After Four Seasons, Texans Starting Over

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006; 12:39 PM

Four seasons into their misguided existence, the Houston Texans are starting over.

When the Texans came into being, they were going to be the expansion franchise that did everything the right way. They had the owner that the NFL had coveted, in Robert McNair. They had the ultimate league insider for a general manager, Charley Casserly, and a coach, Dom Capers, who had won 19 games with the Carolina Panthers in their first two seasons as an expansion team. They had first-class facilities and a plan to build for lasting success.

Things didn't look so bad when the Texans went from four wins in their first season in 2002 to five in 2003 to seven in 2004. Last season was supposed to bring the breakthrough to respectability. Instead, it all came crashing down. The club went a pitiable 2-14. Capers was fired, and McNair undermined Casserly by bringing in Dan Reeves as a consultant to assist in the coaching search that produced the hiring of Gary Kubiak.

Casserly stayed on to assist in a draft-preparation process that led to the controversial decision, perhaps driven by financial considerations, to use the top overall selection on North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, not University of Southern California tailback Reggie Bush. Then after the draft, Casserly announced that he was resigning to pursue a job in the league office. McNair and Casserly maintained that Casserly had not been fired, but McNair's reliance on Reeves during the coaching search had made it clear where Casserly stood with the owner.

So the Texans clearly are not anyone's model franchise any longer. Now, it's evident that McNair is banking on Kubiak, a coveted head-coaching candidate for much of his tenure as Mike Shanahan's top offensive lieutenant in Denver, to get it right. The Texans settled fairly quickly on Kubiak as the coach they wanted, then waited until after the Broncos' season ended with a loss in the AFC title game to officially hire him. When the Texans used the top pick in the draft on Williams, McNair said it had been Kubiak who had decided to go with defense over offense.

McNair said the draft decision had not been based on economic factors. But the fact remains that Bush rejected the contract offer -- $54 million over six years, including $26.5 million in bonuses -- that Williams accepted on the eve of the draft. The Texans can only hope that their choice doesn't become the football equivalent of taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Bush was the most dynamic player in the draft, and for months in appeared virtually automatic that he would be the Texans' choice. They're left without the player who might have turned around their offense immediately, but they did emerge with the best pass-rusher in the draft.

The Texans stuck with David Carr as their would-be franchise quarterback by exercising an option in his contract to retain the rights to him through the 2008 season. They traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Buffalo Bills for disgruntled wide receiver Eric Moulds, who still could have a decent season or two left in him at age 32. Pairing Moulds with Andre Johnson gives Carr some options in the passing game. Kubiak added a good pass-catching tight end, Jeb Putzier, after he was released by the Broncos, and the Texans took some steps to try to improve a leaky offensive line that has been Carr's undoing. They signed center Mike Flanagan and tackle Ephraim Salaam as free agents, and used two third-round draft picks on tackles Charles Spencer and Eric Winston.

Their second-round choice, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, could join Williams in being an immediate contributor on defense. The Texans got defensive ends Anthony Weaver and N.D. Kalu in free agency. The defense needed the help. The Texans ranked 31st in the league in total defense last season, one spot lower than the offense ranked.

The Texans, essentially, are an expansion team all over again, having had the top overall draft choice for the second time in their history. They have begun the interview process to find a replacement for Casserly, but it's clear that Kubiak now is in charge of the club's football operations. They have spent the past few weeks enraging their own fans and befuddling the rest of the league with their draft-related decisions. Eventually, this franchise will have a .500 season, but that no longer seems to be right on the horizon.

Around the League

The NFL's team owners are scheduled to gather in Denver today for a one-day meeting Tuesday. The leading topics of conversation are likely to be Los Angeles and the commissioner search. Committee meetings are to take place this afternoon and evening.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue once targeted this meeting for the owners to select a stadium site in Los Angeles. The top contenders are the Coliseum and a site in Anaheim, Calif. But the owners might not be quite ready to take that step. Tagliabue said late last week he probably wouldn't know before today's committee meetings in Denver whether the owners would be ready to choose a stadium site this week. Tagliabue and the owners want to put a franchise or two in Los Angeles within the next few years, and have opted to deal with stadium issues before determining what team or teams they'll put in the market. Estimates of the cost of a stadium project in Los Angeles have reached $800 million.

The eight-owner committee appointed by Tagliabue to find a new commissioner is working with an outside search firm to identify candidates, but it's still early in the process and it's unlikely that there will be any significant developments Tuesday. Tagliabue said last week that he expects to have to remain in office beyond his scheduled July 31 retirement because it's unlikely the owners will name his successor by then, but he remains hopeful there will be a new commissioner by the Sept. 7 start of the season.

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