MAJOR CHANGES COMING

Here's why today will be the battle for Houston sports fans' souls

Winds of change? Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange

"These are the times that try men's souls."

Thomas Paine wrote those words in the winter of 1776 to spur on Continental Army patriots fighting for freedom against the British during the Revolutionary War.

Update: today is a day that tries Houston sports fans' souls.

George Springer, the possibly soon-to-be former Houston Astro is rated that No. 1 free agent on the market. Who wouldn't want a slugging centerfielder, a fan favorite, repeat All-Star and solid fielder who seems to get better each year and is still only 31? Springer reportedly doesn't want to return to the Astros. If so, there are plenty of teams willing and ready to cut Springer a nine-figure, long-term deal, even in this COVID penny-pinching season. George Chelston Springer III, even his name reeks of New England, grew up a Red Sox fan in Connecticut. If you close your eyes, you can see a Springer dinger sailing over the Green Monster. The Mets have a new owner, a bulging bank account and a spot in the outfield. Also in the running: the Phillies, Braves and Yankees. And don't think that new Tigers manager A.J. Hinch wouldn't love to stick it to his former employer and lure Springer to Detroit.

Meanwhile, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are free agents, too. While Brantley might be convinced to stay in Houston, Reddick's a goner, and the Astros conceivably could lose their entire outfield. Not good.

Will the Texans make a deal at the deadline?

Today is the NFL's trade deadline, and while word from Kirby says no trades are likely, how would the Texans respond if a team offers a second-round pick for local hero J.J. Watt? Or a third-rounder for Whitney Mercilus? Or anything for anybody on the Texans' roster. The Texans are DOA and the cupboard, at least the top shelf, is bare for draft picks next year.

Losing Watt would be a heartbreaker for Texans' fans. He isn't just on the Mount Rushmore of beloved Houston athletes … Watt sits on top of the mountain. Houston fans might understand trading Watt to a Super Bowl contender, just so he has a chance for a ring. But that would be a distant second to watching Watt hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in a Texans' uniform. There's a lot of tread on Watt's tires, but he's still only 31. One can hope.

Rockets rumor mill

The Houston Rockets, nothing new, are in a state of flux. The Rockets have a new coach, first-time Stephen Silas, a new general manager, first-timer Rafael Stone, and new executive vice-president of basketball operations, first-timer Eli Witus. Owner Tilman Fertitta now has his guys in place. Let's just say that Fertitta is hands-on.

A few years ago, I sat in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn in Tyler and had an interesting conversation with Fertitta. His son Blake was playing for Post Oak in a Little League tournament. I was in the West U rooting section for a different division tourney.

Post Oak played Pearland and Fertitta told me about a home run his son Blake hit that morning. It was a towering shot that soared over the fence and crashed the back window of the Pearland coach's car. The ball wound up in the car's cup holder. That's what you call adding insult to injury. "I've never seen anything like it," Tilman said.

Fertitta was an intense Little League dad. He rattled off the boys' statistics, knew everything about the other teams and generally was on top of every detail. He hasn't changed, just bigger toys to play with now.

There are rumors that the Rockets are shopping Russell Westbrook and every other player not named James Harden. And there are whispers about Harden, too.

Oh, and if all that weren't enough pins and needles for you, there's a little election happening today. Good luck making it to tomorrow.

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Watson was missing from practice again. Photo by Zach Tarrant/HoustonTexans.com.

The Houston Texans had their second day in pads and it was a bright day for a couple of rookies.

1. Deshaun Watson was absent again from practice. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly explained the team is keeping Watson "engaged" and he has been helpful in the meeting room with the offense.

2. Watson, if Kelly is telling the truth, can absolutely help the quarterbacks with his knowledge. The offense shouldn't be that different, and Watson doesn't have anything against the quarterbacks specifically. It is strange to think Deshaun Watson would be helping the quarterbacks while actively wanting to be playing elsewhere, but Kelly has no reason to lie about Watson's level of engagement.

3. It was Roy Lopez day on Wednesday. The rookie defensive lineman had a sack and is quite the load to handle upfront. Lopez will have to build on these days to earn time on a busy defensive line but if he repeats this day, people will have to beat him out.

4. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins finds himself open quite a bit. Collins isn't afraid of traffic, though there aren't any real big hits in training camp. Collins' athleticism is very clear and as he grows more, he should earn more opportunities.

5. Brandin Cooks threw his hands up and let out an exasperated sound as Tyrod Taylor found Collins wide open in the middle of the field. Cooks was even more wide open in the end zone, and Taylor didn't see him.

6. Tyrod Taylor's legs will be a weapon in this offense. Taylor doesn't take off in a lot of the drills, but his mobility is apparent. Taylor did run into a sack by defensive lineman Derek Rivers.

7. Veteran wide receiver Chris Conley is extremely athletic and speedy. Conley can get vertical on all the defensive backs. In a pass-catching drill Conley wowed. The drill consisted of a coach wearing a pad and attacking the wideouts on a jump ball. Conley skied, ripped the ball out of the air, and withstood the attack from the coach easily coming down on both feet. Conley would make the team if the season started tomorrow.

8. Tight end Pharaoh Brown had a great catch beating Justin Reid for a touchdown on a pass from Tyrod Taylor. Reid was very upset he lost the rep. Brown was solid last year and he remains one of the better tight ends on the team.

9. Linebacker Neville Hewitt has had some flashes in camp. Hewitt had over 100 tackles for the Jets last year to go along with 12 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons. Hewitt had a hurry on Tuesday and a pass breakup on Wednesday. Hewitt is certainly in consideration for a spot in the revamped linebacker room.

10. Defensive linemen Charles Omenihu and Jonathan Greenard each had sacks in a team period. Omenihu's rep was a forced fumble and Greenard darted through the middle of the line for his successful rep.

11. Tytus Howard had a hold your breath moment when he slowly got off the ground and gingerly walked off the field. Howard had to walk it off, but returned to practice with no issue. He has played a multitude of positions in training camp.

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