Another season has gone by and the Houston Texans have yet again stumbled in the NFL playoffs.
The AFC South champions did make an improvement this year by going a round further, though it still was not enough from a team that has the potential to go further.
If the Texans want to improve for next year, they will need to start straight away and make some changes in the off season.
It is not going to be easy for them as they have no first-round draft pick and only $60 million cap space to work with. Nothing is ever easy in the NFL but perhaps by making these five moves, they will give themselves a better opportunity.
Deshaun Watson’s new contract
For a franchise to succeed, first they must sort out the franchise position on the team, the quarterback.
Fortunately for Houston they have one of the best in the league in Deshaun Watson. Currently in his fourth year on his rookie contract, the Texans have the opportunity this off season to tie him down to their organisation. Sorting this early and not leaving too long to get it done will settle him and the team and pave the way in moving forward with preparations for the new season.
A drawback for Houston comes in the form of Patrick Mahomes. Being in the same draft class as Watson, he is also due a new contract and will likely be tied down by the Chiefs this off season.
It is rumoured that he will be the first $200 million player and a contract of this magnitude will push the value of the Texans QB up. Watson will use Mahomes new contract as a baseline to negotiate his own and that’s even if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl.
Watson does have a case for such negotiations and even though he has not yet reached an AFC Championship game he has an overwhelming potential to.
Previous performances and especially the performance against the Buffalo Bills this year prove he can carry the franchise to where it needs and wants to be. Not tying Watson down to a new contract would be madness as he will be one of Mahomes’ biggest rivals over the next decade or so.
Houston need to get this done and dusted as early as possible no matter the cost and how much it affects the salary cap.
For a team to reach the second round of the playoffs, having changes in the coaching staff might not be a priority.
Changing the staff isn’t priority and from the point of view of the Texans things are working but just not well enough.
It needs to be more of a shift of personnel. New coaches will cost time and money and the players will need to form a new bond with new people.
It seems changes have already occurred. Defensive Line coach Anthony Weaver has been appointed Defensive Coordinator at the expense of Romeo Crennel, who rather than be fired has been made an assistant to Weaver. This is a good move because they will get new ideas but from familiar faces.
Bill O’Brien is a change that needs to happen in this off season. Not by firing him (sorry some of you Texans’ fans, he still has three years left on his contract) but by perhaps taking some of the pressure off his shoulders.
The Head Coach has also been playing General Manager, while in theory a savvy move, it splits his priorities. Employing a GM would be a good move for Houston as it could take the pressure off his shoulders and give him more freedom to coach the players. If it wasn’t to happen then perhaps O’Brien should hand over more responsibilities to Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly.
Whatever the decision, it is another one that can affect the way the team plays, so the structure needs to be in place before September.
Steady the ship at running back
As positions go, running back wasn’t a particularly bad one for Houston.
Lamar Miller, Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson were the main three last season. Hyde had his best career season and even reached over a thousand yards. With Miller and Johnson putting in solid seasons the position isn’t one to panic about but still needs to be addressed.
With the running back position getting stronger and stronger in the AFC South, they do not want to get left behind. Miller and Hyde become free agents, so decisions need to be made. Do they keep both, get rid of both or keep one or the other? Getting rid will free a lot of salary space whilst keeping both means they have not lost any strength.
Dropping one will mean they will get the best of both worlds and with Hyde having had the better season it could mean he would be preferred, especially as he has been having good rapport on field with Johnson too.
The run has been becoming more popular again and will be a very sought after position this year.
There probably isn’t a wrong answer to this problem for Houston, even if they drop Miller or Hyde. The decision will need to be made quickly so that the Texans can make a move in free agency for someone cheaper or to look toward at the draft.
Sorting out the secondary
There’s no doubt about it the Houston Texans were a very good team this season. Every good team will have their weaknesses and the Texans had theirs exposed.
The Secondary is one area that has let the team down massively and it has shown by seeing them be the fourth worst team defensively in the league, giving up 4,726 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns.
That sort of defence is not going to win you championships.
This is a good unit, but they are missing something. Getting Bradley Roby to return would be a good first step for them. Roby was the standout corner for Houston last season and would be an experienced head amongst the young players in his unit.
With an already developing roster in these positions the Texans will need to dip into free agency to improve this situation.
Who they get will depend on how they prioritise cap space, but it should, however, be one they keep near the top of the list.
Free agency experience is in abundance this year in the cornerback and safety positions.
Top free agent corners include Byron Jones (Dallas) and Logan Ryan (Tennessee), whilst safety includes Justin Simmons (Denver) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Chicago). These are the type of players Houston need to move for and would do very well to get.
Strengthen pass rush
The Texans really suffered on the defensive side of the ball this season.
Pass rushing was a big problem and this is a team with JJ Watt and Whitney Merciulus in.
Mid-way through the season Watt went down with a pectoral injury that required surgery.
He was a big presence missed and Jadeveon Clowney moving to Seattle did not help either.
Clowney wanted elite money for his position and when he couldn’t get it, was traded out for two players and an extra 3rd round pick in this year’s draft.
Merciulus and Jacob Martin got good pressure from the outside line-backer position, but not having Watt and Clowney hit them hard and they ended up being ranked 26th in the league in sacks.
Not sacking the quarterback gives too much freedom to throw and doesn’t force mistakes. This in turn put pressure on the secondary and this could have been the reason for the problems in that area.
Defensive end is a problem that needs to be addressed as they cannot afford to keep putting pressure on other areas.
Looking to the draft for this position might be their best and only option. With a lot of capital being utilised in other key areas this year, drafting a hungry rookie and have him under the tutelage of JJ Watt might well be the way forward for Houston.