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NFL Draft

Houston Texans, You Have A Problem

  • The Draft Network
  • June 12, 2020
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The Houston Texans, by all indications within their front office structure, are all-in for the here and now. The team, which has elevated head coach Bill O’Brien to serve as the team’s general manager in the last year, has given O’Brien complete decision making power over Houston’s personnel, salary cap, and assets—and he’s promptly acted by discarding long-term assets for finished products leading up to the start of the 2019 season. And with a young quarterback on a rookie contract in Deshaun Watson, it makes sense for Houston to be pouring their effort into trying to capture a Lombardi Trophy sooner rather than later. 

But this “all-in” approach doesn’t beat to the drum of conventional wisdom.

The team traded away star WR DeAndre Hopkins, referencing a looming contract dispute as the catalyst for the move. And in return, the team brought aboard a second-round selection and running back David Johnson, who is 29 years old, owed $20.15 million over the next two seasons and hasn’t logged in excess of 3.7 yards per carry since 2016—his only career 1,000-yard rushing season. 

Houston did attempt to replace Hopkins by trading for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and signing wide receiver Randall Cobb in free agency. The irony in the strategy from Houston is that the team didn’t really offer any significant savings, which was the only justification for moving Hopkins in the first place. Here are the contracts Houston acquired to replace Hopkins: 

  • Brandin Cooks: 4 years, $47 million ($8 million in guarantees)
  • David Johnson: 2 years, $20.15 million ($12.3 million in guarantees)
  • Randall Cobb: 3 years, $27 million ($18 million in guarantees)

Versus Hopkins’ commitments alone:

  • DeAndre Hopkins: 3 years, $39.915 million 

One could theoretically justify that keeping Hopkins and offering him an extension would box Houston into a less flexible long-term cap situation, especially with the mega-contract given to offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (a deal that reset the offensive tackle market by 22% this offseason) and the looming contract for Watson—and that’s fair. If Houston wants to embrace a more “committee” approach for Watson in order to secure more cap flexibility to wriggle out from the looming hell that awaits the team with so many big contracts on the table, so be it. But that doesn’t address Houston’s other big problem as a “win-now” franchise.

The defense. 

Houston was 10-6 last season but sported a -7 point differential—the third time in the last four seasons the team has given up more points than they’ve scored. The Texans finished last season 19th in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed; hard regressions from a unit that was top-12 in both categories in 2018, courtesy of generating the second-most turnovers in the league that season. With Jadeveon Clowney out of the picture, no one to fill his shoes, and an average year of turnovers in 2019, the Texans defense withered to conceding more than 24 points per game. The Texans allowed 33 passing touchdowns and nearly 5.0 yards per carry last season, too—and got worse this offseason. 

The team bid farewell to nose tackle D.J. Reader in free agency and the key additions on defense for the team were safety Eric Murray and nickel Vernon Hargreaves, who conceded nearly 1,000 yards in coverage last year alone. The team’s top selection, Ross Blacklock, will help on the defensive interior, but not likely enough to mask the loss of Reader. Everything else remains chalk for Houston’s defense this season; which means the unit will desperately need future Hall of Fame defender J.J. Watt to play just his second full season since 2015 and be every bit of the same All-Pro player that he’s been in each of his last two 16-game campaigns (2015 & 2018). 

And so, ironically, the Texans enter the 2020 season as a team desperate to win now and as a franchise that has made structural alignments to do so. But they also enter the season as a team that didn’t make the moves this offseason that fit that vision. The defense tread water or arguably got worse with the loss of Reader and regardless of how many other mouths Watson gets to feed on offense, losing Hopkins is also a downgrade. A win-now team that’s treading water or regressing in key areas is what we like to call a problem. 

Houston, you’ve got one. 

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