Saturday’s whirlwind of transactions provided the first real test for Houston’s new-look, no-G.M. front office. The grade for the “flatter” management structure: A big, fat F.
Through not just one but two disastrous trades, the Texans not only botched their divorce from Jadeveon Clowney but also authored a mini-Herschel Walker fiasco that mortgages the future and complicates the process of hiring any G.M. who has real options in 2020.
The blame lands nowhere but on the desk of Cal McNair, who is now running the franchise following the passing of team founder of his father, Bob McNair. Cal McNair signed off on that clumsy plan to fire G.M. Brian Gaine and lure Nick Caserio from the Patriots, as if taking from the Patriots an employee they are intent on keeping ever works. Along the way, the Texans frustrating the Fritz Pollard Alliance by interviewing a pair of minority G.M. candidates for the job (Martin Mayhew and Ray Farmer) before deciding not to hire anyone.
The situation went sideways once the Texans hired from the Patriots an employee they definitely didn’t want to keep: Jack Easterby. He’s a former chaplain turned, well, something other than a chaplain but lacking the chops to do the job he now has, whatever it may be. It utimately entails significant influence with minimal accountability, since he can always claim (after one of the decisions he influences goes poorly) that he’s not a “football guy.”
At a time when some think that Sunday’s doubleheader of deals that may rip out the heart of the franchise are the result of coach Bill O’Brien operating without the balance that comes from having another strong voice in the organization, others believe that this isn’t simply Easterby failing to be O’Brien’s foil but Easterby subtly taking charge and imposing via whispers to McNair a vision for the roster that Easterby has crafted without having, you know, the skills, abilities, or experience to do so.
Let’s start with the trade that sent Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle. The failure of the Texans to trade him before July 15, the deadline for signing Clowney to a long-term deal, made Clowney less attractive to a new team, since the new team was getting, as a practical matter, a one-year rental. So the Seahawks wisely viewed Clowney as a one-year rental, and they negotiated with the Texans accordingly.
The initial terms — a third-round pick, linebacker Jacob Martin, and pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo — seemed a little rich, even though Mingo probably would have been cut, anyway. Sunday’s news that the Texans are paying $7 million of Clowney’s franchise tender of nearly $16 million makes it a great deal for the Seahawks. They get Clowney for one season at nearly $9 million, dibs at signing him to a new deal after the season (they’ve agreed not to restrict him with the franchise tag), and they’ll be eligible for a compensatory draft pick in 2021 that could climb as high as the third-round pick they sent to Houston for 2020.
So the Texans are buying a 2020 third-round pick and two players (one that probably could have been signed as a free agent) for $7 million. If the Texans simply hadn’t tagged Clowney in the first place, they could have gotten a 2020 third-round compensatory pick, without paying the $7 million. (If they’d simply rescinded the tender, there’s a chance they still would have been eligible for a compensatory pick in 2020. The answer to this isn’t completely clear; different people from different teams have different views on whether a compensatory pick would have been available.)
Thus, the Texans shouldn’t have applied the tender in the first place, and they should have rescinded the tender in lieu of doing the deal that was done on Saturday (even if they wouldn’t have gotten a compensatory pick by rescinding the tender in late August).
Then there’s the trade that made everyone quickly forget the Clowney debacle, and not in a good way. To get tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills from Miami (along with a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 sixth-rounder), the Texans gave up their 2020 first-round pick, their 2021 first-round pick, their 2021 second-round pick, tackle Julien Davenport, and cornerback Johnson Bademosi.
Even if there’s any way to defend the value the Texans got in exchange for the picks they surrendered (there isn’t), the fact that they did the deal without a long-term extension for Laremy Tunsil boggles the mind. Given what the Texans surrendered to get Tunsil, Tunsil and his agents will have the bulls by the balls (and then some) when it’s time to negotiate a new deal.
The league is buzzing about the level of ineptitude that these deals demonstrate. But few are surprised. The General Manager is gone, the coach (who has shown that he is a very good coach) isn’t a personnel specialist, and the guy who has finagled a path from chaplain to inner circle lacks the capacity to even begin to understand how the job is supposed to work.
Cal McNair boasted in July that the team will have “flatter organization with a faster management style” and that the “organization is totally re-energized with a team-based approach and new leadership based on sub programs with each sub program being fully optimized as a goal.” It was a confusing talking point when it was articulated by McNair, and it’s more confusing now.
Given the long-term impact of Saturday’s moves (along with the lingering presence of Easterby), it will be incredibly difficult for the Texans to hire the kind of G.M. they need in 2020. Whoever that G.M. is will surely have a chance to be a G.M. somewhere else next year, or to wait for another opportunity in 2021.