They say good things come to those who wait. I don't know if Bill O'Brien's pre-draft press conference fits under the "good category" for most Texans fans, but there is no doubt that the wait to hear from the Texans' supreme leader was long and frustrating. It took over a month for O'Brien to finally answer to outside media about the most unpopular trade in franchise history.
If fans feel that the press conference was just one more session of frustrating deflection, then that is their right, and it's somewhat understandable. There's no reconciling the Texans' balance sheet on all of these trades. It's lopsided. I will say this, though — I thought O'Brien handled the media session, which went nearly an hour, very well, to the point where it made me wonder why it felt like he went into hiding after shipping Hopkins out for a second round pick and David Johnson.
In short, O'Brien's grand experiment in football culture may not ultimately work, but there is no doubt he is strong in his convictions. Let's start there in summarizing the high points of Friday's session....
O'Brien is asking the fan base to trust him, and that's a big ask
If there was a money quote from the few dozen responses that O'Brien had on Friday, the one thing that he seemed to want the media and, in turn, fans to walk away with, it was this:
"We feel very good about the value that we got for the trade and I think the best thing I can tell the fans is to please – I know the media’s job is to evaluate right away. I get that. I have a lot of respect for the media, I’ve always said that. But I think we have to let it all play out. Let it play out. Let the whole thing play out, whether it’s that trade or anything else that we’ve done. I would say let’s review it a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. Let’s let it all play out."
So O'Brien is asking the fans to trust a general manager in his first year, who's made deals that have been widely panned as failures before the players involved even suit up. Taking it a step further, he is asking them to trust a front office that is operating without any long-term experience assembling a roster. O'Brien's right hand man is Jack Easterby, whose NFL resume is largely centered around character coaching and religion. O'Brien leans on the fact that he's won more than he's lost, taking advantage of one of the weaker divisions in football over the last half dozen years, but when he's had to step up in weight class (i.e. the postseason), the knockout blows have been by an average of 21 points. This is a gargantuan request from O'Brien, and what does he say if we reconvene ten months from now, and the team is 8-8?
Here's the thing —- I don't think Bill O'Brien knows the value of an NFL buck
This may be an unpopular take, because O'Brien has about the same Q-rating as flood damage in Houston right now, but I think overall O'Brien is probably a pretty good "football guy." I think he has a vision of what he wants his team to be, and he is a slightly above average head coach, which may sound like faint praise, but I think most of Houston thinks he is an awful head coach, which he is not. The problem is that O'Brien is now also the general manager, and to put it bluntly, I think he is a terrible dealmaker. I don't think he knows, figuratively, the value of a buck when it comes to making trades or signing free agents. Here is one disturbing example from the press conference:
"I think that one thing, when you look at the trade with Arizona and when you're involving a guy like DeAndre (Hopkins) who is a great player, who they're going to have to adjust his contract in Arizona. I think you'll see that whenever that ends up happening. You’re going to buy the 40th pick also. I think at the end of the day, there's going to be some player on their roster that you really like that is due some money in 2020 that you're going to take on to your team in addition to the 40th pick, and I think when you look at David Johnson, he's a three-down back who's had some really productive years. Plus the type of guy he is, just been on the phone with him a few times, having met him face to face when he was coming out in the draft, I just am so excited about having him, Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks in this locker room. Three pros, three guys that really understand what it takes to win day in and day out, and we're excited about those guys."
To translate this, it seems like O'Brien is WAY overvaluing the 40th pick in the draft, because he knows Hopkins is a great player, but also acknowledges the need for the Texans to "take on money" in the form of David Johnson. It's just so strange, and disconcerting, to hear the same general manager treat the 40th pick in the draft like a pile of gold bricks seven months after trading two first round picks for Laremy Tunsil.
Deshaun Watson is A-OK (I guess)
Now that we've all gone through the five stages of grief with the Hopkins trade, the thing that should trigger the most stress in the short-term is the answer to "What is Deshaun Watson thinking about all of this?" He is due a massive contract extension at some point, likely a deal that makes him one of the two highest paid players in football. Well, O'Brien addressed Deshaun's frame of mind with one of those "I don't want to speak for him, but here I go speaking for him" answers....
"He's excited. I don't want to speak for him, but he's excited about No. 1, Timmy Kelly. He has a great relationship with Tim. T.J. Yates will be the assistant quarterbacks coach. That's a good room. Another guy I didn't mention earlier but AJ McCarron, we were able to bring him back. So, really good quarterback room there with a lot of experience and those guys really enjoy working with Tim Kelly."
OK, then! Nothing to see here!
What moves are left?
O'Brien also made it clear, amidst his plea for unconditional trust from the fans, that the roster building isn't close to done. The thing is, though, unlike last summer, O'Brien is pretty much out of bullets when it comes to trade or draft ammo. They've got the 40th pick in the draft this Friday,and the 90th pick, and then everything else is Day Three stuff. They're out of high level draft equity to deal (unless they dip into 2022, and if that happens, kill me now) and they're out of elite players to deal (assuming Watson, Tunsil, and J.J. Watt aren't going anywhere). I think O'Brien is pretty much done with big swings for the fences, but just when I think that, the mad scientist shows up again.