To say the city of Houston has besmirched the Sports Gods into an entirely different sector of sports purgatory in the last six months would be an understatement. Name a sport and the Gods have walked around, enjoyed the decor before blowing up everything and treating it like an HGTV project.
The Astros became the pariahs of Major League Baseball, the Rockets sputtered before a quarantine effectively wiped out all the goodwill they created with “Extreme Small Ball”. Then there are the Texans.
Losing to the Kansas City Chiefs after blowing a 24-point first-half lead (which they made up in the second quarter mind you) was bad enough. Another second-round exit for a franchise that has in the last five years watched each of its division rivals at least play for a conference title. Another disastrous Bill O’Brien coaching moment of overthinking himself and ultimately leaving it to his do-everything quarterback in Deshaun Watson to bail him out. It could happen against Josh Allen and Buffalo, it could not happen against fully healthy Patrick Mahomes, healthy Tyreek Hill, and the Chiefs.
O’Brien’s tenure in Houston has been a far greater case of failing upward than even the likes of Lane Kiffin could imagine. Beyond the resume at Penn State, O’Brien power played his way into not only jettisoning the franchise’s best general manager in Rick Smith but by proxy, many of the team’s standout players whose contracts only matched up with production on the field and left elsewhere. Duane Brown? Traded mid-season to Seattle in 2017. Jadeveon Clowney? Traded before the 2019 season to Seattle in a move so lopsided at the time, it only seemed like it paid off in the Wild Card game.
The Brown move happened before O’Brien assumed de facto GM status inside the Texans franchise. Now, he’s ascended to the sort of power only a few have been able to hold and translate into success. The city was already weary of O’Brien’s actual acumen as a GM. Then, in one kneecapping, wind sucking move - he traded the team’s best player for pennies on the dollar.
On a day where the sports world had come to an absolute standstill, no less.
Houston grew to love DeAndre Hopkins. Had it not been for a stay-at-home order mandated by the mayor, the governor and federal government officials, they may still be picketing outside NRG Stadium calling for O’Brien’s dismissal. It made Watson dive into a rare passive-aggressive bag tweeting lyrics from Drake’s “Emotionless” about “iconic duos” that “rip and split at the seams”. You knew what he was referring to and wondered aloud, “Did O’Brien make this move without even consulting his QB?”
Trading Hopkins for picks, not even nabbing a first shows how much the coach and now novice GM underbid. Innuendo of their rift aside, it was the one move outside of cutting JJ Watt and Watson that O’Brien couldn’t do. It seemed impossible and fans immediately revolted. Somehow, David Johnson, a back seeking his own redemption after injury-plagued seasons in the desert, became a casualty in a war he never asked to take part in. Solely because of O’Brien.
If Arian Foster exhibited cool while knowing exactly when to maneuver in Gary Kubiak’s cut back running system, Hopkins was an artist in the midst of swirling chaos. His predecessor, Andre Johnson, had perfected the concept of a consummate professional in Houston and the on-field “Hands Of Stone” message he delivered to Courtland Finegan is a prime example of this. Nobody made more outrageous catches seem ordinary. If Odell Beckham Jr. is the Drake of stylish one-hand catches, Hopkins is Kendrick Lamar, a brilliant thinker gifted with talents that seem otherworldly.
Rumors persist that Hopkins was looking for a new contract after already outperforming the one that somehow made him an underpaid wide receiver. O’Brien had put himself into a quandary last summer financially when the team banked their draft classes for 2020 and 2021 on the results given by Kenny Stills and Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil’s looking for a long-term deal as we speak, which is daring Stills, a talented yet oft-injured wide receiver, to fill the void of arguably the best wide receiver in the game.
Losing Hopkins to the city means losing an adopted son, a player who suited up no questions asked and had to endure a quarterback carousel you’d have to rig Madden in order to endure. Before he and Watson became a lethal QB/WR duo in the league, he was befallen by tall QBs with none of the mobility and accuracy in Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler, all-arm but zero awareness “studs” like Ryan Mallett, and a hodgepodge of Jekyll & Hyde throwers such as Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Without Hopkins, the Texans set themselves behind for 2020, if football is to have a spot of normalcy this fall. It’s a difficult item to process for longtime fans, for the city and beyond. And for Bill O’Brien, it’s him betting on himself - in a way that only he could ever agree with.
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