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Red Zone Play: All In Against The Glass Ceiling?

Is Bill O’Brien selling the Texans’ future for diminishing returns?

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When your Houston Texans traded a third or fourth round draft pick to acquire Duke Johnson from the Cleveland Browns, it seemed like a smart move by a running team that needed to upgrade the running back corps.

When they traded away two first round draft picks and a second round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills, it seemed like a bold move from a team looking to win now.

When they traded a third round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Gareon Conley yesterday, it seemed clear that Bill O’Brien believes the Texans have to win now or else. Conley should excel, or at least improve, in Houston, no doubt, but in the context of all the other trades, it’s hard to feel good about this move.

In many cases, this sort of all-in, push the chips to the middle of the table move would be applauded for the guts and commitment it takes to do these things. But Houston also traded away Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks, which undermines a lot of those efforts. Keep in mind the third round pick used to acquire Conley was gained from sending Clowney to Seattle.

It’s tough to rationalize going all in on winning this year when the team decided to trade away a former first overall pick who would have been under contract this season via the franchise tag. For his part, Clowney didn’t understand it either.

I thought I was going to be in Houston and then the last call to get ready to go in for training camp like two weeks before. Bill O’Brien was like, “We are trading you.” I was just like, “Oh, okay.” Well, I will hold off on signing now cause I don’t know where I’m getting traded to. Because he was like, we don’t know we were going to send you yet, but we are going to trade you.

At this stage, with the loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Texans are not only NOT the best team in the AFC, they’re not the best team in the AFC South. If you can’t at least dominate your own division, after winning it the year before, why would you leverage the future to win now? Anyone who watched Monday Night Football last night saw how dominant the New England Patriots’ defense is this year. If the Texans can’t outplay the Colts, and Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel can’t outcoach Frank Reich, what chance do they have against Bill Belichick and the Patriots?

The Colts’ defense currently ranks 20th in the NFL. The Patriots rank #1. Other defenses Houston has lost to:

The Texans’ defense is currently ranked 17th and has no answers for teams that have effective passing games.

While Romeo Crennel has often been lauded as one of the best defensive coordinators in NFL history, an argument can be made that the game is passing him by, literally and figuratively. As we’ve established, Bill O’Brien is an average NFL head coach. Combine that with Crennel, and the team is obviously not in a win-now position when you remove the need to save O’Brien’s job.

We can make excuses based on injuries, personnel, full moons or whatever else, but at the end of the day, allowing Bill O’Brien to sell the team’s future to win now, then not win now, amounts to business suicide. Since Cal McNair will almost always make money off the team due to the loyal nature of Texans fans and our willingness to pour truckloads of disposable income into team merchandise, game tickets, etc., does management really care if the Texans ever win it all?

In the days after the death of Al Davis, then Oakland Raider coach Hue Jackson made similar moves in a power grab that seemed motivated by the same sense of self-preservation without checks and balances O’Brien is currently operating under. Jackson was promptly fired by Davis’ son and the team found some modicum of daylight a few years later. O’Brien has been allowed to trade off essentially the Texans’ entire 2020 draft and the second best defender on the roster for no logical reason other than O’Brien’s apparent need to exert control. Regardless of where Houston lands at the end of the 2019 season, which most certainly will not be hoisting a Lombardi Trophy, the future is no longer bright.

J.J. Watt only has so many games left in the tank. Deshaun Watson could quite possibly have an injury shortened career, like that of Andrew Luck...and the rumored early retirement of Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton. With no draft capital, very few Pro Bowl caliber free agents expected to hit the market, and still far too many roster holes, O’Brien might just be selling Houston’s future for diminishing returns.

Thankfully the Texans are facing the Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars over the the next two weeks. These are both very winnable games that might give Houston the opportunity to head into the bye week atop the division once again. But they come out of the bye against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, a team many think are the only AFC threat to Tom Brady and the Patriots. Beating teams they should beat should be automatic at this stage in the Bill O’Brien era. Beating the class of the AFC proves the Texans are ready to go next level. So far, the Texans took out the Chiefs, but lost to the Colts. The game against Baltimore will be one more opportunity for O’Brien to prove his brand of Billy-Ball is working. Facing the Ravens, then Colts, and then Patriots in three straight weeks will define this era of the Houston Texans.

Can O’Brien and Crennel bust through the glass-ceiling, or have they leveraged the future just to mash their faces against the window as they continue to look up at the AFC elite? Where do you think this campaign of draft capital for roster building will lead the Texans? Are you excited O’Brien is making moves or upset he’s selling the future for the present?