The Watson Conundrum – How Will The Case Be Remembered?

How The Texans choose to manage this unprecedented situation will define the Franchise’s future as viable football entity. 

Looking at underlying causes, Watson’s personal situation & how the team should handle the situation. 

The Origin:

Two diverging worlds are emerging: people who are entrenched in social media and those that aren’t. The latter, it could be argued, have a far broader perspective, seek more in-depth and credible information sources to help to shape opinions. The former are shaped by algorithms. These two factions co-exist in isolation but have consequences when they collide. As the majority of NFL on-lookers are abstract from this reality and the Watson case has brought this clash, jarringly out into the open.

Instagram serves to showcase a variance of product or services, whilst equally it provides an entry point for those seeking infamy. Tactics often employed are to derive associations with those of reach, to create the interactions with an end goal of monetisation. But for all the scenic pictures and videos of the family pet, there are equal waves of advertisements & paid subscription gateways.

Therefore, creating a dynamic where monetary gains & by default notoriety, are the drivers for the platforms success. It provides a prime construct for the rich and (in)famous to exploit. Combining those elements, the reality likely has a harsh outcome due to the human element involved. This outlook has been ingrained in a generation of people, that use to determine their self worth, where the an App & real life continue to intertwine. 

It’s unfortunate for Texans fans that their quarterback or departing quarterback, falls into that generation. But as Watson & his ‘camp’ have found, there is a sharp fall between these lines of cyber learned behaviours and what society can deem acceptable. It appears for some, that these lines have never been so blurred, but when the two meet, it’s been shown in an ugly & public light, that many wouldn’t have considered even existed. 

The Watson Uprising: 

Now back to football, sort of. 

Watson, prior to March, had positioned himself as the model sports professional. His trade demands were rooted in exactly that. The organisation had wronged him. To a highly principled man, this was an irreversible relational fracture with the Texans. Back in January, few would have differed.

Subsequently the foundations of his stance have dissolved through the ensuing, public character assassination. Taking the moral high ground versus a bumbling owner was now, diminished in its credibility. 

But could have this mess been avoided? Were the trade demands and this off-field matter linked? Those answers will likely never be public knowledge but what is certain – Watson was ill-advised by his agency

Previously, the information flow to ESPN had been constant throughout the play-offs peak-news-cycles, as Athletes First set out to publicly tarnish the Texans. Perhaps a tact that David Mulugheta may regret, against a group of billionaire owners who’ve developed a fine track record of collusion. Particularly against those who pose a threat to their ‘industry’ and individual talent is a distant secondary consideration. 

Fast-forward to a situation where Watson is the recipient out public out-cry, his agency now sits silent. Watson initially released a statement and now the strategic direction of his defence appears to have changed. So, should have the lawyers at Athletes First advised him on what to or not say? Could this have been a more sensible starting point to this saga?

His agency, as public evidence has shown, dismissed the opportunity of managing this situation in a proactive manner. It appears now that Rusty Hardin was hired as reactionary measure to the sprawling list of accusers. But the the long-time Houston lawyer-to-the-stars was handed a standing start. The modern day PR battle via social media, the public pursuit by Tony Buzzbee has left a trail of doubt, regardless of the evidence. That doubt will perennially hover over the remainder of Watson’s career & life after football.

The breadth of complaints and span of timeline of these allegations are what may see a settlement manifold or his reputation tarnished, inhibiting a departure from Houston, in the interim. As it’s already curtailed his income in endorsements, prevented owners signing-off trade packages and Dessaun will eventually receive some form of suspension by the league. 

As this news blocked the light shone on the NFL’s new TV deal announcement, that had been years in the making. The sound of that lead balloon bouncing along the corridors of a certain plush Park Avenue office, will not go unscathed.  That day will last in the memory of Goddell & his 32 employers, who inevitably will seek retribution. 

It returns again to the question: was Watson was advised to pursue a trade, only 9 months after signing his contract, with the looming external legal factors and blocking off any communication with the team? As regardless of the motivation or outcome, his representation has failed him spectacularly. Taking this anti-establishment stance, with limited leverage, Watson’s career, reputation and legacy will all be lessened as a result. 

So has the experience humbled him or some of his agencies thinking? As Watson could now benefit from stability as person and as a football player. A familiar place to re-habilitate and re-build would be a logical step for the guy who promised a super bowl to the city only in November last year. 

The whole rationale of a desired exit has appeared forced, inconsistent from the outset. Now the legal case has curtailed any immediate movement. Enter, Nick Caserio who could salvage this house of cards, he unknowingly inherited.

A Sensible Outcome:

In order to steer a pro-sports entity such as the Texans, it requires prudence in the ability to separate the broader view, from every swinging axe brought with each news cycle. The McNair’s showed this abundance with the Jack Easterby retention & Nick Caserio hiring, the resulting furore was met steadfastly in defiance. Can they display this once more, in a situation that is critical in shaping the franchises future?

As a business first & foremost, the uncertainty is not welcomed. The sentiment within the McNair family is largely unknown & they may well task Caserio with moving on, if allegations are proven and the stain is too much to bare. The issue in that instance is, in selling to a reduced market, due to no other factors than perception would unlikely yield a true return. A position this team have found themselves in too many times. 

Allegations, civil court settlements or not, Waston’s talents remain. As this process concluding Houston’s best course action is to help their quarterback. Deshaun has undeniably made some questionable life choices and put himself and other people in an unforgiving positions. He’s caused substantial damage, but is it irreversible?

In years from now, whichever team Deshaun Watson is throwing touchdown passes for, will the current acrimony be just a distant thought? Were Ben Rothlisberger’s legal cases an insurmountable issue for the Steelers? Was it a central theme when Pittsburgh won a super bowl? It was a different situation, in a different era but the choices faced by the team are similar.

Post the conclusions of the legalities, can Houston be bold enough to provide a platform for rehabilitation? A case of redemption for a player who was and could be again the face of the franchise. The court of public opinion can be fierce but if there was a player to stand by, with a public showing, on how people can correct their ways, by draw awareness to a cause he has wronged and then do right, it’s Watson.

The McNair’s claim they are invested in the community and by dollars donated on paper they are. But this could be the truest test, of that philanthropy. Is it bound only by perception & it’s resulting impacts on their billion-dollar business? Or by a genuine will to help people? As custodians of Houston they have a duty to help all of those surrounding this case, if they are true to their word, they will, not just when it sits comfortably with their bottom line. 

When Will the Texans Reach The Pinnacle of Public Ignominy?

There was a time this off-season where the `Texans failings were rooted firmly in its owner. Cal McNair’s ambivalence to their two year plight left fans outraged, as they vented at the shadowy figure of Jack Easterby. The media humiliation seemed unprecedented as they slowly folded to a 4-12 record, as their lack of organisational structure underpinned their fundamental failings.

Those seemed like better days than the present. As Cal & Jack can now step back as the anarchy of Houston pro-football reaches bizarre heights, even for a team defined by disfunction.

In an offseason where it appeared to be on the crest of a new dawn. Fast-forward only three months: the GM appointment lead to Watson’s trade request, an underwhelming head-coach hire and Watson is now embroiled in a civil legal case against 22 complainants.

Nick Caserio was never going to start on an even-footing but to have this many issues, problems that extend beyond the realms of X’s & O’s, isn’t something that many can prepare for. His level of drudgery in acquiring over 30 players was an expensive means of re-setting a threadbare roster but it was understandable.

Not so comprehensible was the sheer volume of short team deals, which in order to accommodate, a flurry of re-structures were required. In essence the team are now spending more in future years in order to understand the contributory value of these 3rd & 4th rate players, who would command a higher price, should they perform & be resigned.

Free agency is not a sustainable or preferred means of team building, that is the primary role of the draft. The Texans could go at almost any position, across their 8-picks, bar offensive tackle. After the over-spending of future picks at that position, is the primary reason they are short in ammunition.

The premise of drafting players for a new coaching staff, by a GM who’s decisions are based up upon an inherited personnel department, doesn’t necessarily bode well. Similar to this ’21 season, the draft has tempered expectations & finding one or two starter level contributors would be a heralded success. The draft weekend will provide a distraction and the novelty of some genuine football narrative to consider. But this class will unlikely impact the teams win total.

So it begs the question, when will the Texans have finally hit the bottom of the football barrel?

Will it be the moment Deshaun Watson is traded?

The impending legal process is being navigated by Rusty Hardin, though the timeline remains at the mercy of the Harris County Courts. This could mean a number of years with a quarterback disgruntled not willing to play, that continues to hang over the team. The possible deadline of a pre-draft-trade now seems to have dissolved. Mainly due to the scarcity of willing parties as the 49ers & Carolina have both made alternative QB arrangements.

This means Watson’s 2021 season could be a mixture of hold out, suspension & reputation damage control. His next snap of football may reluctantly come in a Texans jersey until a teams situation or outlook on his allegations suddenly change. By no means are either beyond the realms of possibility, as change is a constant that can favour teams through none of their own doing.

Will it be in the midst of this season?

The ’21 Texans would have been hard pressed to field a less viable pro-football side, than the version that stumbled through the 2020 season. But they seem to have found a way. A convoluted free-agency period plus a draft slate devoid of picks until the 67th slot, does not show a path to progress.

Fans are set to watch a team unlikely to scrape together a handful on wins, filled with no named contributors, lead by Tyrod Taylor. By no logical means can a case be made that this will be any better than the early expansion days. That backward step will lean firmly against even the most devout sections of the fanbase. The teams handling of that, plus the Watson drama, will stretch the organisations goodwill limits with fans, yet again.

Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Or could it be an even slower demise?

Envisaging the pain of an elongated Watson departure, downward trade-market pressures (AGAIN) leaving value firmly on the trade-partners side of the table. Those acquired picks are re-invested and for the most part don’t pan out. They yield 3 to 4 versions of Kevin Johnson, Amobi Okoye, Travis Johnson & David Carr. By that point the team have likely run through two coaching staff’s, a turnover of over 100 players and the 2019 season will be the “if only” moment for a generation of fans, the ones who are left.

The Murky Future

The actual outcome is somewhere in between. Caserio will likely be given time, should he want it and if there’s some luck along the way, there may be some Rick Smith-years type of product to enjoy.

A lot can change in the blink of an eye. But being the team who searched for its entirety to find a player like Watson & for it to fail due to a host on non-football reasons is a stigma that will take many year to shake, if at all.

Trading Watson makes zero sense from a football standpoint. But the origins of this mess are far removed form football. The next few season will put to the test this franchise’s direction if it will lay in doldrums or rise again to a point that took them over a decade to reach – relevancy.

Caserio In Full Swing – His Plan Is Unclear As The Future Of His Franchise Quarterback

The sheer volume of Texans new signings in free agency has been staggering. As of March 22nd, there have been over 30 players acquired, 4 by trade, whilst onboarding over $60million in guarantees. Details are still to emerge but Caserio’s first free agency, has been full-throttle but hard to accurately depict in it’s direction.

The historical shape of free agency has been one of big money deals, followed by declining contract values thereafter. But that was thrown into disarray by the suppressed salary cap. Teams were forced to restructure and release players, the wide-receiver market stalled and edge rushers failed to set new parameters. Only three offensive line stalwarts of Joe Tuney, Corey Lindsay & Trent Williams were rewarded the traditional type of market defining deals.

However, the Texans approach to free agency continues to be unique & perplexing in equal measure. Caserio may be within his honeymoon period until games are played, the Easterby-factor aside, but his approach has been arguably been scatter-gun. As he threw dart after dart, in the hope of incremental roster talent, the question arose: What exactly is the offseason strategy for the Texans?

Beyond hoping the law of averages, via a high volume approach, will yield a few talented players who can fulfil specific roles, longer term. The startling high volume or limited quality of singings for a team that had circa $22million in cap space entering the legal tampering period is puzzling. This was after restructuring Brandon Cooks and the heart-felt goodbye of JJ Watt, amongst others.

All moves are currently only reported and have yet to be formalised by the team. Partly, because their salary-cap space won’t allow them to sign all reported agreements. Subsequently, Laremy Tunsil has restructured his contract (a possible trade pre-requisite), Darren Fells, Zack Fulton, Cullen Gillaspia, Bryan Anger were all released. Clearly Caserio fully intends to spend right up to the cap. Rolling money into 2022 & beyond isn’t currently on his agenda, it would seem.

As traditionally, teams spending are less focused on future years and are are planning to win now. That would logically be the case if their public soundings of keeping Deshaun Watson, despite his trade demands, held true. However, only two of the players acquired, cornerback’s Terrance Mitchell & Desmond King (traded mid-season) played over 65% of snaps last year. Adding so few quality, starter-type players isn’t improving a 4-12 roster, considering the departures of Will Fuller & JJ Watt. Moreover, they are exhausting resources of future years to spend on difference makers, when circumstances dictate.

If not in pursuit of quality, it’s been commonly mooted that Caserio is improving competition across the depth chart, with 1 & 2 year deals – this is the start of the rebuild. Possibly hinting that they know Watson has played his last snap in Houston. Whilst Singing a Quarterback & trading for another only adds weight to that theory. Though Caserio’s assessment of the incumbent players must have been reasonably damning and a “drain the swamp” approach would explain the volume of transactions required if this is to be correctly assed as a rebuild.

Although the traditional means of rebuilding would be to acquire picks, draft and find as many young, talented players as possible. But the average age of all the signings is over 28.

The Texans traded for a 33-year-old tackle in Marcus Cannon, who’s coming off a year out of football. At an ever young-man’s position, they’ve committed $5.58million to ageing running backs, across Mark Ingram (32), David Johnson (30) & Phillip Lindsay (26) most notably. Also committing a combined $5.5million in guarantees to a Punter (Cameron Johnson) and 33-year old kick returner (Andre Roberts) does not signal re-build. Whilst accumulating countless linebackers and said devout special teamer’s. Some, if not many, may not make the 53-man roster, come August.

The timing or seeming rush to agree with a multitude of new players so early in the process, is also questionable. As they currently manoeuvre to get under the cap, they will be likely out of contention for any surprise cuts. In the way they acquired Tyran Mathieu in 2018. Between now & September, there are multiple options available in adding to your roster. Considering potential post June-1st cuts, camp cut-downs, street FA’s & and a large rookie class will need to be accounted for also. So Further cap scurrying will be required.

Change is the only constant in the league but how much can one team sustain, with a new coaching staff, on a limited contact model as Covid continues to define schedules. Added to the fact Tyrod Taylor is trending to becoming the starting quarterback. The coaching staff will have a big role in herding Caserio’s band of recruits come September if some cohesion is to be derived.

Caserio has given a fresh feel in terms of running the pro personnel side of the Texans despite the Jack Easterby linger. Most notably the stains of signing Derek Rivers, retaining David Johnson and Vernon Hargreaves may all be a result of that influence – as it cannot be based on 2020 tape. But the ingenuity of the Shaq Lawson trade must be applauded whilst agreeing terms with Maliek Collins, Kevin Pierre-Louis & Jordan Jenkins could provided must needed upgrades to a hapless defence, transitioning to a 4-3 base.

The limited clarity of Caserio’s approach may simply stem from the off-field issues surroundings Watson’s desired exit. As his retention or departure is the defining move in deciding the Texans future, there will be no choice if it’s the latter. But as we standstill at these cross-roads, Caserio’s moves appear like he’s faced with co-ordinating multiple action plans as the on-going saga unfolds.

The Texans Continue Their Collapse, In Attempting ‘The Next Right Thing’

After the the firing of Bill O’Brien, all those connected to Houston carried hope of a new dawn, that Cal McNair was set to instil. This was a chance to re-define Texans Football. The possibilities seemed limitless due to their much-revered franchise quarterback, added to a fiercely loyal fanbase that felt real success was a possibility.

Of course it wasn’t going to be an easy task for the incoming General Manager & Head Coaches staff. As Houston fans had seen the team implode over a treacherous 18-month stretch of puzzling personnel decision. Cal McNair, understandably paid faith in O’Brien’s ability to do it all – across the GM and Head Coach roles. They arguably had the luxury of making moves to “Win-Now”, when in the envious position of a wining football team, with a transcendent passer under his rookie contract.

Look no further than the deluge of trades and contracts, all consistent with the theme of buying high and selling low. O’Brien didn’t have the awareness of NFL market value, nor the ability to evaluate talent, as results were disastrous. The net effect the over-investment in players so his offensive scheme could work, left the Texans with a defence unable to compete at the pro-level in 2020.

Last season petered out with only one-win against a team who’s head coach wasn’t fired & a series of close divisional loses. The one shining light – it’s quarterback, who lead the league in passing, despite having the worst rushing attack seen in franchise history. Their 4-12 record represented a spectacular feat of underachievement, considering the qualities of Watson.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The first major decision Cal made, after taking over from his late father, was an epic fail, O’Brien was relieved of his duties with time to find the new leaders of the football club.

Despite O’Brien’s early removal, he was only part of the problem. Now after a series of hires, the team are no better of than they were prior. They have completely unaddressed the issues that their own players stated to the media.

Though suspected & now crystallised, the true driving force in this unparalleled nose dive is Jack Easterby. Yet despite the continual pressure form fans and former players. Added to the public unmasking by the media with unrivalled scrutiny, McNair continues to cut an unconcerned figure in his spate of public outings.

Jack Easterby’s influence is catastrophic for McNair’s ownership, which is tittering closely into the realms of brining the league into disrepute or as the rules state: “conduct detriment to the league”. As the Texans are now in a position where they could be feasibility in breach of that, considering:

THE NEXT RIGHT THING

“Empty Cups Don’t Get People Wet”

AILIENATED FANBASE

STAR QB DEMANDS TRADE

CLUB PRESIDENT RESIGNATION

DECORATED EX-TEXANS PROCLAMATIONS

BEST-EVER PLAYER REQUESTS RELEASE

BOTCHED HC & GM HIRINGS

UNIVERSAL MEDIA HUMILIATION

AN UNMANAGEABLE SALARY CAP

LIMITED DRAFT PICKS

ROSTER BEREFT OF TALENT

The headline reasons for wanting nothing to do with the Texans are plentiful for players, fans and sponsors alike. It’s beyond reasonable doubt Jack Easterby’s rise to power, directly correlates with the teams downfall. The team are on the precipice of footballing hell. As they may lose the player who’s they’ve spent the majority of their 19-year existence trying to find.

Deshaun Watson made Houston relevant to a whole generation of fans. He made this team worth watching. He covered up a myriad of mistakes, made by those in power. But after it became clear the GM hire had been undoubtedly been botched due to the intervention of Easterby. The burden became too great for Watson and his representation to bare. He has no faith in ownership and therefore requested a trade. Who could blame him? This off season was yet another example of the McNair family’s inability to run this club.

The McNair’s misplaced but well intentioned trust continues to be in the wrong people. The limited credence given that recent hiring of Head Coach, David Culley, has been yet another milestone of their slide. The justification of Culley being an amenable personality, considering the dire situation is a case in itself. Only the Texans under their current ownership could feasibly justify a head coach hire, due to the mess THEY created. Rather than hire the best coach they could find for Watson, they sought a fixer, to reprieve them. But the Texans issues are on a far grander scale than a patsy head-coach & sub-par staff assembled.

The future for this team & fans alike is incredibly bleak. There are precisely zero reasons to believe they can compete, when their leadership, sets them back irreparably with every decision made. The recent hiring of Character Coach Dylan Thomson, is yet another reminder of who’s making the decisions for the Texans front office. A long term disciple of defacto-CEO, Easterby.

The role or lack of autonomy given to conduct his role effectively, Nick Caserio is a glaring concern for those trying to see a way forward. His hire was objectively a good one but after a month his position, he appears undermined. The unshakable cultural problems created by the religious-fulled trust in the Easterby way of ‘the next right thing’ has lead to successive star players and long-time executives leaving.

Who would have believed the notion after the 2018 season that Clowney, Hopkins, Tyran Mathieu, DJ Reader, Kareem Jackson, JJ Watt & likely now Will Fuller, Deshaun Watson, all wouldn’t be on the 2021 roster?

The chance was there this off-season. Yet, somehow ownership cannot seem to fathom what & how they have missed it. Not only have they missed but they have also hampered future chances of addressing it.

The ‘next right thing’ is all they seem prepared to focused on. They have lacked any sense of plan or guile in the way Cal McNair has squandered a chance that will set this team back a minimum of 5-10 years.

They remind us “change is hard” but by retaining Easterby, hiring Caserio & Cully has not created any progressive change. They’ve taken the very worst of recent failings and blown them up on the jumbo-tron asking people to pay for the privilege, whilst being eviscerated on every sports network across the globe.

Whilst the Texans are attempting to “create memorable experiences”, by doing the next right thing. They’d be better placed by doing just something right, if anyone is to deem this 2021 team is worth considering, come August.

Despite The GM Hire, McNair Is Unable To Take A Step Forward

Tone deaf, indifferent and inept, Cal McNair is showing once more, he isn’t fit to own a pro-football team. As the hiring of his new GM is over-shadowed by his lingering, unaddressed mistakes.

The announcement of Nick Caserio would have struck a raw nerve instantly with many of the Texans faithful on Tuesday. A hire that with any objective lens on Caserio’s track record, would seem a desirable franchise leader. And it of course would have been, if not for the source of his experienced being intrinsically linked to the source of previous failures. Notably the last 7 seasons were design by those of a similar ilk.

When removed from Foxborough, MA., the “Patriots Way” rarely pays dividends. After seeing this first hand, to reach out again, in hope of it transferring to Kirby Drive, appears an ill-fated premise. As the mistakes co-signed by both Bill O’Brien & Jack Easterby reverberate around every facet of the Texans. The most notable output being it’s talent deficient roster, which lent itself to 4-12 season, despite the talents of Deshaun Watson under centre.

O’Brien was sent packing after week four, some three months ago, allowing Cal McNair and his search firm significant time to jump start their efforts in the 2021 hiring cycle. Despite that, the preferred option was to resurrect a previous failed hiring attempt from July 2019, as the Texans opted for Caserio. A clause in his contract inhibited him from joining Houston then, now out-lawed by the league, the Patriots subsequently filed tampering charges. Though the Texans had fired Brian Gaine on the premise they had their man.

Left red-faced, Houston opted to allow O’Brien and Easterby to dual-control the franchise, that ultimately sent the team on a collision with the depths of mediocrity. McNair stood idly by allowing the incumbents to run riot. The very mistakes his new GM will be tasked with correcting.

Financial cost seems to be secondary to McNair which is admirable in a sense but it more likely an output of his ineptitude. He had also hired a search firm, Korn Ferry, paying an exclusivity fee to then only ignore their final candidate list. A rather expensive exercise to conduct so publicly, to then hire someone who could have been previously available whilst still having outstanding interviews scheduled with prospective candidates. But the trigger was pulled and Caserio is now in the top-three GM’s in terms of salary.

The end result in arguably a good one but it’s the cloud of controversy that Nick enters the building with doesn’t allow his to start his reign on an even footing. His ties to Jack Easterby, the man who orchestrated the Brian Gaine firing to bring over his former colleague, could well be his undoing in Houston. Though Easterby is widely credited with pushing the search firm’s advice off-course, it should be noted his role in the firing of O’Brien. Caserio may be advised to tread carefully when handling footballs most maligned character.

Even the faintest murmur of Easterby’s name incites instant vitriol across the Texans fanbase. Added to the fact, the players have intimated they would like to see him removed. He provides a toxic influence that has eroded the culture every bit as much as the talent in the building. Easterby’s position is one that whatever he brings to the organisation is overwhelming outweighed by his drawbacks. So in Caserio’s initial assessment of the franchise, if this isn’t an obvious early course of correction, then yet more rockier waters may lay ahead. But if there was ever a way to get the fans & players alike to back you in the early days as the Texans GM, then theres an easy call to make.

The next part in the Texans off-season process is for Caserio to appoint a head coach. A task, if not successful, appears to perilously close for a consecutive off-season of counterproductively. This team cannot afford that. They cannot afford to get this wrong as they face a disgruntled quarterback and locker room, never mind the already indignant fan base.

An uphill task faces Nick Caserio and his early decisions will likely follow him, for however long he see’s out the freshly inked 6-year deal.

2020 – A Year To Forget

Failing in the backdrop of a global pandemic, the Texans football operations have been a localised epidemic of inadequacy.

2020 has been a challenging year, that most will want to banish its memory when said “normality” rolls around. Similarly, Houston’s on-field fortunes have been a low point in our recent memory. The global impact of covid-19 and its origins are still yet to become wholly clear.

However, Cal McNair’s inherited franchise has knowingly stumbled into dissolution. The wrongs were correctable and entirely within the realms of control. Never the less, decisions were allowed to continue with obvious consequences. A global health crisis and a stumped football owner’s imparted misery aren’t truly parallel but have compounded by their timing, none the less this year.

Though the current pandemic and the Texans do have a characteristic in common – a struggle to define its turning point. Like a public health trauma, addressing cultural rot is not visible. So when can we truly declare a change?

The time-lag of vaccine distribution to quell societal fears of an ever changing threat is one thing. But similarly for Houston, medication is only the beginning of a long journey. Neither have easy fixes. Neither can make up for the lost time. Neither can cure, only lessen symptoms. Both have issues that will linger and could feasibly become worse before it getting better.

As the world attempts to address its imbalances into 2021, Cal and his various hired-help will look to people around the football community. Who they entrust with the keys to address the Texans current plight is anyones guess.

Though quite how far the Texans have fallen from the top-tier of football in two years, we will likely only know the true extent of the damage, once the rescue is attempted. The notion that ’21 season could well have the O’Brien & Easterby stench still permeating around it, not being in play-off contention, is a realistic one.

Regardless of the quality hired in the front office and coaching staff, there are limits to what the regime will be able to achieve in a single off-season. Considering they will have less than two months to prepare for free agency. Less than 4 months to prepare for the draft, amongst the fragmented landscape of college football. These are restrictive conditions that even the self-claimed “optimists” will need to thoroughly consider.

Time and perspective is 20-20 clarity for most, but can be clouded by the emotive on looker in a sporting context. The 2018 season was a talent-peak in Houston but a combination of a poorly coached team and the missing final few pieces, left this team short. The defence had already reached it’s peak in 2016 – see the admirable New England play-off defeat. This defensive unit was already two years into a decline when helpless watching their 24-point lead in Kansas City disappear. That watershed moment, if it had been addressed that off-season, the 2021 outlook may be vastly different. Never mind the meek play-offs loss the year prior to a divisional rival no less.

Alas, it was not and we are now standing at the bottom of the pro-football totem pole, reminiscing about it used to be like, when the top was almost in sight.

The lone jewel in the crown is of course Deshaun Watson. A player who if paired with the level of Houston defences of years past, you have a championship calibre roster. The irony of allowing defensive talent to erode so grossly whilst having the most coveted need in all of team sports filled, is a feat of certified incompetence.

This franchise, is required to deep clean more than its surfaces after Sunday’s NRG finale against Tennessee. There will be casualties that would seem unfair but starting with Jack Easterby, the remnants of the O’Brien debris needs to be cleared from the crash site. The only way to admit you have a problem, is to hit rock bottom. A team with Watson only winning a handful of games, is indeed the floor that none us will want to be left on ever again.

Cal is faced with the biggest decision he will ever make, getting it wrong or even partly right will leave this team confined to what they always been – irrelevant. But previously the odds were stacked against his expansion franchise. They were stacked even more firmly against him when they incorrectly selected & managed David Carr’s career. However this time the odd’s should be stacked in his favour with the asset of Deshaun as the teams centrepiece.

By no means can we underestimate C-19 and it’s impact on families and people or comparing Houston Texans football is any attempt to belittle the threat. But hopefully 2020 has taught us all to be grateful for the finer points in life and taught us to be better at whatever we try our hand at.

Just as some day we will cheers a beer at the tailgate, morn the previous weeks loss whilst chewing on some BBQ. Hiding under a gazebo from the searing Houston heat, talking to complete strangers about the team we share a love for. Just like those days will come again, so will a winning Texans team, it may just not be next year.

The Curious Case Of The Texans Football Operations Department

In a season plighted by Covid-19, the Texans true to form, reached new heights of embarrassment yesterday. Houston’s operational deficiencies came to the fore with a spectacular level of absurdity. As both Bradley Roby & Will Fuller were suspended for 6 games after violating NFL rules for PED’s. This, with only five games left in the 2020 season.

This now leaves a harrowingly poor cornerback group and a thinning looking receiver room. The latter is particularly puzzling considering the recent release of Kenny Still, when the team must have already known these suspensions were quickly approaching.

Their announcements broke in unusual way as the players took to social media which on the whole, is an uncommon route for stories to become public knowledge. As league and media sources, merely screen-shotted or re-confirmed Fuller’s post, to surprisingly reveal the decision. Then merely seven hours later, Roby confirmed he’d suffered the same punishment from the league office.

The timing also stood out as being odd, how the two players, who are both are the Texans best players in their respective position groups, were found guilty on the same day. It begs the question did both players consume the same substance? Did they both visit the same ill-advised specialist? Perhaps based on the recommendation from their team mate? But the ailments requiring attention are still unclear.

Did anyone inside NRG know of this referral or did the players go off-piste and consume something they knew, in their heart of hearts, that it could well be a risk their careers? As there are NFLPA signs in locker room stating these rules – that ultimately the player is responsible for what they consume.

But this failing also shines, yet again, on the Texans in an unflattering light. They have duty of care towards steering these 20-something millionaires. They are in need of guidance and to be reminded of their responsibility to the team and the fans. Both Fuller and Roby are 5th and 6th year players, so their is little room for their excuses of being wrongly advised. It was their responsibility was to check with the team’s medical staff. Why they didn’t is only a question they can answer. But the fact that it was not just one but two players who fell foul of this, comes back to reflect on the team.

The person responsible for football operations, is the much maligned Jack Easterby. Anyone in that position under normal circumstance would be the accountable lead responsible for such a systematic club failing. But the likelihood of him being held to account or the team’s public response being of any note is doubtful, as such poor expectations have been set by this dismally run team.

Many will cite this hurting the momentum built through the previous two wins. Although it undoubtedly will, the reality remains a team who lack a run game, would be promptly undone. Even if they were to be the 7th or even 8th play-off team. These final 5 games will add more strain on the brilliance of Deshaun Watson. The changes around the 4th year quarterback continue to detract from what he brings to the field, adding to his challenges.

Bradly Roby will likely be with the team in 2021 but the new coaching staff’s ability to move in a different direction is eased by the loss of his year-2 guaranteed monies and bonus. The future of upcoming free-agent Will Fuller will be one of interest. Fuller has now lost $3million in earning this year. Whilst he likely has suspended himself into a situation that will have teams questioning their willingness to place any seizable offers on the table, when coupling this with his injury history.

Yet another bad day off the filed in this 2020 season, that only adds to the list of challenges that will be in need of conquering, if they are to become competitive in the years upcoming.

Can The Texans Fix Their Run Game?

The Texans run attack is a mess and has been all year as they trail the league in rushing. But why has it become so inept? They were a serviceable attack in 2019. The lack of off-season preparation due to C-19 cannot be accepted, considering last years late arrival of Carlos Hyde. The cut-down-day trade acquired a journeyman running-back who eclipsed 1,000 yards, with zero pre-season preparations.

When considering the sample size of 9 run plays against New England on Sunday. What are the central issues preventing Houston is complimenting its passing attack? As the out dated mantra of running to set up the pass, has been flipped on its head in modern football. So within the context of Watson’s best passing performance of the season, why were they still held to only 19 yards on 13 attempts?

Note, three of these were obvious running plays to kill to the clock, late in the fourth quarter. A further was a failed RPO play that should have been thrown to Fuller deep for an easy 6.

When taking the remaining 9 true/honest run calls: Is there a common theme that can be pinpointed to fix this structural issue faced by Tim Kelly? Is there a scheme of personnel issues at the heart of their plight?

  • Run 1

    Scheme – Pre-Snap, it’s an obvious run look with Brown as the H-Back. Cooks motions towards the formation to block against 8-man box.
    Personnel – Howard footwork is sloppy, blocking the running lane and Cook’s blows his block. Improved execution and this play may get 4 or 5 yards.

  • Run 2

    Scheme – Outside/Stretch Play, in 11-P Grouping – no clear indication pre snap it’s a run play. 6 blockers against a 7 man box.
    Personnel – Duke isn’t able to break to outside as Tytus doesn’t finish the combo block against Guy (93) who makes the tackle. Rod gets thrown to the ground against the DE (50).

  • Run 3

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping appears as an RPO with Watson reading the outside rusher. The TE motioning across the formation this leaves them short on near side and a free run at the back.
    Personnel – Considering Simon (55) is unblocked the line need to slide left. Martin could combo block with Sharping to allow them to seal the B Gap. This would allow the edge to be sealed and free the back to the outside.

  • Run 4

    Scheme – 21-P an obvious run look. 7 on 7 in the box. The line gets no push considering an equal match-up
    Personnel – Not enough juice at the point of attack. Fulton’s block is shed, Duke it too close to the line who’ve barely moved the pile, not able to cut it back with the free backside defender bearing down.

  • Run 5

    Scheme – 12-P inside Power Play. Centre & Fullback to clear the 2nd level. It’s a clear 7 on 7 match up.
    Personnel – Brown misses his block. Both Guards Fail – Sharping loses his footwork and Fulton is overmatched being driven back.

  • Run 6

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping, Outside-Zone Run, facing a 7 man box
    Personnel – Linemen aren’t athletic enough to get to point of attack to seal the edge fast enough. Rod Johnson gets his angle wrong, panics turns back to the ball. Nick Martin is slow off the snap, to then allow Sharping to move with the flow of the play. Rather than picking up the edge defender and allow Rod to get up on the next level, he contributes little.

  • Run 7

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping Outside Zone to the strong side. WR at the X Spot kills that play, thats set up perfectly.
    Personnel – This play breaks decent yardage if Cooks doesn’t blow his block. Getting a better blocker in that spot/correcting Cook’s attitude towards helping the team then this is reasonable gain.

  • Run 8

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping, Inside Zone/Option Play. The Slot Motions to Strong Side, leaves 5 versus 4 blocking for short gain.
    Personnel – The play is set up well but the lack of push from the line. Sharping doesn’t control the line man once Martin comes of the combo. Martin can’t even clear out a DB. Both Fulton and Howards can’t hold up on a double against Guy (93).

  • Run 9

    Scheme – 12-P Grouping Inside Power Play, FB & C to Clear 2nd level (same as Run 5) but a 6 man box.
    Personnel – Sharping and Martin Botch the combo block. Martin does a mildly better job getting to the DB but Sharping not able to set his stance, loses leverage and Cowart (99) makes the stop.

Scheme verdict – the schematics are overtly vanilla and Tim Kelly needs to better disguise the run fits pre-snap. The use of RPO’s seems to be fundamentally broken down, in terms of player decisions and any ability to fool opposing defences. The Texans need to simplify and refine some of the technique taught and hone in on a variation of a few plays they can master. If they are given the right set up at the line and defensive look, they could benefit form motions, use of pitch plays and QB designed runs. If they stack up the possibilities defences will need to consider be key in creating space, as they can’t do it on a purely talent basis.

Personnel Verdict – Nick Martin and Sharping need to work out, when Martin comes off the Combo-Block to reach the second level how they ensure the rusher remains blocked. As this was an issues on 3 of the 9 plays. They don’t have the talent to run outside zone due to lack of agility and the limited playing strength of the Centre and Guards, limits the leverage to maintain blocks hold or gain push at the line clearing A&B gaps. Brandon Cooks lack of blocking killed two plays so not running to his side would sensible.

Final Thoughts – The running games outlook appears bleak and there are too many issues to fix mid-season. The biggest failing is the coaching of Mike Devlin. These linemen and the unit as a whole have regressed and it’s hurt this team. Being selective when over matching opponents in the box and taking advantage of those looks may be the only way to stay balanced. The run game will have to be redistributed into screens, dump-off and running back routes, to consistently move the ball and be less reliant on the BQ dropping back in the pocket.

The 2021 outlook will need to move on from Fulton and possibly Martin if they can find a way around his 8.75mill cap number. However, assessing these players who’ve been coached so poorly could easily be deemed unfair.

Rare Blue Skies Above As The Texans Shine Against Former Mentors

The 2020 season hasn’t taken the shape that many would have predicted at its outset but Sunday provided some future hope. The infamous NRG stadium roof was left ajar above the field, on a day where Texans posed as a team with a new lease of life.

The 27-20 win wasn’t only marked by the sublime passing attack of Watson’s offence, the defence also imposed themselves to seal the third win of the season. Lead by a career-best performance from Justin Reid who dawned every bit of the swashbuckling safety, that the third-year Stanford man is billed to be. His day was highlighted by three TFL’s and career-first sack on Patriots Quarterback Cam Newton. It provided a much welcomed return to form in the midst of a sub-par season to date.

The defence has undoubtedly held the team back from an improved record of 3-7. Though it appeared the vociferous press conference of co-ordinator Anthony Weaver translated to the field. The Texans held a top-three rushing attack to 86 yards which acted as the catalyst for the unit. On a day that was clouded by an uncharacteristic slew of penalties for New England, the Texans bar the two Touchdown drives, held firm.

The day will likely be remembered as Johnathan Greenard’s first sack, the 4 batted passes by JJ Watt or the stop of fourth down as Weaver continued calling double safety blitzes. A call that New England failed to provide an answer for, which ended the game on a fourth down attempt. But the manner of the defences aggression throughout was the biggest positive takeaway, as they held in to give the offence a chance to play with the lead for much of the day.

Sunday wasn’t without its hitches as Randall Cobb appears set to miss time with a toe injury and PJ Hall will miss the remainder of the year with a torn pectoral. The former Sam Houston State DT, will be a candidate for the new coaching staff to bring back, after flashing this year as a waiver pick-up.

Against his mentor, Watson looked imperious in the first half, almost completing 80% of his passing attempts. The acknowledgment of the failing run game was channelled in allowing Deshaun to find 9 different target for 344 yards. Scoring three first half touchdowns, the second of which was a barnstorming run by Watson who dragged two defenders into the endzone with him. That play typified the offence’s intent in the first half. Jordan Atkins would have sealed his 88 yard day, if it weren’t for the missed tripping call as he broke free with no defenders in sight. The Texans were forced to settle for a field goal and the defence duly complimented them with a stop, so Houston could kneel out the contest.

The Texans will now travel to kick-off the Thanksgiving triple-header, in Detroit, a team that is fresh off being shut-out against Carolina’s back-up QB, PJ Walker. Building from this win and delivering another is now the Texans challenge. As the players and coaches can build some additional credibility before the next phase of Houston football in 2021.

Questioning Cal’s Passive Stance – As The Texans Appeared To Be Collapsing From Within

Cal McNairs comments prior to the trade deadline, were deemed naive and it seemed yet more blind faith being bestowed in those who don’t deserve it.

The hesitance to move salaries off the books, is admirable at a time when revenues are dipping, but there’s been no sign of spending cuts, quite the opposite. The Texans, at 2-6, are the most expensively assembled team, in terms of 2020 cash flow. What is behind the hesitance to save cap dollars, isn’t necessarily clear for a disappointed fan base. As the remaining games leave little to play for, it appears more hope is emanating from the owner than most football people would logically conclude.

There’s little doubt that personnel moves have set this team back, at a minimum, of two years. There’s no overlooking the fact that Cal deserves his share of blame for allowing these moves to happen, as the team has drowned in the current of the NFL’s premier talent, faced early on the schedule.

There are talented players on the offence, the most investment a single unit has seen at any point in team history, across the draft, trades and free agency. Although this has been wholly at the expense of an ailing defence which continues to undermine their fortunes every Sunday. Regardless if the investment had been astutely acquiring talent, their inability to win appears to be evermore routed in poor coaching and schematics.

(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

As will be common for these preceding years, many of the teams issues will be born out of the decisions O’Brien was allowed to make. The position coaches, bye-week interviews were particularly telling. Many of these coaches have limited track records but were hired due to perceived alignment to O’Brien’s sought personality or footballing philosophy.

When considering the lack of player development, there will be little for these coaches to proclaim at their next interviews, once they’ve are inevitably relieved of their duties, come the close of Week-17. Many players, particularly the skill positions, haven’t been drafted and moulded into quality starters. Look no further than Jordan Thomas, Keke Coutee, D’onta Foreman, Jalen Strong or Braxton Miller as concrete examples over a number of seasons and coaches.

Ultimately, too many players have left the building no better at football than when they arrived. 

Also there is the clear issue of the scheme, which hems in the talent of the Texans skill players. This offensive line still suffers form the same fundamental issues they faced when their talent was arguably far more sparse. The constant has been re-appearing mistakes and wildly variable levels of play. It’s often point towards “the fundamentals” – something the players cannot improve upon, with the absence sufficient coaching. For too long, Texans players have been devoid of the requisite standard to be successful at this level.

Not many coaching staff’s around the league would still have Danny Barrett and Mike Devlin around considering how these units have failed. As the Texans have been held back due to their inability to run the ball in 2020, despite the pass attack’s ability.

The biggest win for this offence, retention of said skill players aside, could be accurately assessing a running back’s fit and implementing a scheme that gets the best out of their available talent. Adding Watson’s ability to that, it’s difficult to see how that wouldn’t improve their offensive output, in the years ahead.

Though it cannot be misunderstood, this team will never be in a position to progress unless it removes Jack Easterby and allows the next regime to flourish. His actions continue to implode this organisation and detract from its ability to improve. His firings of Brian Gaine, Chris Olsen and now Amy Palcic, are clear indications that he should not been given such autonomy when every moves strikes universal uproar. Just as these coaches done, just their mistakes are week by week and shown on a third down, rather than a media headline.

Again, all of these have been under Cal’s watch as he seems to be developing a sizeable list of moves, which are becoming even more egregious in the eyes of their fans and on lookers alike. He continues to pay people who aren’t able to help this team to win, swiping the prime years of Deshaun Watson.

If Cal can oversee a search that can attain effective levels of coaching, then and only then, they may stop holding back a star quarterback and build towards a level of sustained success, in a quest for an inaugural championship. But correcting this team’s course off the field, appears to be more imperative before they derail their efforts of the new regime, prior to even being hired.