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Trade Deadline Inactivity is not Always Bad

The NFL trade deadline for 2020 has come and gone.  Many of the Houston Texans fans are disappointed in their team organization for not moving on from their mess and looking to the future by trading their former All-Pro defensive lineman, JJ Watt, or their soon-to-be free agent, WR Will Fuller. I actually think the case can be made that both should be part of their roster retool process. And yes, notice I said retool, not rebuild. 

Here are a few facts that explain why these trades may not have happened. In the case of Watt, I believe it’s all about the salary cap situation in Houston. Any team who had acquired Watt would also be picking up his $15 million salary in cap count and a contract that is escalating to $17 million next year. As we all know, based on a decline in 2020 revenue, the cap is expected to decrease to approximately $175 million for each team in 2021. With that kind of cap total, it’s hard for a team to justify adding a player who will be 32 years old in 2021 and has only played more than eight games once over the last four years.  In addition, teams with excessive cap space this year can carry over that room into 2021. Any savings is real and Watt’s big salary would essentially eliminate any of this carry over that a team potentially has to utilize. Half the teams in the league are already in cap “jail” for next year so there just isn’t much flexibility trading away these big contracts right now. I think Watt will have to reduce his salary/cap number no matter where he plays in 2021, but he could surely still be in Houston come next year.

With regard to the speedy but often-injured WR Fuller, it was about a team willing to give up future collateral (draft picks) to add a veteran player for eight weeks. In other words, a rental for a stretch run. The Packers apparently considered the move but in the end, GM Brian Gutekunst decided to stand pat with what he’s got and finish out this year with his much-criticized stable of young and inexperienced wide outs.

The NFL is not professional baseball.  A player cannot be inserted as the DH when he shows up an hour before the game. Learning a system or, at minimum, a package that melds you with 10 other guys on the field takes time. A two-week learning curve is almost mandatory. That’s why these player rentals don’t take place very often. If Fuller isn’t franchise tagged and is allowed to leave the Texans, in all likelihood, they will receive a third-round pick in terms of compensation as part of the NFL compensatory system. Knowing this, the Texans asked for MORE from other teams.  These deals are more complicated than most people think. Not only did Green Bay pass on Fuller, but the other 31 teams said NO THANKS as well. 

In either the case of Watt or Fuller, I do not think that it's bad they both remained Texans. The Texans will presumably hire a new general manager and a new head coach at seasons end. Its only right that the new decision-makers are able to assess their situation and choose a course of action they will be held accountable for at the end of the day. Watt and Fuller will be part of a complete roster restructure that will take place based on philosophy, cap ramifications and options that are sure to present themselves in February and March.  I do not see this as a tear down and rebuild type project. Sure, there will be change but it’s all manageable in my opinion.  The league is set up, more than ever, to allow teams to ‘get good in a hurry’. There are many ways to acquire players and build your team. Other teams will be dumping high salary/players and there is also free agency.  A general manager doesn’t have to pay big dollars for everyone. I realize the Texans do not have draft picks (because of past trades) and that will make it a bit stickier. However, it’s a project that will have most potential GM hires licking their chops to roll up their sleeves and dive into. There are examples every year of teams going from worst to first, and we are not even talking about the biggest part of the whole project, QB Deshawn Watson. Watson is now in place as the face of the Texans franchise for the foreseeable future. That alone will attract other players.

Team building acumen and skill as an evaluator, along with some innovative salary cap management skills, are all parts of the criteria that owner Cal McNair will no doubt be considering when looking for leaders to reboot his team after a disastrous 2020 season. If he hires real leaders of men and organizations, with a proven track record, it will go a long way toward selling the plan to both the locker room and fan base. The players have to believe in the decision-makers who are in charge. Whoever the general manager hire is, it can’t be a guy who sits in a closet, doesn’t communicate,  and just picks players. These jobs are really important for your overall organization and city for that matter. I don’t think McNair can hire an inexperienced head coach or general manager. This is about the next three to five years and maximizing Watson’s window of success. This can’t be about on-the-job training for your lead executives.  

Again, Texans fans should not be distraught over not making any moves at the trade deadline. They need to stay focused on the future and the direction their owner takes at seasons end. That will ultimately be what rights the ship or not. 

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