Sean Pendergast

Bill O'Brien's Major Wagers For the Texans' 2020 Season

Bill O'Brien is placing a lot of questionable (figurative) bets on the 2020 season.
Bill O'Brien is placing a lot of questionable (figurative) bets on the 2020 season. Photo by Eric Sauseda
I've long held a theory on hiring NFL head coaches — if I were an owner, I would never hire a head coach until I went to a casino and played blackjack with him. Now, your first question is probably "Hey Sean, what if he doesn't play blackjack?" The answer there is simple — I'd discontinue the interview process. If a man doesn't want to spend time at a casino, drinking free drinks, and cutting up at a blackjack table, then that man is no future employee of mine!

So let's assume that the candidate DOES enjoy playing some games of chance. You can learn a lot about how a human being operates by the way they play blackjack. You learn about in-the-moment risk assessment skills, chip stack management, social skills, the whole nine yards. These are all things that are transferable to head coaching AND general managing, and Bill O'Brien, for better or worse, is tasked with doing both for the Houston Texans.

We know that, as a GM, it's been a very questionable offseason for O'Brien. He's done some things that have been widely panned by experts around the league. We know that these moves are not in the name of rebuilding, because O'Brien has asked us to trust him that these moves get the Texans over the next hump. In a way, O'Brien's series of moves are like wagers, and there is no doubt, he is betting on some very risky, and a couple of them, QUESTIONABLE propositions.

So, what are all the relative longshots O’Brien is counting on and what are the chances of them happening?

David Johnson's returning to MOST OF his 2016 form
O'Brien has called Johnson "an excellent three down back" on more than one occasion since acquiring him back in March. Johnson is certainly still being paid like an "excellent three down back," as he will count $11.2 million against the Texans' 2020 salary cap. Johnson has played five seasons. He was out of this world in his rookie and sophomore seasons, 2015 and 2016. He was injured one game into his third season and missed the rest of the year. It's the last two seasons that are the conundrum, where a largely healthy Johnson watched his yards per carry dip to about 3.5 yards, and eventually he lost his job last season to Kenyan Drake. Johnson is one of the biggest x-factors in the league this season, because he should be healthy and motivated.

Will Fuller's staying RELATIVELY healthy
When DeAndre Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals, that immediately thrust Fuller up to the number one wide receiver spot. (The acquisition of Brandin Cooks likely makes this more of a "1 and 1A" situation. We'll get to Cooks shortly.) The problem is that Fuller has missed 22 games in his first four seasons, with injuries all over his anatomy. I don't think O'Brien is betting on 16 games out of Fuller, but they need him for most of the season to win the division and put themselves in position to win in the postseason. Let's call it thirteen games.

Brandin Cooks' staying concussion free
Cooks has been traded three times now in his career, twice for a first round pick and, in the trade between the Rams and Texans, for a second round pick. Cooks is coming off his worst season as a pro in 2019, with 583 yards receiving in fourteen games. The bigger concern is four concussions in the last two seasons. On the one hand, the concussion symptoms have come and gone fairly quickly with Cooks each time. On the other hand... YIKES! FOUR CONCUSSIONS! We will cross our fingers and hope.

Bradley Roby's staying healthy
This one I actually feel pretty good about. Before missing six games with a hamstring injury in 2019, Roby has a rock for five years with the Broncos, playing in all but one game of 80 possible games, and that game missed was due to suspension. I don't think O'Brien would have bet on Roby if he didn't feel good about his health, as well.

J.J. Watt's staying healthy AND still being elite
Now, we are back to a tricky health topic, and maybe even a tricky OVERALL topic — the future stock on J.J. Watt. These are the things we know — J.J. Watt will keep himself in excellent shape, he will ball out when he is on the field, but he has suffered serious injuries in three of the last four seasons. Watt is 31 years old, so his chances of getting hurt each season are going up, not down. The "elite" part of O'Brien's prop bet doesn't worry me. The "staying healthy" part terrifies me.

So, if we are of mind that all five of these things must happen in order for the Texans to win a Super Bowl (and I am of that mind), here is what the parlay calculate says the odds are of hitting this parlay:

David Johnson's returning to MOST OF his 2016 form ... +400
Will Fuller's staying RELATIVELY healthy ... +200
Brandin Cooks' staying concussion free ... +100
Bradley Roby's staying healthy ... -800
J.J. Watt's staying healthy AND still being elite ... +100

PARLAY CALCULATOR, $100 pays $6,650

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast