In order to ruin a team, one must first have a team with promise to ruin. Indeed, the Texans had just that. For the first time in their short history (shorter than Tom Brady’s NFL career), the Texans were looking promising and then it all went downhill – fast.
The Houston Texans were founded in 1999 and played their first competitive game on the 8th September 2002 against the Dallas Cowboys. After selecting David Carr 1st overall, the Texans also had their QB. But after years of neglecting the O-Line leaving Carr skittish and a subpar defence giving up points, the Texans never materialised into a true contender. However, over the last few years they improved. A defence consisting of franchise great JJ Watt and linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney. An offense which included one of the best receivers in the league (if not THE best) in DeAndre Hopkins as well as promising superstar at the most important position – QB Deshaun Watson. They had traded many draft picks away for LT Laremy Tunsil but with Tunsil playing great football (except from the false starts), it could be argued it was worth it. The Texans had truly entered their first Superbowl window. In 2018 and 2019, they had won the AFC South back-to-back and were leading the favoured Kansas City Chiefs 24-0 in the AFC Divisional round and then it all went wrong …
Step One: Blow A Big Game That Stays With The Franchise For A Long Time
Other recent examples of this include Superbowl 51 for the Atlanta Falcons or any time the Saints make the playoffs recently (even if their losses weren’t all their fault). In this case the Texans were facing of against the Chiefs, eventual Superbowl Champions but that was not looking likely after the Texans had pulled out a 24-0 lead in just the 2nd quarter. It seemed as if this was the first playoff matchup between two future great QBs in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson and Watson had the upper hand. But 2 key coaching decision changed the course of the game. Firstly, electing to kick the field goal to take the lead to 24 points instead of going for it on a 4th and short with the chance to make the lead 28. Then, after sending out the punt team in their own territory, the Texans faked the punt and ran for the 1st down. Dan Sorensen tackled Justin Reid short and the lead quickly dwindles to 10 points (24-14). The rest of the match was a bloodbath. The Chiefs emerged victors on their way to their 1st Superbowl title in 50 years and the Texans went home for the offseason. A loss like this lingers in the locker room, whether through decreased confidence, or just a basic sports curse, teams rarely recover and are set for years of tragedy (just ask the Saints).
Step 2: Hire An “Interesting” Front Office
Everyone has probably heard of Jack Easterby by now. He shot to fame after the firing of Bill O’Brien as O’Brien was no longer a possible candidate to consistently blame as he was no longer with the team. Jack Easterby was previously a character coach with the New England Patriots who have been the dominant team since the turning of the century. But it seems even Bill Belichick, the Patriots renowned Head Coach does not see Easterby as fit for his current position. Belichick said “Jack’s not a personnel person, no”. This has been displayed with the Texans’ moves. Since Easterby has become the de facto General Manager the Texans personnel moves have been, well, interesting. And this co-insides with step 3.
Step 3: Have Your Coach And GM Trade, Trade and Trade Some More – And Get Worse.
This starts with an issue that every team has faced. You have a QB but no O-Line. Watson was getting sacked at a ridiculous pace (62 times in 2018) and so the Texans gave up a fortune for LT Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil has continued his stellar play over the last 2 season but Watson was still sacked 49 times. Consider as well that Watson is playing better himself, getting the ball out faster which will also leads to fewer sacks. The Texans gave up 2 1st round picks (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 2nd round pick in exchange for the services of Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills. Stills has also been useful, a deep threat who can play from the slot who stretches the field for other targets such as Will Fuller (deep threat) and Brandin Cooks (deep threat), so not much variety. They also traded for Tunsil in his contract year. Meaning if they didn’t resign him, they gave up 2 1st and a 2nd for less than a season of good LT play. Therefore, Tunsil could essentially ask for as much money as he wanted, he wanted $66 million over 3 years with $50 million guaranteed. Tunsil is now the highest paid O-Lineman in the history of the NFL. Yes, LT is an important decision but not at $22 million per year (well, not yet anyway with the ever-increasing cap, not including this year). Then we get to the real gem.
The Houston Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for a 2nd round pick and RB David Johnson. Not the 2016 Johnson, but the post injury Johnson, who plays what might be the least valued NFL position. The reason for trading Hopkins was he wanted too much money and had differences with the coaching staff and front office. The money that was essentially gifted to Tunsil, could have been used to help keep Hopkins happy, a true game changer who put up elite numbers with 9 different QBs before Watson. Between them they racked up victories leading Houston to the matchup previously discussed against the Chiefs. Watson was happy, Hopkins was happy and the defence was relieved to not have to carry the team as in past years. But Easterby and O’Brien traded Hopkins to Arizona (where he has since continued to thrive). To replace Hopkins, the Texans bought in Brandin Cooks for a 2020 2nd round pick. Not only is that another pick traded away (the same value as they got for Hopkins) but Cooks is also on a mega-deal which pretty much destroys the narrative of getting rid of Hopkins to save money. Cooks also is not as good as Hopkins, that is no slight at Cooks but rather a testament to Hopkins’ talent which is truly extraordinary.
Entering 2020, expectations were mixed for the Texans and they not only missed them but to an embarrassing amount. They went 4-12 despite Watson putting up numbers and performances which could lead to MVP votes in other years. This is a team that lost 12 games despite elite QB play. They did this whilst trading away their future in picks and floundering in cap hell. Franchise hero JJ Watt even apologised to Watson for the team wasting a career year – not that it was in any way JJ’s fault and I hope he gets traded to a contender and wins a ring he has deserved for so long. This all brings us to the final step.
Step 4: Annoy Your Franchise QB At Every; EVERY SINGLE TURN.
First trading away his favourite weapon, spending away cap space to replace those weapons, then waste one of his career years by going 4-12 and then promise him the chance to hire the coach he wants before ignoring that promise. Watson is a sane person. He wants to stick with the team that drafted him. He stuck around after Hopkins was traded, after they traded their future, after cap hell but it seems it was the mistrust and even disrespect that may be the final straw. After O’Brien was fired, the Texans reportedly promised Watson that he could help find the next Head Coach. Watson wants Eric Bienemy, Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator. The Texans are in such a mess that Bienemy made it clear he had no interest in the job, despite the allure of coaching Watson. The New York Jets also landed Robert Salah, another Coach Watson was interested in. The Texans hired Nick Caserio for GM role, not consulting Watson, then hired David Culley as their new head coach. All opinions on Culley aside, the Texans did not live up to the promise they gave their franchise star QB and so Watson has officially asked for a trade from the Texans. At this point, with a mostly new regime (only Jack Easterby and owner Cal McNair remain from the previous regime), it would be expected that they do right be Watson trade him to a team he wants to play for (Jets or Dolphins are his apparent favourites) and look forward to rebuild this mess. Not so fast.
Instead, the Texans new GM Nick Caserio has reported the Texans are not interested in trading Watson and look forward to working with him for years to come. Just brilliant. To add to this, coverage suggests that this may be more than just smoke and that Caserio and Culley will try to persuade Watson to stay. If they do it, they deserve a medal and hopefully it would work out, but I don’t see that happening. Watson needs to be traded and they might be able to recoup picks that they had previously traded (most potential offers START with 3 1st round picks).
No team has collapsed from contender to a mess of this size so quickly. It’s a stain in the Texans’ short history and has caused many of their fanbase pledging allegiance to Watson or JJ Watt and their (potential) future teams instead of the Texans. It’s a mess, blown games, bad cap management, worse personnel management and disrespect to franchise stars. Hopefully this is turned around just as quickly and there are people within the organization capable of that but we’ll just have to wait and see.