Mason Thompson | October 23rd, 2019
After finishing the 2018 regular season with an 11-5 record, the Houston Texans seemed destined to maneuver their way through the playoff picture and wind up as an underdog to win the Super Bowl. The team finished the 2018 season losing to the Indianapolis Colts 21-7 in front of their home crowd in NRG Stadium on January 5th in the wild card round. Not only did the team lose in the first round of the playoffs, but star quarterback, Deshaun Watson was also sacked an insurmountable 62 times in 2018, fifth-most in NFL history. Most Texans fans knew that this wasn’t going to be their year, and were already looking forward to the off-season where they would potentially add talent, and enter the 2019 season with high hopes. Little did they know, the team would undergo a massive reconstruction during the off-season and early weeks of the 2019 season.
Signings and the Draft
The Texans entered the 2019 off-season with needs along the offensive line and in the secondary, two pivotal aspects of NFL teams today. With over $74 million worth of cap space before free agency, General Manager Brian Gaine and the front office were looking to be active spenders in the open market. Instead of trying to sign high-priced free agents such as Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Ronald Darby, or Rodger Saffold, the team opted to use smaller, “prove-it” deals on players like Matt Kalil, Jahleel Addae, and Phillip Gaines. The biggest deal the Texans made was a three-year deal for safety Tashaun Gipson. With one of the highest total cap numbers in the league, it’s insane how the team didn’t get any of the top players on the offensive line or in the secondary.
With three selections in the first 55 picks, the Texans looked like they were going to make the most out of a draft that was heavy with offensive line talent in the first few rounds and solid in the mid-rounds with secondary help. With Watson being sacked 62 times the year prior and the leader of the team, the team’s main focus should’ve been improving the offensive line.
Through the first ten picks in the first round on April 25th, not one offensive lineman was taken, but from picks 11-18, three were taken. It had been highly profiled through the draft process that the Texans were high on Washington State tackle, Andre Dillard. Following the Packers trade-up with the Seahawks to select Darnell Savage, it looked as if Houston would finally get a blind-side blocker for their franchise quarterback.
Well, as we all know now, that wouldn’t happen. The Ravens would eventually trade the pick before the Texans to the Eagles who would select Dillard. The Texans were sent into a frantic panic of who to pick. With Cody Ford and Jawaan Taylor slipping down the board, for sure the Texans had to take one of the two offensive linemen who were thought as sure-fire first-round picks throughout the draft process. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of selecting Taylor or Ford, selecting a cornerback or safety, such as Greedy Williams, Byron Murphy, or Johnathan Abram, or even trading down for that matter, the team selected Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard. Howard had been a riser in the draft process since his strong showing at the Senior Bowl and some thought he could creep his way into the early-mid part of the second round.
The team could’ve possibly waited until the second round to select Howard. Quality players who were all thought of as first-round picks such as Byron Murphy, Rock Ya-Sin, Jawaan Taylor, Cody Ford, and Greedy Williams were all selected in the second round who would’ve upgraded positions of need for the team.
The Texans had back-to-back picks in the second round with picks 54 and 55. The secondary still needed to be addressed and the offensive line still didn’t feel upgraded after the first round blunder. Twelve offensive linemen and defensive backs went in the first 21 picks of the second round, potentially leading to another reach for the 54th selection. The team selected cornerback, Lonnie Johnson Jr. from Kentucky, who many saw as a fifth-rounder. Johnson was at-best a developmental corner and he was being taken to be a starter for a team ready to contend for a title. The best selection out of their first three might’ve been the 55th selection of guard/tackle hybrid Max Scharping from Northern Illinois.
With three selections in the first 55 picks, the team selected a developmental tackle, a developmental cornerback and a solid lineman who can play anywhere on the line, not what you were expecting with those picks, especially in a “win-now” mode with Watson on his rookie contract.
O’Brien Takes Over and Makes (a bunch of)Trades
To make matters worse, the team wound up firing Gaine on July 7th. He had just recently taken over the position, allowing the team to let him make the decisions in the draft, so it was a surprising move, to say the least. It was also not the greatest look for the players he selected in the draft, specifically Howard. After a run-in with the Patriots about consulting Nick Caserio, the team opted to ride the 2019 campaign out with no general manager, letting Head Coach Bill O’Brien take the reigns. If you thought the fun would end there, you were wrong. O’Brien would then start a fire-sale of draft picks to acquire players to “help” the team.
The Texans traded for Browns running back Duke Johnson giving up what is going to be a third-round pick in the process.
Former first-overall selection Jadeveon Clowney had grown frustrated with contract talks with the team and had requested a trade where many thought the Texans would get a good haul from. The haul was a third-round pick, Jacob Martin, and Barkevious Mingo. A number one edge-rusher on most teams was traded for a third-round pick and two backup caliber linebackers. Many fans were left outraged by the trade complaining about the lack of talent on the offensive line still.
With the offensive line still in disarray, O’Brien was left no choice but to swing for the fences. The Texans would trade a first-round pick this year, first and second-round picks next year, Johnson Bademosi, and Julie’n Davenport to the Dolphins for tackle Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil is one of the best young tackles in the NFL today but is best known for his draft-day free-fall after his twitter account was hacked during the draft showing a video of him smoking weed. The deal was a decent one to get one of the best tackles in the league but doesn’t show the greatest confidence in Howard or Scharping. Along with Tunsil, the team also received receiver Kenny Stills and a fourth-round pick as well. Many thought Tunsil wasn’t worth a first-round pick, let alone two.
Earlier this week, the Texans made another trade that involved receiving Raider cornerback Gareon Conley. Again, this isn’t a great sign for second-rounder Lonnie Johnson, who hasn’t done anything spectacular, unless you call getting kicked out of a joint practice against the Packers spectacular. To make matters worse, the Texans traded the third-round pick they got in the Clowney trade for Conley, meaning the Clowney trade is now Gareon Conley, and two backup linebackers for a top edge-rusher.
O’Brien has shown a complete disregard for adding talent from the draft due to the trades he’s made. If he is let go after this year, the new general manager, as well as the new coach will be put into a difficult situation because of O’Brien. Whoever takes charge will be tasked with turning the team around without a first-round selection the next two years, a third-round pick this year, as well as a second-round pick in 2021.
The Texans will have to pay Watson, Tunsil, Will Fuller, Zach Cunningham, and Whitney Mercilus over the next two years and although they still have a ton of cap space, paying all five of these players would leave them with anywhere under $15 million to try and resign other talented players on the roster, or plug other weaknesses on the roster, and that’s before thinking about newly acquired Conley’s fifth-year option come 2021.
It will be hard for the Texans to find someone that will want to be the General Manager on a team where they feel like their hands are tied behind their back because they have little to no draft assets the next few years, as well as being in a pinch for money. Texans fans, you’re in for a long journey these next few years.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images