The Texans surrendered too much, the consensus maintains, in sending two first-round draft picks and a second-round choice to the Miami Dolphins as part of their trade for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills. And they didn’t get enough in return, many observers contend, when they dealt three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for two players and a third-round pick.
The negative evaluations of the Clowney trade became even harsher Sunday with the news, first reported by ESPN, that the Texans are paying Clowney a $7 million signing bonus as part of the deal, with the Seahawks picking up the remaining $8 million of his 2019 income.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a more lopsided trade,” J.I. Halsell, a salary cap expert who is a former agent and league and team executive, wrote on Twitter. “The return [or lack there of] for Clowney, coupled with the Texans paying 7 [million] on top of it should get their GM fired. Oh but that’s right, they don’t have one.”
O’Brien has had more say over the roster-construction process since the Texans fired Brian Gaine as GM in June and didn’t replace him. They interviewed former NFL general managers Martin Mayhew and Ray Farmer but didn’t hire either. They abandoned their planned pursuit of New England Patriots front-office executive Nick Caserio when the Patriots filed a tampering charge, which was then dropped.
The GM-less Texans are struggling to find their way. Tunsil is one of the game’s better young left tackles. But was he worth the Texans’ first-round picks in the next two NFL drafts, plus a second-rounder in 2021? Many think not.
“The price the Texans just paid for a LT,” former Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns executive Joe Banner wrote on Twitter, “is what some teams have paid for some of the best young QB’s in the NFL.”
The Texans also failed to sign Tunsil to a new long-term contract in conjunction with the trade, therefore increasing Tunsil’s future negotiating leverage as he seeks such a deal.
In the short term, the trades might not hurt the Texans all that much. The presence of Tunsil gives blind-side protection to quarterback Deshaun Watson following a 2018 season in which Watson was sacked 62 times. The addition of Stills to the wide receiver corps gives Watson another option in the passing game.
The subtraction of Clowney from the defense is significant. He never has become the dominant pass rusher that some thought he would be when he was taken with the top overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft. But he’s an excellent all-around player. Still, he hadn’t reported to the Texans and was refusing to sign his one-year franchise player deal.
This is about more than the short term and the 2019 season, however. There are reasons many NFL teams are wary of giving GM-like roster authority to a head coach. It’s not only because it’s so difficult, in terms of time management, to do both jobs well. It’s also because there are different priorities for the two jobs. The coach’s job is to win now. The GM’s job is to look at the big picture, to balance a team’s prospects to be competitive in the future with its potential to win and contend immediately.
The Texans damaged their future at the cost of their ability to win this season. They handed the Dolphins the draft-pick resources to put their rebuilding project on fast-forward.
And they didn’t get the most out of Clowney. When they didn’t trade Clowney before the July 15 leaguewide deadline for teams to complete long-term contracts with franchise-tagged players, the Texans ensured that Clowney would be, in effect, a one-year rental player for his next team, thereby reducing his trade value. The Seahawks reportedly agreed not to use their franchise player tag on Clowney next spring, when he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. But they got the Texans to pay nearly half his salary and they potentially could recoup their third-round draft choice in the form of a compensatory draft pick if they lose him in free agency.
It’s not that the Texans gave up Clowney and added Tunsil and Stills. It’s about the price tags attached to the deals.
When it comes to an NFL team going without a GM, the Texans just became a cautionary tale.
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