Blame for Texans Not Making Postseason Should Go to GM Rick SmithDecember 29, 2014
The Houston Texans found a lot of fortune on their way to a 9-7 record. Defensive end J.J. Watt had a phenomenal, MVP-caliber season, and the Texans managed to lock him up to a long-term deal before it happened. Houston rebounded from a league-worst minus-20 turnover margin in 2013 to a plus-12 turnover margin in 2014. A down AFC South provided the Texans with four soft wins and propelled them into the playoff conversation despite using four different quarterbacks.
But here we are, two years since the Texans' ignominious fall from grace after being bounced in the divisional round by the Patriots, and Houston has yet to solve the quarterback problem that is keeping it from the playoffs. While little birdies go left and right telling Texans fans that power is fleeting, or suggesting that perhaps general manager Rick Smith has less power than expected, he has to be the fall guy for this.
The Texans have thrown away two years of Watt's prime and likely the last year of wide receiver Andre Johnson's, and it's all because this organization has failed to even take a stab at a rudimentary, NFL 101-level problem.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora ran a report that the Texans might consider relieving Smith of his duties on Sunday. According to the report, the Texans would move Smith up the hierarchy and hire a new general manager that head coach Bill O'Brien would have some say in.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle quickly had Texans vice chairman Cal McNair shoot that report down, adding that the four people he trusted in the organization the most said it wasn't happening:
I wouldn't necessarily paint myself as anti-Rick Smith. In fact, I think if we look at the grand scheme of player evaluation, development and retention, we're dealing with such small sample sizes that it's impossible to discern just how much credit a general manager should get.
But, if we look at the results on the field, it's clear that over the last two seasons Smith has taken some major missteps that the Texans haven't been able to shake.
Exhibit A is Houston's inability to find a potential franchise quarterback. I won't knock Smith too much for not having a succession plan in place for Matt Schaub—that's something that only the best general managers do—but it was inexcusable for the Texans to roll into this season with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage and Ryan Mallett.
In Smith's defense, there was no slam dunk Andrew Luck-level prospect when the Texans had the No. 1 overall pick in 2014. Still, his inability to discern that Teddy Bridgewater would be a great fit for O'Brien's offense baffled a lot of draftnik inteligentsia, and I count myself with them. In my estimation, the Texans don't even have the perception of a solution on the roster now, and with the No. 15 pick in the 2015 draft, a Luck-level prospect is tumbling to them either.
There are teams that are struggling with failed franchise quarterback prospects, and there are teams that don't even get to say that. The Texans are one of the latter. They didn't even take that shot.
Exhibit B in the case against Rick Smith is the lack of success he's had with mid-round picks over the past several seasons. Smith has nailed his first-rounders. If I were Smith, my resume would just read "I drafted J.J. Watt." And even beyond that, finding players like DeAndre Hopkins, Kareem Jackson and Duane Brown late in the first round has been awesome. But look at what he's found after that over the past four seasons:
|Mid-Round Texans Picks, 2011-2014|
|Player||Position||Drafted||Total Snaps||AV (PFR)||PFF Rating||Comments|
|Brooks Reed||OLB||2011-2-42||3453||19||-9.4||About average for a second-round pick. Fourth banana pass-rusher stuck playing third fiddle.|
|Brandon Harris||CB||2011-2-60||589||2||-4.1||Texans traded up for him. Waived him at final cuts in 2014. Filler cornerback.|
|Roc Carmichael||CB||2011-4-127||264||1||-1.6||Another bottom of the roster cornerback.|
|DeVier Posey||WR||2012-3-68||544||2||-8.9||Best moment was probably playoff touchdown against NE. Tore Achilles in same game. Bill O'Brien has no faith in him.|
|Brandon Brooks||G||2012-3-76||2242||5||+35.3||Took a redshirt year, and has been a rare unadulterated success as starting guard.|
|Ben Jones||G/C||2012-4-99||2102||5||-6.8||Adequate guard -- fine fourth-round pick.|
|Keyshawn Martin||WR||2012-4-121||895||3||-18.1||A complete failure. One so bad that the Texans were "forced" to take DeAndre Hopkins in 2013.|
|Jared Crick||DE||2012-4-126||1234||4||-11.3||Rotational lineman his first two seasons. Busted out in 2014 as a starter, but more solid than good.|
|D.J. Swearinger||S||2013-2-57||1865||4||-17.5||Pushed on field early by Ed Reed's failure. So many blown assignments you almost forget about the late hits.|
|Brennan Williams||OT||2013-3-89||0||0||n/a||Has yet to play an NFL down following microfracture surgery on leg.|
|Sam Montgomery||OLB||2013-3-95||0||0||n/a||Has yet to play an NFL down due to character issues.|
|Trevardo Williams||OLB||2013-4-124||15||0||+0.1||Waived in 2014 camp. Resurfaced in Washington. No high hopes here.|
|Xavier Su'a-Filo||G||2014-2-33||130||n/a||-8.1||Not quite ripe yet, though there's still time.|
|C.J. Fiedorowicz||TE||2014-3-65||485||n/a||-17.4||A blocking tight end that couldn't block. Or catch passes. Or, really, play tight end.|
|Louis Nix||DT||2014-3-83||0||n/a||n/a||IR'ed with a knee injury.|
|Tom Savage||QB||2014-4-135||61||n/a||-1.6||The arm was strong in a small sample size, but he wasn't ready to play yet.|
|Sources; Pro-Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders|
It's hard to build and win in the NFL when you can't replenish your roster. The Texans had major depth issues up and down the roster over the past four seasons, to the point where any injury to one of their stars was completely crippling. When the middle rounds of your drafts yield this—especially over the last two seasons—you've put yourself at a competitive disadvantage.
Is that all on Smith? Is it fair to blame him because DeVier Posey couldn't grasp his NFL responsibilities? For Brennan Williams' microfracture surgery? For Sam Montgomery completely washing out of the league on character? It's a series of calculated probability risks when you run a team. And all we have to judge someone on are the results.
Finally, Exhibit C is the most high-profile move the Texans made: courting ex-Ravens safety Ed Reed and having him replace long-time safety Glover Quin. Reed was going to be the piece that put the Texans over the top in 2013. The missing mental toughness that owner Bob McNair said they lacked in 2012. Let's roll the table and see how that worked out for the Texans:
|Ed Reed versus Glover Quin, 2013-2014|
|Player||PFF Rating||Snaps||Pro Bowls||Contract|
|Ed Reed||-6.5||275||0||3 years, $15 million, $6 million guaranteed|
|Glover Quin||+22.5||2093||1||5 years, $23.5 million, $6.25 million guaranteed|
|Sources: Over The Cap, Pro Football Focus|
Well, um, it's clear that this was a huge mistake. It smelled like a mistake at the time, and it looks even more like one years later, as Quin is a big contributor for the No. 1 DVOA defense in the NFL entering Week 17.
Again, I don't think Smith is a bad general manager. Matt Millen was a bad general manager. Smith has shown some aptitude for finding NFL talent, especially in the first round of drafts. Smith signed running back Arian Foster as an undrafted free agent. As much as I felt it came way too late, Smith brought in cornerback Johnathan Joseph before the 2011 season, giving the Texans defense a strong push away from the remnants of the Frank Bush era.
But look purely at the results. I don't think I can make more than a Devil's Advocate list of anonymously sourced comments about situations that went bad for the Texans that are someone else's fault as a reason to keep Smith at this point. The last two drafts have been ugly; the obvious quarterback conundrum hasn't been solved.
And it's really hard for me to look at the 2014 Texans and think that they wouldn't have made the playoffs with even a base hit, Ryan Tannehill-level quarterback solution rather than a home run. Luck broke right, but the design of the roster didn't allow it to happen. That's on the guy who created the roster.