September 12, 2006
by Ric Sweeney
Monday morning’s headline in the Houston Chronicle’s NFL section read, “They didn’t see it coming.” Really? They didn’t? Because I did. Last weekend, in fact, when the team cut Robaire Smith and Seth Wand.
Those moves were the latest in a long line of reminders that Gary Kubiak is rebuilding more than just a left-for-dead quarterback this year; he’s also having to reconstruct an entire NFL roster from scratch thanks to four years of mind-numbingly horrible decisions by the D.C. con man and his merry staff of morons who managed to turn a litany of NFL-mandated advantages into a 3,000-pound albatross the franchise must now wear around its neck.
Case in point, the starting line-up Sunday consisted of nine players not on last year’s roster including a staggering six on offense (more than half the unit). Seth Payne is now the roster’s lone representative from the expansion draft (which was only 4 years ago) while Chester Pitts and Fred Weary hold down the honor of being the only starters the team was able to find in rounds 2 and 3 of its first four drafts despite the extra picks given to them by the league. As a side note, of their 9 picks in those rounds, an astounding 4 of them watched the NFL’s opening weekend from their living rooms, meaning the team failed to find even passable NFL talent nearly half the time among the nation’s top 100 prospects.
Free agency has been equally dismal. Armed with limitless cap space, first-class facilities, no state income tax and nationally-renowned exotic dance locales personally endorsed by Charles Barkley, the Texans on Sunday started a mere four free agents signed during its first four years. That averages out to, roughly… (carry the three)… one a year. That’s one a year in the free agency era.
Given that track record, no one (save for the Chronicle’s headline writers, I guess) should be surprised to learn that the Texans are now officially the worst NFL expansion team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The previous five (Seattle, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Jacksonville and Cleveland) all posted winning records by their fourth year; Houston, of course, was 2-14 in its fourth year. Even more amazing, and to drive the point home further, four of those teams made the postseason within their first four years of existence with three of them making their conference championship game within the same time frame.
Which is why any and all Texan talk this season that doesn’t involve them once again vying for the top pick in the draft seemed irrational even before Sunday’s crash back into Earth’s atmosphere. They’ll be better, sure – it would be virtually impossible for them to be any worse. Having to build a team around the seemingly endless mistakes of the previous regime, however, has essentially knocked Houston back to where it all started: square one. And the road to respectability, and eventual postseason success, is going to be a long one, filled with setbacks, big losses and, apparently, lots and lots of Reggie Bush.
Unfortunately, the Kubiak era was handed more than just a barren depth chart; it was also given a tiny margin for error. The front office and coaching staff may all be new, but the fans are not. We’re a restless, impatient bunch and with good reason. We haven’t savored the thrill of competitive pro football in 12 years. And we’ve put up with a lot since Joe Montana went Jesus on football field on us way back in January 1994. We took a 2-14 follow-up to the gut, two years of franchise machinations as rich, white businessmen argued over got to pocket millions, culminating in our favorite team skipping town. That led to five years of nothing to do on Sunday followed by four years of watching Heckyl and Jeckyl drive the franchise into a ditch. A bottomless, loss-infested ditch.
So yeah, the Texans’ fan base, which was originally an Oiler fan base, is trying its best to keep 12 years of raging frustration in check and starting to show some cracks in that effort. Regrettably, the franchise seems hell-bent on poking a stick at our bee-hive-like emotions, and that’s not exactly helping matters.
It made two incredibly unpopular decisions this offseason that are going to keep it in the glare of a bright, blinding spotlight. Yes, we’re going to hear a lot about Reggie Bush. A lot. Not much we can do about that. Fortunately, the other decision – sticking with David Carr – may work out if Carr’s performance Sunday’s is any indication.
All along, even as Chris Palmer and his staff of nitwits went about systematically ruining Carr, we kept asking for nothing more than sparks from the former top pick; a reason to believe that if we ever hired a competent offensive staff and talent evaluators, that he’d be successful given better personnel.
And against the Eagles – a team far too many people forgot was very good – we finally saw enough sparks to start a small brush fire. The opening drive was precise. His 44-yard bomb to Andre Johnson in the second quarter was pretty. He threw to a tight end. More importantly, his pocket presence and football smarts, both of which I’ve questioned a lot in the past, looked much stronger. Now the key will be building on it. Can he get better?
In a season I fear will be marred by our frustrations spilling over onto talk radio and message boards, let’s keep our perspective and appreciate the enormous challenge awaiting Kubiak. Because if Sunday was the start of one of the biggest, most supremely unexpected reclamation projects in the history of the league, then we should feel secure the rest of what ails this team has at last been placed in competent hands.
And that would truly be something we never saw coming just a mere eight months ago.
Ric Sweeney fears the day the Mannings adopt Reggie Bush, ensuring he, Peyton, Eli and Archie appear in every single commercial aired during an NFL telecast.
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