I've said this many times since Deshaun Watson took over as the unquestioned leader of the Houston Texans' on-field operation, and I'll say it again here — every decision the franchise makes needs to come with a good answer to the question "Is this in the best interests of Deshaun Watson?" He is unquestionably the most important employee of the organization.
So, to that end, it's been fair to wonder just exactly what Watson has been thinking as the Texans have executed their 2019 offseason plan, a plan that apparently, like 2018's plan, includes their being very, VERY conservative in their approach to free agency. Up until Friday, the only move made on the offensive side of the football was the signing of a blocking tight end, David Fells, to a one year contract. For an offense whose offensive line has been an abject failure the last two seasons, many saw this inactivity as unacceptable.
Fortunately, the damn broke slightly on the inactivity, as the Texans on Friday signed offensive tackle Matt Kalil, recently released by the Carolina Panthers two seasons into a five year, $55 million contract, to a one year deal to likely play left tackle. He missed all of 2018 with a knee injury.
This isn't a move that, all of a sudden, vaults the Texans past the Colts in the AFC South, but it is something, and honestly, the Texans' offensive line is in a state where almost any move represents a likely improvement. Let's dig into this one a little bit:
How good is Kalil?
I don't profess to be an offensive line expert, but I think it's safe to say that if Kalil could still play at a level representative of an $11 million per year tackle, he would still be a Carolina Panther. I will defer to former Texans Pro Bowl guard Wade Smith, when it comes to the deep dive film analysis. The highlight from an extensive film review from Smith is this summary:
"In summation, after watching the film, I understand why he was offered and signed a one year deal. If HEALTHY, he’s a low-risk, high-reward upgrade at LT. If he can consistently play with a chip on his shoulders, then bringing in Matt Kalil will be a STEAL. Problem is, I haven’t seen him consistently play with that aforementioned chip."
I recommend clicking on that link for Wade's analysis, as it is very good.
Another one year deal
The Texans' two biggest needs heading into this offseason were (and some might say, still are) offensive tackle and cornerback. Rather than overpay for a first-day-of-free-agency name signing (the kind that make fans feel really good in April, but not so much in October), GM Brian Gaine has chosen to address those areas in free agency with two one year "prove it" deals, at corner with Bradley Roby and at tackle with Kalil. It worked pretty well with Tyrann Mathieu last season, so let's see where it goes. Either way, I find the "one year contract, free agent" approach to be a highly responsible way to run a budget and manage a salary cap. I think that approach to these two positions, though, also shows the Texans' hand in the draft a bit.....
Kalil will be a bridge for a rookie
...and as such, I think it's approaching a lock that the Texans will use the 23rd pick in the draft on the best available tackle or cornerback, with a tie going to tackle. Whereas there's a chance that Roby could play his way into a long-term deal with the Texans, I think Kalil is probably going to be a one-and-done kind of player. Put it this way — Kalil is the favorite to start at left tackle for the Texans in 2019, and that's fine, but if he's the favorite to start at left tackle in 2020, then something went horribly wrong with the 2019 NFL Draft and the Houston Texans.
What's left to do?
So with tackle and cornerback each addressed with at least one veteran body in free agency, and with a new backup QB in the fold, what's left to do over the next could weeks, as free agency winds down? I would list the Texans prioritization of needs as follows:
1. Veteran wide receiver as insurance for Fuller and Coutee
2. More cornerbacks
3. More offensive linemen
4. Running back depth
Worth noting, the NFL Draft is exactly a month away.
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