Kevin Johnson had a rough year last year and a tough night on Saturday. Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images
The Texans are halfway through the preseason and are in the stretch run to real football. The best news is they have remained relatively unscathed on the injury front. They suffered one significant one Saturday night when cornerback Kevin Johnson went out early with a concussion.
This was going to be a key year for Johnson. He played all 16 games as a rookie, but just six in his second year and 12 last year in a season that was a complete disaster. As a first-round pick with multiple injuries and performance issues, Johnson is very close to getting the dreaded “bust” label.
It is his second concussion, and came on a play where he was badly beaten. Johnson appears to be OK, but concussions are dicey, and there is no way of knowing when he will return. Johnson has shown flashes at times, but coming off a rough season and multiple injuries, it is safe to say the Texans can’t count on him. Considering it is one of the thinnest positions on the roster, it is an unfortunate turn of events.
It means Aaron Colvin likely starts alongside Jonathan Joseph, but now Johnson Bademosi moves up a spot. Bademosi is a terrific special teams player but a below average corner. There does not appear to be another answer on the roster unless Kareem Jackson moves back from safety, but that would weaken what appears to be a strength.
The Texans are having former Ram Kayvon Webster in for a visit. He played in 11 games last season and is also coming off an injury. He is nothing special, but likely better than any options on the roster.
Veteran Dominique Rogers-Cromartie remains available as well.
Other than Johnson, none of the key injured players from last year have seen much time. In reality, they should not. Deshaun Watson has played two series, and there is no reason to put him back out there. Same goes for J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Watson looked sharp in his work against the 49ers, but starting quarterbacks are supposed to do that in preseason games. The good news is he is moving well and looks ready for the regular season.
The key over the next two games will be to keep the important players healthy, and see who earns the bottom roster spots.
What have we learned so far?
Pretty much what we already knew. The biggest question marks coming in were offensive line, running back depth behind Lamar Miller and depth on the corners. With Johnson’s injury, the latter becomes an even bigger issue.
The OL has looked OK in the first two games, but we really won’t learn much about this group until the real games start.
After Miller, the Texans don’t appear to have anything above mediocre players at running back. This group could look a lot different if D’Onta Foreman is able to return, but he is coming off an Achilles injury and should not be counted on.
Still, Watson appears to be healthy, and J.J. Watt has looked good in camp, even if he hasn’t played a game, so there are positives. But until they play for real, most of the big questions will remain unanswered.
Meanwhile, Brandon Weeden has looked pretty solid as Watson's backup. Obviously if Watson is down for any extended time, the Texans are in trouble, but if you had to play Weeden 2-3 games, you would feel much better than you did last season. The interior defensive line and linebackers also appear to be much deeper this season.
The Johnson injury is the one added concern, and hopefully it can be remedied by adding another player. Or maybe he recovers quicker than expected. But if that is your biggest problem when the season starts, you can live with it.
In fact, you probably should have expected it.
Larry King used to describe what’s wrong with modern sports this way:
Back in the 1960s, two housewives are waiting in line at the supermarket checkout line. One picks up a copy of PhotoplayMagazine and says, “Isn’t Clint Eastwood dreamy?” The other says, “He’s so rugged, I love his movies. Let’s go tonight.”
Sixty years later, two women, one’s an attorney the other is vice-president of an investment firm, are in line at the supermarket checkout. One picks up a copy of Forbes and says, “You know, Brad Pitt owns two points of his new movie’s foreign distribution and has right of first refusal on all sequels and spinoffs. He stands to make $50 million for his production company.”
It’s a similar situation with sports then and now. Sometimes we don’t need to know how the sausage is made.
These days you couldn’t blame Astros fans for having a grudging resignation that star third baseman Alex Bregman will be leaving Houston at the end, more likely during, the 2024 season.
It’s not because the fans don’t like him. Not because he isn’t contributing. Not because he’s injured all the time. Not because the Astros have a better third baseman coming up from Triple A. Not for any good reason.
It’s because Bregman will be entering the last year of his contract and teams will be offering him big money to play for them. At least according to the media, Astros don’t think they can afford to keep him. Bregman’s agent is Scott Boras who loves to take his clients to free agency and watch other teams fight like jackals over his players.
This is the time of year when sportswriters play fantasy trades and one that’s gained traction involves the Astros saying goodbye to Bregman as part of a complicated four-team deal. Essentially, Bregman and Jake Meyers would go to the Yankees, while pitching prospect Spencer Arrighetti goes to the Chicago White Sox.
In return, the Astros would acquire rookie infielder Jordan Westburg from the Orioles.
While the attorney and investment banker might understand the financial bottom line of the deal, the two housewives from the ‘60s would ask Astros owner Jim Crane, “Have you lost your flippin’ mind?”
“Are you really saying goodbye to Alex Bregman, a popular player who is one of the few remnants of our first-ever World Series title in 2017, who hit 25 homers and drove in 98 runs last year, who played 161 games, who was a Gold Glove finalist, who is beloved in Houston … for a rookie who played less than half a season in 2023, and hit .260 with three home runs? Seriously, here’s a Dixie cup. We need to have you looked at.”
I know, it’s the Astros thing. Goodbye Carlos Correa. Goodbye Gerrit Cole. Goodbye George Springer. Goodbye Justin Verlander.
Goodbye Alex Bregman?
With a new manager and new(ish) general manager, this would be a good time to open the vault and go after big name free agents, not send them away. This isn’t how a major market team that draws 3 million fans at major market ticket prices is supposed to act. This is how the perennial loser Pittsburgh Pirates conduct business.
Or one day it will be goodbye fans.
I spoke with a baseball insider who thinks the Astros would be making the right move dispatching Bregman, Meyers and Arrighetti for a rookie infielder with a brief lifetime batting average of .260 and little power.
“Put a pencil to it (if the Astros sign Bregman to an extension) you’re looking at a $300 million payroll. I like the proposed trade because it lowers payroll, brings in a talented kid and nudges the transition. All the Astros core guys are either going to get raises or be out the door over the next two years, most notably Kyle Tucker. If I ran things, I’d fast-forward the roster churn. I’d make Altuve and Yordan Alvarez untouchable and throw everybody else into the discussion. The farm system is so weak that a collapse is inevitable.”
But why? Bregman is 29 years old. He’s in the middle of his prime years with tread still on his tires. He’s part of what makes the Astros a mini-dynasty with seven consecutive ALCS appearances, four World Series appearances and two championships since 2017.
In New York, sports columnists already have Bregman in pinstripes. They’re saying it’s practically a done deal. They’re saying, sure, there may be some early fan resentment because they consider Bregman part of the 2017 Astros sign stealers they feel robbed the Yankees of the American League pennant and stole Aaron Judge’s MVP. When the Astros visit Yankee Stadium, you hear fans cull Bregman and Altuve from the herd for lusty boos and jeers.
New York media is confident that fans will snap out of it once their new third baseman hits a few Breggy Bombs and makes diving plays at third base, a position where the Yankees sorely need improving.
Yankee fans have proven they’re a forgiving mob. Until the Astros got good, the archest enemy was Boston. Yankee fans forgave former Red Sox stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Johnny Damon, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens for their past sins. If you turn back the pages of history, there was this fellow named Babe Ruth who made fans overlook that used to play in Boston.
So far we haven’t heard how Bregman might feel about playing for the enemy. One supposes any nerves would be soothed by what could approach a $300 million contract.
It’s not like the old days when enemies stuck to their guns. The two housewives at the supermarket checkout would remind you that in 1956, when the Dodgers tried to trade Jackie Robinson to the rival Giants, Robinson retired from baseball rather than wear that despised uniform.