What took the Houston Texans so long? And what does DeAndre Hopkins think? Those were the first two questions in the minds of a lot of football fans once word came down that Bill O’Brien had been fired following an 0-4 start to the 2020 NFL season.
The Houston Texans had to fire Bill O’Brien
Losing in the Super Bowl has been known to create a hangover effect in the following NFL season. In fact, only eight of the first 53 losers made it back to the NFL championship game the following season. Most recently, the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams saw the bottom fall out altogether after losing Super Bowls.
The same fate can await other playoff teams, too, and the Houston Texans certainly looked like a candidate for a deep funk after blowing a 24-point lead against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC divisional round. That alone should have raised eyebrows in the organization. But once Bill O’Brien dealt DeShaun Watson’s best weapon away in a lopsided trade and then locked the quarterback into a huge contract extension sooner than necessary, Texans ownership had to be concerned.
The 0-4 start to this season while DeAndre Hopkins is on pace for a 156-catch year with the Arizona Cardinals proved too much, and the Texans fired O’Brien on Oct. 5. He leaves the franchise with the NFL’s highest player payroll, holes throughout the two-deep, and no hope for a quick rebuild since O’Brien has traded away next year’s first- and second-round picks.
Defending Bill O’Brien isn’t easy
Supporters of Bill O’Brien will point to his impressive rebuild at scandal-shocked Penn State – a 15-9 record with a bare-bones roster – as an indication of his ability while neglecting to mention his awkward departure after two seasons. We’ll never know for sure whether frustration with the “Joe Paterno faction” was merely an excuse to rejoin the NFL.
They’ll also mention his three straight 9-7 seasons with the Houston Texans from 2014-16 with a trio of B-list quarterbacks before the arrival of DeShaun Watson.
But O’Brien’s time with the Texans is why some NFL owners will never let one man serve as coach and general manager. Men in that position can be tempted to take a “the-future-is-now” approach that sacrifices the team’s long-term prosperity in an overly risky attempt to win now. They’re also in a position to make emotional decisions that the proverbial “cooler heads” would otherwise overrule.
Will Brinson of CBS Sports nailed it when he pointed to obvious missteps. O’Brien applied the franchise tag to Jadeveon Clowney in March 2019 and then traded him to Seattle before the season. He gave Aaron Colvin a $34 million extension in 2018 and cut him one week into the 2019 season.
And, of course, there was the DeAndre Hopkins deal, which so many people cite as the worst trade in recent memory. “The Clowney and Hopkins deals both felt personal to a degree; they wanted more money and O’Brien wasn’t able to separate the relationships,” Brinson wrote.
DeAndre Hopkins had the best reaction
Trading DeAndre Hopkins rather than working out the contract extension that the 28-year-old wide receiver was seeking was one bad move too many by Houston Texans coach and GM Bill O’Brien.
Hopkins, a three-time first-team All-Pro, averaged 105 catches and 10.3 touchdowns a season over the previous three years. Getting only running back David Johnson and an upgrade of draft picks from a fourth-rounder to a No. 2 was hardly sufficient.
Not only did Hopkins work out the extension he desired with the Arizona Cardinals, but he did so without the benefit of an agent. The fact that he was able to reach the agreement so easily with GM Steve Keim reflected badly on O’Brien.
If the upheaval to his life bothered Hopkins, he decided not to let it show. There was no gloating over the news that O’Brien had been fired.
Without referencing anyone by name, but obviously commenting on the news, Hopkins tweeted simple, “Wish bad on no man.”