Between post-practice, post-game and the day after games, NFL head coaches conduct a couple of hundred press sessions each year. That frequency of contact breeds a familiarity in which media members become poker players who are able to deftly sniff out all of a head coach’s “tells” when he’s being coy or evasive.
When Texans head coach Bill O’Brien really likes something or someone, he tells you, clearly and directly. For example, the Monday after the Texans’ season-ending loss to the New England Patriots, O’Brien was asked about bringing back defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, the architect of the league’s top-rated defense (even — gasp! — without J.J. Watt), whose contract expired this week.
“Romeo has done a great job. I know that we would love to have him back. I know that,” O’Brien gushed. “But I haven’t even sat down with any of the coaches yet or anything like that. But I can tell you Romeo is a great football coach and just means a lot to me personally. We would love to have Romeo back here.”
So Bill O’Brien really likes, borderline loves, Romeo Crennel, and is a huge fan of his work. That’s obvious.
On the other hand, when O’Brien is asked about someone with whom he’s disenchanted or ready to move on from, his answers are indirect, overly general and not really at all about that person. For example, just moments after endorsing Crennel, O’Brien was asked about the job security of offensive coordinator George Godsey, the co-architect (along with O’Brien himself) of an offense that has run like a ’78 Chevy with a banana in the tailpipe the past three seasons.
“We’re looking at everything,” O’Brien deferred. “Look, George does a lot of good stuff for me — every coach does. I haven’t even met with Bob (McNair) yet. I haven’t met with Rick (Smith) yet. We look at everything. Every coach is evaluated. I’m evaluated. I haven’t even heard about my evaluation from the owner. Look, I expect to be here next year, but we will begin the evaluation process here in a minute.”
Somehow, a question about Godsey elicited a bowl of word soup that awkwardly meandered around to O’Brien saying he himself would be back next season. That’s a tell that O’Brien was hiding something. That something would be revealed just three hours later when O’Brien and Godsey agreed to “part ways” (a gentle way of saying Godsey was fired). Apparently, Godsey didn’t do enough “good stuff” for O’Brien.
Truth be told, Godsey was more a sacrificial lamb than a core issue in the 2016 Texans’ offensive ineptitude, just one of numerous victims plundered by the undertow of Brock Osweiler’s complete and utter failure as the team’s franchise quarterback. When Osweiler decided in March to sign a four-year, $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) contract with the Texans, his arrival was supposed to signal the end of the team’s revolving door at quarterback, a depressing parade of six different starters under center in 2014 and 2015.
Osweiler’s 5-2 record as a starter for the 2015 Denver Broncos, and presumably the film that came along with it, gave O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith the confidence to hand the keys to the fifth-year signal caller, hoping he would be the missing link between the two 9-7 records of O’Brien’s first two Houston seasons and a Super Bowl in 2016 or beyond.
Instead, Osweiler’s grasp of O’Brien’s playbook never progressed past the first few pages, and the look on the quarterback’s face after about half of his throws suggested a disturbing combination of frustration and confusion. With all of its checks, audibles and excruciating detail, O’Brien’s offense essentially turned Osweiler’s pocket into the perplexing equivalent of the cockpit of a 747, a problem for a quarterback who compiled that 5-2 record in Denver operating a simple tandem bike with Gary Kubiak.
As the season unfolded, the gravitational pull of Osweiler’s incompetence did not discriminate; practically everyone was sucked into its vortex. It dragged down DeAndre Hopkins, who went from more than 1,500 yards receiving in 2015 with four different quarterbacks to less than 1,000 yards with Osweiler. It dragged down the entire offense’s ability in the red zone, as the Texans scored the fewest touchdowns (25) for a playoff team in the modern era. It dragged down O’Brien and Smith, whose relationship reportedly became strained during the season and whose collective evaluation skills were completely undermined by the Osweiler debacle. O’Brien, for his part, even after wins, looked as if he were functioning on no sleep and no patience, because generally the wins came in spite of the team’s abysmal quarterback play.
The only consistency born of the Osweiler experience was another 9-7 record and, for the third straight year, a fan base in lockstep that the starting quarterback could not be brought back. Too many turnovers, too many poor throws, not enough wins. Yes, Brock Osweiler, the $72 million man, is basically a taller, richer, dopier version of 2015 Brian Hoyer.
Unlike Hoyer, though, Osweiler comes with the albatross of a monster salary cap hit. The $37 million in guaranteed money still has more than half of its shelf life sitting there in future years. Indeed, this season’s trip around the Monopoly board of horrible Texans quarterbacking does end in jail — do not pass GO, please pay out another $16 million. So conventional wisdom says that, even if you don’t want Osweiler to start, the team should keep him around as a backup because, well, because they have to pay him, and if they’re paying him, he may as well stick around and do something, right?
The Texans shouldn’t just move Osweiler down the depth chart; they need to move him off the roster and out of Houston altogether. Designating him a June 1 cut would allow the team to spread his remaining $25 million cap hit ($16 million in 2017 salary, $9 million in dead cap money) over 2017 and 2018, basically the same math as if they kept him one more season and cut him after 2017. But salary cap or no salary cap, Osweiler needs to be gone, largely because there is no chance of fixing him. He throws inaccurately with poor mechanics, and attempting to repair him is a waste of everybody’s time. In the NFL, windows close quickly, time is a precious commodity and inaccuracy is unfixable.
The Texans for once need to treat the quarterback position the way nearly every other NFL franchise does, and draft a young quarterback — DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and Pat Mahomes of Texas Tech are my personal favorites — in the late first or second round this coming April. A Texans QB depth chart of a drafted rookie to go with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden is a much better swing at generating hope than any depth chart that contains the name “Osweiler.”
An Osweiler return brings with it not only the practical waste of his usurping practice reps from a better quarterback, but also the daily reminder of this franchise’s worst personnel move in team history. The depressing thought of O’Brien’s answering another season’s worth of questions about Osweiler is superseded only by the equally depressing thought of listening to Osweiler’s inane press conference answers in which he explains football as if he is speaking to an auditorium of third graders.
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If you’re searching for clues, maybe O’Brien gave us another “tell” at that Monday press conference. Just minutes after his evasive non-answer about Godsey, O’Brien was equally cryptic in addressing whether Brock Osweiler would be his starting quarterback next season.
“Again, like I was saying, I know you guys are doing your job and I respect that, but before I talk about those types of things, I have to evaluate it myself,” O’Brien rambled. “I have to talk to our coaching staff and get their input. Our personnel people and get their input. I wouldn’t be a good head coach if I stood up here and told you, ‘Hey, this is what we are planning to do.’ The game was less than 48 hours ago. We are going to evaluate everything. We are going to do the best we can to field a good, competitive team, a better team, a more consistent team than we did this year.”
Indeed, Osweiler’s name isn’t even mentioned anywhere in that answer, a response to a direct question about him. One hopes it doesn’t need to be. Nobody wanted it to come to this, but reality is hard sometimes. The Brock Osweiler signing was a complete failure.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanCablinasian or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.