In a standoff nobody thought would get this far, Duane Brown finally returned to NRG Stadium on Monday morning, ending his holdout at six games, and bringing him back just in time for him to either help out the team THIS season with a very winnable stretch run of ten games or NEXT (and future) seasons, should the team decide to trade him for draft compensation.
The best way to break this down might be to do a rapid fire "four winners, four losers losers," on what type of team the Texans were without Brown, and how they could benefit from his return to the offensive line. So let's go...
4. Deshaun Watson
Think about the offensive line that Watson has been playing behind for most of his five-game stint as the starting quarterback for this team — Chris Clark (career reserve), Xavier Su'a-Filo (routinely among worst rated guards in the league on Pro Football Focus), Nick Martin (stud), Jeff Allen (see" Su'a-Filo, Xavier), and Breno Giacomini (street free agent cut by the Jets). Watson's presence and dynamic playmaking ability has made this group look somewhat passable! Now, Watson gets a multi-time Pro Bowler protecting his blind side, a guy who should raise the level of Su'a-Filo through merely being available and active, and a respected leader in the huddle and locker room. Monday was a good day for Deshaun Watson's health.
3. Bill O'Brien
O'Brien has already been impressive in his creativity and outside-the-box thinking with how to best use Watson, adding zone read option to the mix, and getting Watson on the move as much as medically possible. O'Brien has not been scared in how he's deployed Watson, not even close. So now, with Brown giving him a clear "go to" side to which he can go get some tough yards, run some of those end around plays, and so forth, the league's most prolific offense (in terms of touchdowns scored) through six games should be even more fun to watch.
2. NRG Stadium game day production staff
The next home game is November 5 against the Colts. I can't remember the last time I was this intrigued by which side of the ball will be introduced before the game, and what the reaction will be to a single player. (Actually, I do remember... first game of this season, the reaction to J.J. Watt. I think this might be different if they introduce Duane individually.) Unless...
1. Rick Smith
...Duane Brown is no longer a Texan by the time November 5 rolls around. The trade deadline is the Tuesday after the Seattle game this Sunday, so the possibility still exists that some team gets desperate and offers the Texans a worthwhile price for Brown. To me, it'd have to be at least a second-round pick, otherwise, the services Brown brings to the table this season are worth more than whatever pick a team offers. Also, whether you agree or disagree with Smith's stance on not caving to Brown, he managed to maintain his code of no reworked deals with more than one season left (except for guys named J.J. or Andre), which will pay dividends in future years. On top of that, Watson's play allowed to the Texans (and that offensive line) to stay afloat until Brown came back. Hell, you could argue that the hideous line play in Week 1 sans Brown accelerated Watson's insertion into the lineup, which wound up being the best thing that's happened to this team since drafting Watt in 2011.
4. Duane Brown
I'm hesitant to put Brown in the "LOSERS" category because, ultimately, we don't really know what he wanted — at least as of my writing this, it hasn't come to light. He is categorically a loser insomuch as he lost more than $3 million in salary that he will never get back, but if Brown was set up financially to hunker down and make a stand, then who are we to judge his valuation of money? (Me? I would be puking every night from stress if that were me holding out. But that's me.) He got a nice Los Angeles vacation out of it, didn't have to get his butt kicked in training camp or in six NFL games, and now comes back with fresh legs and his contract intact. Also, he may still get his $3 million back if he is traded and his new team wants to make him whole. (I don't see that happening, but the story isn't over yet, is my point.)
3. Kendall Lamm
Someone is going to have to make room for Brown, and the Texans are already overloaded on offensive linemen, with the signing of Dorian Johnson. This might be the end of the line for Lamm, whose improvement we were told so much about by those close to the team never really showed up on the field.
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2. Tom Savage
Hey, if Brown is out there for the opener, maybe they generate SOME points in the first half of the Jacksonville game, and maybe Bill O'Brien rides out the storm for that first week, and maybe Savage rights the ship, and maybe he's still starting... no, you're right, maybe not.
1. Kennard McGuire
Brown's holdout was the first classic NFL holdout in ages, and that's for good reason — the collective bargaining agreement in recent years has been set up to dissuade holdouts. Still, McGuire, who was Andre Johnson's agent when he was able to wrangle a pay raise from the Texans with multiple years remaining, thought he could force the Texans' hand on doing the same for Brown. He miscalculated, and now we will find out what's worse — to be the player who held out, or the guy who suggested he hold out.
Poll for #Texans fans... now that Duane Brown is back in the building ....— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) October 23, 2017
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.