Sean Pendergast

Looking Back at 2018 Houston Texans and the Franchise Ruination

In a perfect world, J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson would have remained teammates.
Screen grab from YouTube
In a perfect world, J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson would have remained teammates.
For Houston Texan fans, this is an offseason that should be about hope, about looking forward, and about brighter things to come. However, over the last couple months, particularly in recent weeks, this offseason has provided constant reminders of a time when the Houston Texans were among the more talented teams in football, only to see it squandered by poor decision making at every level of the organization.

DeAndre Hopkins was released by the Cardinals late last week. Jadeveon Clowney was pinned down by Mark Berman at a workout facility and admitted he would be open to returning to the Texans. J.J. Watt recently retired. Deshaun Watson will always, ALWAYS be in the news. Those four players were the pillars of a 2018 Texans team that was one of just six to have four or more players in the top 63 of the NFL's Top 100 Players poll released during the summer of 2019:
11. Hopkins
12. Watt
51. Watson
63. Clowney
It seems like it was an eternity ago, but yes, the Texans not all that long ago, had two of the top dozen players in the NFL in Hopkins and Watt, an ascending young quarterback in Watson, and one of the better edge defenders in the league in Clowney. Unfortunately, the decision was made to let a snake in the building (Jack Easterby), said snake got the GM fired, and Bill O'Brien and the snake proceeded to dismantle the organization down to the studs.

It's wild to think that just four summers ago, this was the core nucleus of the Texans, and within two years, it was frittered away. Even crazier is that it didn't really end up all that great for any of those four players, come 2023 (unless you count Watson's contract with Cleveland, which far exceeds his level of play. Taking these one at a time, it's amazing how there really were no winners in the ruination of the Texans:

From 2017 through 2019, DeAndre Hopkins was named first team All Pro each of those seasons. He was the best wide receiver in football, and at age 26, was just entering his prime years. So naturally, Bill O'Brien, in March 2020, thought it would be a good idea to trade his best player for a second round pick and a washed up running back (David Johnson). The trade was a disaster for the Texans, but the three seasons in Arizona didn't exactly go the way Hopkins planned, with one Pro Bowl, 15 missed games, a PED suspension, and the team bottoming out with 4 wins in 2022. Now, Hopkins is a free agent.

12. J.J. WATT, DE
Watt was coming off an All Pro season in 2018, in which he made it all the way back from some catastrophic injuries to his back and legs in the two seasons prior. In 2019, unfortunately, Watt tore a pectoral muscle, missed half the season, then had to endure the Texans' 4-12 season in 2020, before asking the McNairs personally for his release. He would sign with the Cardinals, and just see the paragraph above to find out how that ended. Watt retired in February of this year.

Summarizing Watson's next few years after the 2018 season in one paragraph is nearly impossible. Fortunately, just Google "Deshaun Watson Houston Press Sean Pendergast" and you can piece everything together in the archives on here. Watson would lead the league in passing yards in 2020, on an awful Texans team, demand a trade a week after the season ended, and then go onto get sued by two dozen women and remain either held out or suspended for nearly two years. This will be a "30 for 30" someday.

Clowney is the only one of these four "pillars" that never made it to the 2019 season, as he was unceremoniously traded just before the start of the 2019 season, to the Seattle Seahawks for a third round pick and two reserve linebackers. On top of that, O'Brien volunteered for the Texans to pay half of Clowney's salary. While O'Brien should have received more for Clowney in 2019, over time, Clowney has devolved from a Pro Bowl level player in 2018 to a year to year, mid-level mercenary, having played for Seattle (2019), Tennessee (2020), and Cleveland (separate one year deals in 2021 and 2022). He remains a free agent, looking for a home.

It would have been fascinating to see what may have happened if O'Brien and Easterby just let this core stay together, use the first round picks in 2020 and 2021 on young players, and proceed more conventionally. Certainly, the way it played out really only served to benefit future generations of Deshaun Watson's family.

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