Texans Wasting Deshaun Watson's Potential While They Play Their Game of Thrones

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJune 11, 2019

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) sits on the turf after he was sacked for a loss during the second half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

Deshaun Watson should be a superstar by now.

Watson led the Texans to the playoffs last year. He threw for 4,165 yards and rushed for 551 more. He's electrifying to watch. He gets to throw to DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best receiver in the NFL.

All told, Watson should be getting Patrick Mahomes-level buzz. Or at least a little Baker Mayfield next-big-thing hype. Heck, even a little Mitchell Trubisky "is he better than Aaron Rodgers?"-flavored goofy speculation would be nice. 

Instead, Watson is the NFL's forgotten young franchise quarterback because the Texans are stuck in a first-round playoff rut. Watson has no one blocking for him and only Hopkins to throw to, which holds him back from bigger accomplishments and flashier stats. The Texans spent the offseason doing little to change that as the Chiefs, Browns and other challengers to the Patriots' supremacy whizzed past them.

The good news is the Texans finally did something this past weekend about their perennial also-ran status. The bad news is they didn't execute some blockbuster trade for a receiver or an offensive tackle. Instead, they did what dysfunctional organizations typically do when they come to a crossroads: They played backroom power games.

The Texans fired general manager Brian Gaine on Friday after he spent only 17 months on the job. Gaine replaced Rick Smith, who stepped away from the GM gig for family health reasons after the 2017 season but also spent the latter part of his tenure locked in a power struggle with head coach Bill O'Brien

O'Brien is expected to be instrumental in the selection of Gaine's replacement, just as he hand-picked Gaine. You know what that means: No matter which way the arrows may point on the organizational chart, O'Brien will be the one wielding final roster control. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio is an early favorite to win the job, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, as O'Brien enters his sixth year of trying to build the Lone Star Patriots.

You know how your buddy keeps getting divorced and claiming he just can't seem to find the right girl? And how you always want to say "IT'S YOU! YOU'RE THE PROBLEM!" but your wife kicks you in the shins as soon as you open your mouth? That's O'Brien with general managers. Nothing is ever quite up to his standards, and it's somehow never his fault.

With the firing of general manager Brian Gaine last week, Texans coach Bill O'Brien will soon be working with his third GM as he enters his sixth season with the franchise.
With the firing of general manager Brian Gaine last week, Texans coach Bill O'Brien will soon be working with his third GM as he enters his sixth season with the franchise.Michael Conroy/Associated Press/Associated Press

Back when JJ Watt was having signature Hall of Fame seasons on defense and Houston's offense featured Hopkins, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and a veteran offensive line, the Texans were embroiled in an endless quarterback controversy. O'Brien shuffled veterans like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer as well as quasi-prospects like Ryan Mallett, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage in and out of the lineup according to his weekly whims.

By the time Watson elbowed past Savage for the starting job in 2017like Hoyer two years earlier, Savage held the starting job throughout training camp, only to be yanked in an opening-day lossthe offensive line had deteriorated and the receiving corps was a one-man band. The supporting cast grew even weaker last year, but Watson and Watt stayed healthy all year, and the Texans won 11 games thanks to some narrow victories and a squishy schedule.

Per multiple reports, Gaine wasn't fired for any one blunder. It was the culmination of smaller missteps: failure to make contract headway with franchise-tagged Pro Bowl defender Jadeveon Clowney, getting outflanked in the draft and settling for Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard instead of a more polished lineman in the first round and so forth.

So, Gaine's brief tenure wasn't exactly glorious. But like O'Brien's Week 1 quarterbacks, he got an awfully quick hook. And his dismissal was ill-timed, as his replacement won't be able to do much to improve this year's roster. That means another year of Watson's development and low-cost rookie contract, not to mention Watt's comeback tour, will melt away while O'Brien searches for that precise winning formula.

The Texans surrendered a league-high 62 sacks last year. Howard and second-round tackle Max Scharping are long-range, small-program prospects. Injury-plagued tackle Matt Kalil was Gaine's only free-agent acquisition on the line. Watson is likely to take another pounding this year, and he won't survive too many more of them.

No Texans player besides Hopkins caught more than 32 passes last year. The Colts beat the Texans in the playoffs by blanketing Hopkins and forcing Watson to subsist on shallow drags to Keke Coutee and checkdowns to running backs. The Texans did nothing about that in the offseason, so Hopkins will again be supported by slot specialist Coutee and oft-injured speedster Will Fuller at wide receiver, with people named Jester Weah and Vyncint Smith (sounds like a 1980s hair-metal guitar tandem) behind them on the depth chart.

The next general manager will have a lot on his plate when he finally gets a chance to make some meaningful moves. In the meantime, his primary task will be to forge a healthy working relationship with O'Brien, which apparently isn't easy if Texans history is a guide.

Deshaun Watson was sacked an NFL-high 62 times last season.
Deshaun Watson was sacked an NFL-high 62 times last season.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

A franchise quarterback is supposed to be an NFL organization's most valuable asset. But organizational unity and vision are at least as important. The Texans are evidence of what happens when a team has the quarterback but not the plan or the cohesion: Watson, Hopkins, a star-studded defense and a perennially weak division amount to little more than playoff losses and missed opportunities. Watson's low-cost rookie-contract years are being squandered, as are Clowney's low-cost years and Watt's encore, while better-run franchises grab the playoff wins and offseason sizzle.

Perhaps the third general manager will be the charm for O'Brien, and the Texans will finally build a quality supporting cast around Watson before he is sacked into oblivion or Watt becomes the governor of Texas or something.

The Texans had better hurry, because time is running out for everyone. Including Bill O'Brien.


Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.