American Football

Watt’s Happening in Houston?


JJ Watt, fresh off his nationally televised retirement tour, as showcased on HBO’s Hard Knocks In-Season with the Arizona Cardinals, is a busy man these days.

As soon as the head coaching search for five NFL teams began, JJ Watt was touting the 49ers’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans as the THE tour de force candidate in the candidate pool.

Thing is —- Watt wasn’t pushing for the Cardinals to make a move on Ryans. Instead, he was urging the Texans to throw a lariat around his former teammate in order to lasso Ryans back to Houston where his playing career began.

At the beginning of the hiring cycle, the Houston Texans’ job appeared to many as being the least attractive. The Texans have been a broken franchise ever since Bill O’Brien made the infamous DeAndre Hopkins trade while QB Deshaun Watson was treating himself to team-arranged out-of-house massages.

In the midst of Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL wherein he claims that Black head coaches and head coaching candidates don’t get a fair shake and often get the short end of the stick, the Texans have appeared to be oblivious of Flores’ plight. Last year Flores was apparently the leading candidate to get the Texans’ job, that is, until the impact of his lawsuit made his potential hiring controversial.

Subsequently, for two seasons in a row, the Texans hired Black head coaches in David Culley and Lovie Smith, and, after one year of rebuilding each was fired.

One would think that after those two firings, the odds of a promising young Black head coach candidate getting excited about the Texans’ job would be slim to none.

Enter Houston legend JJ Watt.

Watt made an emotional plea to the Texans and to DeMeco Ryans to hop on the same stallion.

The Arizona Cardinals’ interest in DeMeco Ryans was abruptly dashed back on January 22nd, when Ryans cancelled a zoom interview prior to the 49ers’ playoff showdown with the Cowboys. Word quickly came that Ryans turned down his scheduled interviews with the Cardinals and Colts because his interview with the Texans “went longer than expected.”

Whatever was discussed in Ryan’s interview with the Texans sealed the deal, because eight days later, after the 49ers were beaten by the Eagles, Ryans shunned the Broncos’ urgent requests to open up contract talks in favor of accepting and embracing the Texans’ offer.

Meanwhile, in that interim, the Arizona Cardinals were finally getting a chance to woo Sean Payton and by now everyone knows how that “orange tie” affair turned out.

Since then the Cardinals learned that Brian Flores turned down a second interview in Arizona in favor of taking the Vikings’ DC job, which, by the way, he was interviewing for while the Cardinals were hosting Sean Payton.

While the Cardinals head into the Super Bowl weekend intending, as Michael Bidwill said to the media yesterday, to “re-open” their search next week, JJ Watt has been fast at work helping DeMeco Ryans and the Texans sign Cardinals defensive line coach Matt Burke to be their new DC. Watt and Burke formed quite a bond in Burke’s first and only year on the staff —- as well documented on Hard Knocks.

Furthermore, it appears that Kliff Kingsbury, freshly returned from his vacation in Thailand, is in contract discussions with the Texans for their OC job. His signing appears imminent.

Should Kingsbury become the Texans’ OC it would serve as a vindication of sorts. If Kliff was the “horrible play caller”and the coach “who ruined Kyler Murray” that so many Cardinals fans and media moguls have insisted, why then would JJ Watt encourage DeMeco Ryans to put his trust In Kliff?

Many of the Cardinals’ fans and pundits may have forgotten that last year Kliff Kingsbury swept the 49ers, during DeMeco Ryans’ first year as DC, beating team 17-10 at home with Kyler Murray at QB and then upsetting them 31-17 in Palo Alto with Colt McCoy at the helm. The combined scores of those games were 47-27 Cardinals.

Fans may have forgotten, but DeMeco Ryans has not.

This year obviously was a far different story, as the 49ers overwhelmed Colt McCoy and David Blough who were playing against the NFL’s #1 defense behind an offensive line that was missing 3-4 starters, minus their OL coach who was exiled from the team for an alleged “groping’ incident in Mexico City.

One might imagine that if someone told DeMeco Ryans last year after the Cardinals’ 31-17 runaway win in Palo Alto that a year and a half later, he would be the head coach of the Houston Texans and Kliff Kingsbury would be his OC, he would have reacted the same way that Jimmy Garoppolo did on that Subway commercial when his aunt claimed she couldn’t make Italian subs nearly as as delicious as Subway’s, and all Jimmy G. could say with such an incredulous look on his face was, “Wait…what?”

What the Cardinals now need to be very leery is what the Texans’ hiring of Matt Burke and Kliff Kingsbury could mean to their chances of re-signing their own free agents:

You just know, JJ Watt is going to urge DeMeco Ryans to make it a priority to sign Zach Allen. This should behoove the Cardinals to at least place the “transition tag” on Allen, which would enable them to match whatever offer Zach Allen gets.

Will Hernandez is a native Texan. A.J. Cann, who turns 32 next year, had a solid season (66.6 PFF grade) and has a $6.22M cap hit for 2023. At the other guard, rookie Kenyan Green (37.7) had a very rough inaugural season, starting in 15 games. Kliff might make the case for signing Hernandez, seeing as Cann is in the last year of his contract and Green, well, is very green.

Kelvin Beachum is also a native Texan (Mexia, TX). One of the Texans’ strong u=suits has been at offensive tackle. Laremy Tunsil (80.) is the highest graded player on the offense and his bookend, Titus Howard, their 2019 1st round pick, has been very solid (67.9).

This upcoming season, both Tunsil and Howard (5th year option) enter the final year of their contracts. Yet, the Texans likely will have to do something about Tunsil’s 2023 cap hit of $35.2M. Therefore, it may be very well worth it for the Texans to add Kelvin Beachum to their OL room.

As for Byron Murphy, with Darly Stingley Jr. and Steven Nelson starting at CB, the Texans may not be in the free agent market at that position. However, one has to wonder whether Byron Murphy would receive free agent interest from the Packers now that Greg Williams is their defensive backs coach —- or from the Saints, now that Marcus Robertson is their defensive backs coach.

The Texans’ situation at QB is very intriguing.

I think that Kliff could do wonders with the Texans’ incumbent starter, Davis Mills I believe that AZKid would agree, because when we were imagining trade scenarios last year, Davis Mills was a young QB whom we thought Kliff could do wonders with.

As I have mentioned before, it would not be surprising if DeMeco Ryans were to sign Jimmy Garopollo to a 2-3 year deal, so that the Texans can get their hands on OLB Will Anderson Jr. or DT Jalen Carter.

However, if the Texans choose to draft Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Will Levis, then there could be a scenario where Kliff would want to offer a late day 3 pick to the Cardinals for Colt McCoy, so that Colt could be the mentor for the young QBs in the room. If Colt is considering retiring, then he might be a slam dunk choice to be Kliff’s QB coach or perhaps even the Cardinals’, depending on who the new head coach’s wishes.

It’s also quite possible that Kliff could add David Blough to the Texans’ QB mix. He and Blough appeared to hit it off very well.

At this point, it’s become clear that the Texans, with Ryans, Watt, Burke and Kingsbury (potentially), now on their side, are going to have a potential and perhaps significant impact on the Cardinals, both in free agency and in the draft.

Someone on Twitter yesterday pointed out the irony of Kliff, having spent weeks vacationing in Thailand, upon his return, with one interview, could lock up an OC job before the Cardinals manage to sign his successor.

Weeks ago, before Kliff Kingsbury was fired, I made the comment that aside from Budda Baler and JJ Watt, Kliff Kingsbury was the most valuable asset in the Cardinals’ organization. While Kliff may be the convenient scapegoat for Michael Bidwill and hordes of Cardinals’ fans who have put most or all of their eggs in Kyler Murray’s basket, Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive acumen is highly regarded nationally. When coaches like Bill Belichick and DeMeco Ryans believe in you, that says something profound.

Which would be more ironic? —-watching Kliff Kingsbury succeed with the Texans, especially now that for the first time ever he might have a stout defense to support him —- or watching the Super Bowl at State Farm stadium with Haason Reddick (19 12 sacks in 19 games this season) rushing Patrick Mahomes?

Watt’s happening in Houston?

Some pretty exciting things —- for them.

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