their team’s players and what actually happens. As long as NFL franchises continue to hire coaches like this, the teams with coaches who know to accentuate the strengths of their players will keep on dominating. This sort of thinking is outdated, caveman-ish, and has no place in the modern NFL.
What move do you want the Texans to make next? Do you have faith the roster is set as is and good enough to take the next step? Hoping beyond hope Houston makes more moves and quickly? Offer up your advice to Bill O’Brien in the comments below.