Snubbing Bush a Texans-size blunder
In every NFL draft -- actually, with virtually every selection in every round of any draft -- beauty is in the eyes of a team's allegedly elite contingent of talent beholders.
Unfortunately for many franchises, those beholders are frequently blind men.
Ladies and gentlemen, your Houston Texans, an outfit that might do better were Mr. Magoo executing its lottery selections. Hand out the darts, folks, and take cover. Even quarterback David Carr, throwing from his back, which is where he has been for most of his four seasons in Houston, has better aim than his bosses.
Bad enough the loyal fans of Houston have had to suffer through the stigma of four straight losing campaigns, an average of just 4½ victories per year and a team that managed just half as many wins in its fourth season as it did in its expansion year of 2002. Now the fans are saddled with a team suffering from astigmatism.
There's a reason that only one expansion team that has entered the league since 1976, the Bucs, won fewer games in its first four seasons than the Texans have earned, and we saw why on Friday night when Houston bypassed tailback Reggie Bush with the top pick in the draft and opted for defensive end Mario Williams instead.
Some teams try to exercise foresight with such threshold football decisions. Houston, on the other hand, apparently makes them blindfolded.
By the way, the Bucs, despite winning only 17 games from 1976-79, advanced to the NFC Championship Game in their fourth season. The Texans, with a lot more advantages than those woebegone Bucs ever had in terms of additional draft choices and deals cut with cap-heavy franchises eager to dump veterans with bloated contracts, won two games in their fourth year.
None of this is to suggest that Super Mario will turn into Blooper Mario. Comparisons of Williams to Reggie White, Julius Peppers and Richard Seymour may be hyperbole, but the former North Carolina State star figures to be a terrific player. In time. Certainly he isn't a dominating defender yet, not when he had sacks in just 16 of his 36 appearances for the Wolfpack.
Ten of his 14½ sacks in 2005 came in just three games and against lesser opponents. Half of his six sacks in 2004 came in one outing, although, granted, the opponent was Florida State. But you ask yourself: What was this guy doing the rest of the time? Maybe the Texans, who haven't had many answers for anything else in their first four seasons, actually have one for that query.
When you are as a team as bad as the Texans have been, you need to make solid football decisions, and eschewing a playmaker such as Bush, who will have an immediate impact on the league, in favor of a guy still in his gestation period is a dubious call at best. And make no mistake, this was a football decision.
Sure, we would all be na´ve to suggest the recent off-field publicity generated by Bush's family didn't play some role in the Texans' final decision. But even for a straight arrow like Houston owner Bob McNair, it was likely just a small element.
As for the so-called "signability" factor -- the notion that Williams was the easier player with whom to reach an agreement -- well, that was no factor at all. The Texans have no idea what it would have taken to sign Bush, because they simply quit dealing with him.
On Thursday at 2 p.m., when agent Joel Segal hung up the phone after a second brief discussion with Texans chief negotiator Dan Ferens, the expectations of the Bush camp were that talks would resume Friday at some point. Great expectations, though, morphed into no explanations when the Texans suddenly went underground. After 2 p.m. Thursday, the next conversation between the Texans and Segal came 10 minutes after the team had issued a news release announcing the Williams deal.
Feel free to fill in your own bush line (notice the small "b") at this point.
Fact is, the $26.5 million in guarantees that Williams received is better than the best deal the Texans ever offered Bush. Published reports that the sides were on the verge of an accord, that there had been a monumental breakthrough in a marathon Tuesday night bargaining session and that the Texans had cleverly leveraged Bush into a corner by also talking with Williams' agent? Pure fiction.
So throw out the "signability" element.
Plain and simple, on Friday morning, the Texans brass decided that Williams was their guy. Actually, the criticism of the Texans would be even harsher had they made their decision based solely on the dollars. Instead they exercised bad sense. When you're this bad a team, money shouldn't count, and the only issue should be getting the best player.
It says here that the Texans didn't.
The irony of the Williams decision is that such picks based on potential generally come from the personnel people in a franchise and not the coaching staff. Coaches, after all, get fired and they want guys who can deliver quickly for them, so they can avoid the queue at the unemployment line. The guess here is that the call on Williams came in large part from first-year head coach Gary Kubiak, who has certainly been ceded some of general manager Charley Casserly's authority and who has far more clout than his predecessor, Dom Capers, ever did.
It was Casserly, entering the final year of his contract and rumored in many circles to be moving on after this draft, who worked with someone looking over his shoulder at the end of last season, when McNair imported Dan Reeves as a consultant. In a twist here, it's the personnel guy and not the coach who might be the short-timer. And since Kubiak isn't going anywhere for a while, maybe he exercised a choice for the long-term.
If the Texans keep making these kinds of questionable personnel decisions, it's going to take a long term, er, time, to ever transform the franchise into a winner.
One assistant coach on the Houston staff, a guy we've known and trusted for a very long time, made this poor attempt at spin on Friday night: By choosing Williams, the Texans actually helped Carr, because an upgraded defense will eventually benefit the bedraggled quarterback. Uh-huh.
Fact: In 2002, the Texans' debut season, the team featured the league's 16th-rated defense, a level Houston hasn't reached since then. And Carr, who usually gets the best view of the Reliant Stadium roof when the retractable dome is closed, was sacked 76 times. So much for helping the poor guy out. Giving him a playmaker the ilk of Bush -- now that would have been a gesture of aid.
So, whither Bush now? The New Orleans Saints, who own the second overall choice and who have Bush atop their draft board, have privately said they will sprint to the podium to choose the USC star when they are on the clock. They might want to think about walking instead. Run too fast to turn in Bush's name and New Orleans officials might miss some of the many phone calls they will now elicit from teams wanting to move up into the second slot to take a player the Texans didn't want.
Yo, Saints guys, that's probably the New York Jets, who own a pair of first-round picks and have sufficient ammunition to land Bush, calling right now.
And whither the Texans at this point? Well, nothing against Williams, but it's going to take blind loyalty for a fan base already smarting from the franchise's snub of popular hometown star Vince Young to understand Friday evening's decision.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .