Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans 2020 Offseason Position Preview: Special Teams

What happens with kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn's contract?
What happens with kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn's contract? Photo by Eric Sauseda
We've spent most of the last two weeks chopping up the Houston Texans' offense and defense. To summarize, the offense has a chance to be really, really good, and the defense has a lot of work to do to become really, really average. There is free agency, the draft, and a new coordinator that could elevate the profile of the defense even further, but we must wait and see.

Then there are the Texans' special teams, which for years was this team's silent killer. Not a killer of other teams, mind you, but a killer of the Texans' very own chances to win football games. That all changed in 2018 with the hire of Brad Seely as the assistant coach in charge of special teams. Since then, this has become a strength of the team, finishing in the top five in DVOA in 2019.

Let's get to the final set of burning questions on the Houston Texans' 202 offseason, focusing on the special teams:

Will Ka'imi Fairbairn live up to his new deal?
Amid all the chatter about D.J. Reader, Bradley Roby, and extensions for Laremy Tunsil and Deshaun Watson, Fairbairn is the free agent that had been flying under the radar this offseason. Outside of a spell during Weeks Three through Seven this past season (a stretch of struggle that can be attributed, at least partially, to issue with his holder, Bryan Anger), Fairbairn was very solid in 2019. He has a consistent leg inside of 40 yards, and has range on his kicks into the 55 to 57 yard range. Finding a capable kicker has gotten seemingly more difficult, and as many close games as the Texans play in, a consistent kicker with late game success is probably more valuable to them than it is to, say, a 5-11 team. That explains the four year, $17.6 million deal ($9 million guaranteed) that O'Brien and company agreed to with Fairbairn earlier this week. It's the third richest deal for any kicker in the league.

Will Jon Weeks eventually become the longest tenured Texan in team history?
The long snapper is the forgotten man on any NFL roster, so I am going to make sure that Jon Weeks, the longest tenured Houston Texan with the team in 2019, is not forgotten! There's a reason that a lot of Texan fans still wouldn't know who Weeks was, even if he were long snapping a ball into the middle of their unsuspecting chest in the middle of an Academy Sports and Outdoors. It's because he is literally perfect at his job, and when you're perfect at long snapping, nobody says your name. The Texans locked up Weeks early last week, and he now enters season number eleven as a Texans. The longest tenured Texan of all time is Andre Johnson, twelve seasons (2003-2014). The Weeks watch is on!

Does William O'Brien, GM, continue to prioritize return and coverage team specialists?
Other than the hire of Seely, and likely BECAUSE of the hire of Seely, the biggest reason why the Texans' have rapidly climbed the charts of most effective coverage and return units is because of an acute focus on bringing in "special teams specific" personnel. Prior to Seely, the Texans would just throw their dozen or so worst position players out there on special teams, label them as "special teams players," and have Bill O'Brien tell us how valuable so-and-so is on special teams. Now, they actually have about a half dozen or so core guys — Buddy Howell, A.J. Moore, Cullen Gillaspia, Peter Kalambayi, Barkevious Mingo, Taiwan Jones, to name a few — who are on the team almost exclusively to cover kicks. The end result has been a special teams group that has helped this team mask some of the deficiencies on defense by putting opposing offenses in less favorable field position situations.

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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