I'll be honest, for the other two major sports teams for whom I did these lists, the Rockets and the Astros, five stories worthy of year-end lists seemed to be the right amount. Stretching to eight or ten would have really been forcing the boundaries of what a year-end "top story" list should look like.
With the Texans, it was the exact opposite. I needed to expand the lists from five to ten stories, and even with that, there were performances (DeAndre Hopkins, Jadeveon Clowney) and stories that were left off the list, because there was no room. Maybe it's because there are 53 players on an NFL roster, and therefore, more fodder for stories, or maybe it was just THAT weird of a season for the Texans, their weirdest easily since the 2-14 debacle in 2013.
So let's get right to it — here are the top ten Houston Texan stories of 2017!
10. Brock Osweiler traded to Cleveland
The biggest story of 2016, the Texans' signing quarterback Brock Osweiler to a $72 million contract, led to the most simultaneously creative and depressing trade of 2017, in which general manager Rick Smith kind of undid his biggest blunder as a general manager by giving Cleveland a 2018 second round pick to take Osweiler (and the obligation for the remaining $16 million of his deal at the time) off the Texans' hands. It was a bold move in that it was a clear admission of mistake by the Texans' front office, but it was also a move that had to be made, given some of the fraying behind the scenes between Osweiler and Bill O'Brien, including a reported shouting match between the two at halftime of the Week 17 game in Nashville. Osweiler would end up getting cut by the Browns in the preseason, and, ironically, returning to Denver and starting a few games for the Broncos. Back here in Houston, the only remnants of the Osweiler Era are these horrible H-E-B ads...
9. Andre Johnson inducted into Ring of Honor
For Texan fans wondering, once the team had a retired player worth bestowing the highest honor upon, just how the team would do it, we got our answer in 2017, as the Texans announced the induction of wide receiver Andre Johnson into the team's new Ring of Honor. The unveiling took place at halftime of the Arizona game on November 19, which, oddly enough, was the only game thus far this season to be won by a quarterback not named Deshaun Watson. The Texans made an entire weekend out of the honor for Johnson, bringing back nearly 100 of his teammates for a big party on Saturday night and the ceremony on Sunday. It remains to be seen what the bar is for induction post-Andre, but Johnson himself sets that bar pretty damn high.
8. Brian Cushing suspended for ten games
One player who probably won't have to worry about carving out a Sunday in retirement for Ring of Honor ceremonies is inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who was pinched for his second violation of the league's PED policy after the Week 1 loss to Jacksonville. Upon returning, Cushing wouldn't say exactly what he was caught taking, other than to say he was dealing with "mental issues" last offseason and was taking something that other players were using legally with a prescription. (Cushing now is taking the substance within league rules.) He returned to action in Week 14 against San Francisco, which is honestly something I didn't think we'd see. I thought Cushing would get cut five minutes after being reinstated, but O'Brien clearly thinks very highly of Cushing and is willing to look past such a huge, stupid, selfish transgression.
7. Duane Brown holds out, then traded to Seattle
One thing the Texans love to brag about is their success in the first round of the draft. Until recently, every first round pick going back to 2008 was on the roster. However, that streak ended when 2008 first round pick Duane Brown was traded to Seattle, just a few days after playing the Seahawks in his return from a six game hold out. Brown had been absent from team activities and training camp, and aside from a minute or two with the media right after Hurricane Harvey (a trip back to Houston to deliver supplies), Brown never said much during his holdout. We all assume he was seeking something contractual that the Texans had no intention of giving him. The final straw for Brown with the team was right after owner Bob McNair's unfortunate "inmates running the prison" comment, when Brown basically called McNair ignorant and was one of the lead voices in a nearly team-wide kneel down before the Seahawks game in Seattle. Brown leaves as the fourth greatest Texan of all time, behind Johnson, Watt, and Arian Foster, although DeAndre Hopkins is right there with him and might surpass Brown by year end.
6. David Quessenberry returns to football
Nearly five full seasons after being drafted, David Quessenberry's long, jagged road to playing in an NFL game came to fruition on Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quessenberry, of course, missed his rookie year in 2013 with an ankle injury, and then in June of 2014, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which led to three years of treatments, and multiple fits and starts to resuming football, including a very public waiving on Hard Knocks back in 2015. Quessenberry is one of those "feel good" stories that makes you briefly forget about the team's atrocious won-loss record in 2017.
5. J.J. Watt helps raise $37 million for Harvey victims
The Texans spent about four weeks in West Virginia at the Greenbrier getting ready for the season. Once they arrived back in Houston for good for the preseason game versus the Patriots, it only took a few days for them to be displaced once again, only this time, the circumstances were the polar opposite of their jaunt to the West Virginia mountains. While the Texans were in New Orleans for their third preseason game of 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, forcing the Texans to travel to Dallas instead of traveling home to their families. I don't need to recap the damage caused by Harvey and its year's worth of rain water it dropped in just a couple days, but we can't mention enough the charitable efforts of all the sports teams and athletes in town, spearheaded by J.J. Watt, whose YouCaring.com website raised $37 million for flood victims. Maybe even more impressive than the sheer volume of the giving was the diligence Watt showed in vetting charitable causes and allocating the funds. For his off field efforts in trying to help recover from disaster, Watt (along with Jose Altuve) was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year.
4. Bob McNair's words stir controversy
"We can't have the inmates running the prison." ... it was one line in a private meeting between a handful of owners and a handful of folks representing the players. The topic of the meeting? The player anthem protests that pervaded NFL games to varying degrees going back to Colin Kaepernick first protesting social injustice early in the 2016 season. In 2017, with ratings and other business metrics dropping, the protests became a heated point of contention between the two sides, and McNair's line (which he claims was about the league office telling owners what to do, but the players weren't buying it) was kerosene on the fire. It was revealed he'd said it in an ESPN.com article chronicling the meeting, and players were livid. DeAndre Hopkins skipped practice the next day, nearly the entire Texans roster knelt during the anthem the following Sunday in Seattle, and after calling McNair "ignorant," Duane Brown was dealt to the Seahawks for draft picks. Whether all is forgiven between McNair and his players (and potential future Texans) will be better ascertained during free agency, but the McNair saga was a good lesson — don't mix your metaphors! It's "inmates running the ASYLUM," not the prison.
3. Drama around Bill O'Brien's future
It's become an annual tradition now — around November or December, rumors bubble up about how disenchanted Bill O'Brien is with the behind the scenes politics with the Texans, specifically his frosty relationship with general manager Rick Smith. In previous seasons, when O'Brien had multiple years remaining on his contract, it didn't matter quite as much, but with just one year remaining after this season, this coming offseason would be a logical time for a contract extension, if both sides can agree. If O'Brien is truly unhappy in his current role and, more importantly, unhappy with the current power structure, a contract negotiation would be the time to raise concerns. After seeing O'Brien design and call plays for an offense that generated well over 30 points a game in six games with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, I think many fans would like to see those two collaborate for a full season. We know Deshaun Watson wants that ...
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2. Injuries, injuries, and more injuries
Every year, NFL fans pray for injury luck with their team. It's the one sport where not only can an injury at the wrong position turn a season sideways, but the odds of it actually happening are easily the highest of any sport. It's football, man! Well, the Texans got the message early in the season that 2017 was going to be a medical chore, as they had five players, including their entire depth chart at tight end, concussed in the first week of the season. Then, in Week 5, came the Kansas City game in which the Texans lost Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt for the season within about five plays of each other. The coup de gras was the day after the Astros won the World Series, when news came down around 4:00 in the afternoon that Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice. I could list several more names, as the Texans are on the verge of using the most players on a 53-man roster in a season in league history, but I have no reason to depress you any further this holiday season.
1. Deshaun Watson, face of the franchise
The only thing that made this lost season tolerable was the knowledge that this turmoil is temporary, for the Houston Texans have finally found the franchise quarterback they have sought since opening their doors in 2002. His name is Deshaun Watson, and the six game glimpse that we got of him as a starter should be enough to make every Texans fan giddy for the start of the 2018 season. Baked into this bullet point is the fact that Watson actually wasn't named the starter until Week 2 of the regular season. Tom Savage won a very hotly debated competition for the starting job out of training camp. However, it took Watson just thirty minutes of football to seize the quarterback job from Savage. In the six games in which Watson started, he went 3-3 (NOTE: With some ballsier decisions from the head coach, he could have easily been 5-1 with wins AT New England and AT Seattle.) and set an NFL record for most touchdown passes (19) in the first seven games of an NFL career. When Watson was injured, he was leading the league (and still is) in yards per attempt (8.3) and ESPN's QBR stat (81.7, the only player over 80 in the league). Above all else, the eye test told us that the NFL is not too big for Watson, that he can handle the weight of a franchise desperate for success resting on his shoulders. Oh, and he's only 22 years old. Deshaun Watson is the future, and the future is bright.
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.