Offseason Blueprint: Four Priorities for the Texans
|Despite not playing, Arian Foster took up a big chunk of cap space.|
The two most controversial decisions in recent history for the Texans were extensions for Schaub and Arian Foster. In the case of Schaub, the team's stubborn refusal to negotiate during the season and its reluctance to have Schaub's uncertain future as a "distraction" led them to give Schaub a long-term extension prior to the 2012 regular-season opener. Remember, at the time, Schaub was already 31 years old, had yet to play in even one playoff game, and was coming off a serious foot injury that has been known to end careers. But the Texans, reveling in their rare "contender" status, were so concerned with continuity and feel-good vibes that they cast those concerns aside.
Likewise, back in March 2012, the Texans gave Foster a five-year, $43.5 million extension to stay in Houston... even though Foster was still under contract for another year. With NFL running backs, a position known for its short shelf life, committing early is asking for trouble. In the case of Foster, his yards per rush slid from 4.9 in 2010 to 4.4 in 2011 and 4.1 in 2012, while his receiving yards fell from 617 yards on 11.6 yards/catch in 2011 to 217 yards on 5.4 yards/catch in 2012. Then, in 2013, the bottom fell out entirely with a series of injuries that ultimately led to major back surgery.
Had the Texans taken the hard-line approach to keep Foster on his original contract (or to "franchise tag" him and play it year-by-year), they'd have been able to take at least some of that information into account before spending such a large amount of future money. Instead, in the interest of keeping the locker room happy, they jumped the gun and are paying dearly for it today.
Of course, with a perceived Super Bowl contender, there is at least some value in keeping the locker room harmonious. I do understand where Rick Smith was coming from.
But that mentality should not drive decisions going forward. This offseason, Smith has to look at the Texans for what they truly are: a 2-14 disaster. They need to be rebuilt, and from a leadership standpoint, that means throwing out the external "feel-good" factors and putting a narrow focus on getting the best contracts possible for the team. If that means a star is upset or eventually leaves Houston, so be it.
3.) DON'T HIRE A RETREAD COACH. There were two main problems for Kubiak. One, of course, was accountability on issues such as Schaub. On that front, a stronger leader can be found numerous places -- college and pro, young and old, etc.
Marco Torres Please don't hire Wade Phillips as your permanent head coach.
The other concern, however, was Kubiak's tendency to lead from a position of fear. His fear of turnovers infamously led to numerous draw and screen plays in 3rd-and-long situations. His fear of the small chance of losing field position kept him from going for numerous fourth downs, even when it clearly made sense to do so.
From an organizational standpoint, Kubiak's fear of moving on from Schaub defined the 2013 season. A year earlier, his fear of another injury to Schaub led the Texans to essentially remove the "QB sneak" from their playbook entirely. Two years before that, an apparent fear of change kept defensive coordinator Frank Bush employed until McNair mercifully forced Kubiak's hand after 2010.
While frustrating, Kubiak is far from alone with many of those problems. The "old guard" of the NFL coaching circle is filled with men who allow their fear of worst-case outcomes, no matter how small the probability, to guide their decisions. In even simpler terms, they don't want to be second-guessed by fans and media.
One classic example was interim coach (and current defensive coordinator) Wade Phillips in the Texans' season-ending loss in Tennessee. Trailing 16-7 with three minutes left, the Texans had a 4th-and-goal on the 1-yard line. Phillips kicked the field goal, in large part because conventional wisdom says to "extend the game".
Problem is, that conventional wisdom is dead wrong. The point isn't to allow your team to stay semi-competitive in the game for as long as possible. The point is to give you the best percentage chance to actually win the game, period. In Sunday's case, the Texans had to score a touchdown at some point if they wanted to win... and when would they ever have a higher-percentage chance than from one yard away?
The Texans did get one more chance at a touchdown due to "extending the game". It came inside their own 10-yard line with 1:05 left, all with no timeouts. Tennessee was then able to play an extreme prevent defense and intercept a pass on the first play to end it. Somehow, I think that wasn't the higher-percentage option.
Recent NFL coaching hires to find immediate success include Chip Kelly, the now Philadelphia coach known for his innovative offense at the University of Oregon; Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco coach known for his discipline and aggressive style at Stanford; and Pete Carroll, the Seattle coach known for his explosive offense and player-friendly personality while coaching at USC.
So, what is the most common thread? To me, it's that each spent most of the prior decade away from the conservative NFL culture and in an environment where innovation is better received. Those coaches then brought that mindset to the NFL and haven't been afraid to make outside-the-box decisions when necessary.
Using that criteria within the known Houston candidates, I would strongly favor 44-year-old Penn State coach Bill O'Brien over the likes of ex-Chicago coach Lovie Smith and current San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.