Coming off a 2-14 season it's very rare for most people making football decisions to keep their jobs in the NFL. Amazingly, that's exactly what Rick Smith, GM of the Houston Texans has managed to do despite their being very real indications that the roster he created is not as talented, or deep, as many in the media have led us to believe.
At some point, there has to be a breaking point, and HoustonChronicle.com columnist Jerome Solomon seems to have reached it:
Texans being pretty petty with Johnson. Jerome Solomon, HoustonChronicle.com ($)
If you can read the article (It's behind the Chron's pay-wall) then you'll find a pretty scathing take-down of Mr. Smith's CV. Beyond mediocre to bad draft picks there seems to be an air of arrogance within the Texans organization that is out of line with their results on the field.
One wonders if, at some level, the Rah! Rah! cheerleading Three Stooges (John "Moe" McClain, Randy "Larry" Harvey and Jerome "Curly" Solomon) have decided they look enough the fools for running cover for a man who's seeming inability to evaluate talent consistently has led to a roster with more questions than answers?
This is not to say that Smith hasn't gotten some things right. JJ Watt obviously, but a review of the Texans draft history from 2008-forward reveals just how bleak things have been otherwise. (I, and many others, don't place the blame for the 2007 draft on Smith's shoulders. He had just arrived and it was pretty clear that Kubiak ran that draft from the get-go)
Let's look at the numbers.
2008 - 1 Pro Bowler (Duane Brown) Brown is also the only player from this draft still on the team.
2009 - 1 Pro Bowler (Brian Cushing) Cushing is also the only player from this draft still on the team.
2010 - 0 Pro Bowlers Garrett Graham (TE) Is the only player from this draft still on the team.
2011 - 1 Pro Bowler (JJ Watt) 5 of the 8 players drafted are still on the team. Most are starters but Derik Newton, Shiloh Keo and Brandon Harris are considered emblematic of the talent problem the Texans are facing. Brooks Reed is a question mark, and JJ Watt is a Top 10 NFL talent.
2012 - 0 Pro Bowlers The jury is still out on this draft class. Crick and Mercilus are flawed but might receive big starting time this year, Brooks and Jones are back-ups and might start before the year is over, Keyshawn Martin is looking like a bust in every sense of the word and it's very clear that the Texans erred in selecting Randy Bullock so highly in the draft. Only 7th round pick Mondak is not with the team.
2013 - 0 Pro Bowlers- I'm afraid the jury is IN on this draft class, even after one year. While it appears that DeAndre Hopkins and DJ Swearinger might be starters for a while, the fact remains that, two years after the draft, over half the draft class is already no longer with the team. Of all the people who are gone only Quessenberry is excusable. You can never plan for anyone to come down with cancer. His was an unfortunate story for which there is no blame and we wish him well in his recovery.
As for 2014 who knows? On paper it looks pretty good but there are some question marks with Louis Nix, Tom Savage, Alfred Blue and Jay Prosch. The selection of a fullback in sixth round is especially peculiar because this is a dormant position in the NFL right now. Clowney, if healthy, could potentially team up with Watt for a vicious pass-rush but there are motor concerns.
One thing for certain, this is an awful track record brought on by both dodgy drafting AND horrible salary cap management which forced the release of several players. Even if you come up with excuses for Smith's drafting (which is hard to do) then you still have a high-mountain to climb in claiming that he has the full tool-kit required to successfully manage an NFL team.
Unfortunately, many of Smith's supporters are playing the race card, suggesting that opposition to Smith is solely based on the fact that he happens to be a black GM. Given the numbers above that argument is ridiculous on it's face. Being dissatisfied with Ozzie Newsome could be considered as having racist roots, being satisfied with Rick Smith given the 2-14 season and looking at the dismal numbers surrounding his draft classes and salary cap issues not so much. Numbers are not racist, last time I checked.
At this point I don't think it's wise to let Smith go. I heard Lance Zierlein say this morning on radio that he would have clean swept the team after last year. I agree with this sentiment. However, since the Texans decided to keep Smith then it has to be assumed that, despite his public statements to the contrary, the ownership decided to place the blame for the 2008-2013 draft classes squarely on the shoulders of Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips. Right or wrong then the final examination of Rick Smith GM starts with 2014. This was clearly his draft. O'Brien is clearly his coach, so the examination period has begun.
Unfortunately, for Smith, the early results aren't promising. Heading into training camp the Texans are a team with one of the worst QB situations in the league, a RB depth chart that has a starter coming off back surgery and a bunch of unproven talent, WR's that, without a productive Andre Johnson, appear to be a collection of WR2 and WR3's trying to find a role and a defense that's sitting around wondering if Cushing can come back healthy and if a lot of new players at new positions can have any positive impact at all. None of this even takes into account a questionable O-line and a general lack of quality depth across the board.
In summary: Given the dodgy state of the roster, the many holes and potential holes and the fact that the Texans, under Smith's guidance, seemingly have a permanent reservation in salary cap Purgatory it's fair to question Smith's future as a GM. When you add in the Andre Johnson situation and how it was handled it seems very plausible that the GM for a 2-14 team is experiencing a little bit of a God complex. That's worrisome.