The downfall of the Houston Texans


February 10, 2021

It was Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. With 10:54 left in the second quarter, the Houston Texans took a 24-0 lead over the home-team Kansas City Chiefs. Things were looking up for Houston head coach Bill O’Brien and his squad. They were looking to advance to the AFC Championship for the first time in franchise history. Nothing could go wrong at this point.

However, by just the end of the second quarter, everything that could go wrong went wrong. The Texans gave up 28 points before halftime and were now down 28-24. Kansas City didn’t slow down from there on and won 51-31, moving on to the AFC Championship, and eventually winning the Super Bowl. As for the Houston Texans, who had a triple-digit touchdown lead in the second quarter, all that was left was the feeling of pain, defeat, and misery.

Uncertainty defined the Houston Texans’ offseason following their crushing playoff collapse. On March 22, 2020, the Texans traded three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick. The trade sent shockwaves
throughout the NFL world with the majority of football fans wondering why Bill O’Brien, who was also Houston’s general manager, would trade one of the best players in football.

One would imagine the offseason couldn’t get any worse. Boy, how wrong they were. After swallowing the massive contract of an injury-riddled Johnson, the Texans used what little cap space they had to sign a few notable players. Those signings started to make people question not only O’Brien’s legitimacy as a general manager, but his sanity as a person. Just
hours after the disastrous DeAndre Hopkins trade, Houston signed veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb to a 3-year, $27 million contract. A couple weeks later, the Texans added another wide receiver on a bad contract in Brandin Cooks, along with a 2022 fourth-round pick from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick.

The Texans extended players such as Darren Fells, Ka’imi Fairbairn, and Bradley Roby. Houston also lost a ton of talent in the offseason, and the names consisted of more than just DeAndre Hopkins. Running backs Carlos Hyde and Lamar Miller went to Seattle and Washington, respectively. D.J. Reader, one of the best run-stuffers in the NFL, signed a four-year,
$53 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. Those departures were more devastating blows to what was looking to be a nightmare of a season.

And yet Bill O’Brien still had a job, even with his own ego driving every notable player out of town. The first four games for Houston resounded the nightmare offseason by finishing those four games winless. They were crushed by the Chiefs in the opening game of the 2020 season, the
same team who humiliated them eight months prior. They then lost to Baltimore in their home opener and again lost the following week to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The 0-3 start was then capped off by a 31-23 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings, who had not even practiced until Thursday due to
COVID-19 precautions.

The writing was on the wall for Bill O’Brien: he had not only lost the locker room, but had lost the front office’s approval. He had apparently gotten into a “heated exchange” with star defensive end J.J. Watt prior to their Week 3 game in Pittsburgh. A week later, he was relieved from his duties as both head coach and general manager.

Even with O’Brien gone, the Texans continued to spiral out of control and ended the season a mediocre 4-12. Multiple top players were unhappy with the team, such as J.J. Watt. Following a Week 16 loss to the Bengals, Watt ranted on the Texans’ lack of professionalism, stating, “If you can’t come in and put work in in the building, go out to the practice field and work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not be here.”

After a last-second loss to the Tennessee Titans in the season finale, Watt was caught on camera apologizing to star quarterback Deshaun Watson, saying that the Texans had “wasted” one of Deshaun’s best years.

Even after the best player in their team’s history was consistently critical of the team’s management and professionalism, everything would only get worse from that point on. Watson, Houston’s Pro Bowl quarterback, recently requested a trade from Houston, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Watson has had issues with management, most notably with his lack of involvement into the team’s search for a general manager and head coach. The Texans hired longtime New England Patriots executive Nick Caserio as their general manager and Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach David Culley as head coach. Although not officially known publicly, Watson has apparently been upset with the franchise’s lack of awareness and commitment to social injustice issues. He has leverage on the team due to his no-trade clause and the possibility of becoming a high-value player who refused to play.

So, in most cases, Deshaun Watson’s time as a Texan is coming to a not-so fairytale ending. Only one person is to blame for the absolute turmoil and chaos brought on management, the team, the fans, and even the city of Houston: Bill O’Brien. And believe me, it goes further back than the DeAndre Hopkins trade.

In fact, it goes all the way back to the middle of the 2017 season. Star offensive tackle Duane Brown had sat out the previous six games before returning in Week 8 against the Seahawks. During his absence on the field, Brown was looking to get a new contract. Although extremely critical of longtime Texans owner Bob McNair’s “prison” comments, Brown was looking to remain in Houston. “I wanted to finish my career there,” Brown said on former teammate Arian Foster’s podcast, “and I wanted security doing that.”

Many feel as if Houston’s general manager at the time, Rick Smith, was at fault for Brown’s holdout. When asked about the situation, Smith responded, “I have talked to Duane. There is no contract dispute. Duane is under contract for two more years. That’s our position.” However, most of the situation didn’t involve him, as Smith took an extended leave to care for his wife, who was suffering from breast cancer at the time. And while Smith was away, O’Brien was starting to amass more personnel and roster control. He would now be calling the shots with Duane Brown’s future in Houston. The shot called would be to trade Brown. Even though Duane played a fantastic game in his only start in Week 8, O’Brien decided to trade Duane Brown and a 2018 fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2018 third-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick.

The Texans would then take Mississippi State tackle Martinas Rankin in 2018 and Kentucky cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. in 2019 with those picks. In his only season at tackle for the Texans, Duane Brown’s replacement in Rankin was one of the worst offensive tackles in football, according to Pro Football Focus. He would be traded to the Kansas City Chiefs after just one
season in Houston in exchange for running back Carlos Hyde. As of now, Johnson’s future is uncertain, but the Texans are looking to continue developing them. Yet developing him is going to be an issue if you have a young player like Johnson playing minimal snaps multiple times.

For Seattle, Duane Brown continues to be one of the best offensive tackles in football and their fifth-round selection would become UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who is currently a key contributor on special teams and gets some defensive snaps as well.

While the Duane Brown trade was a pretty stupid move in its own right, a trade that Bill O’Brien made for another offensive tackle made the Brown trade look even worse than it already was. During the 2018 season, the Texans offensive line allowed 62 sacks and 3.8 per game in the regular season. Deshaun Watson couldn’t keep running for his life all the time, so Bill O’Brien figured he needed a sturdy offensive tackle to protect his quarterback. He pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins to acquire offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, and a couple picks. While it was a pretty good trade on paper, is was the assets Bill O’Brien gave the Dolphins that really gave this the mark of a horrifically bad trade.

Miami received two first-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts and also a second-round pick in 2021. However, the first-round selection in the 2020 draft didn’t really affect Miami as they traded the 26th pick to Green Bay.

Then, because of Houston’s awful 2020 season, the Texans sent both the #3 and #35 picks in the draft to the Dolphins.

Right now, Miami is a team with a ton of draft picks and lots of money to work with. They have a bright future ahead of them. The Texans dug the themselves into the deepest crater one could imagine, all thanks to
O’Brien’s horrid roster moves.

And while it’s nice that Laremy Tunsil is still putting up All-Pro level play, he boasts a massive three-year, $66 million contract. Duane Brown is making about $11 million per year while Tunsil is making twice that amount. Had O’Brien kept Duane Brown and not traded future picks for
Laremy Tunsil, the Texans would be in a much more flexible situation now. They could’ve kept their first-round pick in 2020 while also having Duane Brown. They could keep their franchise offensive tackle while using the 2020 pick to draft whoever they wanted. But, nope, Bill O’Brien had to do it his way. He had to get rid of players he didn’t like and get more expensive
options because he wanted them on the team.

However, with the DeAndre Hopkins trade, it just makes Bill O’Brien look more boneheaded as a general manager than he already looks. If O’Brien really wanted Hopkins gone, he could’ve used one of the picks they had to select a wide receiver in the draft. But he didn’t. He used the pick to select TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock. Blacklock, in his first season, was not impressive, as he barely played much defensive snaps. To make it even worse, most wide receivers ahead of Blacklock could’ve been used as a means to “replace” Hopkins, and those receivers cost a lot less than Hopkins, too.

Most of the wide receivers selected after Blacklock have shown a lot of potential, such as Denzel Mims, Gabriel Davis, Laviska Shenault, Chase Claypool, and others. The Rams even used one of their picks acquired in the Brandin Cooks trade to select Van Jefferson in the second round. Jefferson is a young, budding wide receiver that costs little money in terms of the salary cap.

Claypool is making about $1.5 million a year, and he was one of the most impressive rookie receivers this season. Mims, Davis, and Shenault have tons of upside and are also on cheap contracts. Are you seeing a trend here?

If Bill O’Brien’s motive was to shed Hopkins’ and Duane Brown’s contracts in order to save money, then he failed miserably finance-wise. He went off and acquired players of the same position who cost a lot of money.

The one thing about Bill O’Brien’s awful executive decisions is the sheer arrogance of it all. He tried making up excuses for both trades, citing both times that the contract situation for Brown and Hopkins couldn’t be worked out. Texans owner Cal McNair even defended him, saying that restructuring a new contract for Hopkins “just wasn’t possible.” No, Cal, it was possible. The team just didn’t have the cap space to pull it off because O’Brien decided to hand out contracts or extensions to underachieving, average, or aging players such as Nick Martin, Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham, and Brock Osweiler.

Martin and Cunningham have struggled to live up to expectations since their big extensions. Mercilus’ contract will be up when he’s 34 and he will start to decline by then. Osweiler had one incredibly underwhelming season (which is to be expected when you give $72 million to a guy
who only has eight career starts at quarterback) and was shipped off to Cleveland a year later.

Bill O’Brien actually believed he could win with players he wanted to win with rather than players he needed to win with. What I mean by the last statement is that players like Duane Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and even
Jadeveon Clowney (if he was used correctly) are players you need to win. Generational talents like those three just don’t fall out of the sky. And yet O’Brien traded both away and got back a terrible return. He thought he could win without DeAndre Hopkins. He thought he could win without Duane Brown. He thought he could win without Jadeveon Clowney. This man Bill O’Brien has the audacity to think he can win football games with a team comprised of players he wants, not players he needs.

However, here’s the icing on the cake: barely, or maybe even none of the players acquired by O’Brien because he liked them have given the Texans positive outcomes. Let’s go down the list. David Johnson still hasn’t put good production since 2016; Houston went from the ninth rushing offense a year prior with Carlos Hyde (who was traded by O’Brien, again, to Seattle) and plummeted all the way to the 31st rushing offense in 2020.

Brandin Cooks had a pretty good season, but his massive contract still looms large over the Texans’ salary cap. And no offense to Cooks; he’s a really good receiver, but he’s no DeAndre Hopkins.

Randall Cobb also hasn’t been like his old self in a long time, and he wasn’t that big of a contributor in the offense.

The Houston Texans are in deep, deep trouble. They’re in danger of possibly trading their two best players. They have barely any cap space to work with due to a number of bad contracts. They have no top picks in this upcoming NFL draft; both the third and thirty-fifth picks are in possession of the Miami Dolphins. The team is in an extremely bad situation, and it will take a long time for general manager Nick Caserio and head coach David Culley to fix it.]

Everything bad that has happened to the Texans has been on Bill O’Brien’s shoulders, even if he’s gone. Because of the present and possible future state of the Texans, O’Brien could, and probably should, go down as one of the worst general managers in NFL history. There have been many awful general managers throughout sports that have put teams in horrible situations, but I can’t remember a time where a GM has set an entire sports franchise back five, maybe even ten years. It’s going to take a long time to repair the damages caused by Bill O’Brien, and the Houston Texans are the centerpiece of his disaster of a tenure.

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