Houston Texans: So Close and Yet So Far
What a strange season it was for the Houston Texans as they finished 10-6 and made it to the NFL Divisional round, but it did not come without its ups-and-downs. Most notably the season will be remembered for blowing a 28-0 lead to lose by 20 against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, ultimately a team which was widely derided to start the season won their division and led the eventual Super Bowl Champions by 28 points during essentially the Quarter Finals. While there is some soul searching to be done, there is also a lot to be proud about.
General Manager: Bill O'Brien
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien
While much of the internet were calling for his head as a head coach and acting GM of the team, the Texans wet and made O’Brien their full time duel head coach and GM. O’Brien the GM still has a lot to prove. He traded Jadeveon Clowney away for very little rather than pay him, then gave up a lot to acquire Laremy Tunsil, who they now need to pay. Time will tell what the master plan is from O’Brien, but right now he is the man in command of this franchise.
As a head coach O’Brien takes a lot of stick. A big part of that is the sometimes embarrassing ways this team manages to lose, but overall the results in Houston have been solid. O’Brien has been head coach for six seasons now. In that time the Texans are 52-44, but have just one losing season and have won their division four times. On a simply surface level this team has been relatively successful under O’Brien. The real doubt lies whether he can lead them to consecutive playoff wins, with a 2-4 record in the postseason as head coach.
Cap Space: $55.2 million
Entering this offseason the Texans cap situation is in a comfortable space, but they have options to improve it if they desire. Cutting J.J. Watt could clear $15.5m and while unlikely his injury history could make it a discussion point. Similarly, cutting another injury prone player in Will Fuller could save just over $10m in cap. However, the impact of both these players on the field means that they are unlikely to be going anywhere this offseason.
Laremy Tunsil ($10.35m) is going nowhere after they traded a first round pick for him, but the former first-round pick they claimed off waivers, Vernon Hargeaves is a juicy cut option with a cap saving of $9.5m. Additionally, parting ways with receiver Kenny Stills ($7m) and guard Zach Fulton ($7m) could open up another chunk of space. Another $7m could be opened up if they cut running back Duke Johnson and defensive end Angelo Blackson, both of whom should receive serious consideration as cut candidates.
As you can see the Texans have a wonderful combination of space and further flexibility. For as badly as this team gets talked about, they have a fantastic situation financially with Deshaun Watson still on his rookie deal.
Impending Free Agents
The Texans free agent situation is also reasonably friendly. Bradley Roby and Jonathan Joseph offer a lot of experience at the corner position, which is one area of concern they will want to address. I would expect to see one of them return, or a veteran addition arrive as cover. Chris Harris should set the market at $11m, meaning the Texans are looking at around $8-10m to keep one of them in house.
They have two backs heading to free agency in Carlos Hyde and Lamar Miller. Current indications would hint that one of those is coming back to provide continuity in the backfield. However, Hyde demonstrated this season that it is possible to step straight into this offense from the outside.
D.J. Reader may be the biggest name on the list. Reader has been a solid contributor in the middle of this defense. He should be one of the more in demand defensive tackles in the league and could command more than $10m.
Major Need: Cornerback
One concern the Texans have is that they still have plenty of holes and not many draft picks to fill them. The offensive line is an issue, but so is corner, especially if Roby and Joseph leave. Even if one stays they will need a reliable second option, because Hargreaves has yet to prove he can be that. The 2020 NFL Draft has a lot of corner talent, and there are some solid names on the free agent market. The Texans need to be able to stop teams like the Chiefs moving the ball at will on their secondary.
Major Need: Defensive Line
Both the offensive and defensive lines need work for sure, but arguably the defensive side actually needs more. They simply cannot rely on Watt to be a full season pass-rusher for them any more. Equally, if Reader leaves, they need a big body in the middle of their defensive line. With Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes in their conference getting to the quarterback and being stout against the run is going to be vital in the upcoming seasons. The Texans need to bolster both their run defense and their pass rush upfront. Upgrade their defensive line and their secondary this offseason and the Texans have a shot to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2020.
Image credit: Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports