Caveat ahead of the rest of this column: So much is trivial relative to the life and death and other critical Covid-19 pandemic issues, but sports matter as passions of so many, as multi-billion dollar businesses with impact on many other businesses, and beyond. All things in context.
The Texans acquisition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams doesn't undo the dim-bulbness of the DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals deal, but Bill O'Brien made a reasonable though hardly risk-free deal in getting Cooks. It nets out that basically Emperor O dealt Hopkins for Cooks, running back David Johnson, and a 17 slot move up in the 2nd round. That's not a good exchange for the Texans, but not as bad as the Hopkins trade by itself.
It is amusing that Cooks is in the middle of a five year 81 million dollar contract, the exact length and dollar figures of the Hopkins contract O'Brien chose to unload. Cooks makes eight million in 2020, then has zero remaining guaranteed dollars left over the remaining three seasons of his contract. If kept on with that deal Cooks would average 13 mil per season covering 2021 through 2023. Hopkins averages about 13.3 mil over the three remaining seasons on his deal.
The Texans give up the lower of their two second round picks for Cooks, so they still have the 40th overall selection in the draft two weeks from now. With Cooks, Randall Cobb, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills the Texans have their primary wide receiving corps settled, so their top draft pick can now be earmarked toward a pass rusher, a guard, or the always popular "best player available."
What does it say more about a player who is traded three times in just over three years: bad that teams feel like they're better off moving the guy, or good that there's been consistent interest in acquiring his services? Cooks was a Saints first round pick in 2014. After the 2016 season they dealt him to the Patriots, after just one season in New England Cooks was dealt to the Rams, and now the Rams deal him here. Cooks comes to the Texans off of his lowest reception total season and lowest touchdown catch season of his career. Oh, he's had at least five concussions during his six seasons in the NFL. However, before missing two games last season to a concussion Cooks played all 16 regular season games four consecutive seasons. In the last three of those he topped 1000 yards in receptions and averaged at least 15 yards per catch.
Had a little fun with this on the radio show Thursday: uniform number 34 for Houston is the overwhelming iconic pro sports number (Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell, Nolan Ryan). What's the second greatest number in Houston sports annals? What cities can even remotely rival Houston 34 with numbers of their own? Three athletes, three different sports. Thoughts below in Buzzer Beaters.
Forbes magazine this week released its annual valuation estimates for the 30 Major League Baseball franchises. It ranks the Astros 11th at 1.85 billion dollars. That's right about triple what Jim Crane and his partners paid for it less than nine years ago. The Yankees top the list as always, at five billion. Four other teams are worth more than a billion more than the Astros: Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, and Giants. Forbes's call on the most profitable franchise for 2019? The Astros, at 99 million. Crane was denied in his prior effort to buy the Texas Rangers. Before Covid-19 this was to have been an Astros at Rangers weekend, the Astros' first visit to the Rangers' new retractable roof ballpark.
So, ESPN is televising a two hour Horse competition among four NBA players, two former NBA players, and two WNBA players. Sunday's quarterfinals will be a two hour broadcast. Two hours for four games of Horse? Four games of Hippopotamus shouldn't take two hours! Four games of Parastratiosphecomvia stratiophecomyioides? Maybe. That's the longest named animal species. A type of fly. I can't see Horse holding my attention much longer (which is not long at all) than the NBA 2K video tournament ESPN is showing. Tough being the Worldwide Leader In Sports without any real sports.
Buzzer Beaters: 1. Modern Family had its series finale this week. Top 10 sitcom of all-time. Maybe top 5. 2. Number 2 Houston uniform number is number 1. Warren Moon, Tracy McGrady, Carlos Correa 3. Best other city sports numbers: Bronze-Atlanta 21 (Warren Spahn, Dominique Wilkins, Deion Sanders) Silver- Chicago 23 (Michael Jordan, Ryne Sandberg, Devin Hester) Gold-Los Angeles 32 (Magic Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Marcus Allen)
Over the course of the last few years, I've noticed a marked change in my writing. It coincided with the ebbs and flows of the sports culture here in Houston. Namely, the Rockets and Texans falling off while the Astros tried to keep the city's hopes afloat. Even with winning titles, going to consecutive American League Championship Series, and staying a top contender, the Astros couldn't hold the city's collective attention (in some realms) as much as the Texans.
I don't care what you say. Football is king here in Texas. The Astros winning helped the city get over the debacle that was on Kirby and Polk. What they truly desired was a respectable football team. Having gone without for years, finally getting one, it not being up to par, being okay for a while, then taking a nosedive, it made fans feel like they were in a Twilight Zone of sorts.
Enter DeMeco Ryans. Not only has he changed the culture in the organization, but they're winning too! Who'd have thought the Texans would be in the Wildcard position this late in the season? Absolutely NOBODY! Well, I won't say nobody. There were some overzealous fans wearing Battle Red and Deep Steel Blue-tinted glasses who would say this same thing no matter what happened in the offseason. This is why DeMeco Ryans is the NFL's Coach of the Year right now, and there's no debate to be had.
The first reason was already listed above. He came to the Texans organization and changed the culture. From top to bottom, the expectations and thought processes have changed for the better. Gone are the days of people feeling like they're walking on eggshells around an arrogant jerk who had no reason to be such a blowhard. No longer are the sidelines patrolled by one and done coaches who were more of a placeholder than a purse on a church pew on Sunday morning. He brings a presence, an aura if you will. When he walks in a room, people genuinely are excited to see and talk to him. He obliges willingly and fully engages by talking directly to people and making eye contact. Never heard him yell or be condescending.
Secondly, and perhaps most notably, he's winning. Last year at this same time, the Texans were 1-8-1 and in last place in the AFC. They finished the year 3-13-1 and picked second overall in the draft. As of this writing, they're 6-4, second place in the AFC South, and sixth place in the AFC as one of the Wildcard teams. They're scheduled to play the Jags this weekend with sole possession of first place in the division on the line. No other team in the league has made as big a jump in the standings from last season to this one than the Texans. NRG Stadium was the loudest some have heard it the last couple wins against the Bus and Cardinals. Craziest part: it wasn't even full to capacity.
Changing the culture and winning goes a long way. Perhaps the biggest influence DeMeco has had is his commitment to player development. When he was with the 49ers, they raved about how he turned them into better players. Fred Warner was emotional over losing DeMeco as a coach for what he's done for Warner's career. Pairing a coach like him with players like C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson Jr, and others with the same level of commitment has this team in place to not only win, but be a factor for years to come.
I've seen coaches make some unreal turnarounds in my lifetime. It usually comes with a ton of other sweeping changes. While he did have the number two and number three picks in this past draft, this team was in shambles. The salary cap was a mess, draft capital was abysmal, and the team was devoid of talent. General manager Nick Caserio came in and cleaned up a lot of it before DeMeco was hired, so he should get some credit. However, he set a table for DeMeco to come in and work his magic. It's hard for a GM to make those moves and not have a coach to help finish the job. He bought the groceries, but had no chef. DeMeco came in and not only cooked a great meal, but he set a nice table and cleaned the kitchen when he was done.
If this man doesn't win Coach of the Year, fire everybody who has a vote. No coach in the league has done what he's done over the course of this season from last season. Improving the winning of a franchise and changing their culture to the point where the fan base did a complete 180-degree turnaround means the award should already have his name on it. The trophy should be in Houston in a lock box at a secure location. There should be plans already made, but flexible enough for their impending playoff run. If you can name a better candidate, I'd love to hear your argument. Send it to me on November 33rd. Promise it'll be the first thing I read that day.