Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans 2020 Offseason Position Preview: Defensive Line

D.J. Reader played at a Pro Bowl level last season.
D.J. Reader played at a Pro Bowl level last season. Photo by Eric Sauseda
We did the offseason preview for the offensive side of the ball for the Houston Texans last week. With that being the more solid of the two key areas, and with most of the talent over there locked down for 2020, that was a mostly fun exercise. This week, the previews get more painful, because if there's a side of the ball holding the Texans back, it's on the defense, and the defense is our focus area for the next four days.

So let's buckle up, and try to get things moving in a positive direction. Actually, to do that, the defensive line is a good place to start. It's been one of the best units on the team the last few years, the new defensive coordinator (Anthony Weaver) was the defensive line coach during that time, and it includes J.J. Watt. So we're off to a good start!

Let's get a little more granular now — here are three burning Texans questions along the defensive line for 2020:

What is the long term outlook for J.J. Watt?
On the field, it should be just fine for at least a couple more seasons. Watt suffered a fluky torn pectoral muscle in Week 8 of 2019, an injury he miraculously recovered from in time for the postseason, but when he was on the field, he was still Pro Bowl level impactful. The bigger question with Watt is contractual, as the Texans and Watt are into the final two seasons of his monster extension he signed in 2014 (man, that went by fast), with Watt set to make $15.5 million and $17.5 million in each of the next two seasons, with no dead money on his deal. If I had to guess, there will either be a large restructuring/extension combination coming this offseason, or a straight up extension coming after the 2020 season, that will keep Watt in a Texans uniform for the rest of his career, barring something unforeseen.

Will D.J. Reader be back?
This is the one 2020 offseason contractual project for Bill O'Brien and Jack Easterby that is appearing dicey, at best. The other deals they are working on are either with players who still have seasons remaining on existing deals, or players who are just, quite frankly, not nearly as good as Reader. The two sides seem to be having trouble finding a common ground on Reader's worth. If he were to hit the open market, Reader would likely command $12 million or more per season, and the Texans reportedly have been more in the $9 million per year neighborhood. The franchise tag is a possibility, but the thought of using $14 million for one year on a good interior defensive lineman, with so many other holes on this defense, feels out of kilter to me.

What type of linemen will Bill O'Brien and Anthony Weaver seek out?
Reader's return, or non-return, may dictate somewhat how this answer plays out. If Reader comes back, then virtually the entire 2019 band is back together along the defensive front — Watt, Reader, Brandon Dunn, Angelo Blackson, Carlos Watkins, Charles Omenihu. If Reader doesn't come back, then the question becomes "Do they see Dunn and Blackson as the sole "fat guy types" up front, and go with a leaner, Omenihu-type to backfill Reader's spot. While he's spent the last few seasons working for Romeo Crennel, Weaver is his own man, and a big part of his background comes from time spent playing for or coaching with Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine. Weaver may look to do some different things defensively, and that may necessitate a different body type along the defensive line.

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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.
Contact: Sean Pendergast