Texans’ trouble with Bill O’Brien, NFL power rankings, Week 1 and more

NFL

The Houston Texans should have fired Bill O’Brien after the 2017 season. They didn’t, and they continue to pay for the mistake.

Jan. 1, 2018. This should have been Bill O’Brien’s last day with the Houston Texans. It wasn’t.

Houston was coming off a 4-12 season, punctuated by nine consecutive losses. The campaign began with O’Brien deciding on Tom Savage as the starting quarterback over Deshaun Watson. Savage then got sacked six times in the first half of Houston’s Week 1 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. O’Brien, sensing the worst imaginable moment to send a franchise quarterback in, inserted Watson into the lineup for the final 30 minutes. He was sacked four times in a 29-7 thrashing.

At 4-3, Watson tore his ACL in practice. Savage returned, and so did the losing. The Texans could have fired O’Brien. With a young star at quarterback and talent dotting the roster, prospective coaches would have flocked. Instead, O’Brien remained.

Houston has been paying for the error ever since. Arguably never more than Saturday, when in the span of mere hours, O’Brien spearheaded the trade of Jadeveon Clowney for a third-round pick and two backups. Not finished, he then acquired a quality left tackle in Laremy Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills and a fourth-round selection for a pair of first-round choices and a second-round pick.

Tunsil is terrific, but ask yourself this: how many non-quarterbacks are worth two first-round selections? You won’t need your second hand.

Since June 7 when then-general manager Brian Gaine was fired 18 months into a five-year contract, the Texans have gone GM-by-committee with O’Brien heavily involved. The results have been disastrous.

For months, the franchise had a staring contest with Clowney. They stared so long, the Texans missed the calendar pages ripping off past the July 15 deadline. Once that happened, Clowney couldn’t sign a long-term deal with any club. Leverage to move him for a bevy of draft capital evaporated.

What transpired was gross incompetence from the entire organization, top on down.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks both traded players on the franchise tag prior to the draft. Kansas City netted a second-round pick for Dee Ford. Seattle netted first and second-round choices for Frank Clark. Clowney, a better player than Ford and comparable to Clark, came nowhere close to earning such a haul.

To continue this puzzling situation, the Texans made the aforementioned splash of acquiring Tunsil. If the Texans are making such an all-in move, why deal Clowney? At this juncture, force him to miss game checks. Clowney likely would have played eventually, and when he left this offseason, a third-round compensatory pick was coming. Additionally, Houston is paying $7 million of Clowney’s salary. Unreal.

With Tunsil, the move both makes sense and lacks any foresight simultaneously. It’s also shockingly unknowledgeable for the Texans to acquire Tunsil without an agreed-upon extension in place. After what Houston gave up, Tunsil should ask for an ownership stake and negotiate from there.

After allowing a league-high 62 sacks last season, the Texans had to protect Watson far better. It seemed Gaine made those strides by using a first-round pick on tackle Tytus Howard and a second-round choice on guard Max Scharping. Tunsil’s arrival tells Howard his head coach has little belief in him. Perhaps Howard was Gaine’s guy, and O’Brien is now getting his.

In all, the action plan doesn’t fit together. Trading one good young player for a meager return shouldn’t precede landing a good young player for an astronomical cache. This is what happens when a franchise has a lack of leadership in the front office. Coaches typically don’t make good general managers because they think for today. Tomorrow be damned.

O’Brien has never been a great head coach. In five years, his record is 42-38. He has one playoff win, a victory over third-string quarterback Connor Cook. The AFC South hasn’t featured one 12-win team during his tenure, and only two 11-win outfits, including Houston last year. The division has typically been soft.

The Texans shouldn’t have fired O’Brien because he’s a terrible coach. He’s not. He’s a mediocre coach and terrible at heading up a front office, two sins which are crippling Houston now and — after the Tunsil deal — well into the future.

Power rankings

My 10 Super Bowl favorites entering Week 1

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. New England Patriots
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Los Angeles Rams
6. Los Angeles Chargers
7. Dallas Cowboys
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Pittsburgh Steelers

Quotable

“I’m disappointed it has lasted this long. I pride myself in having solutions to problems, and I haven’t solved this one yet. We know what he means to our team, and even bigger than that what he means to our organization. But the other side is we have a big game coming up this week with the Colts, and I’m confident in the players that we have on the field right now will play well.”

– Chargers general manager Tom Telesco on Melvin Gordon’s situation

This weekend represented a turning point for the Chargers and Gordon.

According to reports, Gordon has been granted permission to seek a trade. Then, Telesco announced the team won’t negotiate again until after the season, effectively ending hope of a compromise. In short: Gordon is likely exiting shortly.

Gordon is a good back, but he’s not elite. The Chargers are right not to pay him an exorbitant number, especially with Philip Rivers due for a new deal at season’s end, and then a litany of stars getting another contract after the 2020 season.

So where could Gordon wind up? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make sense, but they would need to be creative with the salary cap this season. The Chargers’ star would flourish in Bruce Arians’ system. Gordon also started following the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Eagles and Falcons on Instagram on Sunday night. Worth noting.

At this juncture, it’s unclear where Gordon goes. What is clear, is Gordon and the Chargers are at a breaking point.

Podcast

In the latest episode, Matt Verderame and Josh Hill discusses where the Colts go in the post Andrew Luck era, how we got here with Jadeveon Clowney and much more. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes and more!

Random stat

The Cleveland Browns have not won a Week 1 game since 2004, when they defeated the Baltimore Ravens. The Tennessee Titans hope to extend the streak on Sunday.

Info learned this week

1. Week 1 promises surprises and Murray’s debut

The hardest games to predict? Week 1. Just ask Vegas.

The current lines for all 16 games range from EVEN to -9.5, with the Seahawks laying the largest spread to the Cincinnati Bengals. There won’t be another week without a double-digit line, but for now, the books are playing it relatively safe. Without film, new staffs can surprise early, while favorites can be toppled by an ambush.

Perhaps there’s no greater example this year than in Arizona. The Cardinals are hosting the Detroit Lions and are 2.5-point underdogs. This is the first time we’ll see Cardinals quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury, with a full playbook. Maybe Arizona flops and the Lions roll, but the reverse is also a real scenario. The Cardinals are rebuilding, but a new scheme and lack of tape on Murray’s tendencies could lead to a huge day in the desert.

Bank on a few large upsets. They always come in the openers.

2. McCoy adds another weapon to Chiefs attack

LeSean McCoy wanted to go home again. He found comfort in the Kansas City Chiefs.

After being released on Saturday afternoon by the Buffalo Bills, the 31-year-old running back signed a one-year, $4 million deal with Kansas City by night’s end. At that cost, McCoy is going to be featured prominently in the backfield alongside Damien Williams.

McCoy reunites with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid and Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, who worked in Philadelphia’s scouting department when McCoy was drafted in 2009. Two years ago, McCoy openly campaigned for Buffalo to hire Veach for its vacant GM position.

With the Chiefs winning out over the Chargers for McCoy’s services, they stockpile another headache for opposing defenses. Although he struggled in 2018 with injuries and lessened production (514 rushing yards, 3.2 yards per carry), there’s reason to believe McCoy has plenty left. In the two prior campaigns, McCoy combined for 2,405 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per attempt. He also caught 109 passes in that span.

In Kansas City, McCoy will see less volume and fewer faces in the box. It could be a revival for one of the game’s most electrifying backs, in the game’s premier offense.

3. Zeke, Cowboys reportedly on precipice of deal

The Cowboys open with the New York Giants. Ezekiel Elliott may show up after all.

Multiple reports say Dallas and Elliott are close on a long-term extension, finally ending a month-long holdout. Elliott has two years remaining on his rookie deal, but has wanted a lucrative extension for some time. In Indianapolis during the Scouting Combine, talk was emerging about Elliott’s wants. Those whispers turned into shouts prior to camp when his holdout became front-page news.

According to a source, Elliott will likely become the highest-paid running back in history. To do so, he’ll need to eclipse Todd Gurley’s $57.5 million deal including $45 million guaranteed. After earning two rushing titles in three seasons, Elliott is on the verge of generational wealth.

For the Cowboys, Elliott’s structure is key. Is the new money tacked on in an extension starting in 2021, or does this contract replace his rookie pact? Additionally, is the money front or back-loaded? All those questions directly impact how and when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are paid. It also might spell the end of star corner Byron Jones in Dallas, who is a free agent after this season.

The contract may be close to finished. The ripples are only beginning.

4. Hoyer release tells of confidence in Stidham

The Patriots released Brian Hoyer on Saturday. The move speaks volumes about Jarrett Stidham.

Stidham is now Tom Brady’s primary backup only months after being selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. The former Auburn star showed well in preseason contests, doing enough for head coach/general manager Bill Belichick to cut ties with Hoyer, a veteran security blanket.

With Brady being 42 years old, Stidham might finally be the heir apparent. Even if Brady plays a few more seasons, the first-year SEC product will be on his rookie deal through the 2022 season. Stidham has everything to prove, but the release of Hoyer is a great first step.

5. Jags pay Jack; face serious cap questions ahead

Myles Jack cashed in this week. The Jacksonville Jaguars now have questions to answer.

Jack signed a four-year, $57 million extension with $33 million guaranteed. The deal’s structure hasn’t become public yet, but let’s plug in the average annual amount of $14.25 million for next season. With a projected salary cap of $200 million, Jacksonville is $18.5 million over the cap. This is before a franchise tag for Yannick Ngakoue, who a source told FanSided in August would almost certainly receive it come February. A tag would approximately mean another $18 million, putting the Jaguars $36.5 million over the cap.

So what can general manager Dave Caldwell do?

Jacksonville can release defensive tackle Marcell Dareus for a whopping $20 million savings. Linebacker Jake Ryan and tight end Geoff Swain’s cuts would bring in another $10 million. Then there are potential moves on defensive tackle Abry Jones ($4 million savings), slot corner D.J. Hayden ($6 million), receiver Chris Conley ($2.25 million) and others.

The Jaguars can make it work, but the cap casualties will be aplenty.

History lesson

The Raiders are embarking on their final season in Oakland. It’s a fanbase deserving of better, having to see its team leave for the second time after years of flirtations and insults.

In 1982, the Raiders bolted the East Bay for Los Angeles. A year later, they won their third Super Bowl. Now, Oakland will pack its old, crumbling stadium on Monday night to ring in a last campaign, with the Denver Broncos coming to town.

The NFL is a cold business at times. The Colts bolted Baltimore under the cloak of darkness in 1984. Cleveland lost the Browns in ’95, with then-owner Art Modell in search of a new stadium. This is the most hurtful exits since then, with other franchises leaving towns with dwindling support.

Raider Nation has always been vocal and present. Now they prepare for eight final home games.

Parting shot

We finally made it. The NFL season is here.

On Thursday night, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. lift the curtain on the league’s 100th season. Fittingly, the oldest rivalry in professional football get it going from Soldier Field.

Every season has its storylines, and this one is no different. The Patriots try for a fourth consecutive Super Bowl trip. Patrick Mahomes attempts to lead the Chiefs we they haven’t been since 1969. The Saints, fresh off two heartbreaks in the postseason, make another charge at greatness. The list goes on and on.

Each year at this time, I reflect on why I love football. It’s undoubtedly aided by my old man, who introduced me to the game as a 5-year-old. It’s because of NFL Primetime, a legendary show which forever changed how football was covered. It’s the drama, the passion, the violence and the artistry. Football is NFL Films, it’s leaves turning color, and it’s chips and beer on a Sunday night.

GOING DEEP: An oral history on NFL Primetime

Of course, football means something different for us all. It’s become a national phenomenon, something George Halas and Curly Lambeau couldn’t have dreamed of in 1920. Yet here we are, with millions upon millions waiting for Thursday night to come.

Football is back. Let the games begin.

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