Duane Brown finally got his money, but not in a Houston Texan uniform.Photo by Marco Torres
On Saturday, Bill O'Brien oversaw one of the busiest days in Texans franchise history, perhaps in the history of ANY NFL franchise when you consider that he made four trades and had to reduce the roster from 90 players to 53. That's a lot of work, and the big ticket maneuvers were the dumping of Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks for peanuts and the acquisition of tackle Laremy Tunsil from the Dolphins for two castles and a yacht.
We broke down the ramifications of these moves yesterday, about the same time that O'Brien was facing the music, answering hard questions about how things got so bad with Clowney, and explaining why the acquisition of Tunsil was so significant. Of those two deals, the fallout from Clowney seemed to take more of center stage.
"I understand everybody's going to dissect how we did it, what we got back and what we gave Seattle," O'Brien said. "We can't control what the outside world thinks. We try to do the best we can to make the best decisions possible to help us win. We understand that how much we win will determine our future."
Again, in the Clowney deal, the Texans received a third round pick in 2020 and backup outside linebackers Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo. They also agreed to pay $7 million of Clowney's $15.9 million base salary this season.
Whether these moves come back to haunt Bill O'Brien will be largely dictated by the Texans' won-loss record in 2019 and beyond. If they win at a higher level than they have under O'Brien, then chances are the Tunsil trade has worked out, and people will eventually forget about Clowney. However, if Deshaun Watson is still getting murdered on a weekly basis, and the Texans are getting riddled for over 30 points a game, Texan fans will want blood.
It gets me thinking — if you could go back and undo decisions made by the Texans during the Bill O'Brien Era (so, since January 2014), what would they be and why? In considering my list, it's not just how indefensible a decision was in retrospect, but also the butterfly effect of the decision. In other words, how extensive was the damage?
I list five of these moves below, but before we get to them, allow me to dismiss one of the moves many of you would have on your list....
MOVE THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE LIST: Signing Brock Osweiler in 2016
Was Brock Osweiler the most infuriating quarterback of the O'Brien Era? Probably so (and that's saying something). Was he the most overpaid? Undoubtedly. However, it was only a one year stint, a year in which they actually went 9-7 and won a playoff game, and quite honestly, if not for the Brock disaster, I don't know that the Texans would have acted with the same urgency in the 2017 draft to move up and get Deshaun Watson. So, while some may view Brock as a failure requiring a mulligan, I choose to view him as a necessary step backward to arrive at QB paradise. All hail, Deshaun Watson!
Also, no Brock means no Brock H-E-B commercials....
....and that would be the real tragedy.
OK, now onto the list.....
5. Not making nice with Brandon Brooks in 2015
The deterioration of the Texans' offensive line under O'Brien's watch really began in the 2016 offseason, when Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones left, and Rick Smith chose to backfill them by signing Jeff Allen (yuck!) and drafting Nick Martin (yeesh). Losing Jones wasn't a disaster, as he's been fine for Tennessee, but losing Brooks to the Eagles, where he went on to become a Pro Bowler, was painful, especially considering Allen was a disaster. Come to find out after the fact that Brooks and O'Brien did not get along at all, to the point where Brooks claims he came close to retiring. O'Brien finding a way to coexist with Brooks sure would have helped maintain some stability along the offensive line.
4. Drafting Xavier Su'a-Filo with the 33rd overall pick in 2014
Meanwhile, over at left guard from 2014 through 2017 was Xavier Su'a-Filo, the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, the first pick of the second round. I said it at the time they drafted Su'a-Filo (because keep in mind that the Texans were the worst team in the NFL the year before), if a 2-14 team is going to draft a guard with the 33rd overall pick, he better turn out to be a Pro Bowler. Su'a-Filo was a colossal failure, made all the more painful looking back and seeing that DeMarcus Lawrence was the next player taken (not that the Texans would have taken Lawrence after drafting Clowney first overall, just pointing out that good players were sitting right there).
3. Every third round pick in the draft (not named Justin Reid)
The irony of the Texans trading Clowney over the weekend for a package where the only pick was a third round pick is positively rich. In the third round of every draft of the O'Brien Era the Texans have drafted at least one washout bust, a player who is gone from the team by halfway through their rookie deal. The list goes as follows: Louis Nix !!! (2014), Jaelen Strong (2015), Braxton Miller (2016), D'Onta Foreman (2017), and Martinas Rankin (2018, although they did trade him for Carlos Hyde). Even 2019's third rounder, Kahale Warring, has been injured for virtually his entire NFL career, thus far. The Texans should just put up a Twitter poll from now on, and let the fans pick their third rounder each year. Couldn't go much worse than it's already gone (aside from Justin Reid, of course).
2. Trusting in Kevin Johnson and letting A.J, Bouye walk
The two biggest needs on this team over the last couple years has been at cover cornerback and left tackle. Johnathan Joseph has been a nice veteran to have around, but his days as a No. 1 CB are over. Unfortunately, the Texans had a No. 1 CB on their roster, one they'd developed from undrafted scratch in 2013, in A.J. Bouye, but instead of using the franchise tag on him after 2016, they let him walk to thee Jaguars, trusting that 2015 first round pick Kevin Johnson could be "that guy." Two years later, Johnson was cut loose by the Texans, and they're still rubbing two sticks together, hoping Bradley Roby can be "that guy" on a one year, prove-it deal. Bouye, meanwhile, has continued to play at a high level in Jacksonville. As it turns out, his 2016 season was no fluke. Instead, Johnson's solid rookie and sophomore seasons, 2015 and 2016, were the fluke. As for left tackle....
1. The Duane Brown Trade
For Brown and the Texans, stuff really started to slide downhill during his contract holdout before the 2017 season. It got pretty serious when Brown actually started missing regular season games, which many folks thought he'd never do. He started one 2017 game for the Texans, ironically against the team he was traded to days later, the Seahawks, and on the way out the door, Brown was very outspoken about his disgust over Bob McNair's "inmates" comment. A toxic situation, unfortunately, had to be resolved at the degradation of the team's offensive line. Ultimately, the cost to fix the fallout from the Duane Brown problem was two seasons of unwatchable line play, five seasons worth of hits on Deshaun Watson (in a two season period), two first round picks, a second round pick, and a likely market setting contract for Laremy Tunsil. A hefty, and unfortunately necessary, price.
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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.