Like a teenager getting his or her driver's license, or a 21 year old drinking his or her first LEGAL beer, the Texans, two decades in, finally have some retired players worth honoring and touting in some tangible way. And so it was that the Houston Texans' Ring of Honor was created in 2017, with future Pro Football Hall of Fame Andre Johnson as its first inductee.
Since then, the only other inductee has been the founder of the organization, the late Bob McNair. Both Johnson and McNair are more than worthy of this honor, on many levels — on the field (for Johnson), as people, in the community, the whole nine yards. So as the Texans continue to age, there will be more and more retired players whose Ring of Honor candidacy will be up for debate.
This became a hot topic last week with the retirement of outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, courtesy of Sarah Barshop of ESPN,com (who caught plenty of social media shrapnel for merely posing the question):
For the record, I don't think Mercilus is anywhere CLOSE to a Ring of Honor level player. Also, for the record, he's as good a human being as I've watched play, but he was just never a GREAT player. He was good, at times, but never great. And that's the perfect segue into the question "So what SHOULD the criteria be for the Texans' Ring of Honor?" I think it comes down to three things, each weighted differently:
Would you put Whitney Mercilus in the Texans’ Ring of Honor?— Sarah Barshop (@sarahbarshop) April 6, 2022
So far Bob McNair and Andre Johnson have been added.
Was [FILL IN NAME OF PLAYER], at any sustained point over multiple seasons, a truly GREAT player? (65 percent)
I realize the one thing the Texans have been largely lacking in their 20 season history is "truly GREAT players," but they have had some guys whose candidacies are worth debating. My threshold for even discussing a player's Ring of Honor case is multiple Pro Bowl selections. No one year wonders, I need some period of sustained excellence over more than one season to even entertain the debate. This part is like the final exam in a college course, as it counts for a majority of your grade, and the greater you are in this category, the more I can overlook deficiencies in the other two categories below.
Were they a solid human being, exemplary Texan, and someone the community could be proud of? (25 percent)
This should be a fairly easy category to score in which the full 25 points. If you played for the Houston Texans for any significant amount of time, chances are you were a pretty good dude, and did some stuff in the community. Hell, maybe even a LOT of stuff in the community. As great as the lengths are that the Texans go to in order to bring in high character guys, this question should be like asking whether or not a play by play announcer can speak English.
Are there any other mitigating factors we should weigh? (10 percent)
This is just a little bit if leeway for wild card type things. For example, perhaps the way a player left wasn't the most pleasant, either because he had major issues with ownership (Duane Brown), was traded somewhat unceremoniously and seems to hold a grudge (DeAndre Hopkins), or he might not really care one way or another if he gets in, or really even follows football anymore (Arian Foster). Do these things matter in the grand scheme of things? Probably not much, if at all, but I needed some wiggle room for borderline candidates.
So let's make the cut off the Top 20 players of all time, according to Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric:
20. Owen Daniels 2006-2013, TE
19. Jadeveon Clowney, 2014-2018, DE
18. DeMeco Ryans, 2006-2011, MLB
17. Eric Winston, 2006-2011, RT
16. Mario Williams, 2006-2011, DE
15. Benardrick McKinney, 2015-2020, ILB
14. David Carr, 2002-2006, QB
13. Chester Pitts, 2002-2009, LG
12. Kareem Jackson, 2010-2018, CB
11. Deshaun Watson, 2017-2020, QB
10. Whitney Mercilus, 2012 2021 134 DE
9. Chris Myers, 2008-2014, C
8. Brian Cushing, 2009-2017, LB
7. Johnathan Joseph, 2011-2019, CB
6. Arian Foster, 2009-2015, RB
5. DeAndre Hopkins, 2013-2019, WR
4. Matt Schaub, 2007-2013, QB
3. Duane Brown, 2008-2017, LT
2. Andre Johnson, 2003-2014, WR
1. J.J. Watt, 2011-2020, DE
OK, let's play process of elimination with this group, knowing that Andre Johnson is the one guy who is already in the Ring of Honor:
ELIMINATED, One or fewer Pro Bowls
Eric Winston, Benardrick McKinney, David Carr, Chester Pitts, Kareem Jackson, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing
From here, for further consideration, there has to be a period of at least one season where you were first team ALL PRO (higher difficulty level than the Pro Bowl), OR there has to be a REALLY compelling intangible argument for induction. This leaves us with a dozen candidates who made multiple Pro Bowls.
ELIMINATED, never first team All Pro, no further debate
Owen Daniels, Jadeveon Clowney, Mario Williams, Deshaun Watson
This leaves us with Ryans, Myers, Joseph, Foster, Hopkins, Schaub, Brown and Watt. Foster, Hopkins, Brown, and Watt all were first team All pro at some point, we will discuss them in a minute. However, the argument for the other four remaining, non-All Pros might go as follows:
Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, one of the best inside linebackers in football before his Achilles tear in 2010, perhaps the best leader in franchise history
Brains of the greatest offensive line unit in team history, helped pave the way for some historic seasons by Arian Foster, another solid leader
Greatest free agency signing in team history, and one of the best in recent history of the league, really solid locker room guy, defense transformed when he arrived, played nearly a full decade here
Quarterback of the best offenses in team history, people forget he played at a very high level until the pick sixes started flowing like wine
Ultimately, I'd say NO on all four of these, if I were voting on it, but I'd rank their candidacies in this order — Joseph, Ryans, Myers, Schaub.
As for the remaining four, here's my skinny on each of them:
He was on track to shatter all of Johnson's team records before he was traded to Arizona. He undoubtedly checks every box on greatness as a player, and despite what Bill O'Brien might have thought of Hopkins, he seemed like a good person and teammate, too. Time heals all wounds, but Hopkins' resume passes the smell test for me.
Had it not been for injuries, and if the teams around him had been better, we would be discussing Foster as a Hall of Fame candidate, not just a Ring of Honor candidate. Peak Arian Foster is one of the five best running backs of the 21st century, I will die on that hill! I would induct him into the Ring of Honor, and hope that he cared enough about football to accept!
Brown was an elite left tackle back during the Texans' best seasons as a franchise. He was then a leader in the locker room during the transition to Bill O'Brien as head coach, and then injuries hit, he got sideways with ownership, and then held out and was traded. Brown was the poster child for community involvement when he WAS in a good place with the team. I would put Duane Brown in, and hopefully he would accept and bygones could be bygones, but I don't see it happening.
I won't waste any time debating this. Watt is in within a calendar year after retirement.
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