Everything to Gaine

Joel Blank: Texans, new GM will have to make smart decisions in free agency

The Texans and GM Brian Gaine have an important week ahead. Houstontexans.com

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

For new Texans general manager Brian Gaine, nothing could be more true. The new GM is faced with the task of erasing some of the bad memories left by his one-time boss Rick Smith. In fitting Rick Smith fashion, he left Gaine without a first or second round pick in this year's draft, all in an effort to rid himself of Brock Osweiler and that albatross of a contract. With all that being said, free agency is the first step in trying to improve the roster while overcoming the challenges left by Smith. Making a splash in free agency without overspending is easier said than done, but if he is able to pull it off, it will go a long way with his team and his fan base.

Today is the first official day that teams and free agents can meet and talk to discuss the future. The Texans are in a better position than most as they have found their franchise quarterback, but now the challenge becomes protecting him and avoiding another season-ending injury. Houston currently has around $66 million to spend as they enter free agency and the draft. To put it another way, they have the 6th-highest salary cap space in the league, with the Jets leading the way at around $92 million and the 49ers 5th, with $70 million. In between those two teams are the Browns at $76 million, the Colts at $74 million and the Buccaneers at $73 million. Though there is not a surplus of quality tackles available in free agency this year there is one, Nate Solder, who has protected arguably the greatest quarterback ever in Tom Brady. He would be a serious upgrade for the Texans, who have struggled trying to protect Deshaun Watson. There are a few quality guards on the open market, but it will be a challenge to avoid overpaying when trying to upgrade the line. Since the two biggest needs for this franchise are to improve the offensive line and the secondary, the back end and outside of the defense might be the best way to allocate free agency dollars. Unlike the offensive lineman on the market, there seems to be an abundance of above-average corners and safeties out there. Even with Richard Sherman agreeing to sign in San Francisco, there are still quality players like Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro, Michael Thomas, Eric Reid, and Tre Boston. Of that class of players, Vacarro attended the University of Texas and Thomas is from Aldine, so both might be open to returning home and helping the Texans. Depending on what they do or do not spend in the early stages of free agency, tight end could also be a position of need. With the status of C.J. Fiedorowicz up in the air for to concussions, and with the tight end such a valuable and necessary position in Bill O'Brien's offense, Gaine could consider several available options. The key to free agency is to spend wisely and intelligently, without overspending and handcuffing your future cap flexibility.

After wrapping up free agency, the draft is the next step towards forming and formulating a quality roster for the upcoming season. With the NFL combine behind us and free agency upon us, the other way that Gaine can fill holes on his roster is to add quality college talent with the draft picks that he has at his disposal. As previously mentioned, Smith traded away the first and second round picks for the team this year. That leaves eight total picks starting in round three and ending in round seven. The first three picks the team has are in the third round and the Texans can make a splash immediately with the players they select on the second day of the draft. Chances are there will still be some quality offensive linemen on the board, as well as some above average defensive backs, linebackers, and possibly even a receiver or tight end. Who the team takes with these three selections in Round 3 could say a lot in terms of what grade Gaine gets when we look back on this draft. Getting a few talented players that step right in and help the team is essential when you are without a selection in either of the first two rounds. The new general manager can make a huge splash by drafting quality players that can contribute both immediately and for years to come, as one of the biggest knocks on Rick Smith was always his inability to draft after the first round and get talented players that could add depth, push starters and contribute on special teams. The mark of Smith's middle round draft picks were that more ended up being released without making an impact on the Texans, and the majority of them didn't impact any other roster once their days in Houston ended.

So the table is set for what should be an exciting few weeks for football fans in Houston. Between free agency and the draft,  the players Brian Gaine brings in will go a long way towards shaping the team's roster next year and for seasons to come. In the process it will also write the first chapter in the career of the team's new GM and allow the fans and critics alike the opportunity to pass or fail the moves made. Regardless of the outcome, as Tupac said, all eyes on you, Brian Gaine.



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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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