Two years ago, the Texans wanted to be the featured team on Hard Knocks. Now, they’re not interested.
They’re not interested because they’re getting attention the old fashioned way: By winning football games.
But the team’s first playoff berth in a decade of existence has been chased by a stunning out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new offseason, during which G.M. Rick Smith has tried to keep up with the Joneses by treating his players like John Does.
“One important thing I’ve learned is when your core changes, you’ve got to be willing to change your philosophy too,” Smith tells Peter King of SI.com. “Your core of players has to be a living, breathing thing, and you have to be willing to examine it all the time to be sure you’re comfortable with it. The good thing about making those types of decisions is being able to be emotionally detached a bit. I don’t have the attachment to the players that a coach does.”
That lack of attachment has seen Smith move on from linebackers Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, along with 40 percent of the team’s stellar offensive line, letting right guard Mike Brisiel leave via free agency and cutting right tackle Eric Winston. (It could have been worse; center Chris Myers hit the market, but he ultimately stayed put.)
As to the departure of the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, Smith was able to rip the “Williams” off the back of the jersey and made the sort of business decision the team made six years earlier, when ignoring the sizzle of Reggie Bush and Vince Young. “There’s no way to minimize the loss of Mario Williams,” Smith said. “But you turn the tape on from last season, and what players were out there on the field?”
Looking ahead, Smith’s approach means no one is truly safe. If receiver Andre Johnson, whose knee problems already have him on the shelf this offseason, can’t contribute much in 2012 and if the team’s youngsters at the position step up this year, Johnson could (in theory) be elsewhere come 2013. And with quarterback Matt Schaub entering the final year of his contract, Smith apparently feels no compulsion to extend Schaub’s deal, willing instead to take a wait-and-see approach regarding Schaub’s recovery from a serious foot injury — and if necessary to trust T.J. Yates, who led the franchise to its only playoff win.
Regardless of whether the Texans can fend off the Titans for a second straight AFC South crown, Smith’s approach is the tough one, but also the right one. In professional sports, there’s no place for sacred cows, if the overriding goal is to win. And so the “what have you done for me lately?” cliché has become “what will you do for me tomorrow, and how much are you expecting to be paid to do it?”
Successful teams will stubbornly ask that question as to every man on the roster, and they’ll answer it without regard to who the player is.