September 16, 2005
Carr Trade In
by Bob Hulsey
After the poor showing of the past three weeks, it is hard for me to look forward to the rest of the season, especially as the hated Steelers come to town. Just eight months ago, the Texans appeared ready to challenge for a playoff berth but the train has appeared to jump the tracks. It’s not too late to get back but it will mean fixing some serious holes that the team hasn’t fixed over the course of three years.
Since I can’t look forward with much anticipation, I’m going to look backwards for a moment. What if the Texans had taken a different approach in building the franchise? I thought about how the dominoes might have fallen if the Texans had not decided to do the PR-savvy thing and draft a "franchise quarterback" fresh out of the expansion gate.
I like David Carr, both as a person and as a player. He’s a stand-up guy and a great athlete who has had to endure a lot in his first three seasons with little complaint. This isn’t meant as a knock against him – more like constructing an alternate universe. Back in 2002, before the Carr bandwagon started rolling out of the Texan front office, I had another idea of what direction the team’s first draft should take.
Imagine for a moment the Texans’ situation as they approached the 2002 draft. They just picked up nine players in the expansion draft, made some free agent signings and now they’re on the clock…
The best athlete in that draft was Julius Peppers but the Texans had already committed to Dom Capers and a 3-4 defense. Peppers would have been a tough fit so the Texans looked elsewhere. The top brass decided picking a quarterback at the top would be too much pressure to put on a new franchise’s first pick. Better to find someone the press can’t pick apart for every incompletion and interception. Who wants to be remembered as the next Tim Couch? So they pass on David Carr and Joey Harrington.
The Texans decide that, with the defense already stocked through the expansion draft, they would start with a ball-control offense and, for that, you need linemen. So they take mammoth Miami LT Bryant McKinnie. Knowing the first quarterback would be in for a rough ride, the Texans sign Tony Banks and Jeff Blake as their first quarterbacks. Though unspectacular, the two veterans provide solid performances during the team’s debut season.
I’m sure some of you are saying "Wait. We stilll thought Tony Boselli would be our LT then. We had Ryan Young, too, so why take McKinnie?" Even some of the best LTs started their careers as guards or RTs while they adjusted to the pro game. McKinnie’s projected start as a Texan would be no different, with an eye to moving him to LT if Boselli wasn’t able to return. Boselli, as we all know, didn’t play and McKinnie winds up getting his baptism at the LT slot where he will become an anchor.
Instead of Jabar Gaffney, the Texans need a runner and the best one on the board is McKinnie’s Miami teammate Clinton Portis. He becomes their franchise runner. With their second second-rounder, the Texans choose guard/tackle Chester Pitts. With Pitts, McKinnie and C Steve McKinney, the Texans have a solid wall for Portis to run behind.
Having devoted two of their first three picks to the offensive line, the Texans decide their best option in the third round is OLB Ben Leber of Kansas State instead of OG Fred Weary. Passing on NT Charles Hill, the Texans take FS Chris Hope.
In the fourth round, the Texans look to tight end and find Randy McMichael out of Georgia. Their other fourth-rounder is traded for a third-rounder in 2003, as actually happened. For this and all future years, I’m going to assume that choices in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds happen the way Charley Casserly actually made them.
Finishing 4-12, the Texans draft third in their second draft and take WR Andre Johnson with their first-rounder. With a glut at wide receiver, with their second-rounder they choose Anquan Boldin rather than Bennie Joppru (we have McMichael, so TE is not a priority). The Texans traded down with New England to pick up a third rounder, as actually happened, giving them four choices in the third. One gets traded to Oakland for a second in 2004 and with the other three, the Texans choose LB Antwan Peek, G Derrick Dockery and QB Dave Ragone. In the fourth, the Texans take a third-down back named Domanick Davis with an eye to returning kicks and injury insurance for Portis.
Improving to 6-10, Houston has the tenth choice in 2004. Although looking for defense, the Texans can’t resist taking QB Ben Roethlisberger when they see him available. Big Ben is dubbed their QB of the future now that they have a solid offensive line built around him and some quality receivers to throw to.
They are tempted with a trade to get Tennessee’s first-rounder but decide the price is too steep, keeping their own second, third and fourth-rounders. Outbid for Tony Hollings in the supplemental draft, the Texans use the second-rounder they got from Oakland to tab DL Igor Olshansky. For their own second, the Texans take C Jake Grove. In the third round, they add OT Max Starks and in the fourth they add NT Isaac Sopoaga and SS Glenn Earl.
Having phased out the veterans, the Texans enter the 2005 season with a young talented offensive line of Bryant McKinnie, Chester Pitts, Jake Grove, Derrick Dockery and Max Starks. They have two good young quarterbacks with weapons like Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Randy McMichael and Domanick Davis at their disposal. They’ve begun, too, to replace their aging defensive line with Olshansky and Sopoaga who provide depth while players like Walker, Payne and Robaire Smith start.
Now they must address the back seven defensively. They are thrilled to see OLB Derrick Johnson drop to them at the 13th pick and take him. They consider the asking price for Phillip Buchanon too high and use their second-rounder for CB Justin Miller. With a pair of third rounders, thanks to the trade of Drew Henson, the Texans choose ILB Alfred Fincher and CB/KR Antonio Perkins. In the fourth, they add even more speed with WR Jerome Mathis.
So what do they have when they take the field against Buffalo to open the 2005 season? They have Roethlisberger at QB with a receiving corps of Johnson, Boldin, McMichael and newcomer Mathis. Portis and Davis are there to carry the ball behind a young solid offensive line. Defensively, the line is a healthy mix of veterans and young big bodies like Olshansky and Sopoaga to keep them fresh and prepare for bigger roles as the vets move on. The linebackers feature Derrick Johnson, Leber, Peek and Fincher to go with veterans Kailie Wong and Morlon Greenwood. Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman would be giving way to young Miller, Perkins and Demarcus Faggins while Hope, Earl and C.C. Brown play safety.
What’s missing? Well, David Carr and Dunta Robinson for starters. But so are Jabar Gaffney, Bennie Joppru, Seth Wand, Fred Weary, Charles Hill, Tony Hollings, Jason Babin and Phillip Buchanon.
Of course, it’s easy in hindsight to make a few changes, undo a few bad trades and cherry pick some surprise stars who never would had fallen as far if we knew then what we know now. That’s really not the point.
The point is that personnel moves beget other personnel decisions. The choice of David Carr had a ripple effect for many decisions thereafter. Had we started with McKinnie and waited on a "franchise" quarterback while a retread took the lumps, we might have someone like Byron Leftwich or Ben Roethlisberger throwing right now before a more stable offensive line. Maybe we wouldn’t have beaten Dallas on opening night or maybe we would have missed some thrilling comeback wins. Or maybe we’d be better off now than we appear to be.
When you go back through the past drafts you also see how Charley Casserly has made some great picks and some horrible ones as well. That’s the nature of drafting college kids based mostly on potential. You’re never sure what you truly have until you get them on the field.
Bob Hulsey hopes Carr and the Texans can put their poor start behind them and push into playoff contention but he also wishes he had a time machine where he could go back and undo a few mistakes.
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