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Texans G.M. relies on emotional detachment in overhauling roster

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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.

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17 Responses to “Texans G.M. relies on emotional detachment in overhauling roster”
  1. hornbuckle says: Jun 4, 2012 8:02 AM

    Sounds a lot like my boss.

  2. hooks024 says: Jun 4, 2012 8:06 AM

    There are a few sacred cows left in the sports world. There’s a pair of fellows in new york who call yankee stadium home who will leave the game on their terms, and their terms only. Kobe is about the last one left in the nba. But I suppose many thought that was the case with that brett whats-his-name? that was in green bay before aaron rodgers.

  3. exboomer says: Jun 4, 2012 8:12 AM

    While Smith may think his approach is the right one he needs to remember that no one likes to feel like a cog in the machine and his approach could ultimately backfire. Players don’t want to play for teams where they think their contributions aren’t appreciated by their bosses and the Texans could have problems recruiting top level vets when they need to.

  4. redrew says: Jun 4, 2012 8:28 AM

    Wow….one playoff appearance and this guy starts effusing his team building philosophy.
    Did this clown discuss how the Texans benefitted from the lost Manning season in Indy? No???
    The Texans are very fortunate to be the best team in the worst division right now…a division of a rookie QB and 2 sophmore QBs that blow.

  5. bullcharger says: Jun 4, 2012 9:16 AM

    Houston had one great win last year against the Steelers and in the rest of their wins they beat up on bad teams. They won a bad division, beat cinci in the playoffs (who made it only due to an easy schedule) and then lost to a real contender.

    The Texans are getting better, but they aren’t a model franchise yet.

  6. 23chameleons says: Jun 4, 2012 9:26 AM

    It’s true, no one wants to feel like a cog and yes, the Texans benefit from being the best team (on paper) in one of the weakest divisions. We should also give them credit for holding their own when the Peyton led Colts and other divisional rivals weren’t so down.

    But they’ve done a very good job of drafting talent to fit their scheme, putting long-term, team friendly contracts in place with their core players and learning from the historical mistakes made around the league. It’s a balancing act, to be sure. This offseason there were a LOT of tough decisions to make fo the Texans. Time will tell if they made the right ones.

    The players and coaches are together in the practice bubble, the weight room and in the film room during the season, as well as the “offseason”. It would be wrong to say that the GM is “relying on emotional detachment” when he clearly is saying that he doesn’t know his players as intimately as the coaches.

  7. thebhryan says: Jun 4, 2012 9:47 AM

    Dosen’t matter what kind of GM you are, Andre Johnson is retiring a Texan!!
    He is, by far, the greatest texan ever.
    Not the type of player you let go.

  8. andrejohnsonforpresident says: Jun 4, 2012 10:22 AM

    Woah woah woah, no one who posts on this website knows more about the Texans than I do. Unless you work or play for the organization.

    First off, for the haters, The Texans would’ve won even if Peyton had played this year. Opinionated I know, facts say otherwise though. Texans beat them the previous season WITH THE WORST passing defense in recent NFL HISTORY (not anymore! thanks gb!), their defense was ranked 2nd overall this year. Secondly while some say this type of mentality could backfire, causing vets not to come back. Well look at the Pats for instance, if you actually read the war room which is Bill Belichicks awesome road into football. This strategy Rick Smith is employing is very similar to the way Bill run’s his own team. Seems to me like vets go there to enjoy a good 2 season run, peace out and get a fat contract.

    With that being said, I personally think Rick Smith and the Texans front office are building something special in Houston right now. Other peoples who’s opinions matter do as well, such as power house NFC front office members. Who when asked what AFC teams they were still worried about, several said The Texans are building something special. Even Florio says they’re doing the right thing.

    So look out for the Texans, if any of these rookie wr’s hit and Andre stays healthy (Don’t forget about Leh-Star Jean).. That offense is gonna be like a swiss army knife with all the ways it’ll be able to beat you. O an if you think losing leadership is a big problem, ask one of the many Texans that were college captains for years about the lack of leadership in the locker room.

  9. realitypolice says: Jun 4, 2012 10:25 AM

    So, it comes to contract decisions in the NFL-

    Business-like, emotionally detached decision making by GM:

    SMART

    Business-like, emotionally detached decision making by player:

    SELFISH

    Got it.

  10. jackblackshairyback says: Jun 4, 2012 10:36 AM

    To paraphrase, “This ain’t personal. It’s business.”

  11. dalucks says: Jun 4, 2012 10:38 AM

    I am a Texans fan but I am not 100% sold on Rick Smith as the GM. I think he will get a 2 or 3 year extension soon but if he wants the Texans to win this season then he needs to sign a veteran #2 wide receiver to replace Kevin Walter. Walter never shows up in big games like against Baltimore last season. Andre gets hurt because he is carrying too much of the passing game burden due to the unproductive players playing opposite of him.
    Also, if the Texans do not make the playoffs this season and finish 8-8 then Gary Kubiak will not be back as head coach. He is already 47-49 in 6 seasons with one playoff berth so another .500 season is not an option.

  12. texansdude says: Jun 4, 2012 10:49 AM

    “dalucks says:
    Jun 4, 2012 10:38 AM

    Walter never shows up in big games like against Baltimore last season.”

    You must have forgotten he made the most important catch in team history, sealing the first division title. Other than that, you make great points. Kubiak might be in a place where he can’t win less than 10 games anymore. That seat might be hotter than it’s ever been.

  13. texaninc says: Jun 4, 2012 10:59 AM

    Unlike in MLB where the Yankees buy up all the talent from small clubs, in the NFL, the talent flows downhill. The big and talented teams are always losing free-agents to the small wannabe teams who have to sign them to big contracts. The Texans have shifted from latter to the former, possessing a wealth of talent and having to make to tough decisions of who to keep. Make no mistake, they are not the Giants, Pats, or Steelers…Yet.

  14. bigwinintx says: Jun 4, 2012 11:14 AM

    You HAVE to view the talent as expendable.

    If you don’t, you wind up with a Brett Farve situation where the guy holds your franchise by it’s gonads and dares you to cough.

    At the end of the day, it’s a business.

  15. txtuff says: Jun 4, 2012 12:55 PM

    The Texans couldn’t afford Mario, DeMeco Ryans wasn’t a great fit in the new system and was losing playing time because of it, Winston has always been a little over rated and they felt like they already had his replacement, and Mike Brisiel I believe was a undrafted free agent when they got him. I think Brisiel is prob the biggest lost of all the above but in the over all picture I don’t think any of those loses will hurt very much.

    I feel with the Texans draft pics on the D (Mercilus and Crick) and the signing of Brady James to replace DeMeco that the D will be even better!

  16. rc33 says: Jun 4, 2012 1:45 PM

    Texans go from the outhouse last season to the penthouse this season in terms of opposing QB’s.
    Last year, two games w/ Jax, Indy and Cincy and single games w/ Carolina, Cleveland and Tampa Bay, all with inexperienced or bad QB’s.
    This season, Peyton in Week 3, Aaron Rodgers in Week 6, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and then finally, Week 14 in Foxboro against Tom Brady.

    I’m gonna guess their #2 defense will be challenged a little more often this season.

  17. htown1035 says: Jun 4, 2012 3:16 PM

    redrew

    They beat the crap out of Manning with the worst defense in the league – no reason to think they wouldn’t have done the same with the best.

    bullcharger

    They played against the AFC North and the NFC South – not a weak schedule by any means. They were 7-3 before Schaub went out.

    dalucks

    They already are planning on giving him an extension – he would have to really bottom out to be fired at this point.

    rc33

    The defense will be improved as well, with a full offseason with Phillips and the addition of Mercilus, Crick, James, and Sharpton’s return.

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