The Houston Texans have never been known as a franchise that is particularly respectable. In fact, for many years the franchise was a perennial doormat that opposing teams would welcome as an addition on their schedule each week especially following a tough game against a contender. As a longtime Houston Texans fan, I’ve been through many, many letdowns after years of feeling like we were just “this close” to being a contender.
The Gary Kubiak era was the start of that flicker of hope. Matt Schaub was brought in to the franchise to join Kubiak’s zone-running, play-action offense. The defense, led by Wade Phillips, was dominant for many years. Schaub brought in excitement that the Texans desperately needed and a quarterback that could throw the ball to an absolute stud in Andre Johnson and utilize Arian Foster to the best of his playmaking abilities.
The honeymoon was tremendous, but the fall was brutal and bitter.
From 2006 to 2010, the Texans continued to get better. Kubiak took this team from 2-14 under Don Capers, to records of 6-10, 8-8, 8-8, 9-7 and 6-10. Yet playoff appearances alluded the franchise. The work Kubiak was doing for the franchise appeared to be working, but the results were quite slow. Finally, in 2011 the Texans made their first ever playoff appearance as the AFC South Divisional winners. The division was long under the reigns of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, but finally the Texans would get a taste of Divisional Championship glory. The Texans faced off in the Wild Card round and hosted the Cincinnati Bengals winning 31-10 only to lose to the Baltimore Ravens 20-13. In just 9 years of existence, the Texans had a Divisional Crown and a Playoff Victory.
In 2012, the Texans had a tremendous year at 12-4 and seemed to be a legitimate contender for a Super Bowl appearance for most of the year, but the wind was let out of the sails late in the season. The Texans were the top-seed in the AFC for the majority of the season, but ended up playing the Wild Card round hosting the Cincinnati Bengals. Once again, the Texans would beat these Bengals only to lose to the New England Patriots 41-28.
The next season, the Texans would go 2-14 and fire Gary Kubiak after a 2-11 start. Kubiak and Phillips naturally went on to win a Super Bowl the next season, their first in Denver.
Enter Bill O’Brien who burned this sucker to the ground.
O’Brien had a reasonably successful reign as the Texans Head Coach despite all of his flaws as a GM. From 2016 to 2020, the Texans would go 9-7, 9-7, 4-12, 11-5, and 10-5 before starting this season 0-4. O’Brien led the Texans to 4 Divisional Crowns and 2 Playoff Victories. It seemed like Houston was on the cusp of becoming a respectable franchise after back-to-back 10 win seasons and a reasonable amount of success in 18 years of existence. There are many franchise in the NFL that would love to have 6 Divisional Title and 4 playoff victories during that run.
Suddenly, O’Brien would start to lose his mind. He traded Duane Brown to Seattle for peanuts. He traded Jadeveon Clowney for cashews. He traded away the future for a left tackle including a pair of picks that currently sit as #5 and #37 in the 2021 draft, picks that would greatly help a Texans defensive unit that couldn’t stop the crew here at Shooting the Sports Ish from scoring touchdowns.
Houston will pay for the freedom Bill O’Brien was allowed to have during his run as Coach/GM.
Its difficult to watch Deshaun Watson take hit after hit knowing that the draft picks and cap space were completely massacred by O’Brien’s run as general manager. There is no help on the way for Watson and his band of friends. There is no #1 receiver to bail him out when the defense forces him to make quick decisions. There is no running back next to him in the shotgun formation capable of consistently running for 4-5 yards per carry. A $40,000,000 quarterback is being outperformed by Ryan Tannehill, a flea market addition to the Tennessee Titans who was put into a wonderful system with a fantastic set of weapons, the best running back in the league and a system designed to help him win. This same Titans team has a general manager that has signed players like Jadeveon Clowney and Malcolm Butler to help build that defense to be even better. Vrabel, a young coach and former Texans staff member, has turned that franchise into what the Texans should be in year 3 with Deshaun Watson.
The Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning only to start Andrew Luck who would shockingly retire early. However, that franchise has remained competitive and challenged for the Divisional Crown that has belonged to the Houston Texans 4 out of the last 5 years. The Colts signed Phillip Rivers this offseason after relying on Jacoby Brissett last season. These same Colts are now 3-2 and have refused to be in rebuilding mode only to remain competitive.
We won’t mention the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hell, that franchise is the only reason I’m able to sleep on Sundays this year after what has happened to my Texans!
I bring up these other franchises and their ability to utilize free agency to create a competitive unit because Houston does not have that ability. Cal Mcnair allowed his franchise to put the future in the hands of Bill O’Brien because that’s what New England did? I’m not really sure if that is the real reason, but it seems this is what Houston has done by allowing a man named Bill the ability to play both GM and Head Coach. While it worked reasonably well for a couple of seasons, why did McNair allow these moves to be made prior to firing O’Brien? O’Brien not only traded away a pair of first round picks for a left tackle, he traded away possible the best wide receiver in the league for an aging running back that will likely never return to his prime. Why did this man think it was a good idea to trade away a wide receiver for a running back in today’s NFL? Running backs do not have a long shelf-life of dominance. Even backs like Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas have underperformed since his large contract extension in Dallas that has made extending a franchise quarterback of their own in Dak Prescott difficult.
Worse yet, the Texans attempted to build around Houston by giving him a host of injury-prone receivers in Kenny Stills, Will Fuller, Brandin Cookers, KeKe Coutee and Randall Cobb. Duke Johnson and David Johnson out of the backfield have had their own injury issues. The defense has lone star in J.J. Watt who is already in his 10th year with the team. Minimal efforts were made under O’Brien’s reign to improve the defensive unit especially with the franchise’s willingness to allow Jadeveon Clowney to leave with so little in return.
Deshaun Watson looked to have a very bright future, but I’m unsure if that future will ever be realized while he is the quarterback of the Houston Texans. The Texans will not draft until the 3rd round in the 2021 draft. In fact, they have just 6 picks over 7 rounds in the 2021 NFL Draft. Sure, there could be some decent talent available, but sitting at 1-5 after giving up 10 yards per carry to the Tennessee Titans today, its clear that the Texans need elite talent to assist that defense. Even worse, the Texans will be $6,000,000+ over the cap going into the 2021 Free Agency period meaning they will have no room to even attempt to sign an elite talent that may opt to test the market instead of re-signing with his current club. The defensive backs cannot cover, the front seven cannot stop the run, the offensive line cannot consistently give Deshaun Watson time and the Texans $40,000,000 quarterback looks to have signed an extension with a franchise that quite likely will not allow him to compete in a playoff game, let alone a Super Bowl, for many years.
The McNair family’s commitment to Bill O’Brien will haunt this franchise for many years.