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2021 NFL Free Agency: How Will The Texans Replace J.J. Watt?

Answer: They won’t, but they have to try anyway.

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NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2020 NFL season kicked off, your Houston Texans had two bona fide leaders in the locker room: Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt. When the 2021 NFL season kicks off, your Houston Texans may not have either man in the building.

At the end of last season, embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson put out a call for new leadership—the need for one man for everyone to follow. Well, now that Watt is an Arizona Cardinal and Watson is likely to never put on a Texans jersey again, who does that leave to lead the players?

/insert crickets here

On last weekend’s mega-super-duper-podcast, Kenneth L and I discussed a few things Houston needs to do now to get this train wreck back on the tracks. Bringing in a new leader, a face-of-the-franchise player, is paramount. While Jack Easterby might believe in his heart of hearts he’s the real leader of the Houston Texans, word on these streets is that most laugh at him behind his back. Cal McNair is clearly not the real leader, as no one calls their fearless leader “Tommy Boy.” Nick Caserio is not Bill Belichick, so he’s out too. There’s absolutely nothing on David Culley's resume to make anyone think he’ll rise up either. With no one in the front office clearly capable of taking charge, and no one in the locker room as the obvious go-to Alpha Dog, where does that leave this team? Looking outside for internal guidance.

While I have no illusions that Easterby and Caserio will try to bring in a strong leader via free agency since Easterby clearly fears actual leaders and views them as a threat to his Grima Wormtongue house of cards, we’ll go down this road anyway... it’s Tuesday in the offseason. What else do we have to do?

Looking through the list of Top 100 NFL Free Agents, and overlaying that with Houston’s roster needs, a few names jump out.

The Texans Could Sign Quarterback Cam Newton.

With Watson likely gone, Houston will need to move on quickly under center. Newton brings a veteran presence, years of league savvy, and familiarity with Patriots North that translates to Patriots South (read: Houston). While he’s no Deshaun Watson, players respect Newton and would follow him. Not to mention Newton throwing to Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb would make for some fun highlights.

The Texans Could Sign Safety Anthony Harris.

Justin Reid, along with the help of Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham, and Benardrick McKinney (if he’s not cut) is now the leader of the Texans’ defense. Bringing in the Minnesota Vikings’ Anthony Harris and pairing him with Reid would not only lock down the defensive back end on the field, but solidify leadership under these two. While many predict Harris will sign a contract out of Houston’s price range, for the purposes of this exercise (in futility), the Texans could go all in on a Watt replacement.

With the Denver Broncos franchise-tagging Justin Simmons, Harris is the best safety on the market. Houston needs help at just about every position on the defensive side of the ball, so maximizing that need-fill with a leader of men makes for a smart move.

The Texans Could Sign EDGE Shaquill Barrett.

This one has little chance of ever happening since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unlikely to let Barrett leave Florida, but he would immediately join the ranks of dominating Houston edge defenders like Mario Williams, J.J. Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney.

Having just come off a Super Bowl win on a Tom Brady led team, Barrett is clearly familiar with the Patriot Way, which would work well under Nick Caserio. Whether or not he’s an Easterby “culture fit” remains to be seen.

The Texans Could Sign Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Typing that headline made my stomach turn. But in a post-Watson void, Fitzpatrick would shepherd this team through a season or five of mediocre play while Caserio rebuilds the rest of the roster. Fitzpatrick is very intelligent, a solid leader, and the sort of guy who can will a team to win just enough to offset the colossal blunders he’ll occasionally make that cause the team to lose.

The Texans Sign Defensive Tackle Leonard Williams.

Moving to Lovie Smith’s 4-3, Tampa 2 defense will require three starting quality interior defensive linemen. Currently the Texans have zero. While the New York Giants franchise tagged him last season, they’d have to commit just over $19 million to do it again in 2021. As of this writing, they haven’t, though they are expected to do so soon.

The big man would go a long way to stuffing the run, Houston’s biggest weakness in 2020. Williams’ presence in the locker room would give the other players someone to rally around.

As said above, chances are none of these players will suit up for the Texans in 2021, if ever. That doesn’t change the fact the Texans need player leadership. If they continue with the charade that Jack Easterby is a leader of any kind, 2021 will make fans pine for the 4-12 2020 outcome.