PAUL MUTH

Can the XFL thrive in Houston's crowded sports landscape?

Tommy Maddox won the XFL's first and only title. Now the league is planning a reboot with a team in Houston. Scott Halleran/Allsport

It began nearly a year ago with WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon announcing the return of a gimmick-free XFL. It continued when rumors swirled as XFL executives toured Houston’s BBVA Compass stadium and TDECU Stadium back in September. It was then all but confirmed past weekend when news leaked that Houston will, in fact, be among one of the eight founding members of the revived league. A press conference from the XFL scheduled for Wednesday seems to be a formality as most expect that the time will be used to confirm what everyone already knows:

Houston is getting some (more) football.

So let’s do a quick tally. Houston already boasts franchises in MLB, NBA, NFL, MLS, and Minor League Baseball. On top of all of that, the Bayou City’s Sabercats finished their inaugural season of Major League Rugby just this past year. Collegiately, Houston is home to the Cougars, the Owls, and the TSU Tigers. And if you want to take a deep dive, Houston is the home of the Outlaws, one of the original Overwatch League teams. The bottom line is, Houston is already well represented in the sports world.

Can Houston support yet another sport, when options already swaddle sports fans year round? It’s possible, but not guaranteed.

Before we jump in, let’s backtrack just a step or two and add context. The XFL itself is a reboot of a failed attempt at a second football league that debuted back in 2001. The cheerleaders were flashy, the players could use nicknames on their jerseys, and - like the WWE from whence its founder made his fortune - it was all style and very little substance.

The new XFL returns with the promise of legitimacy. The league’s first move in that direction was the hiring of former Houston Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck as the league’s commissioner. This time around McMahon will not only be be financing the entire league out of his own pocket, he will also uniquely be in charge of every team in the league.

Early concepts of the XFL have suggested that pace of play will be increased, resulting in a faster game with a target duration of roughly 2 hours. And one of the smartest early moves has been the two year launch window they’ve set themselves, as they hope to be ready to play in the spring of 2020. This allows the league to vet cities properly, establish their business and execute with a strong foundation versus the one year roll out they attempted the first time.

All of this looks great from a business perspective, but in order for it to succeed, Houstonians are going to need to buy in. I believe that, as long as the price is right, and the schedule doesn’t conflict with any previously established seasons, that won’t be a problem at all.

With the news that XFL execs were scoping out venues like TDECU and BBVA, it’s not too far of a reach to assume that the new football league won’t be commanding a premium to come watch their product. For perspective, the cheapest seat available to watch the Texans stomp the Cleveland Browns this past weekend was $81, and that’s before parking. Both of the prospective XFL home stadiums are centrally located and accessible by Metrorail. If the price point matches that of a Dynamo game or a midweek Rockets contest, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that parents would be more willing to take the family to an XFL game at a cheaper price and in a more intimate setting over the investment that an NFL Sunday has become.

Another reason that the XFL should work in Houston is that it’s simply more football, and Houston LOVES football. As long as it’s marketed appropriately and remains self-aware that the Texans rule the roost, there’s no reason why a franchise can’t succeed here. Football fans typically begin complaining about the length of the offseason about 5 minutes after the Super Bowl concludes, and the XFL seems like a perfect remedy to the problem. Instead of competing head to head against the NFL, the XFL plans to play its 10-game season in the spring, affording fans the allure of almost year-round football. That’s a prospect that should at least bring viewers to the table.

Ultimately I believe that the XFL made a sound business decision in awarding Houston one of its inaugural franchises. The Dynamo and Sabercats have proven that Houston will root for you if the conditions are right. This is a football town, and as long at the XFL takes itself seriously this time, I expect an entertaining and successful relationship with Houston fans.

 

Slow to make big moves hasn't equaled a drop in potential for Texans

Texans are better despite slow free agency

The Texans are better today than when the season ended. It isn't a huge improvement, and there is room for far more improvement, but they're better.

Despite some people's frustration with the Texans not making moves they really haven't missed out on much, the draft is where they will truly improve, and people aren't remembering how good, or bad, they were last season.

Tyrann Mathieu is not $20 million better than Tashaun Gipson. I don't even believe Mathieu was the right type of safety for the Texans. He was a mismatch problem on bigger players, specifically tight ends where Gipson thrives. Mathieu was the third best safety on the team last season not playing as well as Kareem Jackson when he was at safety or the total body of Justin Reid who impressed in his rookie season. While the leadership aspect can't be denied, the Texans praised repeatedly the locker room personality Mathieu brought, the team doesn't lack for leaders.

Gipson has had more success in recent years statistically than Mathieu and plays a different style. You'll notice far less tackles and no sacks to Gipson's stat line. He will be asked to cover more than Mathieu was and his success in recent seasons shows he can do that well. He hasn't had to clean up a lot of messes in the Jaguars secondary, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye held their own, his experience playing deep will hopefully help handle the lack of top talent at cornerback for the Texans.

Speaking of cornerback, if that is where Kareem Jackson was going to play for the Texans in 2019 then there is no loss whatsoever in seeing him leave. He was not good as a corner last year after a really solid start to the year as a safety. Bradley Roby is more physically gifted and took a prove-it deal to try to hit the market with more buzz than this year. I would have preferred Jackson sticking around as a safety but alas the Texans didn't seem to see his value there.

Wholesale changes on the offensive line did almost nothing to improve it last season so I am not sure why some fans and media have desired that again. Yes, they shouldn't have been outbid on Roger Saffold (Titans) by a division rival who has invested greatly in their offensive line. No, Trent Brown (Raiders) and his bloated contract wasn't the answer at left tackle. Matt Paradis is coming off a broken leg at the center spot though he would have been an upgrade at center.

It is clear help on the line is coming via the draft, a deep one along the line might I add. With three picks in the top two rounds there will be opportunities to find players to push Nick Martin, Senio Kelemete, and Julién Davenport and it isn't out of the question. Seantrell Henderson despite his new contract is pushed by a rookie as well. This is a fine plan as only Nick Martin was a top round pick of any of the Texans current offensive linemen.

Also, this team won 11 games last season. Don't let a disappointing playoff performance skew how this team played. Deshaun Watson is going to improve and that is the most important thing about this team. He won't take as many hits as he did last season with draft investment and improvement of players on the roster. The rookie tight ends have a year of seasoning under their belt. D'Onta Foreman and Keke Coutee should be healthy and eventually Will Fuller will return. The defense returns or has replaced key figures.

Acting like this is a team that had to spend money just because they had cap space isn't a smart way to look at this team. Typically a team sucks when they have this much cap space, the Texans didn't fall into that category. Is there still room for improvement? No doubt. There's also room to find multiple bargains, be a destination for a trade post-draft, and pay Clowney. Relax, this is a long offseason. The Texans are better today than last week.

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