Bill O'Brien is going all-in on 2019 with two deals that will define his tenure with the Houston Texans.
The Texans coach -- who has a large say in personnel matters because the team is currently operating without a general manager -- made his mark Saturday by making two bold moves: one to protect the team's best asset and one earlier to deal away three-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who had been holding out of training camp.
On Saturday, hours after Houston traded Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for a marginal return, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Texans are finalizing a blockbuster deal with the Miami Dolphins:
What a day for the Texans. pic.twitter.com/ZbVARgHTA1— Sarah Barshop (@sarahbarshop) September 1, 2019
O’Brien saw the punishment that Watson took behind a weak offensive line last season, when he was sacked a league-high 62 times, and made a gutsy move.
By trading for Tunsil, the Texans fill the biggest hole on their roster and give this offense of Watson and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller the chance to show that it can be as good as it looks on paper. Adding Stills also provides some much-needed depth at receiver and provides insurance if either Fuller or slot receiver Keke Coutee cannot stay healthy in 2019.
Stills was the Dolphins' No. 1 receiver and a captain last season. He primarily has functioned as a dynamic deep threat, but he has had success making plays out of the slot. Stills also has been at the forefront of the NFL player protest movement since 2016 as he kneels during the national anthem before every game in an effort to raise awareness of social injustice, systematic oppression and police brutality.
The Texans traded Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2020 third-round pick and linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin because they did not want to sign Clowney to a long-term extension -- even though they have the salary-cap space to do it.
The Texans paid a high price in both trades. In essence, the Texans on Saturday gave away Clowney, two first-round picks and a second-round pick for Tunsil, Stills and some mid-round picks.
But if the deals allow Watson and the offense to flourish for years to come because Houston has a franchise left tackle for the first time since trading Duane Brown in 2017, they would certainly be worth it.
In another move, the Texans also made a trade with the Chiefs for running back Carlos Hyde, a former second-round pick who will be playing for his fourth team in less than a calendar year. The 28-year-old running back, who has 43 career starts and has averaged 4.0 yards per carry in his career, will help fill a void left when Lamar Miller was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL.
By going all-in on the offense and trading away Clowney -- the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft -- O'Brien will be under pressure to win now.
When Texans owner Cal McNair did “a thorough evaluation” of the team’s football operations in June that led to the firing of then-GM Brian Gaine, O’Brien said several times that McNair "was very clear with me on what we needed to do to continue to grow our organization as a football team." While O’Brien would not divulge at the time what those priorities were, it’s clear he took that seriously and sought to rebuild the team into one he believed could be a Super Bowl contender this season.
While trading for Tunsil and Stills is a big move that should have an immediate impact on this offense, it’s hard to overlook the fact that by trading Clowney, the Texans took a big hit to their defense, and they won't have many high draft picks to help replenish it.
The Texans badly misread the situation this offseason by giving Clowney the franchise tag and not trading him before the July 15 deadline for signing him to an extension. By not trading Clowney in July, the Texans gave him more leverage. Clowney didn't sign his franchise tender, which effectively gave him a no-trade clause -- he could not be traded until he signed the tender. And his new team couldn't sign him to an extension until after the 2019 season, which diminished his trade value.
The Texans didn't get close to what the Raiders did last season for another elite defender picked early in the 2014 draft. Just before Week 1 last season, the Oakland Raiders traded Khalil Mack to the Bears for first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2019. The Bears also received a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2020. Of course, Clowney has not played as well as Mack, who was taken four picks after the Texans took Clowney in 2014, and the Texans clearly didn’t think Clowney was worth the six-year, $141 million contract Mack received from the Bears.
On Friday, O’Brien said it’s not that Houston didn’t want Clowney back, but “it's a matter of a difference of opinion in value relative to the contract.” Clowney was looking for a contract similar to those given to Mack and Aaron Donald, who signed a six-year, $135 million contract with the Rams last year. But even if the Texans didn’t think Clowney was worthy of that kind of deal, they mishandled the situation at every turn.
The fact Clowney held out for all of training camp after receiving the franchise tag should not have been a surprise. At the owners meetings in March, O’Brien indicated he didn’t expect to see Clowney at the team’s spring workouts. So if Houston knew this was a likely scenario, the team should have traded Clowney either before the draft, to get help this season, or at the very least before the July 15 deadline.
If Clowney's holdout had continued through the season, the Texans would have received a compensatory draft pick, expected to be in the third round, if he walked. Instead, the Texans were forced to settle for the package they received from the Seahawks.
On Friday, O’Brien said several times that the Texans were going to do what was in the best interest of the team when it came to Clowney. While they may not have won that trade, Houston did address its biggest hole on the roster by trading for a franchise left tackle in a division that got a lot easier to win after Colts quarterback Andrew Luck retired during the preseason.
O'Brien made big moves in trading away Clowney and adding Tunsil on Saturday. Whether those trades are successful will play a deciding role in shaping the Texans' future -- and O'Brien's.