The Houston Texans came three quarters shy of hosting an AFC Championship Game with the taste of a Super Bowl LIV trip within their grasp. Deshaun Watson is capable of greatness, but he’ll need a little help if the Texans want to reach their Super Bowl dreams.
Frankly, it’s remarkable that Watson carries this team as far as he did. Playing behind a spotty offensive line with a porous defense and a go-to receiver that kept getting hurt, he lifted this team to its ceiling.
But if the Texans make the right moves this offseason to help their franchise quarterback, Watson could lift the Lombardi Trophy above his head a year from now.
The skinny: After trading two first-round picks for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills, Watson excelled once again in 2019 with more talent around him.
The 24-year-old threw for 3,852 yards with a 26-12 TD-INT ratio and rushed for 413 yards with a career-high seven rushing touchdowns. Houston finished the regular season with a 10-6 record then Watson made one of the best plays of the season to secure a playoff win.
The Texans jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs and were seemingly headed for an upset. Unfortunately, a few baffling decisions by Bill O’Brien and the collapse of the Texans’ defense knocked them out of the playoffs.
Instead of firing O’Brien, the Texans gave him even more power. While Houston would have greatly benefited from a new coach leading this team into the future, a few moves this offseason can still make the Texans a Super Bowl contender.
Creating more cap room: The Texans head into the offseason with $55 million in cap space after signing Whitney Mercilus to an extension. It’s a substantial number to work with, but a few moves would give this team even more financial flexibility.
- Cut CB Vernon Hargreaves – Houston took a chance on Hargreaves this past season. It didn’t work out. Cutting him to create $9.5 million in cap space is an easy decision.
- Cut OG Zach Fulton – The Texans have given Fulton plenty of chances. He is part of the problem on the offensive line. Moving on from him frees $7 million to spend this offseason.
- Cut DE Angelo Blackson – This team desperately needs help on the defensive front and Blackson is easily replaceable. Cutting him generates $4 million in cap space, making this move inevitable.
- Restructure J.J. Watt’s contract – Durability is an increasing problem for Watt. Offering him an extension that lowers his $15.5 million cap hit this year and $17.5 million in 2021 will help out the Texans and let Watt finish his career in Houston.
These four moves turn $55 million in cap space into $75-plus million to spend this offseason. It’s the type of flexibility that makes extending Deshaun Watson and building a championship-caliber supporting cast possible.
Bill O’Brien spends like wild: O’Brien’s trades for Tunsil and Gareon Conley demonstrate his aggressiveness to land impact talent. While it might also come with long-term consequences, O’Brien’s approach could at least be beneficial to this offseason.
Houston’s head coach and general manager should look to support his quarterback and new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball to do just that.
- Extend Deshaun Watson – Watson deserves to be one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL and the Texans are ready for it. A five-year extension worth $38.5 million per season, with the new money coming in 2021, could work for everyone.
- Re-sign NT D.J. Reader – Reader has blossomed into a fantastic nose tackle in Houston. The market is flush with nose tackles, which will limit the cost of bringing him back. He’s absolutely a piece this defense needs next season.
- Re-sign CB Bradley Roby – The one-year pact worked for both sides. Now, the Texans should make a long-term commitment. Roby is an excellent slot corner and he won’t be especially expensive, which is music to Houston’s ears.
- Sign CB Byron Jones – This is the player who we can see O’Brien going crazy for. The Texans can keep Jones in Texas by making him one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive backs. A secondary with Jones, Roby and Conley would be a vast improvement from what this team deployed in 2019.
- Sign TE Eric Ebron – Not only do Ebron and Watson share an agent, he also hinted at joining the Texans this offseason. A one-year deal might allow the 26-year-old to prove himself again after an underwhelming 2019 season, too. Adding the 6-foot-4 tight end, who can make plays like this, would help Watson take his game to an MVP-caliber level.
The Texans will certainly look to make a splash this offseason. Signing Jones and extending Watson would more than account for that. Bringing back Roby and Reader also shows that O’Brien will reward players who make a meaningful impact for this team.
This type of offseason simplifies Houston’s remaining needs for the 2020 NFL Draft. It’s especially important given the team’s limited draft capital to work it. So, with the secondary and defensive line bolstered, O’Brien can turn his attention to a few other areas of need.
- 2.57 – Jonathan Taylor, RB – This is the pairing that has us excited. Taylor can join Watson in the backfield to create a duo that defensive coordinators will hate to face. He can put up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers in his rookie season and will be complemented perfectly by Duke Johnson. He’s perfect for the Texans and this is the right landing spot to prolong Taylor’s career.
- 4.101 – Jeremy Chinn, S – Every defense needs a playmaker that can move all over the field. It’s a role Chinn was made for. The 6-foot-3 safety can line up in the slot, play deep or lower his shoulder and knock over some running backs. He could even play linebacker for the Texans. Chinn is the missing piece for this secondary and only falls because he’s from a small-school program.
- 4.121 – Michael Onwenu, OG – The Texans are strong at offensive tackle, but the interior offensive line could use some help. Onwenu can start at right guard immediately and be counted on to keep the inside pocket clean for Watson.
Houston adds an exciting running back to its backfield and adds an offensive lineman to help protect the franchise quarterback. Between those selections, Chinn could prove to be one of the steals from this draft class and he’ll take this secondary to a new level. These are the kinds of moves that can help the Texans become a Super Bowl contender.
The big picture
It can take teams a decade to assemble the talent the Texans already have. Deshaun Watson is a championship-caliber quarterback, but he hasn’t been provided with the supporting cast that can win a Super Bowl. All of that can change this offseason.
Everyone knows the Texans must do a better job protecting Watson. Tunsil can be an All-Pro left tackle and 2019 first-round pick Tytus Howard will return as a pillar on the right side in 2020. Onwenu’s addition will help keep Watson’s jersey clean moving forward. Keeping Watson upright also relies upon a strong running game. That’s where Taylor can help the Texans’ offense reach its full potential.
Of course, a dominant offense isn’t enough to win the Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes only had a chance at his remarkable comeback because his defense came through with big plays in the clutch. The additions of Byron Jones and Jeremy Chinn, with J.J. Watt hopefully healthy, can help Houston’s defense reach that next level.
The opportunity is now for the Texans to compete for a Super Bowl. Windows like this close quickly in the NFL, especially once top quarterbacks get paid. If the Texans want to win a Super Bowl, these are the moves that can help them accomplish it.