Most people around the world were ready to turn the page on 2020 late last week, and in the sports world, there was perhaps no fan base ready to flush the SPORTS year 2020 more than Houston Texan fans. So while the calendar year 2021 started the same way calendar year 2020 ended, with the Texans choking away a football game because of late game mistakes, we will treat the 31-38 loss to the Titans as more of a "2020 annex" than a 2021 occurrence. After all, it doesn't count toward the 2021 season.
I say all that to say that we can now truly turn the page on 2020, and begin to look ahead to new days, renewed hope, and lots of questions for the Houston Texans. As a quick primer to get you ready for what should be a fun, and at times frustrating, next few months, here are the biggest Texan storylines that you need to be ready for:
Who will be the new leaders of this franchise — head coach and general manager?
This is the most important and the most imminent storyline with this team. Because you're burning daylight on Deshaun Watson's prime, these two decisions shape up as the most important in the history fo the franchise. While it's been reported that the Texans are seeking to hire a GM and THEN a head coach, I've been told that there is no set order for these hires. They continue to interview candidates for both positions in tandem, with yesterday morning providing the latest news in that realm:
Texans have requested permission to interview Patriots executive Nick Caserio, league source confirms— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) January 4, 2021
Texans have requested permission to interview Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, league source confirms— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) January 4, 2021
How do they recoup some draft capital?
Right now, because of the Laremy Tunsil trade, the Dolphins own the Texans' first and second round picks, currently 3rd and 35th overall. The Texans will not be picking until the 67th overall pick. You can find players in that part of the draft. The Texans drafted Justin Reid 68th overall in 2018. However, there are veterans on this roster who could be traded to at least get the Texans a few more swings in the draft, even if it's not for a first round pick. One particular player who knows how this works is WR Brandin Cooks, who's been traded three times in his career, each for significant draft capital. Based on these comments last week, he doesn't appear to be ready for a fourth time:
Brandin Cooks on possibly being traded: "4's a special player, and I would continue to love to grow with him ... I would caution to think twice, because quite frankly I'm not going to accept any more trades ... if you want me off the team you're just going to have to let me walk" pic.twitter.com/qOgsTGo8HJ— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) January 1, 2021
Aside from Cooks, the only players on the roster likely to generate draft capital in a trade (without taking on a boat load of dead cap money) would be J.J. Watt (more on that in a minute), Laremy Tunsil, and maybe Bradley Roby or Justin Reid. That's it.
Who are the victims of the salary cap clean up?
The Texans enter the offseason projected to be around $17 million over the $175 million cap number that the league could be using, depending on the exact revenue shortfalls caused by COVID, in 2021. That's the bad news. The good news is that there are many different avenues to getting under the cap and creating some actual spending room to address issues on the defensive side of the ball. Prime candidates for contracts to be jettisoned for cap purposes include RB David Johnson ($6.9 million in savings), RB Duke Johnson ($5 million in savings), ILB Benardrick McKinney ($7 million in savings), and G Zach Fulton ($3 million in savings). Then there's J.J. Watt....
What happens with J.J. Watt?
As we've discussed many times, the Watt angle will be one of the most discussed topics in Houston and around the league as free agency approaches. There is no debating the emotional side of moving on from Watt (likely in a trade for some form of draft capital). It would shred the hearts of most Texan fans. Then there's the fiscal side of moving on from Watt, whose contract for 2021 is $17.5 million with no dead cap money if they traded or released him. The cap savings would be nice, but you'd be moving on from your current best defensive player, and a franchise icon. In short, the Texans defense would get worse (if that's even possible) without Watt. For his part, Watt has been noncommittal about any sort of appeal to management to stay in Houston:
Followed up by a more-direct "do you see yourself here in ideal circumstances?" question, Watt: "There's a whole lot of unknowns ... I don't have any guarantees left in my contract so something's gotta happen one way or another. But we'll see what happens." pic.twitter.com/xaXAok3nbS— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 31, 2020
Here is where Deshaun Watson stands on the Watt situation:
Deshaun Watson on Watt's future: "J.J.'s a big part of my career ... hopefully he's still here in this organization because I wanna be the one to give him that Super Bowl ring ... that's my idea, and I definitely want him here ... that's my take on that, to keep him in Houston." pic.twitter.com/bYhdzVMXY8— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 31, 2020
What happens with Jack Easterby?
The most controversial employee in the building over at NRG Stadium is current Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Jack Easterby. Depending on who you talk to, the former Patriots team chaplain turned Texans executive is anything from a cunning, in-the-shadows manipulator to a nothing-to-see-here cog in the Texans' engine behind the scenes. Whatever the actual truth is, the perception among fans is not changing — they see Easterby as a near equal to Bill O'Brien in the dismantling of the roster and the salary cap wreckage. Cal McNair has been steadfast that the next GM will determine Easterby's role, or if there even is one. Moving on from Easterby would be a major shot in the P.R. arm with Texan fans.
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