The rise of Jack Easterby continues.
Not long ago the Chiefs’ team chaplain, Easterby has climbed the stairway to the upper reaches of an NFL operation, parlaying his spot in the Texans’ supposed single-year plan to proceed without a G.M. into an indefinite gig as the team’s de facto G.M.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL reports that the Texans currently don’t plan to hire a General Manager in 2020, a reversal of their presumed prior intent to bide their time and to hire Nick Caserio away from the Patriots.
The reasons aren’t clear, especially since the team interviewed G.M. candidates before deciding to apparently wait for Caserio. The simplest explanation is that owner Cal McNair looks at the standings, sees that the team is 7-4, and believes that if it ain’t broke, don’t break it.
That’s good news for coach Bill O’Brien (who is essentially running the show) and for Easterby (who is essentially riding sidecar to O’Brien). But here’s the reality: The Texans are 7-4 largely because of the presence of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who truly is good enough to cover up plenty of other deficiencies on the roster.
So they’re winning with the current structure. The question becomes whether they’ll win as much as they should, this year or in the future, without a General Manager?
The team’s current success makes it easier to spin the G.M.-free moves positively. But questions still linger regarding the moves made as the season approached. Giving up a third-round pick for a stop-gap running back remains a significant price to pay for a position that can easily be addressed in the later rounds of the draft (or, as the Texans learned with Arian Foster, not in the draft at all). Giving up two first-round picks for tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills without signing Tunsil to a long-term deal will result in a much bigger contract for Tunsil than what he would have gotten on Labor Day weekend. (And, no, the fact that the Rams gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick for Jalen Ramsey without signing him to a new deal doesn’t absolve the Texans; it separately damns the Rams.) Waiting too long to trade Jadeveon Clowney resulted in a limited haul — along with a requirement for the Texans to pay $7 million of his 2019 salary.
Immediately after moves that left the Texans without a pair of first-round picks and without more than a third-round pick to show for a dominant-when-healthy defensive player and the $7 million in cash and cap space they burned to accommodate the deal, some said (only partially jokingly) that the Texans will have a hard time finding a G.M. in 2020. Now, they won’t have to try.
And it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that the Texans have decided to tread water in order to avoid a stream of candidates saying “thanks but no thanks” given the absence of draft picks, and in light of the vague question of whether Easterby will be working under the new G.M., or vice-versa. The Fritz Pollard Alliance objected publicly to the decision to interview a pair of minority candidates last June before not filling the job; the next time the Texans launch a search for a G.M., they have to make a hire.
The key for now continues to be Watson. And the next challenge for O’Brien and Easterby will be to come up with a timeline and a negotiating strategy for extending Watson’s deal. The moment the 2019 regular season ends, the window opens on Watson’s second contract. And they’ll be dealing with the same agent who finagled Ramsey’s trade to the Rams. And they’ll have to decide whether to wait for the Chiefs to extend Patrick Mahomes‘ contract or to strike first.
Regardless, Watson has played his way into a contract at or above the current market high of $35 million in new money per year. Figuring out dollars and structure for Watson without a G.M. in the building will be a challenge, to say the least.