For about the last decade the Houston Texans have been pretty much around that area of being “not bad, but not great” of franchise. Houston has been primarily atop the AFC South post-Manning Colts Era save the year when they fell into the #1 pick and ended up with Jadeveon Clowney, and 2017. The Texans have won six division titles and 4 playoff games, but have yet to see an AFC Championship game. In fact, Houston is the only franchise in the NFL not to play in a conference championship.
The last few years there has been a lot of hope. Houston finally got that franchise quarterback that really has eluded them up until Deshaun Watson (the closest the Texans had to a franchise quarterback has been Matt Schaub). They’ve had solid defenses and then they had a true elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins where he dominated regardless of who his QB was. After a Wild Card win against Buffalo, the Texans went up to Kansas City and stormed up on the Chiefs 24-0 in the second quarter before Kansas City blew up and outscored the Texans 51-7 the rest of the way.
Then the off-season came and the trade was made. Houston traded Hopkins to Arizona for running back David Johnson. And the media and social media blew up. Hopkins, who was still under contract with the Texans for a few more years and a cap friendly one too, was traded by coach Bill O’Brien (who figured Hopkins would command a contract similar to what Julio Jones of the Falcons has and possibly worried of a holdout) for a running back that has really only one excellent season to his credit and has been oft-injured. Of course this has already been a trade that is being called “worst trade ever.” I would actually agree to that statement.
However, to play “Devil’s Advocate” for a minute on O’Brien’s trade of Hopkins. Let’s say he was right that Hopkins would likely have held out for a massive contract. One thing to really take note on is that the NFL’s offensive philosophy is changing yet again. The league is going back to an offensive mindset of run run run. Example: how did the 49ers get to the Super Bowl this year? How did the Titans make it to the AFC Championship? Why’d Green Bay win 13 games? How’d Buffalo do? These teams really emphasized on the ground game. Granted, Houston’s numbers were also pretty good on the ground in 2019 (9th overall in rushing yards, and Carlos Hyde netted 1,000 yards on top of it), but he is off in Seattle now. But was Johnson the best out there? Hard to imagine. I don’t think Tennessee would be interested in trading Derrick Henry to their rival, or the Giants parting ways with Barkley, or the Browns giving up on Nick Chubb or Dallas allowing their in-state rival to push for Zeke Elliott. So what we can easily see out of Houston in 2020 is a larger commitment to the running game, which has an offensive line that is led by All-Pro Laremy Tunsil.
Houston’s off-season even after the Hopkins trade still made waves. They traded their second round pick to the Rams for Brandin Cooks, which many were miffed as they traded a second rounder for a guy who fell off (583 yards and two TD’s in 14 games), and signing Randall Cobb to presumably offset the Hopkins trade.
But more questions should be on the defensive side. JJ Watt has not been able to stay healthy. in the last 4 seasons save 2018. O’Brien trade Clowney to Seattle prior to the 2019 season. Whitney Mercilus led the team with 7.5 sacks and the team only registered 31 total. And it showed the defense was inept not only in the Kansas City playoff game but the season in general when the Texans were one of the bottom 5 defenses in all of the NFL. The hope of a healthy Watt with their top pick Ross Blacklock from TCU would improve on that rush while the secondary is still a giant mess (though Justin Reid gives hope back there at safety).
So the Texans overall still have a lot more questions than answers at this point. Houston is trying to get an extension to Watson, who is in line to possibly be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL (or one of the highest because Mahomes) but he may possibly take less years given his rumored unhappiness of the Hopkins trade, which is possible. Or we could see a situation unfold like Houston fans are seeing just north of their state in Dallas with Dak.
Which brings me to the 2020 season. To say the Texans aren’t a talented team even with Hopkins gone is a lie. Watson is a great quarterback and there is a lot of veteran leadership on that team. However, they are starting to see some moves being put out in Tennessee and Indianapolis. Worse their schedule is not one to really be forgiving on paper, especially early on (open up with the season opener in Kansas City, then Ravens, Steelers, Vikings, Titans, and Packers are six of their first seven games-yikes!). If they start off 2-5 or 1-6, then things may change by then of having a new GM/head coach. But injuries plague throughout, the defense continues to sputter, and the offense completely crashes even with Watson, then you could see a major rebuild similar to what we’ve seen the Dolphins do and then we could see Watson finding a new home as well as others like Tunsil and others.
However, if the Texans keep their head afloat being 3-4 or 4-3 and the injuries are at a minimum, and Johnson starts to get going a bit, that schedule after the bye is very, VERY favorable for a playoff run and the future of the Texans will look decent and Watson will be around for a while
But right now, it seems like it’s more of a long shot.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat