HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – When Tony Romo elected to leave football, and potentially join the Houston Texans as their starting quarterback, to join the CBS television booth he said, “It really had nothing to do with the Texans and everything to do with CBS.”
Yes I do believe there is some, and perhaps a high level of truth to that statement. Going from football straight to the top NFL broadcast team of a network is fairly unprecedented and when an opportunity for a prestigious broadcast comes, it’s very difficult to ignore. However, the network jobs offered to Romo were not necessarily contingent on him retiring now. Those jobs, and potentially more would have been available to him in 2018, 2019, or whenever he decided to retire. If Romo elected to play, CBS would not have jettisoned Phil Simms and kept him through the remainder of his deal.
While I believe CBS made a fantastic offer to Romo, I don’t believe that this decision had “nothing to do with the Texans” rather it was the Texans lack of planning, and the disrespect shown to Romo during the off season that likely made his decision easy. Furthermore, and most importantly, the failure to acquire Tony Romo and convince him by any means necessary that he was the key to moving the Texans franchise into NFL relevance is the most colossal failure in the careers of Bob McNair, Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien. It is quite evident that the Texans wanted Romo to come to them and not pursue him, and that decision alone could be the decision that signals the end for O’Brien in Houston and the Texans stature as the standard bearers in the AFC South.
The question then starts to become more than just Romo, because based on the recent years, do quarterbacks look at the Houston situation and think it’s where you are set-up to fail where you play with the shortest of leashes?
Let’s make one thing clear, Osweiler had to go after having the season that he did in 2016. It wasn’t even just his poor play, which was one of the worst in NFL history for a starter in a single year, it was his lack of self-awareness that he was playing poorly and wasn’t improving. They had to remove him from the locker room at risk of O’Brien losing his effectiveness. Despite O’Brien’s shortcomings as a coach, he has coached an NFL team to three winning seasons, two division titles and a playoff victory.
It wasn’t the Osweiler situation and his trade to Cleveland that would leave Romo or any other quarterback weary of joining the Texans. It has been the trend of misplaying their hands and reactionary decision making that may keep quarterbacks of stature away from the organization that O’Brien once said lacked league wide respect.
The Texans organization has created a trend as it relates to the quarterback position, you are set up to fail in your first year, and when you do fail, you are gone. Since 2013, the year before O’Brien’s arrival the Texans have had four different opening night starting quarterbacks (Schaub, Fitzpatrick, Hoyer, Osweiler) and 9 have started games (Schaub, Keenum, Fitzpatrick, Mallett, Hoyer, Yates, Weeden, Osweiler Savage).
If I am Tony Romo and I look at what has happened with the Texans for the last four seasons I look at an organization that hasn’t planned for its future, scooped up every journeyman quarterback available and not worked at developing anyone to be the franchise quarterback. I would also see a team so reactionary that they benched a guy (Hoyer) who clearly won an open quarterback competition in the second half of the first game in 2015. I would see a team that lacked foresight when they placed a developmental quarterback (Savage) on injured reserve in 2015 with a shoulder injury that would have had him back on the practice field in six weeks and instead stunted his growth by not being allowed to practice for the remainder of the season. I also see a team that may have brought back a concussed quarterback too early in Hoyer’s case in 2015 and strangely put Savage back into the game with a similar ailment only to be removed later and then never re-inserted come playoff time.
The organization obsesses over things like control over the 53 man roster, play-calling responsibilities, and hanging banners for division titles; yet trying to acquire the quarterback of the future is done with such a lack of meticulousness it’s a wonder how the franchise is able to have winning seasons at all.
For a quarterback on the outside they now have several quarterbacks around the league they can call on to ask about the Texans, Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien. Agents, coaches, executives, players; they all talk. There are enough quarterbacks out there with first hand knowledge of the Texans and how they operate. They know enough about the Osweiler-O’Brien confrontation and probably in greater detail than even we know. They know of the tension between Smith and O’Brien. They know that the owner likely forced Smith’s hand. They know about “Billy O’s quick hook and his regret for doing so relating to Hoyer.
The quarterbacks on the roster over the last several years aren’t the only black-eye on the Texans at the position. You could make the case it’s their inability to pull the trigger in the draft or in free agency and their lack of intestinal fortitude to go out and get the guy they want.
When O’Brien took over in 2014 the Texans were 2-14 the year prior and drafting at the top of every round. Their draft stock was never more valuable and their ability to be patient with a young quarterback was never more prevalent. They had to draft Jadeveon Clowney with the top overall pick, but they left the draft with a journeyman college quarterback that even those who were bullish on him felt he was a project in Tom Savage. The team elected not only not to take Derek Carr, who is likely the next big star of young NFL quarterbacks, they elected to not even meet with him because his brother was the franchises first failure at the position 12 years prior. They had an opportunity to move back into the late first round to draft Teddy Bridgewater and passed. The quarterback they truly wanted was Jimmy Garoppolo, but instead of trading back in the second or trying to trade back into the second with their third round pick and additional compensation they sheepishly waited for him at the top spot in the third round, only to have O’Brien’s former team scoop him up at pick 62.
The Texans left the 2014 draft, the one where they had the chance to pick and develop the guy they wanted, and saw him end up as the potential heir to Tom Brady’s throne. There is an argument to be made that they didn’t even believe they could develop Savage into a starter because after the preseason was over the team made a deal with the Patriots, who outmaneuvered them in the draft, for their dead weight surplus back-up in Ryan Mallett. The Texans went into an NFL season with their back-up quarterback not spending one day in their own camp and waited until Mallet’s awful preseason was over and stock diminished to acquire him. The Texans had no plan in 2014, they waited until Mallet became cheap, and he was injured two games into his tenure. Mallett would later become a colossal failure who had as much trouble setting his alarm clock as he did throwing it to receivers on his own team.
We also can’t forget Houston was the team, albeit before O’Brien’s tenure, that let the opportunity to acquire Peyton Manning slip through their fingers as well.
Now we are in 2017 and a team that has just two quarterbacks on the roster with a Super Bowl caliber defense and a pro bowl wide-out and solid running game, all things Romo did not have in totality expect for a few brief moments in Dallas. It’s the perfect destination for Romo, a contender that needs one piece to truly compete with the Patriots. A team close enough to Romo’s home that trips home to his wife and kids would be simple. It was also a chance for him to stick it to the organization that never gave him his shot to win his job back.
Despite Houston being the perfect destination a no-brainer in most NFL pundits eyes, the Texans balked at any potential trade for Romo. They never requested permission from the Cowboys to speak with Romo and refused to offer Dallas any trade compensation for a four time Pro bowler with one of the highest passer ratings in the history of the league. Romo found himself in a situation where a team so desperate for a quarterback refused to offer anything in compensation, not even a late round draft choice, for his services. He was once again, just like on draft night in 2003 when his name wasn’t called, disrespected. Despite all he had done for the league, what he had accomplished as a quarterback and what he could potentially do in notoriety for the Houston franchise, the Texans wanted to slow play their hand and wait patiently for Romo to be released and offer him a contract that was incentive laden with little guaranteed money. The Texans got greedy, and left Romo with outs. No one expected CBS to come out and play a hand, but when they played the A-team card, the Texans found themselves drawing dead.
You have to start wondering, if a quarterback who admittedly still has good years left in him, would rather retire than play for your team; what does that say about your organization? If in the next few years Drew Brees or Phillip Rivers or if inexplicably Tom Brady became available in the same way Romo has, would they balk at the prospect of joining the Texans because of how they treat their signal callers? If the Texans couldn’t make it work with Romo, could they make it work with anyone that could change their fortunes as a franchise. Will quarterbacks stay away because they fear they will be set up to fail, like those before them.
For the second time in Rick Smith’s tenure, he let a Pro bowl quarterback slip through his fingers. Unfortunately for Smith and O’Brien, who I believe will leave Houston and have great success somewhere else, Romo may be the last chance he gets to acquire a savior at quarterback.
Alex Del Barrio covers the Houston Texans for Sportsradio610.com and is the color commentator for the Houston Dynamo. He also hosts “ADB and Murph” with Matt Murphy which can be heard on Saturday afternoons 4-7 pm Follow Alex Del Barrio on Twitter: @alexdelbarrio