Although the ink from the Jadeveon Clowney trade hadn’t yet dried, the Houston Texans made a bold swoop, acquiring left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills from the Miami Dolphins to make a strong statement of intent.
Usually, head coaches and GMs are somewhat at odds. General managers may feel more job security and think of what’s best for the team long-term, whereas head coaches are worried about jobs and want to win. Now.
Bill O’Brien is in the unique situation of suddenly being the GM and head coach of the Houston Texans, and while his mentor Bill Belichick has held this distinction in New England for several years, there’s something more worrisome about O’Brien’s status. Because while Belichick has always been locked in as the architect of the Patriots dynasty, O’Brien was only named GM after a botched move to steal Nick Caserio from the Patriots, and it doesn’t seem like the Texans intend on making him the long-term GM.
So O’Brien has the ability to make moves that help him, but don’t necessarily help the team. And the Texans have to wonder in the back of their minds if that was the true motivation behind O’Brien’s decision to trade two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and two backup players to the Miami Dolphins for Kenny Stills, Laremy Tunsil, and a fourth-round pick.
To say that this is a bold move would be an understatement. This is the type of move a team makes if they think they have a chance at winning a Super Bowl, and either O’Brien thinks that’s the case, or he’s worried that the Texans will fire him if the team doesn’t even make the playoffs. Because after Andrew Luck retired, there’s a clear expectation that the Texans will retain the AFC South crown in 2019, even as O’Brien feels the heat from the vengeful Jacksonville Jaguars.
Under this lens, it’s no surprise that O’Brien decided to use his powers as GM to help “Bill O’Brien the coach”. O’Brien’s play-calling, affinity for running the football, hatred for draft picks, and motivational tactics have all been called into question heading into the 2019 season, so the pressure is on him. Right now, this is his organization, and there’s no doubt who to point the finger at if things go south.
And in a sense, O’Brien has embraced that by making this bold move. The Texans are now in a better position to do some damage in 2019 as a direct result of this trade. Tunsil is the team’s best left tackle since Duane Brown, which means there’s an outside chance Deshaun Watson won’t get cooked by pass rushers in 2019 after being the league’s most-sacked passer in 2018. And Stills is a weapon who eases the impact of any future Will Fuller injury, potentially forming one of the league’s best wide receiver duos with DeAndre Hopkins.
There are reasons for the Texans to be excited about this trade, but they have to look at the loss of draft capital as a concern. Houston only recouped a third-round pick for Jadeveon Clowney, which basically would have been the compensatory pick in free agency. They may have also sent a third-round pick (if he plays in 10 games) for a running back in Duke Johnson. And now, they have traded three future starters under long team-friendly deals for two on shorter contracts.
Stills and Tunsil have the talent to put this Texans team in a position to compete with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, but the rest of the roster looks thin and won’t get bolstered as strongly as a result of the draft picks heading the other way. O’Brien has mortgaged the Texans future for success in 2019 and 2020, and he’s likely done it for his own benefit.
If the Texans dazzle this year, this risky trade will be remembered fondly – and that may be an understatement. But if not, Texans fans will lament the power O’Brien has gained and wonder if this team would have been better off with a superior, future-oriented head coach.