A franchise’s window of opportunity to be considered elite or a Super Bowl-contender usually spans about four to five seasons. That window can slide more open or shut depending on a coach’s evolution and creativity, the quarterback’s health and arm talent, and/or management of the roster’s elite talent. The rare combination of factors that elevate a team to prominence in the league are fleeting, but that’s what it takes to be the best.
We’ve been fortunate to witness several decade-long periods of dominance by several franchises recently. The New England Patriots are about to witness what it’s like to have the lights turned off on their historic run. Drew Brees and Sean Payton ushered in unprecedented success for the Saints. The Seahawks have managed to bridge the gap from all-time great defense to building around Russell Wilson after the completion of his rookie contract.
So where do the Texans lie in their widow of opportunity? Whether you believe it or not, the Texans are at the pinnacle of their Super Bowl prospects. Based off of the past three seasons of transactions, front office decisions, Deshaun Watson’s contract negotiations, and the overall roster depth and talent, 2020 is Houston’s best shot at a title.
If you’re already rolling your eyes at the mere thought of a Texans Super Bowl run, consider that the Texans are one of three teams to have won their division four out of the last five seasons. Say all you want about what they’ve done with those division titles, but the grass is a lot greener in NRG Stadium than you think. The run the Texans are on usually ends in one of two ways: an immediate and steep decline into mediocrity, or a historic run culminating in a conference championship or Lombardi Trophy.
One of the most critical items to a Super Bowl run is the evolution of the head coach. For Pete Carroll, it was his development from a dynamic college coach to a player-oriented and system-flexible play caller. For Sean Payton, it has been the prolific offense he’s ushered into the NFL. What is the defining and iconic factor for O’Brien? It may just be the one-man show he has become. If the Texans are successful next season beyond purely making the NFL Playoffs, franchises may rethink the general manager role and the potential of handing over player personnel decisions to the head coach. You'd have to give O’Brien credit for the wheeling and dealing to create a deeper roster regardless of the backlash he has received.
It takes more than a coach and a QB to win a Super Bowl. It takes an entire roster to win in the playoffs. With J.J. Watt in what could be the the last couple seasons of his career, a linebacker corps that is among the best in the league, an improved offensive line, and a deep group of wide receivers, the Texans have the weapons and defensive pieces to win now. No roster is flawless, and the Texans are definitely a couple positions short of a good defense, but all it takes are one or two players to step up and make a difference. Imagine if Lonnie Johnson Jr. makes the leap that Kareem Jackson did his second professional season. Or if one of the rookie defensive players Houston drafted has a breakout season. All the Texans need is a surprise, and I think they are due for one.
The final element that should give hope the road to the Super Bowl is significantly more open than in the past. With Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethelisberger, among others in the AFC, there was no room for the Texans to make a run. Now, there’s a new era of quarterbacks being ushered in, which gives the Texans and their own young quarterback a chance. Obviously the Chiefs and Ravens have high hopes for 2020, but I suspect that the Texans will be more than ready to enact their revenge this season. I also predict a sophomore slump for Lamar Jackson, but that’s just me.
It’s not just that the Texans time is now. It’s that the possibility of a run in four or five years appears bleaker than a San Francisco summer night. First, Watson’s rookie contract will be a juggernaut of a deal that will absorb much of the team’s salary cap moving forward. Having both Watson and Laremy Tunsil’s contracts on the books for the foreseeable future will be a lead weight on our chances to add premium talent in free agency.
Second, the Texans have auctioned off their future by trading for Deshaun Watson, Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills, and Brandin Cooks. With no first round draft pick this past year and no first or second round picks in 2021, they stripped future young talent at highly-affordable contracts—something even more valuable once you start paying a quarterback $35 million a season. O’Brien has not shown an ability to develop young talent, but not even having the opportunity to do so says a lot about Houston’s desire to win now and not later.
Any more convinced? I know it’s been a long offseason, but if the stars align and the window is just right, the Texans could be in for a historic 2020.