Media coverage surrounding the NFL’s free agency period has been dominated by the departure of DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans and his fractured relationship with general manager/head coach Bill O’Brien. Fair warning: This article is not intended to sift through who is at fault for failed negotiations leading up to a trade that shocked the league. Rather it attempts to explore O’Brien’s thought process and examines recent roster acquisitions and what moves the team is now inclined to make regarding the weapons at Deshaun Watson’s disposal.
The initial Hopkins for David Johnson trade was extremely fast itself, coming within the first hour of legal tampering. Making such a bold move would lead many to believe that Houston already had a plan in place to replace the giant void Hopkins would leave behind in the offense.
Enter Randall Cobb. Know that he isn’t the replacement for Nuk, but rather someone to solidify shaky play from the slot. The former Packer and Cowboy signed just hours after the trade to a 3-year deal that will pay him $27M with $18.75M guaranteed. This equates to an average annual salary of $9M (spotrac.com). It amounts to roughly half the cost of what Hopkins is reportedly now asking for in any upcoming contract talks with Arizona. Unfortunately, that salary is also $1.9M more than Cobb’s calculated market value of $7.1M a year. Spotrac likens Cobb’s age, contract status, and statistical production to those of DeSean Jackson, John Brown, Cole Beasley and Ted Ginn Jr. at the time of their contract signings. Half the cost of Hopkins and likely half the production across the board, but Cobb was able to keep it going with a change of scenery last year.
Cobb’s performance a season ago in Dallas has proven to be a shot in the arm for the 29-year-old who was taken 64th overall in the 2011 NFL draft. Cobb saw a 9% increase in snaps, 22 more targets, 17 more receptions, and 445 more receiving yards in 2019 than in his final season in Green Bay. He did so in an offense that boasted the likes of Zeke Elliot, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. Cobb has only topped 1,000 receiving yards once in his career (2014) but has had over 800 receiving yards in 4 of the 9 years since entering the NFL, including last year in Dallas. Seasons in which Cobb failed to reach the 800-yard mark were marred by missed games.
Cobb surely won’t be the sole replacement for Hopkins, but he certainly places pressure on slot receivers DeAndre Carter and Keke Coutee to perform and be reliable contributors. Perhaps Cobb is O’Brien’s solution to Watson not getting the ball out quick enough, a criticism of Watson that is shared by many analysts and fans.
Either way, O’Brien likely sought out Cobb for a veteran presence in the receiving corps. He also brings sure hands for quick reads out of the slot and in the middle of the field. Those are likely some of the same reasons the Texans shored up TE Darren Fells to a 2-year, $6.3M contract with a $1M signing bonus. Fells’ calculated market value is a $4.3M average annual salary, so under his current contract with Houston this a slightly better deal for the club. Fells does have a potential out in 2021 for $4M, but if he carries with him another 7 touchdowns (matched Hopkins for team lead) in 2020 look for Houston to keep the 33-year old former basketball player through the completion of 2021. Fells had a career year in 2019 catching 34 of 48 targets for 341 receiving yards and the aforementioned 7 touchdowns.
The Texans should* (keyword) also look to add receiver depth in the draft with their newly acquired 40th overall pick from Arizona. This pick could potentially push for playing time and slide in across from Will Fuller or Kenny Stills on the perimeter.
Here are the Texans draft picks for 2020:
- 2nd-rd (40th overall, from ARZ)
- 2nd-rd (57th overall)
- 3rd-rd (90th overall)
- 4th-rd (111th overall, from MIA)
- 5th-rd (172nd overall)
- 7th-rd (241st overall)
- 7th-rd (249th overall)
- 7th-rd (251st overall)
Other teams will shoot their shot on guys like Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, and Jerry Jeudy. Heck at the 40th overall pick prospects like Jalen Reagor, Denzel Mims, and Justin Jefferson will most likely already found homes as well. Houston can’t afford to surrender any more picks to move up into the late first round to nab someone like Brandon Aiyuk either.
Despite that, there is a slew of talented receivers in this upcoming draft. At 40th overall the Texans could expect names like Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., USC’s Michael Pittman Jr, Penn State’s KJ Hamler, Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones and a name to keep an eye on in Clemson’s Tee Higgins to possibly still be available. It would be wishful thinking to see Houston get Higgins at 40th and then someone like Pittman or Shenault at 57th overall.
It’s always good to have a backup plan for the often injured Will Fuller. Both Fuller and Kenny Stills will see their contracts expire after the 2020 season and will soak up roughly $17M combined. The Texans won’t have access to all 22 draft-eligible receivers, but there is plenty of opportunities to draft a player with the skill-set to contribute from day one.
The most important part of this offense is Deshaun Watson. Losing his biggest play-maker to Arizona will hurt, but the Texans can work to compensate him with other weapons as free agency continues and the draft looms. In regards to that David Johnson trade that set all of this in motion, let us not forget that Carlos Hyde was able to revive his career and post his first 1,000 yards on the ground with Houston after being left for dead. For now, the only certain thing is that Houston can not afford to waste any more time while Watson is saving the team money playing under a rookie deal.
Miles Peacock is a content writer covering the NFL’s Houston Texans and XFL’s Houston Roughnecks for the Rumboyz.net and Timeskewed.com fantasy sports websites. Follow Miles on Twitter @FF_Peacock.
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