Home > Draft, NFL > What, if anything, is the Moral of the 2005 Texans’ Story?

What, if anything, is the Moral of the 2005 Texans’ Story?

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There’s a pretty good article in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, guest written by Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice.  The subject: David Carr’s career, in wake of his signing with the 49ers to “compete” for the starting job.

If there is a fault in the analysis performed here by Justice, it’s that he basically exonerates the Texans from overdrafting Carr at first overall in the 2002 draft (my analysis on the class can be found here).  Justice’s sharp criticism of the work done by Charley Casserly and staff between the Carr selection and the disaster of a season in 2005 is pretty much on point.  Of course, the fact that the Texans bucked conventional wisdom and made the best draft pick in their short history just a year after Carr was drafted, giving him a superstar wideout in Andre Johnson via the third overall pick, is ignored.

Carr’s developmental career path was completely normal through the first three years of his career: he was never going to be a franchise passer in the truest sense of the term, but at the conclusion of his best season–to that point– in 2004, Carr was already an above average passer.  Above average is very valuable in NFL dollars, and Carr could have passably fulfilled his billing as a first overall draft pick if he had stayed at that level.  But by the end of the 2-14 2005 season, the Texans were just looking for some way they could salvage the David Carr investment,  and at that point, they probably wasted an 8 million dollar roster bonus (in Carr’s rookie contract) trying to salvage what value had already been lost.

As far as I can tell, the only thing that actually changed in 2005–from 2004–is that the Texans ended up succumbing to their offensive line weakness.  Sure, Carr’s play was a limiting factor on Andre Johnson that year, but no more a limiting factor on Johnson than in both 2004 and 2006 (this is evidenced by the emergence of Johnson into a top level WR as soon as Matt Schaub took over at QB).  In 2005, the Texans could run the ball just as well as they could before, probably even better.  Dominick Davis (Williams), who would not play another snap after 2005, was every bit as productive that year as he was in 2004.

More to the point, Justice is criticizing the leadership of the Houston franchise for allowing the offensive line to reach offensive levels.  In 2004, David Carr was sacked on more than 10% of his dropbacks, and no observer batted an eye at it.  The line was fine in 2004, and that number kind of typifies David Carr as a passer.  In 2005, the two guards from the 2004 team ended up combining for 28 starts at the tackle positions.  The 2005 Texans, despite having a QB and a WR drafted in the top three picks of their respective NFL drafts, were a team that were not built to throw the football.

The fact that they had to throw the football was more due to a complete and utter defensive collapse than anything wrong with Carr, Casserly, or the offensive coaching staff headed by Chris Palmer, but the suggestion by Justice is valid: why invest two top picks exclusively in a passing game, and then not build a team to throw the football?  But a more intense look at the draft patterns of the Texans suggests that the Carr project might have been doomed from the start.

Consider: the chances of the Texans landing a player as dynamic as Andre Johnson at any point in their first four drafts was not very good.  Maybe as high as 30%.  Well, at the point that the Texans landed Johnson, they were one pick into their second draft, and had already landed 4 above average NFL players (including Carr, at the time): Johnson, guard Chester Pitts, and receiver Jabar Gaffney.  Later that draft, they landed tackle Seth Wand and Davis/Williams.  At this point, the Texans turned their draft attention strictly to the defensive side of the ball for the duration of the next two years.

This is pretty much Justice’s point.  The Texans ignored the offensive side of the ball in two straight drafts.  This caused Carr to not progress as expected, it caused Johnson’s breakout season in 2004 to be followed by two largely disappointing years before his 2007 14.1 average yard per catch (injury shortened) season.  According to Justice, the Texans’ owed it to Carr and they owed it to themselves to keep putting talent on the offense, and after consecutive years of adding only defensive players, the management of the team got what they deserved when the team went 2-14.

The more important thing to get out of this is just how hard it is to build a team around a quarterback, even if you pick up the “best” quarterback in the draft.  As an expansion team, the Texans could have picked Julius Peppers, the consensus best player in the draft, or they could have gone for the quarterback and start the building process from there.  Carr’s tragic flaw is, and will always be, his desire to want to hold onto the ball for a second too long.  Because of that flaw, he’s a tough choice at No. 1 overall.  But he’s not by any means a horrible pick: Carr gave Houston a bunch of above replacement seasons that they could not have gotten from quarterbacks off the scrap heap.  It just so happens that 2005 was not one of those seasons.

Here’s the moral of the story: teams that are considering picking a quarterback in the upcoming couple of drafts need to understand why the Texans won 5 fewer games in 2005 than in 2004.  Because of the spot where David Carr was drafted (1st overall), his contract, and the Texans’ place in the league after the 2004 season, the team had no choice but to turn Carr loose and to throw him to the wolves, so to speak.  The results were positively disastrous.

Compare for a second the amount of homegrown talent on the 2-14 2005 Texans offense, to that of the 11-5 2005 Bengals offense.  The Bengals spent two first round picks in the top ten on offensive tackles.  The Texans: none.  But the homegrown talent on defense is pretty similar.  The difference is most stark when you look at that Bengals team, and see all the talent that was drafted–by the Bengals–prior to Carson Palmer being the first overall pick in 2003.  This list involves both tackles, the top two receivers, and the running back.  Palmer was the part that brought it all together for Cincinnati, making the Bengals offense of 2005 and 2006 one of the best units in the NFL.

Teams considering Sam Bradford at the top of this draft should best be doing a self analysis to see if they have the parts of their future team already in place.  If you’re the St. Louis Rams, you have two first round tackles on your roster.  Can Alex Barron and Jason Smith be your tackle tandem of the future?  What about Donnie Avery?  Does he have Chad Ochocinco type breakout potential at wide receiver?  Can you land a competent guard, tight end, or second wide receiver in the second round?  If your best self-analysis measures answer yes to all these questions, perhaps Sam Bradford is the piece who will bring all the parts together.  If Barron, and Avery are not parts of the next strong Rams team, then maybe picking for your need at quarterback over value is going to be repeating the same mistake the Texans made.  If Avery and co. aren’t NFL type talent, Bradford will probably suffer the same fate as Carr when thrown to the wolves.

If the Detroit Lions have an offensive breakout this year, it will be because of their decision to make Matt Stafford the part that brings all of their offensive pieces together: first round tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus, first round receiver Calvin Johnson, and first round TE Brandon Pettigrew, and homegrown RB Kevin Smith.  If the Lions do not break out this year on offense, it will be due to the fact that they overestimated the usefulness of players like Cherilus and Calvin Johnson and Pettigrew in developing a young quarterback.  The Lions have a high percentage of Detroit’s GDP hinging on the fact that Stafford’s development will not stall.

The 2005 Texans teach us that an expansion team, and teams in similar position, need to be focused on adding talent above need, because even a well-researched, easily-defensible pick at a need position can and will go awry if a team runs out of goodwill and needs to throw it’s investment to the wind in hopes of winning games.  The Texans Proverb:

Lucky is the team that is merely a quarterback away from being a winner, as their problem is easily solved.  Unlucky is the team who has a quarterback and nothing else, for their fans should never know that they had a quarterback at all.

Alex Smith, meet David Carr.  You have much to learn about each other’s plight.

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