We are a little over a week from the 2020 NFL Draft, and I have to admit that, next to handling the psychological and fiscal strain of virtual quarantine from a deadly virus, the toughest thing for me these days is writing a post about the Houston Texans knowing full well that the whole thing could be splattered into a million pieces by the time it's supposed to drop the next morning., because Bill O'Brien may have executed his latest self-mutilatory maneuver.
This Texans offseason has been the total opposite of "making bold moves to get to a Super Bowl." Instead, it appears to be a case of "making head scratching moves in an effort to ride Deshaun Watson to 9-7 records forever." The Brandin Cooks trade (which I don't think was AS terrible as some experts seem to think, but O'Brien gets no slack from anyone, and rightfully so) is the latest chess (checkers?) move from O"Brien and EVP of Football Operations Jack Easterby, but possibly not the last between now and next Friday when the Texans use the 40th overall pick in the draft (assuming they haven't traded it to the Patriots for Matthew Slater by then).
So where are we right now with the Texans, after last Thursday's trade? Let's examine a few of the high points, shall we?
The Brandin Cooks Situation
I haven't written about the Cooks trade in this space, so here goes. If the Texans get the version of Brandin Cooks in THIS video, the trade will be a home run....
Unfortunately, there's a great chance the version of Brandin Cooks in THIS video, and that would be a complete disaster....
Brandin Cooks is tough as hell, but I'm concerned about his 4 concussions in the last 26 months. Here's a compilation. pic.twitter.com/4HVUQvjRMA— Seth C. Payne (@SethCPayne) April 10, 2020
The pros on Cooks — he provides REAL insurance as a deep threat for when Will Fuller inevitably pulls a quad muscle, his contract is fairly reasonable over the next two seasons ($20 million total), and if new play caller Tim Kelly has a creative gene, there are a LOT of ways to use Cooks. The cons on Cooks — he is coming off his worst season, his brain has been turned into a wet sponge by defensive backs the last two years, and.....
The Easterby Effect
.... he seems to be a pet project of Easterby. Let me explain. Sometime over the last several months, as Easterby's influence in the organization has clearly grown, we've played a little game on the radio where we scour Easterby's Twitter account. As it turns out, the former team chaplain of the Chiefs and Patriots likes to tweet, by and large, three things — bible verses, inspirational quotes, and retweets of Brandin Cooks. So it should come as no surprise that Cooks is now a Texan. In fact, according to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson, Easterby was, indeed, a driving force behind this trade.
Texans executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby has an extremely close relationship with Brandin Cooks and that was a major intangible factor in the trade with Easterby vouching for him, according to league sources.— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 10, 2020
We will see how this plays with the incumbent wide receivers already in the building, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, both guys who are considered very good teammates, because when you shake out the Hopkins and Cooks trades as intertwined events — and how can you not? — it does appear the Texans essentially swapped out Hopkins for Cooks with religion possibly being at least a THREAD in the thinking. To be a clear, the two moves do NOT make the Texans a better football team ON the field, so this OFF the field, "good guy" ethos O'Brien and Easterby are attempting to create by shipping out anyone they think doesn't fall right in line had better be real, and better result in wins.
What happens now with the 40th overall selection?
One side benefit of the two trades is that the Texans do wind up 17 slots higher in the second round than they would have been with their original selection. The assumption when the Texans briefly held both the 40th and 57th picks in the draft was that they would use one of the picks on this deep class of rookie receivers. Instead, they used the 57th pick on the veteran Cooks in a trade. So, what now with the 40th pick?
I would imagine they would try to find the best defensive player available, presumably someone who can help J.J. Watt from having to be a one man pass rush wrecking crew. However, might receiver still be a need, as crazy as that sounds? All four of the veterans comprising the depth chart right now — Fuller, Stills, Cooks, and Randall Cobb — have had injury issues the last couple years, and Fuller and Stills are in contract years. I think receiver is still in play, and perhaps running back, as well. Put simply, the only positions I would say are off limits at 40th overall are quarterback, tight end, and offensive line (which means FOR SURE O'Brien is taking a left guard).
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Anything else on the to-do list?
At this point, most teams' to-do list would look like this — "1. Wait for the draft; 2. See No. 1." However, this is Bill O'Brien, the Mad King, that we are talking about here. Now, unless he starts digging into the 2022 draft, there really isn't much draft capital to make a big move, but could we see a player or two dealt for some additional Day 2 and Day 3 draft capital? It's certainly a possibility.
Assuming Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil are untouchable (and man, I could even see a two percent chance O'Brien ships out Tunsil because he's digging in on breaking the bank on his contract extension), who on this roster has value around the league to where a team would trade a pick?
The big one would be J.J. Watt, but I think the city would burn to the ground if that happened. (Of course, counterpoint ... O'Brien IS the Mad King.) After that, I'd say Fuller, Zach Cunningham, Justin Reid, Max Scharping, Tytus Howard, and maybe Bradley Roby or Gareon Conley would be the only assets that would get an opposing GM saying "hmmmm, OK... let's talk, Bill."