Which team is in worse shape moving forward? The Cowboys or the Texans?
We like to think of Texas as the center of the football universe. From Friday night lights to massive college programs to America's Team, Texas is football.
But a funny thing has happened on our way to football arrogance. The major college programs barely register a blip on the national radar anymore. UT is a mess, and A&M is stuck trying to deal with Alabama and a loaded SEC West every year.
And the pro teams are among the worst in football. The Cowboys are still in a lousy NFC East race, but their quarterback is done for the year, the defense is a joke and there is no real hope for the immediate future. It is a huge drop for a team that many considered a Super Bowl contender before the season. And the Texans' woes amid the aftermath and tenure of the worst GM in history, Bill O'Brien, are well chronicled.
How bad is it? Offensively, not so bad. The Cowboys are second in yards, the Texans 10th. In scoring, however, they are 18th and 22nd, respectively, and with Dak Prescott out, it only goes down from here for Dallas.
It's on defense where these two teams are truly awful. Dallas is last in points allowed, Houston 27th. In yards allowed, Houston is 30th and Dallas is 28th. Houston is 32 and Dallas 31 in interceptions.
So who has the better future heading into next season? Let's make a case for both:
CASE FOR THE COWBOYS
The positives: Injuries have decimated the offensive line, once one of the best in the league. If they get Tyron Smith back next year and he is healthy, it makes a huge difference. They will need to make a decision on Dak, whether it is another franchise tag or a long term deal, but he should be back in 2021. They still have skilled weapons on offense in Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper. Fixing the OL and getting Dak back should have this offense where it needs to be.
The negatives: The defense is a long way off from being fixed, however, and they will need to get creative with the cap to bring in any impact free agents. They are in line for a high draft pick, which should give them a shot at a solid player to add with Demarcus Lawrence, who is just 28 years old. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are still worth keeping. Aldon Smith has been a pleasant surprise after being out of the league since 2015. Everyone else on the unit, especially in the secondary, is a mess. You can't fix that in one year, but they can clean up some of it. Mike McCarthy may or may not be the guy at head coach, and he will have to look for another DC heading into next year.
The bottom line: With draft picks in hand and key players returning from injury, the Cowboys could easily get back on track in 2021.
CASE FOR THE TEXANS
The positives: They have two key positions locked up - quarterback and left tackle. Those are the hardest to fill, so there's that. They can also use a second day pick on a running back and improve instantly there. Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb are serviceable receivers. They are set at tackle with Tytus Howard manning the right side. With a new coach and a new scheme and a Will Fuller replacement, the offense should be pretty decent in 2021. They can clear significant cap space to add a few impact players by moving on from Nick Martin, Zach Fulton, Bernardick McKinney and David Johnson, all of whom are overpaid. And if Watt is gone, that is another $17.5 million. So there will be room to work with.
The negatives: The interior offensive line needs an overhaul. Max Scharping, a solid rookie last year, is nowhere to be found. Maybe a quality OL coach can get the best out of him, but they will still need two more players here and limited draft picks will mean dipping into free agency. The defense is much like the one in Dallas; in need of a complete overhaul. J.J. Watt might be traded; if not, who knows if he will even play in 2021? Bradley Roby is a plus corner. But Justin Reid has regressed, there are no other quality defensive backs on the roster, and they are hamstrung by awful contracts for underperforming players like Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham and Eric Murray. Cutting any of them would be almost pointless based on their cap numbers. With no No. 1 pick, there is no help coming there, either. O'Brien left a massive mess that only a very shrewd GM will be able to fix quickly.
The bottom line: IF they hire the right coach and GM, a lot can be fixed in a hurry. But one of the co-orchestrators of the worst trade in NFL history - Jack Easterby - is still in the organization. If he has significant say, the Texans are in deep trouble. The big question is can Cal McNair make the right calls on coach and GM? If so, things will not be that bleak. If not? It could take years to recover from the Easterby/O'Brien mess.
So who is in worse shape? The Cowboys are clearly closer and have assets to improve. The Texans simply have too many question marks. So the pick here is that the Texans are in worse shape. What do you think?