Dear Texans: Please stop whatever it is you're doing
J.J. Watt wasn't long for the Houston Texans anyway. That much was clear long before Friday morning, when the franchise made the prudent decision to trade its longtime defensive stalwart for ... wait. Hold on. The Texans outright released Watt? Really?
It turns out Watt asked to be set free, and that Houston chose to grant that request. But why?
With class! Of course! Why, one can practically picture owner Cal McNair wearing a monocle and top hat while sipping bourbon from a crystal rocks glass as he made the classy decision to let Watt hit free agency immediately, with the Texans getting zippo in return. It's the least McNair could do considering how diligently he's worked since taking over for his late father to alienate the Texans' best players - Watt included - along with whatever's left of the team's beleaguered fan base.
In a vacuum, that would be a noble gesture. Watt turns 32 in March, and while he's no longer the game-wrecking presence he once was, he's still an effective player. He has value. But these days, the Texans' guiding operating principle seems to be to find new ways to squander value.
The problem isn't that Houston had to part ways with Watt even though he still had a year remaining on his contract, at a non-guaranteed rate of $17.5 million. Rather, it's that Watt wanted out in the first place. Once that happened, apparently the only logical conclusion was for McNair and the Texans to let him go for nothing.
Houston made the playoffs six times in Watt's 10 seasons, including as recently as last year. But the franchise began puttering around in a clown car once it hired Jack Easterby as vice president of team development in April 2019. Easterby is now Houston's executive vice president of football operations despite having been a team chaplain and character coach in previous NFL stops. He's won a series of power struggles within the Texans' organization, and he's also earned the trust of McNair, as detailed by Jenny Vrentas and Greg Bishop in a pair of deeply reported stories for Sports Illustrated.
Since Easterby came on board, the Texans have:
- Fired general manager Brian Gaine
- Traded defensive end Jadeveon Clowney after the franchise-tag deadline, which limited their return to a third-round pick and two role players
- Traded two first-round picks and a second-rounder for left tackle Laremy Tunsil, without getting Tunsil to first agree to a contract extension. Armed with all that leverage, Tunsil later signed the richest contract in history for an offensive lineman
- Traded star wideout DeAndre Hopkins for a second-round pick and running back David Johnson, who's washed
- Fired head coach and de facto GM Bill O'Brien
- Fired VP of communications Amy Palcic
- Alienated Watt, who stated publicly he wanted no part of a rebuild as he enters the twilight of his career
- Finished the 2020 season with a 4-12 record
- Alienated star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who said McNair broke a promise to seek his input on the team's search for a coach and GM. Watson has requested a trade
- Hired Easterby's buddy Nick Caserio as GM, just as Easterby tried to do in June 2019. The hire was made despite the recommendation of an in-house search committee
- Hired David Culley as head coach
- Lost longtime team president Jamey Rootes, who wanted to resign sooner because the search committee's work was ignored, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. Florio also reported that Rootes only stayed on until this week to "keep the perception of organizational dysfunction from becoming even more pronounced"
- Released Watt, thus guaranteeing no return
That about covers it, I think. Remember: The Texans have a roster to build, but no high-end assets with which to do the building. They should have had the No. 3 and No. 35 picks in this year's draft, but they traded those selections to the Dolphins for Tunsil. The Watson standoff could last months, depending on the quarterback's resolve and his willingness to take on fines and sacrifice salary. Other than that, the Texans look like a model franchise.
McNair indeed did right by Watt by cutting him loose, just not for any of the reasons the owner thinks, given the rickety shape of the entire organization. Now what?
Dom Cosentino is a senior features writer at theScore.