There is no hard and fast way to run the football side of an NFL franchise. Power and responsibilities are distributed differently from team to team, some having a standard general manager/head coach partnership making decisions on the roster, others letting the head coach make those decisions.
Never in NFL history has a team approached things the way the Houston Texans have in the past couple of years, and the disastrous results show why.
In recent days, there have been multiple reports that Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, by far the best quarterback in the franchise’s two decades of existence, is miffed at the organization and wants out just four months after signing a contract extension.
It’s hard to blame him.
The Washington Football Team may still hold the title as the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL, what with the unending stories of sustained, horrific treatment of women who work in team offices and cheer for the team, team owner Dan Snyder’s years-long refusal to remove a dictionary-defined slur from the team name and general on-field ineptitude (which did subside a bit this season).
But Houston is gaining ground.
Watson was drafted in 2017, and just a couple of months into his time with the organization, he saw senior members of the roster leave the team facility when team owner Bob McNair’s private comments about “inmates running the prison” regarding players protesting unchecked police brutality during the national anthem were made public.
So it was made clear early in Watson’s career what McNair thought of Black players, particularly those who wanted to bring attention to atrocities being committed against those who look like them.
In the time since, McNair’s son Cal has taken over as team owner after his father’s death and things haven’t gotten better, not from a standpoint of supporting racial justice and most certainly not in terms of franchise stability.
At the end of Watson’s rookie season, former coach Bill O’Brien won a power struggle over general manager Rick Smith — the man who drafted Watson and J.J. Watt — and essentially picked his own GM, Brian Gaine. But Gaine was fired less than 18 months later, deep into the offseason, not long after O’Brien brought Jack Easterby into the fold. The interim GM was fired after a few months too.
So in a relatively short span, Watson saw huge turnover in the front office, which ended when O’Brien and Easterby, a career team chaplain with no relevant coaching, contract negotiation or talent evaluation experience, were left to run the team. And then O’Brien was fired after an 0-4 start to this season.
It’s not just the losing that has Watson upset, or the mind-boggling trading of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Watson met with Cal McNair after McNair reportedly offered to bring him into the hiring process for head coach and general manager. Watson shared some thoughts for potential candidates, including a recommendation of Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. ESPN reported that Watson did not presume that the team would hire people just because he recommended them, but as of right now, the Texans haven’t even put in a request to interview Bieniemy, who has been instrumental in Patrick Mahomes’ ascent to superstardom. He also had no idea that the team would hire longtime Patriots personnel executive Nick Caserio as the new general manager.
You can quibble with the idea of a player having a say in hires, but if McNair told Watson he’d be part of the process, it’s on McNair to follow through.
And while it’s unclear how much of a factor it’s playing, Watson is also upset with how the team regards social justice issues and hiring practices. The search firm McNair hired, Korn Ferry, had two men of color among its three recommended finalists, Omar Khan and Louis Riddick. Caserio was not the third finalist.
Potentially pushing his way out of the Texans could allow Watson to salvage his career and enjoy team success.
But he should be careful what he wishes for. On Sunday there were reports he’d waive his no-trade clause to go to the Miami Dolphins, currently the only team in the league with a Black head coach and Black general manager. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, however, is a mixed bag when it comes to issues of race.
He did found RISE, the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, but he also hosted a $250,000-a-plate fundraiser for President Donald Trump at his Hamptons home in 2019, and as the Dolphins struggled at quarterback for a few years, he showed no interest in signing Colin Kaepernick.
So maybe Watson ends up staying. Caserio said at his introductory news conference that Watson will continue to be the team’s starting quarterback.
But there’s a lot of work to do, on and off the field, to convince the quarterback that he should want to stay.
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