What competition means for the Houston Texans

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.


Something that became very evident in the pre-free agency scuttle for the Texans is that they believed heavily in the idea of “competition.” It’s something that David Culley preached in his latest presser, when he said “Competition makes everybody better, and you’re always trying to do that through free agency. You do that through the draft, and that’s a yearly thing, and that’s something that we’re trying to do right now.” It’s something that became apparent via Nick Caserio’s interview with Sean Pendergast and Seth Payne when he said that he was aiming for “singles” and “doubles” in free agency.

A feeling I am getting from a lot of the fanbase is that they are somewhat miffed that the Texans aren’t being given more credit for their moves. They want to talk about improving the culture and, to Houston’s credit, they’ve done a good enough job selling the idea of competition that several fans have begun parroting that idea to me. It’s a nice little dopamine hit to make real changes! I certainly don’t think anybody can be “upset” at what has happened in free agency. I have my idea: I would rather have signed a young player with some room to grow like a William Jackson or Carl Lawson than eight special teamers. But what we don’t know — or I should say, what we only know implicitly — is how free agents with actual options viewed the Texans.


So let’s make a distinction then: My major issue with the Texans offseason is that I think they should have hoarded money to sign more guys like Desmond King and Phillip Lindsay — guys who slipped through the cracks of real free agency — instead of spending in advance of free agency on David Johnson, Justin Britt, and Mark Ingram. They pre-determined their strategy and it felt like they got caught off-guard a bit by the market.

As I write this on Sunday night, Jadeveon Clowney is still a free agent. I know he comes with warts, and you should too, because he is unsigned in free agency after a few weeks for a reason. But he’s only 28, has shown the ability to be a core player for a team in the past, and could rebuild value here. I felt the same way about Sammy Watkins before he was signed on Friday night. Malik Hooker and Al-Quadin Muhammad are extremely young off rookie contracts. Maybe they see these guys and are trying to pounce — they’ve certainly treated the salary cap like it’s not much of an obstacle so far with the amount of restructures they’ve done. I would have prioritized that over what the Texans did in their opening free agency salvo.

But my main objective to what the Texans have done is that it gets harder and harder to pull someone like that from a salary cap standpoint when you’ve signed five different linebackers/special teams players to have a competition. Likewise, when it comes time to pull undrafted free agents — a place where the Texans can actually potentially sign guys who will matter for four years instead of one — the amount of depth that the Texans have signed may make it hard for them to grab a deep class.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to have a competition. Bill O’Brien absolutely would have been better served to have competitions at times instead of sticking his favorites in their spots. The Texans will also draft players that will come in and provide extra competition at some of those spots as well. Special teams play will get better as an obvious emphasis point. You’d hope that bottom-of-the-roster play would get better as well, though that’s really about the evaluations.

But the thing about competition in the NFL is that when you do it with veteran free agents it is just a band-aid, and this team as currently constructed, without Deshaun Watson, will not benefit much from all these marginal improvements. They will improve, but they will improve from two wins to three, or three wins to four, or five wins to six with an extremely optimistic outcome as far as coaching and health goes. It’s not exactly what you’re hoping for if, say, your best-case season outcome for the team is to get the No. 1 pick. (I wouldn’t say I’m one of those people, by the way, but you still need a credible quarterback solution if Watson’s allegations do not lead to him somehow starting for this team in September.)

The real problem here — and the reason I would favor just hitting the salary floor this year if I couldn’t load up on the Clowneys and Watkinses of the world — is that once the competition is done here this year, they’re done. This team does not have many current paths to long-term roster improvement because of the Laremy Tunsil trade. Deshaun Watson is only on the roster in spirit, and may eventually give some new players in this box via trade. Outside of that, Lonnie Johnson, Charles Omenihu, Max Scharping, Ross Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard, and Tytus Howard are the only players under 27 with an inside track to a starter role that are guaranteed to still be on the roster in 2022. I don’t think many of those guys have star-level ascensions to come — I think we would have seen more from them by now if they did. That’s not to say that they can’t be very effective players, good starters, and so on. But I doubt there are multiple Laremy Tunsils or DeAndre Hopkinses or J.J. Watts in that group. You might find one, if you’re lucky.

Justin Reid, Jordan Akins (not appearing in this photo because he’s 30 and had a minor league baseball career), Jacob Martin, Keion Crossen, P.J. Hall, Buddy Howell, and Keke Coutee are going to be free agents after the year. That is a major problem with not giving your young players snaps and space to develop and calling it “not a rookie year” and blaming a lack of readiness on not having enough offseason reps like an imbecile. The only young player in this entire free agency class that’s gotten snaps is Vernon Hargreaves, and Hargreaves has proven time and time again he doesn’t deserve them. (That’s something that happened after O’Brien left, too, by the way, when Romeo Crennel continued to make sure young players never sniffed real playing time.) I don’t know how good any of those players are except for Reid. If the ethos is to simply get enough veterans to not rely on young players, well, those players aren’t going to develop.

If I’m Desmond King, why am I here for more than a year if the Texans don’t blow me away with an offer? They’re still fairly likely to not have a good team barring a complete change of heart on the trade stance by Watson. You get an in, and an in is something, but if your team is barren, players understand they’re not actually winning much here. If you can’t offer winning, or stars that promise wins, or youth, anyone with an option off the ship will probably take it unless you overpay them. If I’m Kevin Pierre-Louis, and I turn 30 in October as I’m going 5-12 while having a good off-ball linebacker season, do I want to be back here in 2022 or do I want to try to get a ring while I still can?

So I would prefer to flood the roster with UDFAs, make it more likely that you hit one, and if you do, suddenly, that’s an asset. If UDFAs don’t face a lot of competition to make a roster, by the way, that’s often a selling point to their agents! (The talent level matters too, which is why the Texans will still be attractive to some players, but I think the best way to approach this is on a grander scale, understanding that these things won’t always work out.) The Patriots in recent years have signed J.C. Jackson, Adam Butler, Jacob Hollister, Kenny Moore, Jakobi Meyers, Cre’Von LeBlanc, and Jonathan Jones out of UDFA spots. If Houston could get four or five undrafted free agents out of this class that have starter upside, that would be a huge coup for them.

Now, could that happen anyway? Maybe! But I would argue that priming the pump for that is the best use of Houston’s resources right now. I would argue that a UDFA special teamer who struggles Weeks 1-12 while he learns the NFL speed and comes on in the last month of the season is more valuable than anything Terrence Brooks could give them. That’s no slight on Brooks’ value or talent, that’s just an admission to the way the NFL economic model currently works. By flooding the roster with veterans that will eat offseason reps, the Texans are creating roadblocks for youth that could suddenly step up.

That’s a willful choice, and it’s one that remains consistent from the O’Brien administration. Maybe it works out in a positive way and someone flips a pick for some of these players at the trade deadline. I think a more realistic view of where the Texans are at would show that they would be better served letting the youth on the roster settle how good they are on the practice field and preseason, and then living with the inconsistency for 17 weeks. Trying to buffer the roster into five- or six-win territory doesn’t do them a lot of good as long as the quarterback questions remain unanswered.


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The dynamic of fandom and Deshaun Watson’s sexual misconduct allegations

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.


When Ben Roethlisberger was accused of raping Andrea McNulty, what I remember the loudest from those days is the lashing out that Pittsburgh fans engaged in online. This came in a few different ways, be it discrediting the accuser, harassing the media that was covering the story, or the more benign “say it ain’t so” tact that heads straight down to denial.

With Deshaun Watson, I don’t see a lot of that. I’m sure some of that is because we are entering into a more civilized era of choosing to believe women when they allege something like this. I’m sure some of it is because the Steelers have bars in big cities with a bigger fanbase than the Texans have as a general concept. I’m sure there’s a racial tint to it, as there usually is. But I think most of it is because Watson has chosen the path of spiritual teamlessness and most of the people who would be in his corner in this way are mainlining Desmond King interception VODs and trying to talk themselves into the Texans winning six games instead of four.

If I put away the analyst hat and put on the fan hat for a paragraph or two, it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced. Imagine you spend half of a decade post-Matt Schaub hoping for any kind of good quarterback play, let alone the kind that melts faces like Watson does. What he did in 2020 was something that, paired with that level of team success, is impossibly rare. Also, because of his totally understandable decision to pull his levers to get away from Texans upper management, something that is almost impossible to celebrate properly. While I don’t take it personally in any way that Watson wants out, well, am I supposed to celebrate having what we longed for over many years getting instantly yanked out of Houston the second it appears? Am I supposed to make highlight VODs that will get 300,000 Twitter views while people @ him with their fanboy jersey swap pictures?

Then there’s an accusation. Then there’s three. Then there’s 13 and 10 more women being talked to. It’s very hard to believe that it’s an isolated incident when there’s 13.


One of the things I struggle with the most as a self-editor is dealing with how I am supposed to treat players objectively and fairly. I know that Vernon Hargreaves has been very bad by almost any empirical or eye-based test that is public knowledge. I was raised on a background of Baseball Prospectus snark. I marinated at Football Outsiders, where we have written sharp-sounding things that have aged dull over the years. (For instance, I remember being called out in a predictions piece a couple of years ago about how I believed Antonio Brown would underperform with the Raiders because he seemed like he’d “left the reservation,” because that probably wasn’t a great choice of words. And I accepted that and asked for an edit.) At the heart of the job, there’s an acknowledgement that certain players aren’t good enough for the role that struggles with the idea that you need to find an entertaining way to say it without actually ravaging the player. It’s a hard line to walk and one that I haven’t always been great at.

So I think Hargreaves is terrible at the job the Texans ask him to do. He’s still in the 99.8th percentile of all football players, ever, by virtue of being an NFL journeyman in 2021. He’s obviously trying his hardest and has impressed someone at some level, because the Texans keep employing him. There’s an overwhelming drumbeat of positivity coming from the team itself about him, because the team isn’t going to put out anything negative about their own employees.

In the pandemic era, if a player doesn’t control the media about themselves by injecting themselves into it, what we get are surface-level insights. I know that Hargreaves laughs a lot when he’s on the field because he was mic’d up that one time last season. But if you asked me if I thought Hargreaves was a good person? I’ve got no idea. In fact, because of the things he talks about and the thought that I’ve seen him take on answers when taking questions, I’d be more inclined to say that Justin Reid is a good person. Only one of those guys called me an asinine punk on Twitter last year, and it wasn’t Hargreaves. But what I know about Hargreaves are some things he did. What I know about Reid is a little closer to a story. That doesn’t mean I’m tight with him, it just means he’s put a personality out there that I can empathize with.

And it is much the same way with Deshaun Watson. I’ve covered him for the better part of three years and the personality he’s put out there has been engaging and driven. He’s not afraid to promise the moon to the fanbase. He’s not afraid to straight up say that the culture needs to change. He’s not afraid to break down why how the Panthers were defending him worked and why how the Falcons were defending him didn’t. Outside of admiring his football prowess and understanding of the game both on and off the field, though, I don’t know much about who he is as a person. I know things he did: buy a house for his mom, start his own foundation, write a book. But there aren’t exactly unguarded 75-minute sessions of him shooting the shit with his friends. He hasn’t dialed me up and told me 10 Things He Hates About Jack Easterby and his entire trade pref list while we’re both cooking dinner.

Ultimately, the feelings that the player creates on the field becomes most of the fan sentiment around them. I think Brennan Scarlett is one of the best people the Texans employed over the past couple of years. I think Whitney Mercilus is a terrific speaker and a 100% team guy. 95% of the conversation I read about either player over the last six months is “thank God he’s gone” or “we’ve got to find a way to get rid of him.” At the same time, the feelings the player creates when they speak add sentiment for me. But those are just two layers in trying to figure out who someone is and what they’re capable of.

So, back to Hargreaves. I try to be kind. I try to wrap criticism of him more towards the people who keep playing him and employing him on this team. I try not to just scream out from the rafters that this guy sucks. But obviously, his level of play impacts a lot of how we feel about him. That’s just natural for anybody; fan, coach, general manager, beat writer, or whatever. If Hargreaves had 12 allegations about anything, he wouldn’t be a Texan right now.

Watson’s play and football mind impacts a lot of how I feel about him, and I think that’s natural. It’s also natural to want to give the benefit of the doubt about something like this when you like someone and want them to succeed.

This is why I’ve mostly tried to practice silence.


My major reaction to the sexual misconduct accusations of Deshaun Watson has been pretty simple: You have to separate it from football, and you have to listen. His agent said as much last week:

So, simply put, what I’ve been trying to do is listen. While I’m not conceited enough to think that all my Twitter followers are going to agree with a take that I put out there — quite the opposite, as I learn every day on the hellsite — I also don’t really want to create a pulpit about a serious legal matter. The problem is that fans generally just want the exact opposite: immediate conclusions, instantly, and often repeated at them daily.

It’s hard to find a perfect messenger when you’re trying to pick lawyers, and Tony Buzbee is far from that in my eyes. I don’t much enjoy the phrase “Tony Buzbee’s Instagram Account” entering my daily lexicon. I would have voted against him when he ran against Sylvester Turner had I still had an in-city residence to vote from. I think he’s trying to dial up public sentiment against Watson to create pressure for a settlement, knowing that an athlete can’t really undo the reputation hit that comes with this regardless of truth. That very well may be in the best interests of his clients, and I’m not going to put him on blast for it, but I don’t have to like any of it.

I am not a sources guy, and so you should take what I say with a hectare of salt, but my belief is that there’s probably some fire around this much smoke. Not saying that Watson did what was alleged. Not saying that Buzbee necessarily has good evidence about what he is alleging, or that Watson is going down in flames. Just saying that when DMs pop up wherein Watson apologizes to his masseuses about making them feel uncomfortable … that’s not the sort of thing I think would be sent about popping a boner in a session or something. It is also not the sort of thing I’d expect to see be brought out so early in the process, which makes me think there might be a lot more here.

Mike Florio came out the day that this DM surfaced and said it wasn’t a smoking gun, but he meant that from a legal standpoint. The fact that Watson made a woman uncomfortable enough for him to DM her is, to me, evidence that there’s something here.

The TexanSphere is versed with a great number of people with law backgrounds. Steph Stradley, Tim the Battle Red Blog face (who I can never figure out how seriously he takes his anonymity so I’m not going to put his last name up here), Mike Meltser, who has passed the bar in two states. Here’s one thing Meltser had to say about the situation last week:

I think that is the hinge to all of this from a legal standpoint: They’re all civil cases, so far none of the cases I’ve seen have a plaintiff who has gone to the police. There’s not anything at stake here beyond money for them. So, if you are hoping for something like an exoneration, that’s something I’d be interested in knowing the “why?” of.

But if what we’ve seen so far holds true, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if this escalates past the civil courts either.


One thing I think that society in general — and men in particular — have to get is that who someone is in public isn’t who they are in private. As humans, we generally all have flaws in one way or another. I didn’t publish this piece on Monday because I decided that watching the Houston Cougars play college basketball was more exciting to me than trying to slog through the very difficult thoughts and emotions a piece like this takes, even if it is “my job” and it would be “ideal to put a piece out on Monday.” That is a very small example of me being flawed. There are many, many, other examples.

Who Watson is to us and who he actually is to other people can be different things, and it’s not hard to square. We don’t have the intimacy required to enter that section of his life via football.

It goes without saying that the actions spelled out in this are things that nobody should do. I very much hope Deshaun Watson didn’t do them. I also don’t have a lot of reason to sit here and tell you that he didn’t, what we have right now is simply he said versus she said. There’s a helplessness to the whole thing because all I can do is spectate. This won’t be something that just goes away tomorrow. It is likely to be a pretty protracted process without a settlement — Harris County’s court systems are flowing quite slowly right now. And, well, every day we will likely read something new. All I can do is keep listening and not give in to the base reactions that bubble up.

Regardless of what happens, I think the damage has already been done to Watson’s personal brand and that there will need to be some ownership of that if he wants to move beyond it. If he wants to blanket no comment on these things, fair enough. I think that the members of his fanbase — wherever it winds up being — with a conscience are going to have weigh these lawsuits with a skeptical eye if he doesn’t speak up about it.

This initial statement was extremely strong. But as more and more of these lawsuits have popped up, there hasn’t been much in a way of a response to them. And, keep in mind, with civil suits, the easiest way to end them is to settle them. By coming up with this opening statement, we’re teetering on Not A Great Look territory if he decides to settle, right?


OK, now that we’ve ridden out 3,500 words to keep anybody but the diehards from getting this far, here are my takes on how this matters as far as commonly asked questions from a football perspective:

Is there a conspiracy?

This came up at Buzbee’s presser last week, where he said he had no idea who Cal McNair was. I can see why this particular front office would inspire people to believe that there’d be a conspiracy about this, but this kind of idea generates a lot of trails. Think of this less from the perspective of the Texans wanting to keep Watson and more from the perspective of an individual employee losing their job, potentially opening themselves up to NFL sanctions, and so on — what incentive do they have to do this? It’s an idea that catches a lot more flies before you think out all the repercussions.

No, I don’t believe there’s any conspiracy here for any NFL teams.

Is Watson’s trade value harmed?

I would say not a lot. Others would say otherwise. Here’s what John McClain wrote about it:

This was notable to me because that’s the first time I’ve seen McClain present that as “the Texans were planning” rather than “the Texans should” — but anyway, I disagree. I do think this will matter some for the very top-end of the market. I don’t think a team will be willing to trade you a Kyler Murray or Justin Herbert for Watson if these lawsuits continue to stick to Watson.

But broadly speaking, if you were getting assets before, I expect the assets to largely be unchanged. I don’t think the Dolphins and Jets can pivot to the Franchise Quarterback Store. You can either get a real thing, or you can roll the dice. It’s not surprising that a lot of the smoke coming from the well-sourced national reporters this week sort of tampered down on trade value expectations, because the people talking about the expectations aren’t the Texans, who have not talked about moving Watson at all. I could still see the Texans making a move that isn’t for enough value, but that was always an option with this front office dynamic. (And that isn’t a shot at Caserio so much as a shot at the volatility that Jack Easterby brings to the front office in my opinion.)

Did this change the timing of a trade?

Kinda depends on what you believed to begin with. I’ve never believed that the Texans were going to move Watson by the draft. Albert Breer wrote that this has frozen the trade market for buyers, too. Which, fair enough, but it takes someone to sell to be willing to buy. There’s really nothing at stake when someone who can’t buy something tells you he won’t buy it.

Where does this leave the Texans?

In an even weirder spot than before, if that were possible. By Texans Cinematic Universing the trade demand, they have run into a spot where that option might be off the table until some of these charges are settled or fought in court. And then there’s the possibility that Watson may be put on commissioner’s leave or whatever other form of self-justice the NFL wants to throw out there. It might be a cloud that hangs over this franchise for a while.

I’m actually more curious about where it leaves Watson. As recently as three months ago he was one of the brightest young stars in the NFL, nobody had a bad word to say about him. Now between these allegations and the trade demand, that public persona that he carefully crafted is being torn apart. I’m very interested to see what the reaction — if there is any — will be beyond how he and his lawyer respond specifically to the charges.


Keep listening. I really hope this turns out to be a non-story, but the more I’ve listened, the harder it has been to believe that.


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Free agency’s opening salvo shows the many different masters that Nick Caserio has to serve

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.


The Texans drowned us in a sea of small stakes content over the past few days. The Shaq Lawson for Benardrick McKinney trade struck me as inspired, and I can see ways that some of their signings work out in a positive way.

However, what struck me hardest is the strain that the Deshaun Watson/Jack Easterby dynamic has put on Nick Caserio’s pursuit of re-imagining this team. Limited resources are one thing, but the future of the franchise is effectively in flux and that’s a hard thing to present in free agency to anybody who has a real option on where they want to play next year. In other words: you can overpay free agents who have a choice, or you can watch them sign anywhere but Houston. Here’s a quick rundown of the genres I think Caserio was put up against in deciding this plan:

The Greater Easterby Fellowship

As I have pointed out on this blog several times, Cal McNair (and Bob) have a belief in building-by-consensus. “We needed [interim head coach] Romeo Crennel to focus on coaching the team. Jack Easterby is a great person, a great leader and a consensus builder, so he is who I chose to serve as our interim GM,” McNair told ESPN in November. What that means is that anybody who is in a major position of power for the team has a real vote on what happens. And what that means is, of course, Jack Easterby is allowed to have a say. I want to share the video of Seth Payne and Sean Pendergast’s interview with Caserio and focus in on what he said when asked about bringing David Johnson back:

That abstract start to the answer is nothing new for Caserio, but I think it’s very telling that he didn’t even begin to defend Johnson’s piss-poor 2020 production. He offered “production at different points.” My read of this is that this wasn’t a signing that Caserio actually loved. My read of it is that he got outvoted.

I think anybody who was on the 2019-2020 Texans in a veteran, largely unproductive role has to be looked at with an extremely skeptical eye at this point. That extends to my large amount of frustration that the team will wind up yet again have Vernon Hargreaves at corner. The depth chart in front of Hargreaves is just unsettled enough for him to again wind up playing large portions of the season despite being empirically awful at the job no matter which set of numbers you look at. The Texans have continually defended him in public, be it Anthony Weaver as defensive coordinator or D’Anton Lynn as secondary coach in his few availabilities:

I don’t want to dwell on this too much, because every organization has their favorites and Caserio is not immune to his favorites either. But when a consensus builder literally just failed in a historical way at helping shape the roster that is in place today, he probably shouldn’t have much say! Yet he does! Go Texans!

Layers and layers of players

One thing it was impossible to leave the recent David Culley or Nick Caserio pressers with was a sense that they value quantity over quality.

This is an approach that is extremely weird to me for a team that doesn’t have a lot of finished parts and, in my opinion, lends some credence to the idea that Watson’s dispute with the Texans will take a long time to settle. These small special teams-focused moves and bargain-bin replacements you hope can hold up are finishing touches on a great roster. For a roster like the one that the Texans have right now, they feel tonally off. This team isn’t a fifth-place special teams DVOA from winning anything unless Watson is here, and even then, it’s not like that kept them from being 4-12 last season.

Most of these moves are one-year deals, so the Texans have a lot of space left to pivot to something if the Watson situation gets even worse. But at the same time, if one of these guys vastly outplays his contract, the Texans get no real reward out of it. The player is right back to free agency or in Caserio’s office angling for a big raise.

When you look at the opportunity cost of signing these special teams guys, potential linebacker solutions, Mark Ingram, David Johnson, and Christian Kirksey and put it up against trying to lure an actual talented football player to the Texans and backfilling with younger players who may not do as well, I think it’s a poor choice for a team with this little talent on the roster. This team needs to be embracing the idea that it can manufacture some good value out of youth rather than treating it with skepticism. Their ability to offer young guys a chance in a churn is one of the most valuable things they have right now.

Which leads us to another major point of the shadow that the Watson-Easterby/McNair standoff envelops:

Does anybody actually want to be a Houston Texan if they have a choice?

I listen to the readers and commenters of this blog/Twitter/the greater Texansphere, and I think a lot of you are tired of hearing about the Watson situation. I empathize in that it feels like your fandom is under attack on a daily basis, even if that isn’t a fully rational feeling. The reason it remains a big deal is not just because of Watson’s obvious talent and how badly other people covet it, but also because the perception around the Texans is currently awful. Players want to play with other great players. Watson is one of them. He’s one of them who you literally can’t find a non-hot take artist to say a bad thing about. And he’s holding out. That sets a tone that is hard for free agents to ignore.

Let’s imagine any rational top-of-the-line free agent with multiple suitors looking at what he sees in the Texans situation right now. There’s the state income tax not existing; that’s real nice. But the team finished 4-12 last season and the only reason they didn’t finish 2-14 is currently something you can’t count on being there. Upper management is the biggest joke in the NFL and they essentially exist in a mindset where there is no separation of church and state. David Culley is not a head coach with a long history of success in putting guys in roles to succeed — and because of where he was plucked from, there’s no way he could have that reputation yet. Any one of those things could be a red flag to a guy like Joe Thuney, John Johnson, or William Jackson signing with the Texans. All of them? It’s a death knell. You’re gonna have to overpay them to get their interest.

So when you see a Kirksey signing, a Justin Britt signing, a Mark Ingram signing, all happening pre-free agency and over the minimum, what that tells you is that the market for those guys is limited. Indeed, none of the three of them finished last season in their team’s plans. Britt didn’t even spend any of the 2020 season on a team after his 2019 ACL tear. That doesn’t mean they can’t claw out effective seasons in the right circumstances with the right locale. But it also is indicative of the very real issues those guys had in the eyes of other NFL teams.

Ingram had a 40-yard touchdown run, untouched, against the Texans on fourth down in Week 2. That run outgained or tied five of his 10 biggest yardage days of last season and he didn’t finish the season on the active roster; he’s 31. Kirksey has played 20 games in the last three seasons and will turn 29 before the season.

Maliek Collins, who I admittedly like a little more as an upside play compared to these pre-FA guys, had no sacks last season. The details of this contract don’t even really seem to trust Collins, guaranteeing him just $2 million of the reported $6 million. If they find someone else in training camp, he could easily be cut. We don’t have the details of my favorite signing of Monday’s lot, Kevin Pierre-Louis, but his contract is “up to $7 million,” not $7 million. I like Vincent Taylor and we considered him on the FO Top Prospects List a couple years ago. He’s getting $850,000 guaranteed.

None of these guys are taking minimum deals to play here, they are here because they had sad markets in a crushed offseason. The Texans set them slightly above that.

And what that really means is…

Real talent has to be acquired through trades

The two most talented players added to the roster were added via trade on Sunday. The Texans acquired Shaq Lawson from the Dolphins for Benardrick McKinney, and they acquired Marcus Cannon from the Patriots in a series of pick-swaps.

While I’m somewhat surprised that McKinney reportedly had multiple teams interested in trading for him, I think the Texans did good to fill a real need area with Lawson. Lawson reminds me a lot of former Titans EDGE player Derrick Morgan — he’s not a consistent finisher, but he can generate enough pressure to be a good secondary rusher. Big body, looks the part outside of shorter arm length. It’s not really Lawson’s fault that the Texans don’t have a No. 1 EDGE player, so it’s unfair to judge him in that context. But he’ll deliver some sort of known floor up front.

The Cannon trade price was largely inconsequential to the bottom line unless you believe this is such a deep draft that the 109th pick should be at a premium as compared to the 120th, which I can’t really see as true. Where he plays … that’s a great question. Either he or Tytus Howard will likely move inside to right guard, which makes Zach Fulton, Britt, and Max Scharping fighting to fill two slots assuming perfect health. At the end of the day, he’s a good lineman despite no 2020 to speak of because of the COVID-19 opt-out, but he’s also 33 and is likely not a long-term fixture or a reason to feel good about moving on from Laremy Tunsil or anything like that.


This isn’t really a column in defense of Caserio’s first day of free agency. I don’t think anything greatly changed for the 2021 Texans Monday, but I don’t think the signings in and of themselves are bad ones. They’re the kind of signings where, when paired with other big moves, you can look at as low-risk stabs at production that had to be chosen in deference to the salary cap. When they are the entire sustenance of the meal? That’s like making the entire plate out of broccoli. I love a good floret or five, but you know what else I like? Protein and starch.

The thing is, there’s no way I can sit here and tell you I believe that all of this is a grand Caserio design. I do think he would have chased special teams guys either way. But beyond that? What can you really do when you general manage these Houston Texans and there’s no clarity on Watson’s future? What can you do about players and roster spots that are clearly Easterby-given? The Texans Cinematic Universe has created a stasis that makes it impossible to compete for free agents with other real options. The only solutions are more money or pre-existing relationships. They might win a medium-sized fish before this is all over, but if they do, I bet it comes because of one of those two things.

Maybe one or a couple of these guys comes out and has a nice season and it can be a bright spot in what is looking more and more likely to be another lost year. I appreciate that as these signings come down they are a dopamine hit for fans and any kind of move is viewed as a “culture shift” and even the older players can be “mentors for young players.” If you wanna get high off of that, I’m not shaming you in the slightest. But the culture has been set by upper management, and it is here to stay regardless of how many pass-rush moves Charles Omenihu learns from Lawson or what Cannon teaches Scharping about bull rushes.

This team is in a state of suspended animation until Watson is traded or appeased. The only people who don’t know it are the owner and Cal McNair.


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Glory Deflecting (How To Disappear Completely)

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.


This week the big Texans news was J.J. Watt fleeing this terrible front office and the very same front office giving David Johnson a contract for some reason. I’ve written about both of those topics at length already, so let’s instead focus in on what the Texans primed us for on Wednesday:

Jack Easterby, I will spare you the six minutes if you are busy, does not appear in this video. He has not appeared publicly since last September’s Deshaun Watson extension press conference. The only comments he has offered in public since that point are responses to Sports Illustrated exposes — and not answers, just responses. Texans in-house media goes out of their way to avoid acknowledging that he exists. Despite that, he continues to gain more and more power in the organization, having burrowed deeper into the business side of the organization after Jamey Rootes’ resignation.

I want to talk about the power dynamics of this situation because they are revealing. For the most part — Jerry Jones is a notable exception because he literally can’t help himself — owners do not make a lot of public statements. Some of that is because they employ people below them, like, say Culture Vice Presidents, to make statements for them and their team. Some of that is because, as you may have noticed under the stewardship of Cal’s father, Bob, team owners are really good at saying incredibly stupid shit and creating public relations fires. And some of the second part feeds into the first part because several owners are smart enough to know that nobody wants to hear what they want to say. Words can never override actions as far as trust lost goes, and the best way to shut up a bunch of unhappy fans is to win.

To go back to the end of the second SI article though, I want to give you the quote that matters here: “They got the owner to take the blame for everything. Never heard that.” That’s a major issue here and something that has only grown over the last two weeks: Cal McNair somehow feels like an employee at the company he owns.

Jack Easterby feels like the owner, the guy who says nothing and is letting his football people work under his parameters.


In my role as Senior Easterbyologist of the Internet I have come across many quotes in podcasts and sermons and what not that explain a lot about how all of this happened. One that strikes me as pertinent to this scenario is Easterby’s shift away from public speaking:

A term that Easterby has used in similar talks before — and a reason why he himself is practically a ghost of a person — is “deflecting glory.” By that he means that you shouldn’t want the attention of your works, you shouldn’t relish that. Instead you should deflect your glory to making others look good and, more pertinently for his past role, making God and Christianity as a whole look good.

You see this reflected (deflected?) in how the Texans have pushed their media campaign of late. The Texans are spending a lot of time talking about the community, having Cal McNair out and about on the streets, and just generally talking up his leadership:

At one point last week, here’s what the Texans website looked like as far as media videos:

The players are afterthoughts. This is a team that is about good deeds and human interest stories. Two McNair stories, one thing about twins playing each other on Thanksgiving, and another of the free agent special teams player being nominated for the Walter Payton award. OK, OK, it’s the offseason. The winter storm thing was a big deal. Let’s look at what other teams with brand new staffs are doing, though:

Some football teams, it turns out, realize that their fans care about football. Sorry, I know I’m dwelling here, but it’s jarring to realize that there’s a whole football world out there beyond the Houston Texans that understands that their fans … care about football.

When the Texans released their “Building the Texans,” video, it was immediately apparent that Easterby was doing more glory deflecting. McNair, Nick Caserio, and David Culley were all front-and-center. Each of them provided absolutely nothing to the video about what the actual plan is here, because there isn’t really a plan beyond whatever we’re living through currently is. Drew Dougherty and Deepi Sidhu telling the fans once a week that they can’t talk about the employment status of their higher-ups is literally the closest this franchise has right now to an actual connection with the fanbase. This video fell on ears that have already drowned in the toxic positivity that this organization has embraced. The result was that the social media person got ratioed, again.

Like most of Jack Easterby’s problems as an executive, this is a problem of scope. It doesn’t really matter that you’re a glory deflector when you are preaching or pursuing disciples or whatever. When you have immense power in an organization that is generally perceived as a public trust, though, you owe people explanations. You need to have accountability for your actions. You don’t get to just make an “oopsie, I lost the franchise quarterback’s trust forever” and then nothing happens.

However, when you look at who is in power here. When you look at who chartered the jet to head over and pick up Caserio, who put these plans in place for the assumed Josh McCown takeover as head coach at Some Point When David Culley’s Time Is Up, who is putting the McNairs front and center on media … you quickly realize that actually, you do get to do that. Because you are the power. You don’t have to be the owner in name, and you get to have the cake and eat it too.

It is inherently selfish for Easterby to force other people to answer for him and to hide. John McClain noted on a radio hit on Friday that he’s been trying to get Easterby to answer questions on the record since he became interim GM in early October, so it’s not like the media interest isn’t there. He talks about servant leadership, but won’t serve the fanbase.

Because he’s a coward, you see.


It’s natural to want to believe, as a fan, that something deeper than this is taking root somewhere. That Nick Caserio is going to be taking advantage of the free agency period to ink the kinds of bargain contracts this team needs. That maybe Deshaun Watson will show up and his bitterness will wither away as he spends more time away from Easterby and McNair.

Here’s what gets me: It’s not materially hard to get fans on your side. I have lived through several stupid PR campaigns about bad moves that have done their job. People to this day still believe in the Laremy Tunsil trade, even when one of the picks is third overall. They even got, I would say, at least 25-50% of their fanbase to buy the stupid-as-hell idea that wideout speed mattered more than DeAndre Hopkins. Only the very adamant fanboys are even trying the “David Johnson’s last four games mean he’s actually good!” line on me. Because this team isn’t even pushing that. Hell, they haven’t even announced Lovie Smith as the defensive coordinator yet! They have pivoted to Not Football.

I think largely we’ve been shown by this organization what they care about by what they’ve focused on first. We’ll see some mid-grade signings of people with Patriots backgrounds and maybe a player or four willing to be overpaid to have a story to tell in 2025 for his future media career. But the David Johnson re-signing told us all we needed to know about the direction of the team. They care much more about how good they’re going to make the McNairs look handing out things other people cooked than they care about creating the scenario that would make this team palatable for a superstar quarterback. One decision begets another.

Some football organizations care about football. It may just not be for this one anymore.

Perhaps if Texans fans could brand themselves as a charity in need of assistance, maybe their owner could get some valor from running the organization like he gives a damn about it.


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The Texans Cinematic Universe Presents: A David Johnson Reboot

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.


The Deshaun Watson firestorm continues to envelop the scope of the Houston Texans and what exactly they are supposed to be. While the blaze has continued, it has managed to — broadly speaking — throw a blanket on top of stories that would otherwise be major stories for the market. In normal football circles, the release of a guy who you gave up a third-round pick for less than two years ago would be a major breaking story. With the Texans, where we are still awaiting the new J.J. Watt team, seeing Will Fuller dodge the franchise tag, canvassing the scope of the Watson situation, Duke Johnson is just another plank of charred timber floating in the shipwreck. Nick Martin’s release barely registers as a surprise.

And then, there was this:

Less than a year ago, the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-rounder for David Johnson, a second-round pick, and a fourth-round pick in 2021. It’s a deal that was dead on arrival. It didn’t make sense to begin with, and the Texans somehow managed to end the 2020 season with it making even less sense than it did when it happened. Johnson was an abject disaster. Ross Blacklock provided so little value in his rookie season that the team ended the year playing UDFA Auzoyah Alufohai over him. Hopkins didn’t exactly thrive in Arizona’s offense — Kliff Kingsbury anchored him to the left side of the formation — but still played up to his talent and was a second-team All-Pro. The trade served to galvanize the rest of the players — catching the eye of Watt and reportedly being one of the first turning points of the Watson/Texans relationship — and they rallied around getting Bill O’Brien fired as the team fell to 0-4.

Not content to just sink the Texans by treating Watson like a child having a tantrum in a crowded restaurant, the Texans Cinematic Universe is now going to try to rehabilitate Johnson’s horrific season. It’s an amazing display of arrogance and belief in things that go beyond football. It is, unsurprisingly, foreshadowed by a piece I wrote before the last few games of the season. Instead of discovering what Scottie Phillips could be, the Texans finally got a few major wide-open holes for Johnson to run through and found a way to talk themselves into that meaning he was actually good the whole time.

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.

Here’s the thing: David Johnson and the Texans are not good for each other. The Texans came into last year with a plan to use Johnson as an every-down back in an inside-zone focused scheme and it floundered spectacularly. He wasn’t a main target on passing plays. Now I’ve heard John McClain talk on the radio about the possibility of, well, he takes a paycut, maybe he’s a less important part of their offense. OK, well, why does that have to be David Johnson? What about David Johnson makes him a good fit for what’s going on here, in an offense with no real stated direction as of yet? And if the Texans never resolve the Watson situation in a way that ends with him as their starting quarterback, why does it matter what Johnson gives you in a reserve role over a younger back?

Meanwhile, for Johnson, dealing with COVID-19 and the trade last year figuratively put him in therapy:

I have nothing but respect for Johnson seeking help when he needs it, but if your workplace situation ends up like this, I don’t understand why you’d be chomping at the bit to sign up for more of it. Now, it may very well be the case that nobody else in the NFL is interested in him at this point in his career. Running back retirement ages are trending pretty early. But he can’t know that right now, and to sign up for another lost season on a team going nowhere when, potentially, someone out there might have a change-of-pace role on a playoff team? It sounds like a waste of everybody’s time for him to be back in Houston.

One thing I respect a lot about the Texans Cinematic Universe is the way it is constantly generating scenarios that I would have dismissed two months ago as too on the nose to be effective satire. When this came up on Friday, many Twitter followers pointed to David Johnson’s religion as a reason that he could be kept. At this point, I can no longer approach that kind of comment with condescension because I refuse to be Freezing Cold Taked by any organization willing to go this far to desecrate itself. They’re holding on to someone in one of the worst trades in recent NFL memory — someone that, through no fault of his own, no Texans fans want to see — because they need to be right.

There’s been a lot of effort made to push the idea that Nick Caserio being in charge of football operations means a lot for this team and that he should be given a chance, but I can’t imagine this as a pure Caserio decision. To understand the Texans, I think you need to remember that both Cal McNair and, before he died, Bob McNair, preach this idea of “consensus decision-making.” What that means is that, because Jack Easterby is still in a position of power, his vote continues to matter. Nobody has more to lose from the legacy of the Hopkins trade than Easterby, who has been singled out in SI reports as the original driving force behind ditching Hopkins.

Now, maybe Caserio is the guy who thinks Johnson has some juice left. I imagine he’s the only person we’re going to get to talk to about it, because McNair can’t talk to the media without slipping on a banana peel and because Easterby is a coward. So we’re going to get the Caserio view on it eventually. But the fact that the question even has to be asked about keeping a poorly-performing remnant of a horrific trade is pretty telling about the ethos of the organization.

The Texans are post-ironic. They create ways of hurting themselves that fiction writers couldn’t invent. They’ve spent the last two weeks trying to position Cal McNair as a successful leader via heavily-edited video clips when the fact that he literally can’t speak in public is not lost on anyone who has listened to him. That’s not to say that I’m not grateful that he’s trying to help people who lost power in the storm, who are hurting, and what not — that’s way better than him being a callous ogre — but no amount of editing can hide that he is kind of a reclusive doofus. Or that the majority of the people who care about his existence care about it in so much as they want to root for a winning football team rather than a YMCA he donated to or a Sloppy Joe he handed to someone one time.

Having David Johnson remain a part of this team is a waste of Houston’s time and a waste of Johnson’s time, so I can think of no other way for this to end than with 83 more carries of him running into Zach Fulton’s back for a one-yard gain.


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