Last offseason Bill O’Brien made an enormous decision. He turned DeAndre Hopkins into David Johnson, Brandin Cooks, and Ross Blacklock. Cooks became the de facto WR1, running deep crossing route after deep crossing route to cross the 1,000 yard barrier once again. Deshaun Watson was ridiculous, putting the ball on him and pegging Cooks’ small hit box.
O’Brien added another weapon for Watson in Randall Cobb. Let’s all laugh and laugh and laugh in unison at those who thought spreading the ball around would be better for Watson than having Hopkins around. Cobb had a disastrous first season in Houston. The middle of the field wasn’t open like it was in Dallas with Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper on the outside. Cobb routinely had problems breaking man coverage, his YAC game was soft, and he missed the majority of the season with an injury.
Cooks had his contract restructured this offseason. Cooks is a great bargain at $8 million a year, but since he’s no longer a true number one wide receiver, paying him $12 million wasn’t feasible. Since he no longer has any guaranteed money tied to his contract, Nick Caserio was able to knock his cap hit down to a little more than $5 million for 2020. It will be interesting to see how Cooks fares without Watson sniping him downfield and whether Houston will keep him around at $12 million next year.
Cobb is still on the roster as well. The Texans could have released Cobb and suffered a dead cap hit of $1.7 million. That would have been the correct move, and Cobb could still be released before the season begins. That being said, Houston has shown zero remorse about last season’s ills, choosing to stick with their previous terrible decisions. If Cobb remains in Houston for the 2021 season, the Texans will save $8.25 million if they release him during the following offseason.
Cooks is a bargain now. Cobb isn’t. Pro Football Focus recently broke down each team’s best and worst contract. If you read the preceding four paragraphs, what PFF had to say about Houston won’t surprise you:
Best: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks — Three years, $29.8 million ($0 in remaining guarantees)
In 2020, Brandin Cooks became just the second wide receiver in NFL history with a 1,000-yard receiving season for four different teams, joining Brandon Marshall. He continues to produce no matter the circumstances, and while he has dealt with injuries here and there, it never keeps him down for too long.
This contract is the remaining money from his five-year, $81 million pact signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Now operating as the clear No. 1 option in Houston following the departure of Will Fuller V, Cooks is a great value no matter who will be throwing him the ball in 2021 and beyond. New Texans general manager Nick Caserio was in New England when the Patriots sent a first-round pick to New Orleans to acquire the wide receiver, and Cooks played his lone season in Foxborough before being subsequently traded to Los Angeles. Perhaps this time he sticks around a bit longer as they try to rebuild the franchise.
Worst: Wide receiver Randall Cobb — Three years, $27 million ($8.25 million in remaining guarantees)
This deal made zero sense from a market perspective when it was signed, giving significant guarantees to a 30-year-old slot receiver who had failed to earn a 70.0 grade in any of his past five seasons. Cobb did in fact top that mark in 2020 over the 10 games he played in, but he had fewer than five receptions in seven of those outings and just isn’t going to make an on-field impact worthy of this dollar amount before the deal is done.
Really, the Texans have plenty of terrible contracts littered throughout their roster—Laremy Tunsil, Eric Murray, David Johnson, and of course Whitney Mercilus. The bargains are harder to find. O’Brien had no concept of market value, handing out terrible deals and overpaying to keep mediocre players on his roster. In his few months in charge, Nick Caserio signed a lot of players to short-term contracts—only three of which are actual NFL football players.
Personally, I’d go with Mercilus as the worst contract and Desmond King as Houston’s best contract, but that’s just me.