Bill O'Brien

Lions Deny Backing Out Of Texans Trade

It wouldn’t be a true NFL Draft if there wasn’t a bit of drama between two teams. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tweets that Texans head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien was “furious” at the Lions for backing out of a trade.

According to McClain, the Texans “had a deal” to send the No. 90 pick to the Lions. Detroit ended up backing out at the “last instant,” and cameras caught O’Brien’s visible frustration. Houston ultimately kept the pick and settled for Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard.

Predictably, Lions general manager Bob Quinn has already said that he was never close to a trade with the Texans.

“Listen, we talk to a lot of teams,” Quinn told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com (via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com). “When we’re not on the clock, we talk to a bunch of teams, and it’s not just myself. We’ve got four or five people that make calls, so I’m not sure what that was about. But we didn’t have a trade.”

As Smith points out, Quinn and O’Brien were both on the Patriots staff between 2007 and 2011.

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com writes that the NFL makes it abundantly clear that a trade isn’t finalized until it’s made official. Trade talks are currently made even tougher thanks to the unconventional draft setup.

Extra Points: Brees, Kuechly, O’Brien

Saints coach Sean Payton might’ve accidentally let some big news slip this week. Appearing on ESPN’s ‘Get Up,’ Payton said “the unique situation with our team and quarterback Drew Brees, he’s announced he’s coming back for his final season,” via Katherine Terrell of The Athletic. When Brees elected not to retire this offseason, he said he’d be taking things year by year and didn’t make any official proclamations about this being his last campaign.

Either Payton misspoke, or he let the cat out of the bag. We’ve heard for a while now that the Saints eventually want Taysom Hill to take over as the starting quarterback, and that they plan on utilizing Hill even more this coming season. All the moves they’ve made so far point to one last run with Brees, so it would make sense if he has in fact told them this is his final ride. They’ve signed a 32-year-old Malcolm Jenkins and a 33-year-old Emmanuel Sanders, so they’re clearly all-in on 2020.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Speaking of NFC South retirements, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly surprisingly decided to hang up his cleats this offseason. Interestingly, Carolina still hasn’t officially placed him on the reserve/retired list, according to Joseph Person of The Athletic. Before fans get excited, that’s likely because the Panthers can add $6MM in cap space by waiting until after June 1st to make the move, Person notes. Additionally, a source close to the former Defensive Player of the Year told Person that he has had “no second thoughts” about his decision to retire. We’ve heard the former All-Pro could be eyeing a coaching/consulting gig, and Person writes he has also explored broadcasting opportunities. Kuechly is still only 28, so there’s plenty of time for him to change his mind about his playing career.
  • Texans coach Bill O’Brien caught a lot of flak for his trade of Deandre Hopkins and what he was able to get back in return, and he sought to explain himself a bit Friday. “It was in the best interest of our team. DeAndre Hopkins was a great football player. We loved DeAndre Hopkins He had three years left on his deal and he wanted a raise. David Johnson is going to be a great addition to our football team,” O’Brien said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). O’Brien seemed to confirm that Hopkins’ desire to sweeten his deal was a driving force behind the shocking trade. It’ll be very interesting to see how O’Brien handles the locker room and growing backlash from the fanbase.

Latest On DeAndre Hopkins

Earlier today, the Texans stunned the football world by trading star DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. We’ll run down the latest on the trade here:

  • The Texans recognized that they would have to renegotiate Hopkins’ contract at some point if they wanted to keep him, but they’re prioritizing new deals for Deshaun Watson and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, Yahoo’s Charles Robinson tweets. Hopkins had three years remaining on his team-friendly contract, so the Texans felt that a fresh deal was premature. Meanwhile, they see opportunities to replenish at wide receiver via the draft, as well as some options for trades. All in all, the Texans viewed the Hopkins trade as the first step towards a larger plan that will cover them on both sides of the ball.
  • Another contributing factor: Ongoing friction between Hopkins and head coach Bill O’Brien, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets.

Texans’ Bill O’Brien Cedes Play Calling Duties

Bill O’Brien decided that he already wears enough hats for the Texans. This week, the team’s head coach and GM announced that offensive coordinator Tim Kelly will take over play calling in 2020. 

[Kelly is] a really bright guy,” O’Brien said (via ESPN.com’s Mike Wells). “He’s a really good coach. Players really respect him. He just does a great job. Great knowledge of the whole offense from the passing game to the running game.”

O’Brien, who has served as the Texans’ HC since 2014, acted as the OC initially, then later gave those responsibilities to George Godsey. Early on in 2016, he took the headset back from Godsey and parted ways with him after the season.

Last year, the Texans finished 13th in yards per game and 14th in points per contest (23.6, on average). They’ll look to push further with Kelly at the helm.

Kelly and O’Brien go back a long ways, dating to their time together at Penn State. This will be Kelly’s second year as the OC, but his first with full control. O’Brien expressed complete confidence in the soon-to-be 34-year-old and also cited his relationship with Deshaun Watson as a major positive.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Name Bill O’Brien As GM

The Texans have given head coach Bill O’Brien the title of general manager, per a club announcement. O’Brien has effectively been in charge of the roster for a while, but Tuesday’s announcement makes it official. Meanwhile, they’ve promoted executive vice president of team development Jack Easterby to executive vice president of football operations.

Preparations are underway for the 2020 season and I thought it was important to update titles, roles and responsibilities for Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby so they more accurately reflect the way we have been operating for the past eight months,” said owner Cal McNair. “I was encouraged by the progress that our team made on the field this year which was due in part to our new structure, operating approach and the leaders within our football operations group. I am proud that we provided our fans with many thrilling victories at home, including a playoff win, and we delivered another double-digit win season. Our fans deserve that, but now it is time for the organization to get back to work toward our pursuit of a world championship for the city of Houston.”

Last summer, the Texans fired GM Brian Gaine after just one year at the helm. Since then, they’ve taken a GM-by-committee approach, with O’Brien leading the charge and Easterby holding significant influence over the roster. Execs Matt Bazirgan, James Liipfert, and Chris Olsen were also instrumental in the revamped configuration.

With O’Brien as the de facto GM, the Texans went 10-6, captured the AFC South title, and reached the divisional round for the fourth time in franchise history.

Texans Fire Exec Chris Olsen

The Texans’ strange front office situation just got even more muddled. Houston has fired executive Chris Olsen, sources told Mark Berman of Fox 26 (Twitter link).

He might not be a household name, but this is a highly significant move. Olsen, who had the official title of senior VP for football administration, had been with the organization for the past 13 years. When the Texans originally fired general manager Brian Gaine last summer, Olsen took over on an interim basis. As their unusual plan developed, Olsen became one of a few key execs who split front office duties with head coach Bill O’Brien. O’Brien has been consolidating his power lately, and we recently received confirmation that Houston wouldn’t be hiring a new GM anytime soon.

Olsen had been handling contract negotiations and salary cap matters before getting canned. It’s unclear exactly why he was fired now, or if he clashed with O’Brien. Texans owner Cal McNair has been putting all his chips in the B’OB basket, even though the playoff results have been underwhelming. Most recently, the Texans blew a 24-point lead over the Chiefs in the divisional round. O’Brien appears to have full control over the team, and will continue to remake it in his image.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans To Remain Without GM In 2020

Though the Texans failed in their efforts to hire Patriots exec Nick Caserio as their GM this spring, recent reports indicated that Houston — which has operated without a GM in 2019 — would simply hire Caserio in 2020, when his contract with New England is up. However, that no longer appears to be the case.

Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Texans plan to go without a true GM in 2020 as well. Currently, head coach Bill O’Brien has final say over football operations, though he works closely with vice president of team development Jack Easterby in that regard. Meanwhile, VP of Football Administration, Chris Olsen, handles contracts and salary cap matters, and Matt Bazirgan is in charge of player personnel.

The Texans are sitting at 7-4 and are in the driver’s seat for the AFC South title, so as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk suggests, owner Cal McNair simply may be saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But while the major personnel moves the club has made without a GM — trading two first-round picks for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills and trading a third-round pick for Duke Johnson, for example — have worked out relatively well in the short term, they will significantly handicap the team down the road. Those moves, combined with the team’s misplay of the Jadeveon Clowney situation, suggest to Florio that the Texans really do need a GM.

Indeed, the club interviewed GM candidates after the Caserio fiasco before electing to move forward with its current power structure. It could be that, given their dearth of high-end draft capital and the outside uncertainty as to how much power Easterby would wield over a new GM, the Texans may have a tough time attracting top candidates, so they will simply forego making the effort for now.

Whoever is calling the shots in 2020 will need to engage in extension talks with star QB Deshaun Watson, which may be tough to navigate with a true GM.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Rumors: Clowney, O’Brien, Ossenfort

Here’s the latest on the Texans:

  • The Texans do not expect Jadeveon Clowney to report to camp, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (video link). Still, there is reason to believe that he will not miss any regular season games. Pelissero hears that Clowney is studying his playbook and is still in regular contact with teammates, which isn’t the behavior of someone planning an extended holdout. One source close to Clowney even said he’d be “shocked” if the edge rusher was not on the field for Week 1.
  • The Texans’ reconfigured front office has head coach Bill O’Brien on top, Albert Breer of The MMQB writes. For now, everything will run through him in an operation that is likely to mirror New England’s. The rest of the plan goes like this: chief negotiator Chris Olsen will oversee the cap, director of player personnel Matt Bazirgan will handle pro scouting, college scouting director James Liipfert will do exactly what his title states, and EVP Jack Easterby will continue to have a jack-of-all-trades role.
  • On a related note, Breer hears that O’Brien liked New England college scouting director Monti Ossenfort as a GM candidate. Still, it sounds like the Texans are still waiting things out until they can land Nick Caserio.

Latest On Texans, Houston Could Go Without GM In 2019

The Texans didn’t get their guy. After a brief battle with the Patriots over Nick Caserio which resulted in the Pats filing tampering charges, the Texans backed off.

Just about an hour ago, the Texans agreed to stop pursuing Caserio, with the Patriots agreeing to drop the tampering charges. Texans owner Cal McNair released a statement with the announcement, and now we have one from Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “The Houston Texans and New England Patriots have always had a great working relationship. We appreciate the way Cal McNair has handled this situation,” the brief statement posted to Twitter reads.

This incident was particularly awkward because of all the crossover between the two teams. Texans coach Bill O’Brien is a former Bill Belichick protege, and a lot of Houston’s coaching staff and front office has come from New England. With the ordeal over with and the Texans not getting their top choice, they’ll have to move on. We’ve already heard of their interest in a number of candidates, including former GMs Ray Farmer, Martin Mayhew, Reggie McKenzie, and Scott Pioli. But in the wake of this headache, the Texans are apparently considering not filling the vacancy at all.

“There now is a scenario under which the Texans will go this season without an official General Manager,” Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted. Schefter writes that “for less than a year, Bill O’Brien, Jack Easterby and the scouting dept could divvy up the duties.” That would be very unusual, but it sounds like a legit possibility at this point. Easterby came out of nowhere to suddenly become a powerful figure in Houston’s front office, and this could be an opportunity for him to seize even more control.

The Texans won the AFC South last year, but you wouldn’t be able to tell with all the recent dysfunction surrounding the team. Deshaun Watson is heading into a pivotal third season, and O’Brien could be on the hot seat if things don’t go well in 2019. It’ll be very interesting to see what they do next.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Notes: Gaine, Caserio, Clowney, Mathieu

Former Texans general manager Brian Gaine‘s firing shouldn’t be attributed to his inability to sign Jadeveon Clowney, writes Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. We heard last week that the former executive had made “zero” progress on an extension for the former number-one pick, and a lack of development may have played a role in his firing.

However, Breer said there wasn’t any organizational disagreement over the handling of Clowney. The team was interested in signing the linebacker on their terms, and they were content opting for the franchise tag. For what it’s worth, we learned earlier today that Clowney is not expected to attend the team’s mandatory minicamp. The three-time Pro Bowler has yet to sign the franchise tender as he continues to push for a multiyear pact.

So what was the main reason for Gaine’s firing? Breer points to a lack of “fit” and “alignment,” as the former general manager didn’t share the same vision as head coach Bill O’Brien. Furthermore, the reporter believes the team’s current pursuit of Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio also played a role in the decision.

Let’s check out some more notes out of Houston, all via Breer…

  • Speaking of Caserio, his relationship with O’Brien and executive vice president of team development Jack Easterby could play a role in him leaving New England. There’s been a perception that Caserio wouldn’t leave the Patriots, but the reporter points out that the executive had been closing to leaving before (he considered taking the Dolphins’ gig in 2014). Breer wonders if the Texans could also look to Patriots college scouting director Monti Ossenfort or former Patriots executive (and current Falcons assistant GM) Scott Pioli for the role.
  • There also wasn’t an organizational disagreement over the handling of Tyrann Mathieu. The team recognized that the Pro Bowl safety had lofty monetary demands, and they never intended to go as far as the three-year, $42MM deal he received from the Chiefs this offseason. Meanwhile, the coaching staff has been happy with Gaine’s replacement for Mathieu, Tashaun Gipson.
  • Following Gaine’s signing of a five-year extension in 2018, the majority of his moves have actually been lauded by the front office and coaching staff. Breer points to the one-year deal for Mathieu, and he also notes the general manager’s ability to add productive rookies (receiver Keke Coutee and safety Justin Reid) in the 2018 draft despite not having a first- or second-rounder. While his inability to add a competent offensive line in front of Deshaun Watson certainly played a role in his firing, Breer opines that the forced trade of Duane Brown wasn’t the GM’s decision.
  • The Texans coaching staff has been happy with second-round offensive tackle Max Scharping and third-round tight end Kahale Warring. They’re also a “big fan” of first-rounder Tytus Howard. However, many pundits believe the Howard selection was a bit of a reach, and Breer wonders if O’Brien and Easterby’s Patriots’ philosophy clashed with Gaine’s eventual decision (as the two would have preferred trading back).