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How the Houston Texans can make the most of a lost 2021 season

Dec 19, 2020; Pasadena, California, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Davis Mills (15) sets to throw a pass in the first half of the game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans ended the 2020 season with a 4-12 record despite a career year from Deshaun Watson at quarterback. For an idea of the disconnect between Watson’s play and the success of the team around him, I present this table.  

Top-five quarterbacks in PFF grade | 2020 regular season
Player PFF grade Made conference championship?
Aaron Rodgers 94.5 Yes
Deshaun Watson 92.5 No
Tom Brady 92.5 Yes
Patrick Mahomes 91.4 Yes
Josh Allen 90.9 Yes

Not only did Watson not make the championship game like the other four quarterbacks inside the top five, but his team found itself in position to draft third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Of course, Houston didn’t even get the reward that typically comes with a 4-12 record, thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade that sent that No. 3 overall pick to the Miami Dolphins. Instead, the Texans didn’t own a pick until the third round.

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That’s already a less-than-ideal situation to find yourself in as a franchise, but Houston’s ace in the hole was having a young, top-five quarterback on the roster. That advantage dissipated when Watson publicly requested a trade

The Texans still had a clear path to rebuild, even after his trade request, with what was expected to be a massive return for one of the best quarterbacks in the league entering his prime. Now, that light at the end of the tunnel has disappeared, too. Twenty-plus lawsuits alleging instances of sexual misconduct and sexual assault quickly put a stop to any potential trade talks. 

Where that leaves the Texans pales in comparison to the gravity of the accusations against Watson, but Houston still has to deal with the reality of the situation it is now in. The Texans don't know if or when Watson will play again. They weren’t able to make any major strides toward the future this offseason with little draft capital or cap space to work with, either. Houston is stuck in limbo with the lowest projected win total in the NFL next season (4.5 wins).

Do the Texans have a good chance to be the worst team in the league in 2021? They do, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “lost” season. The Texans should be viewing the 2021 season as an evaluation period and opportunity to build toward next offseason when they will be in a position to make bigger changes. 

Houston had one of the stranger free agency periods of any NFL team this offseason. They made 72 roster transactions from the time they hired Nick Caserio on Jan. 5 through April 17, per Mark Lane of Texans Wire. Despite their volume of transactions, there is very little to get excited about with their incoming free agent class. Some of the highlights include: 

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