In the interest of fairness, we will lead with a defense of Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, who, on the opening day of free agency, traded DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for David Johnson, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in 2021.
• The team, at some point, has to pay Laremy Tunsil and Deshaun Watson, and they have already boxed themselves into a precarious position with a severe lack of draft capital.
• The cap hits on Hopkins and Johnson were similar, so it allowed Houston to get an immediate return for a player who they may not have wanted to sign to another long-term extension, and net draft compensation above the compensatory value. Plus, Johnson fills an immediate need at running back in the short-term.
• This is, supposedly, a deep class at wide receiver. Recent history has shown that teams comfortable in their scheme can plug and play a little easier than other franchises, even if they don’t have a first-round pick to wield.
Now that we’ve gotten all this out of the way, any Texans players still reading this are free to run for the abyss. This is full-scale mismanagement.
It’s not hard to understand the impulse. If you’re a coach who believes in the scheme and the quarterback, anything seems possible. You can swap players. You can delete them off the face of the earth. You can imagine a world where everything is better or just as good without them because this is a confidence business and you don’t rise to the level of all-powerful head coach and general manager without having the fortitude to pick up the phone and ship one of the best players in football westward for a fist full of junk bonds.
And yet it’s still hard to fathom how trading Hopkins went through, absent a total blackout. Hopkins is not just a statistically relevant wide receiver, the kind of player we haughtily dismiss nowadays because it’s trendy and smart to say that teams with target-hungry wideouts are seldom complete enough to win a championship. Hopkins was the Texans’ offense. He was responsible for almost three quarters of their expected points added through the air last season. He made up more than a third of Watson’s total air yards. He took in 30% of the team’s total targets last year.
All of this with middling separation numbers, consistent with the most smothered receivers in football. What happens to the quarterback who became accustomed to all of this?
What makes this move feel especially insane is how obvious it appears to all of us. We are naturally blind to some players who make teams better or worse in the little moments we won’t pick up on. Our own biases cause us to miss things. We overrate players. But so few Texans games go by where it isn’t readily apparent that Hopkins’s catch radius propels this team forward. He extends drives out of thin air. He has the ability to make the perfectly positioned defender irrelevant.
But these are things you might miss when this toxic confidence takes the wheel. Just as we could see it clear as day, someone like O’Brien might be able to look past it toward some brighter future somewhere else. Unfortunately for O’Brien, that bright future will be in Arizona.
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