HOUSTON – The Houston Texans know Deshaun Watson is the quarterback they need to lead them next year and beyond.
After that, things are a lot murkier for the franchise, which finished this season at 4-12 after winning the AFC South the previous two years.
First on the list of priorities for the Texans is to hire a coach and general manager. Houston fired Bill O’Brien, who manned both roles, after an 0-4 start and Romeo Crennel finished out the season as interim coach.
The Texans have already interviewed former Detroit coach Jim Caldwell and former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, and are said to be interested in Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, among other candidates.
Houston's next general manager will have the tall task of improving the team without a pick in the first or second round of this year’s draft. Miami has both of those picks as part of the deal that brought left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills (who was released in November) to Houston.
Watson didn’t mention any contenders for the lead roles by name, but he had strong words for what he’d like to see from his next coach.
“We just need a whole culture shift,” Watson said. “We just need new energy. We just need discipline. We need structure. We need a ... leader so we can follow that leader as players.”
Watson continued to play at a high level even as the Texans lost their last five games. He led the NFL in yards passing with a franchise-record 4,823 yards, moving ahead of Patrick Mahomes (4,740) when the Chiefs QB didn't play in the final game of the season.
Watson also set a franchise mark by throwing 33 touchdown passes and ran for 444 yards to become the first quarterback in NFL history with at least 4,800 yards passing and 400 yards rushing.
He remains confident he can lead Houston to its first championship.
“I don’t want to sit here and dwell on the bad things,” he said. “It’s all the good things that I want to continue to take into the offseason and build that momentum for the new staff and the new direction we want to go with this organization.”
This season could mark the end of an era in Houston. Star defensive end J.J. Watt is under contract for one more season but has said he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding team, leading to speculation that he could be traded this offseason.
“There’s a whole lot of unknowns, so we’ll see what happens,” the three-time Defensive Player of the Year said. “I don’t have any guarantees left in my contract, so something’s got to happen one way or another.”
If Watt moves on, it would leave a huge hole on a defense that already needs plenty of improvement. The Texans ranked last in the NFL by allowing 160.3 yards rushing a game.
Watt was asked to evaluate the team’s defensive performance this season on Sunday after the Texans allowed Derrick Henry to rush for 250 yards.
“Terrible,” he said. “We played horrendous. That’s pretty obvious.”
DECISIONS ON OFFENSE
While the Texans are set with Watson, they have plenty of other decisions to make on offense.
Star receiver Will Fuller is a free agent and Watson has been vocal about his desire for the Texans to re-sign him. Fuller, who was a first-round pick in 2016, set career highs with 879 yards receiving and eight touchdowns, but missed the last five games after being suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancers.
Brandin Cooks bounced back from a tough 2019 with 1,150 yards receiving in his first year in Houston after a trade from the Rams. The oft-traded receiver became the second player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving with four different teams. He is under contract for three more years but none of the money is guaranteed, and the Texans might not want to take the $12 million salary-cap hit to keep him.
The Texans must also decide what to do with David Johnson after his struggles left Houston with the second-worst running game in the NFL. Johnson ran for 691 yards in 12 games in his first season with the Texans after being traded as part of the deal that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. He’s due to make $9 million next season in the last year of his contract, a steep price for a player coming off a subpar season.
When Crennel was named interim coach, he became the oldest head coach in NFL history at 73. He'll need to decide if he wants to continue coaching after working in the NFL for almost four decades.
Crennel said he'll take some time before deciding what's next, but added he would consider remaining with the Texans under the new coach or exploring opportunities elsewhere.
He won't be the only person with sway over his future.
“I think my wife might have the most impact on that decision because she’s trying to get me away to some island somewhere,” Crennel said. “She’s ready to go somewhere and so I told her if she can find a place that doesn’t have the virus, that I may be willing to go.”