Well, there is one thing you can say about the Bill O'Brien Era — it's never dull. Just a week after the Texans' season ended in embarrassing fashion, in a 51-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Bill O'Brien and Executive Vice President Jack Easterby began their annual facelift of the organization, this time targeting the defensive side of the ball and a member of the Texans "flat GM structure" as areas that need change.
It started with a small clap of thunder on Sunday afternoon with outside linebacker coach John Pagano being let go, but it turned into a full fledged thunderstorm and flash flood on Sunday night, into Monday morning. First, there was Senior VP of Football Administration Chris Olsen getting cut loose:
When Bob McNair extended Bill O'Brien, he also extended Chris Olsen. McNair praised the heck out of Olsen, senior VP of football administration, as one of the NFL's best contract negotiators and cap experts. Now he's been fired by O'Brien and Jack Easterby.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) January 20, 2020
Then, on Monday morning, while most of Houston was still sleeping, Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported that longtime assistant Romeo Crennel would be vacating the defensive coordinator spot:
Shakeup in Houston: Longtime respected assistant Romeo Crennel is not expected to return as the #Texans' defensive coordinator, sources tell me and @RapSheet. His contract is up soon; he could return as a senior assistant or retire. DL coach Anthony Weaver a top candidate for DC.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 20, 2020
And two hours later, defensive line coach Anthony Weaver would get a big promotion:
Texans promoted their defensive line coach Anthony Weaver to their defensive coordinator, per league sources. He takes over job from Romeo Crennel.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 20, 2020
OK, so there is a ton to unpack here, so let's do this Four Thoughts style:
So what's the deal with this Olsen firing? I thought he was good at his job. What gives?
He was good at his job! In fact, Olsen was overseeing one of the parts of the organization that you can unequivocally say was a strength of the personnel side — managing the salary cap and doling out sensible contracts. Granted, they've not had to operate the last few years with a contract on the books the size of the one Deshaun Watson is going to get, but still, it's been a strength. My guess (and hope) is that firing Olsen is a precursor to some qualified person coming in with a general manager title, a person who may want their own salary cap guru. My FEAR is that this is O'Brien absorbing yet one more function into the (ever shrinking) current flat organization structure/GM committee, that is really just O'Brien running things. If O'Brien is put in charge of giving Deshaun Watson a contract extension, Deshaun might be able to buy a small island in the South Pacific... or a chunk of ownership in the Texans. Speaking of which....
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What does this mean for Deshaun Watson's contract extension?
If I had to guess, the Watson extension will be a group effort on the Texans side, and it won't happen anytime soon. When the time comes, hopefully before the 2020 season, Watson could become the highest paid player in league history, as my friend Troy from Texans Cap outlines in a very detailed, and well informed piece on his website. For what it's worth, Watson has said all the right things publicly about his relationship with Bill O'Brien, saying he loves him and backs him 100 percent. If the season begins without a contract extension for Watson, especially if Patrick Mahomes gets one signed in Kansas City, then the questions could get interesting. I don't foresee Watson playing on a fifth year option in 2021, nor on a franchise tag in 2022 or 2023, but stranger things have happened. (You know, like Bill O'Brien being given complete autonomy to run the football operations side of an NFL team.)
What changes with Anthony Weaver replacing Romeo Crennel?
First, let me say that I am very happy for Weaver, who's been a rising star in the coaching business since he jumped in less than a decade ago. He's done solid work coaching defensive lines in Buffalo, Cleveland, and Houston, and is widely regarded as one of the bright young minds in the coaching business. He is an unabashed lover of all things Rex Ryan (his position coach in Baltimore early in his career), so maybe we will see some Rex-ian changes with this Texans defense. That might necessitate looking at different styles of personnel, particularly along the defensive line, where maybe they skew away from the big 300 pounders Crennel liked, and go with more athletic types. Bottom line, I think this will be a good thing for the Texans.
Is there more change to come?
There always seems to be with these Texans! I don't know that I foresee any changes on the offensive side of the ball, as O'Brien seems to think that side of the ball performs
better than it actually does well. Offensive line coach Mike Devlin has always been a popular target for Texans fans seeking a pound of flesh, but that group improved with better material, and O'Brien seems to think Devlin is the love child of Alex Gibbs and Dante Scarmecchia, so yeah. It will be interesting to see who gets Pagano's spot coaching outside linebackers. Is Brian Cushing ready for a bump up to coaching a position group? The biggest area's of intrigue now probably center around play calling duties (i.e. will O'Brien cede them to OC Tim Kelly?), pending free agents (D.J. Reader, Bradley Roby, Carlos Hyde at the top of the list), and contract extensions for Watson and tackle Laremy Tunsil.