I understand that it is awfully inconvenient to have things thrust in to your lap. My father, too, is deceased. I had to deal with a trailer in Wimberley, Texas. You have to deal with a professional sports franchise. These are very different things, but they’re each something we have shown little interest in beyond making sure money could be accumulated from them. I don’t begrudge you that, sports aren’t for everybody.
I hope this finds you well. Your head football man in the building has made one of the worst trades I have ever seen in my life, a trade that betrays such a lack of understanding about how the NFL works that he deserves to be fired instantaneously for it. A trade that, if it had happened in a fantasy football league, would be vetoed. Your boy just took one of the highest-profile days in NFL history — a day where absolutely nothing is happening in the middle of a pandemic except NFL free agency — and nuked it by trading Nuk. This is a trade where fan backlash is not only expected, but understandable given DeAndre Hopkins’ obvious impact in the community and as a leader.
I will walk you through this step-by-step and try not to get too footbally on you for it, since it is obvious by your actions that you don’t care all that much about the sport.
1 — Trading DeAndre Hopkins in and of itself should have brought a windfall
DeAndre Hopkins is turning 28 in June. He’s an All-Pro wide receiver and has been one of the top five receivers in the NFL for essentially every year of his career after his rookie season. He is anchored to a contract that was market value when it was signed, but is now actually a startling bargain. With three years left at around $13 million per season, almost none of it guaranteed, Hopkins essentially was making $4-5 million less on average than recently-signed top receivers like Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill. It was a situation that was ripe to be addressed.
This was offered and leaked as an excuse by your general manager after the fact, but it was pretty obviously fair that Hopkins should be asking about more money. And it betrays a stunning lack of acumen by your general manager that he didn’t anticipate that and take care of it earlier.
Instead, your general manager leaked a bunch of poor reasons to Football Morning in America why Hopkins should be traded, then traded him for pennies on the dollar later that morning.
Hopkins’ numbers weren’t as explosive as they were last year because there were games where a large number of his targets — such as the ones in Kansas City — came as an underneath option. That didn’t make him any less good when he actually went deep. He averaged 9.5 yards per target on the typical deep throws — deep crosses, sluggos, outs, go routes — on 32 targets. He averaged 17.4 yards per post route with only three incompletions in 12 targets. (All numbers per Sports Info Solutions.) It is not really DeAndre Hopkins’ fault that his head coach did not utilize him more in those areas this past season.
Moreover, the article above speculates that the Texans could be looking at a first-round pick back. The Texans received the 40th overall pick. This is the kind of player where, if you trade him, you should be getting multiple high-round assets, just as the Texans had to do when they were trading for Laremy Tunsil. Instead, the general manager dealt a high-quality, high-character player on an affordable contract for exactly one asset that mattered. Now, yes, it’s a great draft for wide receivers, but that’s no guarantee that the Texans are going to pick the right one. That they are confident that they will is somehow even more terrifying.
2 — Your general manager traded DeAndre Hopkins because he didn’t like him
With character expert Jack Easterby on board — big thanks on that one by the way, really important to an outside source that we have to filter tape-watching through an arbitrary system of how good the player makes you feel as a football team — the Texans have begun to wildly overevaluate how much they care about the character of a player. DeAndre Hopkins, of course, was rumored to not be much of a practicer:
But in evaluating that this small section of Hopkins was not worth the full price of Hopkins, the Texans have made a complete liability out of their wideout corps. They also underrated Hopkins’ leadership and toughness, which is something that was on display both in anonymous quotes from other Texans players and when he stepped on the field in the playoffs with cracked ribs:
A good leader finds a way to meld with his employees and operate them into his system. If your head coach can’t find a way to integrate his values system around DeAndre Hopkins — the man who gives a ball to his blind mother on every touchdown — Cal, maybe your head coach’s and Jack Easterby’s value system is obtuse, idiotic, and pedantic. Have you thought about that?
3 — Your head coach is going to ask David Johnson to run zone and he’s going to be shocked when it doesn’t work
David Johnson, in 2019, ran the ball in a zone-blocking look 44 times and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Only four of those carries gained more than 10 yards, and none of them gained more than 20. In 2018, on zone blocking looks, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry on 156 attempts. A main reason behind his success in 2016 was that Bruce Arians put him in a situation to succeed: He ran a lot of gap plays. To put that in comparison with Carlos Hyde — Hyde averaged 4.4 yards per zone run in 2019. (All numbers from Sports Info Solutions.)
Even if we were to completely isolate away the part of this trade where DeAndre Hopkins got dealt for nothing, you can only buy low on a player if he fits your scheme. Bill O’Brien’s high-zone run game is a poor fit for what David Johnson does best. I would be sitting here criticizing this move even if Hopkins hadn’t been part of the deal and the Texans absorbed his cap space for a fourth-round pick.
Johnson is also going to be 29 in December — last legs days for a running back. He’s an excellent receiver, but that’s just duplicating the ability of Duke Johnson, who was a) already on the roster and b) they traded a third-round draft pick for last offseason.
So this part of the trade demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of how the NFL works on multiple levels: old running backs are often not worthwhile, big contracts for older running backs are bad, and an inability to understand why Carlos Hyde was valuable for the Texans last season. Make no mistake that the reported two-year, $10 million offer Hyde turned down will probably be the best offer he has in about two months. Instead of understanding that and letting Hyde go out there and price himself on his own, the general manager is taking a major gamble on a player that was a healthy scratch on the Arizona roster at times last season and who has never shown he can do what the head coach wants his backs to do.
4 — The fallout
Listen, I know this is hard to believe, but your fans have lives outside of their feelings about the Texans, Cal. We’re all about to go through hell together. Even if we haven’t fully shut down everything yet, I think it’s pretty clear the direction in which social distancing is heading. The country is about to suffer for probably a good four or five months, many of your fans will come out of this impoverished (worst case) or propped up by some sort of UBI (best case). They’re going to be uneasy about crowds and they’re not going to have a lot of disposable income.
Even before that, there was always an aura of cynicism about the Texans in this crowd. We’re all sick of what we’re being told to wait for, some grand implementation of Patriots South that somehow the head coach and general manager seems to bungle every season.
So let me set aside the football aspects of the move, what Hopkins is worth, what you think you can get in the draft, the fact that we’re undoubtedly going to watch DeAndre Carter get 125 targets next year because he’s a good practice player, and let me lead with this:
This trade is like hocking a loogie in the face of every Texans fan.
It is trading one of the most-revered players in the city, someone who plays wideout like an artist, away for beans. It is impossible to tell anybody that you’re trying your hardest to win when you make a trade like this, where you give up an All-Pro wideout who you had no financial reason to get rid of.
So, even with Deshaun Watson in tow, I would not be at all surprised if come November there are a lot of empty seats at NRG. I don’t dabble in the corner of Texans Twitter that talks about how the fans need to stop showing up to send a message, as if that matters to you — this is just a projection based on what I’m seeing the country go through — but I would not at all be surprised if after the initial boost of actually having a sports event to go through, NRG showed up mostly dead later in the season.
Cal, come get your boy. He’s in over his head, everyone can see it.
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