A personal story that is eventually about David Johnson’s Texans career

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.

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In 1865, the Civil War ended. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. The war was over. But not everybody wanted to believe that in Texas. The Battle of Palmito Ranch occurred in May even though the war had officially ended. The union commanding officer knew that the war was over. He fought the battle anyway.

It happens to be that, sometimes in our lives, logic is a spectator. Emotion is a driving force. Just as I can sit here and quote to you that there’s not much statistical support to the idea that momentum exists, but that a vast majority of the people who have played in the NFL will tell you that it exists and impacts the game. Logic is what we know to be right. Emotion is often driven by what we want to be right and, more importantly, what we feel.

We live in a world where the wide spread of information on the internet has created a scenario where emotion is more powerful than logic. People have so many different factoids or supporting pieces of evidence to back on to that they can present any side of a story they want to — the emotion of what they want to believe is right is more important than the logic of what is right. One informs the other, and not in the way it should most of the time.

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I’m gonna type out one of the worst moments of my life here. You are going to think I’m an idiot after you read this and I am not going to argue with you. But it shows you the power of emotion.

Both of my parents passed away in 2010 (father, drug overdose) and 2011 (mother, stroke). I was 25. I have some well-meaning family members, but for the most part, we are ships passing in the night — someone would keep me from being homeless if I asked, but conversations are rare. What I mean to say is: I was left on my own, for the first time in my life, and I was emotionally alone. Nobody that had a big impact on my life, who made it a point to involve themselves or keep tabs on me, was alive. I am very grateful, in fact, for the few friends that I had made just by writing Texans stuff. Because in a sense, that’s all I had at times.

In late 2011 and building up to 2012, I began talking to a woman that I had known for a while. I was always a big fan. When I was growing up, I tended to prefer relationships that I could pursue online. I liked that distance in it, that distance was safe. I had been hurt a lot by a lot of people growing up — some inadvertently, others not — and so I approached any kind of relationship by starting with distance, then gradually closing the gap. I knew that wasn’t logical by this point, and really harbored little hope that this woman would come into my life, but it was fun to flirt and I was quite lonely so I ate up whatever little chunks of anybody’s attention I was given. At some point there was a plan where she and her roommate were going to move to a small Texas beach town on the gulf coast, and then hey, we’d meet up a few times and see what happened. Sounded fun.

The Friday of the NFL Draft that year, I go out with some friends to watch the draft and get tanked on the belief that DeVier Posey is going to save us. (I wanted the Texans to draft Russell Wilson.) I wake up to a string of text messages from this woman panicking about her situation. That her roommate is throwing out her stuff. That she had to go find her cat in the ditch outside the place they were renting. That she has nowhere to go. And so, I made an extremely emotional decision: Nobody helps me, OK, but I will help you. I had never met this woman before.

She drives from Florida to Texas over what has to be 22 straight hours. She can’t even stop at a hotel because she has lost any form of real identification. She gets here, I steer her in from my neighbor’s driveway to my actual driveway. We embrace. It’s one of the few moments that is unforgettable in my life.

Two weeks later, maybe even less than that, it’s very clear that this isn’t going to work and that we want very different things. I’m hopped up on this idea that I finally just took a risk and let my guard down and so, well, the way that story ends in my mind is that this is The One, right? Right. So, of course, dumb things ensue. We officially “break up” in late June, a couple of days after my birthday.

I would love to tell you that this break up was amicable, but it wasn’t. It was me desecrating myself in the service of the outcome I’d already pre-determined in my head. Me inventing reasons she should stay. Me going out of my way to try to help out. She moved with me to a new place I got in late July. We fought constantly, because she believed I was not listening and because she was right that I was not listening. It’s hard to really remember now how many grievances I felt. I could have asked her to leave at any time, yet I never did.

I guess the best way to sum this up is to say that my major memory of the last couple months was me taking time off of a Monday football editing grind to take her to a (small) exploratory surgery for stomach issues (suspected Chron’s disease) that I was paying for. I pulled the car out. I asked her if she was ready for this. She screamed at me: “You’re only doing this because you want to fuck me!” I pulled back in front of the place and shouted back something along the lines of “then I have to be the dumbest fucking person on the planet,” before I left to head back inside. And reader, well, I might have been in the running.

She left in November. I was so consumed with the idea of keeping her that I assumed I would be crushed when she left. So I was startled when I felt … relief. Hours after the process. That it was just my house again. I had given up so much in an attempt to convince this woman that I cared about her, which was something she obviously never bought or considered possible. It was all I thought about for months. My car was broken during Texans training camp, which I’d finally convinced them to give me credentials for, and I just never showed up while I was dealing with all this. I look back at things like that and wonder what life could have been like had I not been so emotionally invested in trying to change something that — SO, so obviously — was never going to change. Who knows what one connection I could have made there could have meant?

Time has colored those memories and aged them in a way that made it feel less like the torture it felt in real time, when I was living it every day for four months, just someone in my house, rent-free, who wanted nothing to do with me, while I was trying to convince them otherwise. I’m glad things ended up going the way they did. At the same time, in some ways, it was almost more traumatic than losing my parents. I had never fought for something like that before, and just almost bathing in that struggle on a daily basis changed a lot about who I am. I learned a lot about how easy it is to blind yourself. I learned that none of my angst about this was worth holding on to, even in the slightest.

I learned that there are battles worth fighting, and that there are battles you need to lose.

***

There are four games left in this Texans season. The team has a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs. It would require a Titans lose-out, a Ravens lose-out, a Raiders lose-out, among other things. They’re not actually eliminated. But they’re effectively eliminated. Even in the scenario where COVID-19 forces an extra playoff team, they’re far behind several teams right now.

David Johnson has rushed for 452 yards in nine games. Be it him, his line, or the schemes, his production has been empirically amongst the worst in the NFL. The Texans are dead-last in rushing DVOA by almost 10%: -35.0% to 26.2% for the 31st-place Falcons. The trend in NFL football is such that rushing becomes less and less valuable every year — even the best teams in rushing DVOA are rushing at like 8.7% instead of say, Green Bay’s 52.2% passing DVOA — but that’s a remarkably bad number.

Johnson is set to take up $9 million in cap space in 2021. It’s very hard to imagine a scenario in which keeping him makes sense for a team that is projected to be $11 million over a $176 million cap before they even worry about what they do with Will Fuller. I’m not saying it’s impossible — Jack Easterby has a lot of dreams and he’s got more power than anybody with his track record should — but keeping Johnson for next season would be irresponsible. You could argue that certain bits of this offense make him look worse than he is, but there have been almost zero special back flashes this season. His cap figure of $9 million would rate sixth in the NFL, sandwiched between backs who have shown special flashes a lot more recently — that’s a remarkably bad number.

Yet, there he is, off IR and ready to be given a workhorse role. Even beyond that, for the beleaguered fans of this franchise, the last thing anyone needs is the constant reminder that the DeAndre Hopkins trade happened. We don’t need any reason to create more graphics ala the one FOX ran in the Green Bay game. The games don’t matter, Johnson is unlikely to play a role on the 2021 Houston Texans. I have said over and over again, I have nothing against David Johnson — it’s not his fault he’s declined, and it’s not his fault that he was involved in a franchise-crippling trade. He was trying to rehabilitate his career here and it didn’t work out. Nothing will change that now.

There’s no logical reason for him — particularly on the franchise that suddenly found Arian Foster in 2009 as a UDFA — to continue playing for this team. There’s nothing to be gained here. There are no milestones to hit. There’s no film that’s suddenly going to be weighted against his full season of performance. The die has been cast.

Hiring Romeo Crennel was a stab at trying to steer the Texans back to their normal BOB ways, and that stab failed. It has nothing to do with Romeo, because none of the problems were problems he created. He can’t make Vernon Hargreaves and Phillip Gaines into outside cornerbacks. It’s not his fault Fuller and Bradley Roby got themselves suspended. It’s not his fault the team can’t run, and the run defense finally stabilized later into his watch.

But the mindset that this team has inflicted on itself reminds me a lot of four months I lived in 2012. You see Chad Hansen and Keke Coutee come in and have some measure of success and it’s exciting. It’s all anybody wants to talk about. In a lost season, the best thing for the long-term success of the football team is to let young players play and see what they can do. This team is pathologically opposed to that.

Jon Greenard comes in and has a good 10 snaps of run defense and it doesn’t matter, because Whitney Mercilus is Our Guy. Romeo stands up at the podium and says the snaps have really helped Greenard out, but can’t just take that leap to “hm, maybe it would help everybody!” or “what if snaps but for young player?” John Reid can’t get on the field. Ross Blacklock hasn’t had a great rookie season, but Carlos Watkins is a free agent. Who knows what Watkins will do this offseason? I know that Blacklock will be here. Isaiah Coulter isn’t even allowed on the active roster.

There are many, many opportunities to create more stories like Hansen and Coutee. Tyrell Adams came out of nowhere this year and is leading the NFL in tackles since he became a starter. But this team is just stubbornly clinging to its priors in the face of — hilariously — players they didn’t think much of continually proving them wrong. Heck, when Keion Crossen has played corner, that hasn’t even been all bad.

But the heads are down, the drive to finish the season with as respectable a record as possible is in place, to own the Dolphins, or maybe to make Jack Easterby’s stock go up half a point. It’s hard to even say that what they’re doing is ruining the future, because given what we’ve seen so far with players that have been off the playing time radar, they’re actually ruining the present too. It’s prime NFL cocoon hours, and we have to have been right that David Johnson can get 100 rushing yards in an NFL game still. We can’t just accept that this is a battle worth abandoning. The only opportunity is the one in front of us: moving to 5-8 for … some reason.

These last four games of the season — outside of just having fun watching Deshaun Watson dunking on some blitzes and bad coverages or whatever — are among the most meaningless games in franchise history. All I want to see as someone who covers the team is some good performances from young players who are going to be here next year. Something to dream on. We appear to be being denied even that. They’ve already decided who was tough, smart, and dependable. We just have to live with the consequences.

I can’t wait until someone who actually cares about the future of this franchise on the football side is in the building again. That will be a relief.

More battles will be fought. The war is over.

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