It will come to no surprise that Bill O’Brien hasn’t ingratiated himself to many people around these parts with his performance as Head Coach and now as General Manager. While people have their various reasons why they would prefer for Bill O’Brien to not be the Head Coach of the Texans any longer, there is one I continually keep returning to and one that consistently annoys me whenever I think about this team.
If you care solely about postseason success, this franchise, over its collective existence, has managed to waste excellent individual talents: Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, J.J. Watt, Duane Brown and whomever else you can think of that wore a Texans jersey over the franchise’s 18 years of existence. All of them were wonderful players and they were or will be important chapters of Texans’ history. That being said, none of them were, or are, anywhere near as important to the franchise’s chances of winning a title as Deshaun Watson currently is.
A good young quarterback on a rookie scale contract is a valuable asset because quarterbacks on second contracts typically absorb large amounts of a team’s salary cap. During the four or five years a quarterback is on that rookie contract, a team has the flexibility to spend on other areas of the roster instead of dumping a sizable portion of cap space on one position and forcing the quarterback to carry the team from there. The hope heading into the last offseason was that enough of the roster would be built up around Watson in 2019 that the sheer amount of talent could overcome any coaching deficiencies. Another season has shaken that belief.
Before, the concern was Houston’s championship window closing when Watson’s rookie scale contract ended, but now the worry extends beyond that. A team can still win after paying their quarterback big money; the margin for error is simply much smaller when that happens, and only the best-managed teams manage to achieve this success. Once the QB gets paid, you need a shrewd front office that makes the most out of their draft picks and a head coach who gets the most out of the roster. Bill O’Brien has struggled to accomplish this, or even show an ability to eventually achieve it, during his tenure as the Texans’ sole decision-maker.
Wastefulness is the one thing that has always irked me about O’Brien. He has been given otherworldly talent to work with on offense and yet, somehow, he manages to render it redundant and ineffective unless Will Fuller is on the field. It shouldn’t be that hard to get the ball into the hands of DeAndre Hopkins. It shouldn’t be that hard to realize Duke Johnson’s value as a short yardage option in the passing game—especially after trading a third round pick to acquire him. When looking at the talent on this team, it’s not crazy to say that it is akin or equal to any of the best teams in the league, yet the team often seems to be in a chronic state of disrepair. The Chiefs loss two weeks ago wasn’t an implosion of epic proportions; rather, it offered a very clear glimpse into a timeline where the Texans could have an offense that puts up 50 points in the blink of an eye.
This is the crux of the Bill O’Brien problem. As Watson’s rookie contract runs out, so too does a large chunk of options to improve the roster. That problem exists even before we reach the issue of the lack of top draft capital the Texans have over the next two years to add cheap talent to the roster. O’Brien has done less with more despite the resources available to him. Because of that, anyone considering whether to tie their potential future to O’Brien (for example, any potential general manager candidates, whether they’re named Nick Caserio or not, assuming Cal McNair has any desire to add another voice to the room) has to honestly ask whether or not O’Brien is capable of doing something he’s never done during his previous six years with the Texans—not waste the talent he’s been given.
This question stretches out beyond the Texans’ current perceived title window and into the future. If the Texans do stick with their head coach, they are showing that they’re willing to waste their best long-term chance at winning a title by pairing their franchise quarterback with a coach who has not demonstrated he’s up to the task. Deshaun Watson’s future, and in many cases, this team’s potential to win a Super Bowl going forward, is tied to Bill O’Brien. As long as that’s the case, this franchise will continue to do nothing but...