Separating The Narrative from Reality

A Media Punchbag Providing A Straightforward Rhetoric But Does The Off-Season Condemnation Hold Any Validity?
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Those of a Texans persuasion are well versed in national media shun, after enduring it for two decades, the sample is enough to make that assertion. The exception being the 2012 season where Houston were regarded as potential contenders, namely for the balance they posed. What then transpired was a far cry from the predicted success that was defiantly proclaimed. But there is often limited revision of said predictions regardless of their accuracy.

Though there can be limited argument, the new league year began abruptly for the Texans, as Bill O’Brien’s trades were again at the centre of media consternation. As many disagreed with the teams “bold” moves made to re-engineer their offensive approach.The wider media across this off-season has lined up, to continually malign them and their chances in 2020.

But after a number of “blockbuster trades” becoming more common, the league dynamics have formed a new equilibrium. This considered, how does this alter the view of O’Brien? When applying the required pragmatism to fairly asses, rather than a defiant continuation of the immediate commentary. Time is often a procreator of perspective, as the intensity of scrutiny have now lessened, we review the era-defining moves that have seen the Boston native become vilified by many.

O’Briens Dual Role & Title:

O’Briens role of head coach/general manager hybrid, which is not uncommon in practice, is often pointed out. However, Andy Reid, Pete Carrol and Bill Bilichick, to name a few, enjoy similar autonomy. Albeit, the role or title is more subtle but in reality, the decision making is the same.

As with any team, there’s a consensus of leaders making strategic calls but there is a prominent individual who can put their foot down when deemed necessary. O’Brien relies on Matt Bazargin, James Lipfert & Jack Easterby in their respective roles, just as those aforementioned head coaches do within their own networks. Having a dual title is untraditional in a broader sense but taking a fresh approach for a team starved of any genuine success can be at least admired for attempting something new.

The Jadeveon Clowney Trade to Seattle for a 3rd & Players:

The JD Clowney situation was inherited from the departed, former-GM, Brian Gaine. The Texans and O’Brien wanted to extend Clowney. He was ill-advised with hindsight, by his agent to reject an $18.4million APY deal. After being traded to Seattle, Clowney didn’t do enough to command the money his camp believe he’s worth. Now, with a little more than 6 weeks until competitive action in 2020, he remains without a team. Health concerns, in the absence of being able to carry out medicals & salary demands being central, rather than talent.

However, the Texans have converted that trade into a promising, situational speed-rusher in Jacob Martin. The third round pick received was traded to the Raiders for Gareon Conley. Conley’s fifth year option wasn’t exercised but is placed to be a starting Cornerback. Many are high on the former first round pick and Conley has chance to earn a new deal after flashing late last season, once he acclimated to his new team’s system.

The LT Trade From Miami

In acquiring Laremy Tunsil, the Texans gave up two firsts and a second round pick in exchange for Tunsil, Kenny Stills and a 4th, which seemed reasonably rich, at that time. However considering the number of quality left tackles out-weigh the equivalent number of quarterbacks, it puts that compensation package in perspective.

Also considering the subsequent trades for foundational-type players such as Jalen Ramey and Jamal Adams has now brought that level draft compensation into the norm. O’Brien was going against the grain in an environment of GM’s who approach is one of caution, in comparison to other sports. These type of moves are only justifiable for teams that have a franchise passer in-tow. A premise that requires a mind-set shift, to see the from a front office perspective.

The theory of trading draft picks, which are lottery tickets to potential, in return for certified players of talent, is incongruous to traditional philosophy. As the shield’s propaganda machine wants fans to view the draft as the epitome of roster building. It plays its part but not the only means of fielding a competitive team. As the reality remains, unless you’re picking in the top 15 picks, the likelihood of landing a team defining talent is limited, at best. As would have Houston, likely picking in the mid-to-late twenty’s, received the same level of clamour, if they missed on the talent evaluation in back-to-back drafts?

Ultimately, the Texans were able to lock up a blindside protector for Watson, who instantaneously gave improvement on offence. Relying entirely on the draft would have carried substantial risk to both the team and Watson.

D-Hop Trade for a 2nd to Arizona

The trade of Deandre Hopkins was one that, with some validity, raised eyebrows this off season. But as many now take the lens of living the game via: How many points Deandre score for ‘Groundskeeper Willie’s Secret Allotment’, in a fantasy football league whilst only consuming red-zone highlights. Rather than being aware of what’s actually occurring on the field, within context of the ebb’s and flow over the 4 quarters, in a 16 game season. As all player can have a great YouTube reel, but a successful pro-offence needs an array of components to align, with far more complexity than some may care to consider.

As anyone who actually watched the Texans last year would tell you, Hopkins failed to consistently gain separation on the boundary. This resulted in Deandre, lining up in the slot, as a means of getting open. Hopkins effectiveness was limited without the field stretching ability of Will Fuller. Wide-Receiver is one of a few positions where stats actually matter and last year was Hopkins worst, in terms of production since his rookie year.

The Texans offence was at times predictable, too many stalled drives and over a third of targets being channeled through one player, isn’t healthy. Watson would have a perilous habit of locking on to his favourite receiver, therefore impeding his read progression and field vision. Added to the his limited amount of practice time hindered Watson’s development, thus the offence’s fluidity.

Though Deandre’s raw talent as pure possession receiver was enough to overcome and still deliver quality displays on a Sunday. No one can doubt Hopkins catch radius but as a longer term fit for the Texans, in the context of his contract re-negation demands, there was an opportunity to make a change.

As the fact remains, that only two years into a five-year-deal Hopkins was asking for a raise. These contract demands, within the inner league circles, lead to a counter-intuitive situation where a top-3 receivers trade value was limited. The Ravens and Eagles have both been publicly credited with stepping back upon learning of the “Julio Jones-type” contact demands. These stipulations were such that the Texans couldn’t feasibly manage either, nor could they set a precedent to re-work a deal with thee years remaining.

Additionally, consider the interpretation of a Wide-Receivers positional value is increasingly weighted to their ability to stretch the field. A skill that Hopkins doesn’t posses. In a copycat league, the Chiefs are reigning champions with a track-team on the outside. Henry Ruggs was the first receiver selected in this years draft, due to having that exact elite trait. There are thinly woven lines to this story that are continuously overlooked.

The 40th overall pick was arguably an under evaluation of the departing talent, just as the over evaluation of of David Johnson, based on his sizeable deal for a position few are willing to pay. The new CBA which would a have meant Hopkins would be foolish to hold out, so perhaps more suitable tactic would have been to hold for the right offer, that could have yielded a more proportionate value.

Only Wins Will Derive A Change

From a far, much of O’Briens dealings could appear reckless, heavy handed and single minded. Those would be fair in certain instances but considering all factors, the universal level of criticism doesn’t equate to the reality of impacts that we have or could feasibly see, considering the alternatives. 

Credit: Kevin Jairaj

The Texans have faced a self-imposed ceiling by definition of its limited success in the play-off’s. But when an unsuccessful strategy also reaches equal criticism when attempting to re-engineer it, there’s a clear bias against O’Brien, who cannot win in the eyes of many.

The only way Bill and his team, lead by a Quarterback of untold potential, will change the narrative – is by winning. Perception is reality in many corporate settings where people are eager for convenient or simple truths. The NFL is no different. Navigating the 2020 season with any type of success, considering the macro factors at play, will require credit no matter how many people are reluctant to pay it.

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