Opinion: Firing Bill O’Brien is just first step for Texans in addressing franchise’s massive mess

Bill O’Brien the general manager wound up being Bill O’Brien the head coach’s worst enemy. And in the end, with the team off to an 0-4 start following another offseason filled with questionable personnel moves, the Houston Texans showed both the door. 

The coach-and-GM-in-one setup rarely works out in the NFL. Constructing a roster, developing the talent, game-planning and leading a team to victories is too much responsibility for even some of the most accomplished minds. 

Yet Texans brass saw fit to officially turn that title over to O’Brien this past winter, and the experiment was a colossal failure.

Known for head-scratching moves both in critical in-game situations and as a personnel man, O’Brien was back at it again this offseason, trading DeAndre Hopkins, one of the NFL's top wide receivers, to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson. He then turned around and sent a second-round pick and fourth-round pick to the Rams for Brandin Cooks with the belief the oft-injured wide receiver could team with Kenny Stills and Will Fuller to give the offense better overall team speed.

But O’Brien did little to fortify the offensive line that has fallen short in protecting Deshaun Watson — whom Houston signed to a four-year, $160 million contract extension — or the defense that has proven incapable of consistently stopping opponents. 

It didn’t take long for the Texans to pay the price. Watson remains one of the most pressured quarterbacks and Houston’s offense ranks 29th in points scored (20 per game), the defense ranks dead last against the run, allowing 181 rushing yards per game, and ranks 26th in points allowed (31.5).

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Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)

The loss of Hopkins is glaring. While the three-time All-Pro ranks fourth in the league in receiving yards (397), Houston doesn’t have a single wideout in the top 10.

Texans brass really should have seen this coming, especially after last year, when O’Brien essentially gave Jadeveon Clowney away instead of meeting the talented pass-rusher’s asking price. Houston paid for that decision as well. The squad repeated as AFC South champions and won a wild-card playoff game over the Buffalo Bills. But problems consistently pressuring quarterbacks ranked among the glaring weaknesses of a defense that blew a 24-0 lead in the divisional round and gave up 41 unanswered points to the Kansas City Chiefs in a season-ending embarrassment. 

You could make the argument that the Texans still haven’t recovered from that drubbing and that O’Brien should have lost his job then. 

Instead, Texans owner Cal McNair saw fit to let O'Brien officially run the show on his own by handing him the general manager title. 

By callously parting with marquee contributors and getting very little in return, O’Brien damaged his credibility. Whether conscious or not, it’s hard for players to maintain unbending loyalty when they see franchise cornerstones so easily discarded. 

Following Sunday’s loss, defensive end J.J. Watt said “something has to change.” McNair decided O'Brien was the place to start. 

Now, Houston is left with a huge mess that runs much deeper than Houston’s ugly record and virtually nonexistent playoff hopes. (Only one team in NFL history — the 1992 Chargers — have made the playoffs after an 0-4 start.) 

O’Brien hamstrung the franchise for years to come. The Texans have a league-high $255 million in cash devoted to salaries this season, and they owe their first- and second-round picks in the 2021 draft to the Miami Dolphins.

Whoever comes in as general manager must do so with the assurance that he will receive time to resurrect the roster with young talent — a process that will take time given Houston's paltry assets. 

That GM also must purge the team of dead weight. 

And he must select a strong leader as his head coach — perhaps an offensive wizard capable of positioning Watson to torment defenses similarly to how Patrick Mahomes does. 

O’Brien did well with Watson, but he was limited compared to Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy’s schemes in Kansas City. 

The Texans are paying Watson $40 million per year. They can’t waste his talents or their cash. 

Creativity, strong leadership and a clear and unified vision are what the Texans must seek for their future. 

For now, interim coach Romeo Crennel must try to rally this team and keep them from unconsciously wilting over the next 13 weeks. 

In Watson and Watt, the Texans have a pair of strong locker room leaders who can try to keep sweeping changes from further ravaging the season. 

It’s a long way until the offseason, and reversing the damage of the last several offseasons will not come easily. 

But the Texans can’t afford any more miscalculations. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

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