During the recent Monday Night Football humiliation of the Houston Texans by the Denver Broncos, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden attempted to come to the defense of Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler. Discussing Osweiler’s troubling inability to get the ball to star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Gruden spoke about just how difficult it is for quarterbacks and receivers to develop chemistry.
What Gruden failed to mention in this attempt to bolster Osweiler was that in his four seasons in the NFL, Hopkins has also been on the receiving end of passes from Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Case Keenum, Tom Savage, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer and Brandon Weeden. Last year alone, Hopkins caught a total of 111 passes that were thrown by Hoyer, Mallett, Yates and Weeden for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. Absolutely zero of these quarterbacks would ever start for a legitimately good football team. Yet it’s only Osweiler who has struggled to connect with Hopkins.
Brock Osweiler was the big free agent signing of the NFL offseason despite accomplishing little in his four seasons with the Denver Broncos. Osweiler did start seven games for Denver last season, going 5-2 in the process, but that was more the result of Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak's dumbing down his offense, cutting back on the passing while relying on his running game and a stifling defense. When Peyton Manning was deemed healthy enough to return to the lineup, Osweiler was sent to the bench even though Manning had difficulty throwing the football more than five yards.
So it should surprise no one that Osweiler is an awful quarterback for the Texans. Well, no one but the brain trust of the Texans, including owner Bob McNair, who is seen as primarily being the driving force of the four-year, $72 million (two years guaranteed at $37 million) contract that brought Osweiler to the Texans. McNair, however, says that Osweiler’s struggles are to be expected because he’s essentially a rookie.
And it’s that statement of McNair’s more than anything else that speaks to everything that is wrong with the Houston Texans. Bob McNair has proven to know nothing about football, and he seems okay with that, and as long as he keeps making money off Houstonians, he’s got absolutely no impetus to make things better.
The only smart hire that McNair has ever made was Dom Capers, his first coach, who had been the original head coach of the Carolina Panthers and who guided that franchise to the NFC title game in just the organization’s second year of play. But McNair saddled Capers with Charley Casserly, who
had never been the general manager of an NFL team and had never been involved with an expansion franchise. Casserly drafted a quarterback, David Carr, with the team’s very first pick, then, except for Andre Johnson, Casserly failed time after time to provide Capers or Carr with a solid offensive line or more weapons for Carr to employ.
Casserly’s replacement, Rick Smith, was picked because it was thought he would be a good complement to Gary Kubiak, the so-called offensive-minded genius who was hired to replace Capers. Yet somehow the Texans continued to struggle on offense when facing really good teams, and have continued failing to address the need for an elite quarterback. Maybe the team wouldn’t have had to spend so much money on Osweiler if Rick Smith were more competent and had drafted Derek Carr several seasons ago. But Smith whiffed, just like he always whiffs. This may not even matter, because McNair just keeps extending Smith’s contract because front office continuity is more important than assembling an elite team.
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The Texans are the textbook definition of mediocre. This is season number 15, and in all of that time, the team has made the playoffs only three times. It has a 102-103 all-time record (2-3 playoffs). There have been seven losing seasons and two 8-8 seasons, and the team has won more than nine games only twice. In those 15 seasons, there have been only two truly great players associated with the team (Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt). DeAndre Hopkins has the potential to be great, and Arian Foster burned brightly for a few years before being destroyed by injuries.
And the man who keeps signing off on the mediocrity is Bob McNair. He’s hired the coaches. He’s hired the general managers. He’s signed guys to contracts. But the stadium continues to sell out. The team continues to dominate all media coverage (including being named the best professional franchise in Houston) even though the Astros and Rockets continuously make gutsy moves not just to make the playoffs, but to win championships.
The Texans are 5-3 halfway through this season. They have beaten up on some crappy teams, and they’ve been embarrassed by the elite teams. The Texans will likely make the playoffs by virtue of playing in the AFC South. And once there, they’ll likely be embarrassed again. Bob McNair will be okay with this again. He shouldn’t be, but if it’s been okay for 15 years, then there’s no evidence it’ll ever change.
Update, November 8, 11:30 a.m.: An error was made when discussing Charley Casserly, the first GM of the Texans. While Casserly had never been involved with an expansion franchise, he did take over from Bobby Beathard as GM of the Redskins which did win a Super Bowl, with a team assembled by Beathard and head coach Joe Gibbs. But the team quickly fell apart following that Super Bowl, and Casserly's record as Washington's GM was a mediocre 89-86-1 with only four playoff appearances in 10 seasons.