It cannot be understated how important Deshaun Watson is during a time like this.
The entire Houston Texans organization is in the midst of one of its most aimless seasons in recent history, where nearly all that has been dragged onto the gridiron has either been a massive disappointment or outright terrible. David Johnson, to the surprise of nobody, is a constant reminder of what was given up for his unsubstantial weekly efforts at running forward. The wide receiver group, burned with a blowtorch in an attempt to caramelize their abilities, has instead regressed without a dominant receiver to rely upon. And the entire defense has been a unique level of abysmal. Literally everyone is playing well below expectations, few players have shown any sign of improvement, and younger players that will likely outlast non-factors like Whitney Mercilus and Vernon Hargreaves III in Houston (Jonathan Greenard or John Reid, anyone?) are scarcely given the opportunity to display their abilities. Even the offensive line that engorged Bill O’Brien’s final years as Texans overlord has been playing under par.
The 2020 season is more akin to a black hole than any other tangible experience, Without a first or second round pick in next year’s draft, this team is going nowhere fast. It’s at times like these, especially where so much restructuring is needed, that it pays monstrous dividends to have a franchise quarterback on the roster.
Imagine being the Jets right now. Next to nothing on offense or defense, only a handful of younger players showing any sort of promise, and a massive rebuild on the horizon. Exactly the same situation as Houston, except for one massive distinction: There is still an open hole in the most important position on New York’s team. Whatever your opinion is on Sam Darnold, he certainly has never looked as good as Deshaun Watson and has yet to weave a string of quality performances to entice any armchair general manager. The Jets are in the driver’s seat for the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and will almost certainly use that opportunity to take Trevor Lawrence. This provides them the chance to hit the reset button on the franchise, but Lawrence is still not a guaranteed success.
One needs only to rewind the clock two years to find the Jets in a remarkably similar situation to where they are now. With the third overall pick and one of the worst rosters in football, the 2018 Jets selected the universally acclaimed Darnold as the face of their new team. Darnold was viewed as an almost guaranteed high caliber passer that was the safest quarterback pick in a class loaded with talented passers. Yet after three grief-stricken seasons in the NFL, there couldn’t be more uncertainty of Darnold’s abilities.
Now, in 2021, the Jets will be confronted with the same dilemma of having an extremely high draft pick, the ticket to greater pastures if and only if it’s used on a universally hailed quarterback prodigy, whose destiny has been preordained by those wiser, that he would deliver New York from evil. Will history unkind beckon the Jets to the dregs of the NFL once again? Or will the gracious locks of Trevor Lawrence provide a golden wave to salvation? Only time will tell, and unfortunately for the Jets, time is a dirt road covered in fall’s leaves.
This is the terrifying dilemma that every organization in need of a quarterback must go through. A stress unlike any other that the Texans have been through before, but won’t have to again anytime soon. In 2017, when the Texans traded up to take Watson with the 12th overall pick, excitement filled every Houston home, albeit with a shadow of uncertainty. Watson was believed to be a first round prospect and a top quarterback, but scouts frequently disagreed on his ability as a pure pocket passer and accuracy. Mel Kiper had him ranked below both Mitch Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes. The common belief was that the Texans had selected the safest quarterback and found their guy for the future, but you never know until the player takes the field. Once Watson did, it was clear that the Texans’ fifteen year long search for the franchise centerpiece had finally reached its end. Deshaun Watson was, without a doubt, a franchise quarterback.
Finding the right guy at the most vital position, structuring the entire offense around his strengths, protecting him, and then paying him are all extremely difficult steps to take towards winning, but it can never start until you complete that gigantic first step. The Texans have completed not only the first step, but others as well (not all, but we’re getting there). In the effort to find a new coaching staff and general manager, having that massive hurdle in the rear-view mirror is an extremely attractive trait to any prospects, regardless of the lack of immediate draft capital.
That doesn’t mean the Texans will instantly leap back into contention if a few draftees turn out to be studs. It does mean those new front office faces won’t be entering the nightmare of setting the franchise back even further if they pick the wrong guy under center. As dark and ominous these next few years may appear, Deshaun Watson will always be a beacon in the dark chasm of NRG Stadium.