For a team that finished 10-6 last season, and made a trip to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, the Houston Texans had plenty of leaks that were springing on board their ship. Deshaun Watson disguised many of them during the playoff win over Buffalo, and the 24-0 lead in Kansas City sure was a fun tease. However, by the second quarter of that loss to the Chiefs, the Texans were exposed.
The offense couldn't score, and the defense couldn't stop a nosebleed. The offense for the Texans is going to be fine, even without DeAndre Hopkins. I actually think it will be better than last season's, which was great in spurts, but very inconsistent. The defense is another story, and the aforementioned leaks in last year's postseason were largely in the secondary.
Thus, the decisions that general manager William O'Brien made this offseason in the secondary, in order to provide the most capable team possible for head coach Bill O'Brien, were going to be crucial. The dust has largely settled, and many familiar faces are returning, which may be good or bad. We'll see. Here are my four most pertinent thoughts on the secondary and where it stands right now:
The Tashaun Gipson release may tell more of the Brian Gaine story
It didn't come as a big surprise that the Texans eventually released safety Tashaun Gipson last week. Bill O'Brien was asked about the secondary in his pre-draft Zoom conference call back on April 16, and he named literally EVERY member of the secondary other than Gipson. The writing was on the wall. The team saves $3 million against the cap with Gipson gone after one season, but this may be more about closing the book on a "Brian Gaine sequence" for O'Brien than it is about cost savings. Last offseason, the former GM Gaine let Tyrann Mathieu leave for Kansas City and signed Gipson at half Mathieu's annual salary. Gipson was a decent enough player, but O'Brien loved Mathieu and clearly wanted him here in Houston, which as probably a big brick falling out of the wall for Brian Gaine. Now, newly signed Eric Murray is set to take over as a starting safety alongside Justin Reid.
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Gareon Conley's fifth year option rejection may forecast a gloomy story
Conley came to the Texans in Week 8 last season, traded here from the Raiders for the third round pick that came over from Seattle in the Jadeveon Clowney trade. The Conley trade received (and still receives) mixed reviews, but I liked the deal, and with Conley showing some improvement over the second half of last season, the trade looked even better. However, the Texans chose this past week to reject Conley's fifth year option for the 2021 season. Sources have indicated that the decision is more salary cap based than based in O'Brien's feelings on Conley as a player. I'm not sure there's a reason for NOT exercising Conley's fifth year option (around $10.2 million) that would make Texan fans feel good. If it's because he needs to do more to earn it, then the trade isn't really working out. If it's for cap reasons, then all that does is foreshadow how much more difficult it will become to build this roster in the future.
I will miss Johnathan Joseph!
When he was a healthy scratch for the playoff loss to Kansas City, I thought that was pretty much it for Joseph playing football again. The Texans released him earlier this offseason, and I was certainly curious to see if he would get any interest. Well, Joseph is on his way to Tennessee to play for his former defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, and face the Texans twice per season. This signing may be as much about having Joseph as a de facto player-coach, especially in those games against Deshaun Watson. It also may be a small sub-step toward the Titans' signing Joseph's fellow South Carolinian, Clowney. Whatever the case, I will miss Johnathan Joseph, who I rate as the sixth greatest Texan of all time behind J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, DeAndre Hopkins, and Duane Brown.
Improbably, the dust settles, and Bradley Roby is the cornerstone cornerback
Maybe the most improbable play in all of these chess moves in the secondary is Bradley Roby ending up as essentially the marquee cornerback on this team. Roby came to the Texans a year ago, with Gaine signing him to a one year, $10 million "prove it" deal. Roby was very solid when he played, but he missed several games with a hamstring injury. Between his lack of availability and his status as a "Gaine" signing, I was very surprised that retaining Roby was the solution O'Brien went with at the top CB slot. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Roby is here, but I'm just surprised.