Going into the 2019 offseason, everyone—their mother, and their mother’s neighbors—knew the Houston Texans had to do something to fix the league’s worst offensive line. If the line continued to play at the level of the 2018 season, franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson was going to see his career prematurely ended by far too many hits.
With the specter of Andrew Luck’s ongoing physical maladies for that very reason hanging over the AFC South and players like Nate Solder, Trent Brown, Ju’Wuan James, and Donald Penn about to hit the free agent market, it sure seemed like the Texans would be able to shore up the line quickly and easily with a few masterful signings.
To address the line woes previously, the Texans chose to sign Zach Fulton to a big deal as a free agent to man one guard spot and Senio Kelemete as a free agent for the other. Houston proceeded to draft Julien Davenport to start at one tackle spot and assigned Kendall Lamm the other. That did not go well. The following offseason, with the offensive line still a glaring problem, Bill O’Brien opted to bring in Matt Kalil, to protect Deshaun Watson’s blind side, insisting that Kalil was the savior of the Texans’ offensive line.
To the surprise of no one, particularly Matt Weston, Kalil was far from the sort of upgrade Houston desperately needed. Once the Texans moved through the 2019 NFL Draft, adding Tytus Howard and Max Scharping, Kalil’s shortcomings became even more apparent.
In a flurry of now infamous moves, O’Brien cut Kalil, traded away a truckload of draft capital to land Laremy Tunsil, moved Howard to the other side of the line, and improved a horrible offensive line to an average one. Then O’Brien struck a deal that made Tunsil the highest paid non-QB/EDGE in NFL history.
Right now, less than a year later, the Houston Texans’ secondary is among the worst in the league at 29th in yards per game given up (269.2). Just as it did in 2019, the NFL free agent pool offered a bevy of choices to address this secondary. Players like Chris Harris Jr., Byron Jones, Desmond Trufant and Logan Ryan hit the market. Just as they did with the offensive line in years past, the Texans opted to sign none of these players.
They did bring in free safety Eric Murray, cornerback Jaylen Watkins, free safety Michael Thomas, and they re-signed Bradley Roby and Vernon Hargreaves III. If any of those names indicate a commitment to upgrading the Houston secondary, said indication is elusive at best. To make matters worse, yesterday Bill O’Brien opted to pay starting safety Tashaun Gipson $4.25 million to leave the team. As it stands, the Texans’ starting secondary right now could look something like this:
CB1: Bradley Roby
CB2: Gareon Conley
CB3 (slot): Lonnie Johnson Jr.
SS: Justin Reid
FS: Jaylen Watkins/Eric Murray/Michael Thomas
Safety 3: Watkins/ Murray/Thomas
Nothing about that is going to strike fear in the hearts of Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill or even Gardner Minshew II. Thankfully, none of those guys is Tom Brady, who won’t get to decimate the Texans’ secondary as often as he’d like anymore since he’s now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. However, the Texans still face Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes this season.
Bill O’Brien has gone on record saying he’s not done making roster moves. As shown yesterday when the Texans sent Gipson packing, if nothing else, O’Brien’s a man of his word. Some speculate that Eric Reid, big brother of the best player in the Texans’ secondary, Justin Reid, is inbound for Houston. However, this has all been Reid brother wishing so far. Beyond that, Eric and Justin play the same role, so having both is more luxury than necessity.
Options O’Brien could kick the tires on:
Logan Ryan - there must be a reason why Ryan is still unsigned, and it’s probably a good supposition that if he’s not good enough for the other 31 teams, he’s not good enough for O’Brien. However, bringing him in would be an immediate upgrade and also provide another veteran presence for younger players like Johnson Jr. and newly drafted CB John Reid (no relation to Justin and Eric) to learn from in a training deficient offseason.
Eli Apple - a highly regarded player out of college, Apple never quite stoked the fire of his potential into a flame in the NFL. However, he’s still a far better player than Vernon Hargreaves III and would give new Texans defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver options when running exotic nickel and dime packages with five or more defensive backs on the field.
Tramon Williams - he might be a rich man’s Johnathan Joseph at this stage in their respective careers. Williams is declining in skills just as Joseph was, but managed to have a much better campaign last season and probably has one more good outing in the tank. Maybe his career ends where it all began?
Trade for (insert top tier defensive back here) - if O’Brien has proven anything, it’s that he’s not afraid to wheel and deal. If history really is repeating itself, once B’OB sits down long enough to realize the secondary is an issue (just as he did with last year’s offensive line), he may hit the panic button and send Will Fuller V and a draft pick to, say, the Washington Redskins for Quinton Dunbar.
Upgrade the pass rush significantly to take the pressure off the secondary - this scenario should happen anyway. Drafting defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and linebacker Jonathan Greenard will improve Houston’s front seven, but don’t expect either or both to turn Houston’s anemic pass rush back into the dominant group that used to be a staple of the franchise.
Everson Griffen - the former Minnesota Viking was was a force of nature and still has that DNA roiling through his veins. While Griffen might not be the single-man game-wrecker he was in days of yore, putting him alongside J.J. Watt and company would certainly help maximize what he has left in the tank.
Jadeveon Clowney - fat chance this happens, but bringing Clowney back home would go a long way to stiffening up the Texans’ defensive front. Seeing how Clowney went from utterly raw phenom to run-stopping technician during his time in Houston might also provide great learning opportunities for Charles Omenihu, Duke Ejiofor, Blacklock and Greenard.
Make a crazy trade for (insert EDGE here) - Guys like Myles Garrett, Aaron Donald or even Khalil Mack could theoretically be had for the right amount of fleecing. While the very idea of O’Brien pulling off a trade for one of these players makes the Ghosts of NFL Drafts Future roll in their graves, the longer Bill reigns over NRG Park, the more “expect the unexpected” should be a mantra of Texans fans.
What do you think? If you were calling the shots at NRG, what would you do? Sign some more free agents? Make some trades? Both? Neither? Drop your battle plan below.