When a new general manager and new head coach are brought into an NFL organization, most of the time, it's because the previous regime failed, and failed miserably. Thus, anyone with a brain knew that this 2021 NFL season would likely be a lost season here in the city of Houston, especially once Deshaun Watson requested a trade in January, and then particularly when he became untradeable in March when the 22 civil lawsuits against him began flying.
However, "lost season" and "worst version of a Texans team in franchise history" are not synonymous. It is possible to rebuild, and look somewhat competitive and competent while losing games. The 2021 Texans are NOT accomplishing this. They are a mess. Every Sunday, other than Week 1, they've been a mess, and in all likelihood, the mess will continue through the second week of January.
It's kind of a cruel joke on Houstonians that the first season in which the NFL expands its schedule to 17 regular season games, we get the utterly worst version of the team in franchise history. Having to endure this for even 6 percent longer than prior seasons is cruel punishment. What did we do to deserve this?
So this time last year, the Texans were being run by an interim head coach (Romeo Crennel) and interim GM (Jack Easterby), both of whom are still in the building (which is kind of weird). The season ended up 4-12. Now, the Texans' overall record is not only trending in a direction where it will be worse, but it's reasonable to ask "Are there any facets of this organization which are better than they were in 2020?"
Let's take a look at the most relevant and prominent functional areas and aspects of the team that we can see with our own eyes (not some esoteric "culture" type stuff, from behind the scenes), and determine if life is, in any way, getting better for Texans fans:
ON FIELD PLAY — TRENDING: DOWN
The 2020 Texans were a rough watch, no doubt, especially defensively, where it was arguably the worst Texans team that I've ever watched play defense. They're slightly improved defensively this season, and at least the Texans are turning the other teams' offenses over at a competent NFL rate. Offensively, this team is a mess. They still can't run the football, but now they have Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills at quarterback, not Deshaun Watson. The team's bets player is probably its punter, Cam Johnston — that's all you need to know.
YOUNG TALENT — TRENDING: DOWN
With the likely departure of Deshaun Watson eventually, here are the players left over from their 2017 through 2021 drafts:
2017: LB Zach Cunningham
2018: S Justin Reid, TE Jordan Akins
2019: G Tytus Howard, G Max Scharping, S Lonnie Johnson
2020: DT Ross Blacklock, DE Jon Greenard, T Charlie Heck
2021: QB Davis Mills, WR Nico Collins, TE Brevin Jordan, LB Garrett Wallow, DT Roy Lopez
That's a total of 14 players from their previous five draft classes. FOURTEEN. None of them are the future franchise quarterback (sorry, Davis), one of them probably wants to be traded (Cunningham), two of them are likely gone after this season (Reid, Akins), and of the eight remaining, only Greenard has played at a "starter for an above average team" level. This is bad. The next two drafts with be so crucial to this team's future.
COACHING — TRENDING: WAY DOWN
It's hard to believe that, as uninspiring as Bill O'Brien's play calling was, as poor as O'Brien's game management was, and as difficult as O'Brien reportedly was to be around at the end, the coaching of this team is worse now than it was at the end of the O'Brien Era. Way worse. The offensive line and running game somehow look MORE confused than last season (and it was BAD last season). More than all that, though, David Culley has been exposed as having the game management acumen of a grade schooler playing MADDEN (and as I type that, I feel like I've insulted grade schoolers). If you need a summary of Culley's game management foibles, Greg Rajan of the Houston Chronicle
does a great job summarizing in this post
DRAFT CAPITAL — TRENDING: UP (perhaps WAY UP SOON)
Unlike the last four drafts, in which they had a first round pick in just one of them (2019), the Texans will have their own first round pick in 2022 (and beyond), and if they are able to move Deshaun Watson in a trade, they could have multiple first round picks added to their draft billfold. They head into 2022 with an extra third round pick as well, thanks to the Bradley Roby trade.
SALARY CAP — TRENDING: UP
A big reason Bill O'Brien ultimately failed (and there were many reasons) was that he and Jack Easterby handed out awful, expensive contracts like they were Halloween candy. One of Nick Caserio's unspoken goals of this season had to be to clean up O'Brien's salary cap mess. as a result, the free agency signings in 2021 were mostly one-year, fairly inexpensive deals. As a result, the Texans should enter 2022 with $50 million to $60 million in cap space, and again, if Deshaun Watson gets moved, that opens up $35 million more, minus some dead money they'll absorb from his signing bonus when he got the big extension.
FAN SUPPORT — TRENDING: WAY DOWN
The demand for Texans season tickets was already severely damaged during the pandemic, partially because of the economic downturn and partially because the DeAndre Hopkins trade pissed off a LOT of fans. After the David Culley hire, and Watson's trade demand, the season ticket wait dwindled to nothing, and now the team is offering single game discounts to fill seats. The Texans no longer sell out games, and the announced attendance (typically in the high 60,000s) never matches the actuality of the eyeball test (typically in the low 40,000s).
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.