Free Agency Fiasco

Patrick Creighton: Did Texans owner Bob McNair just further alienate himself from his players?

Mr. McNair is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Bob McNair is going to have to answer some questions to his team again.

During the season, Bob McNair found himself having to address his team for racially insensitive comments he made during a meeting between owners and players to discuss the ongoing player demonstrations during the national anthem protesting social injustice.  His comment about “inmates running the prison” set off a media firestorm and infuriated his own players, some of whom (including DeAndre Hopkins) walked out of practice as a result of his comments.

His attempt to explain he didn’t mean to refer to the players but to the league office went over very poorly and the players were not buying it.  Those fences did not mend. Now, he likely will have to try again.

Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle reported Monday that two NFL agents told him the Texans aren’t interested in any players who participated in an anthem demonstration protesting social injustice.

Unfortunately, this should be a surprise to no one.  I say unfortunately because Bob McNair is one of the most respected men in the city of Houston and one of the most respected men in the NFL owners’ room. However, all we need do is look at the Texans actions to see this was always going to be the case.

Houston didn’t want to give Duane Brown, a Pro Bowl LT who could have greatly helped an offensive line that was more sieve than solid, a new contract or any guaranteed money despite his standing as a leader on the team, being the team’s best lineman, or being a top-5 Texan all time.  It made absolutely no sense at the time. It’s much clearer now.

I said at the time that Brown’s participation in an anthem demonstration was a major issue for the Texans and that they would be okay with moving on from him even though they would hurt the team in the process.  Brown confirmed this in an interview with former Texan Arian Foster on Foster’s podcast.

The Texans made no attempt to work a deal with him as he exercised the only leverage point he had, holding out.  (Before anyone starts with the stupidity of 'he was under contract – a contract is a binding agreement between two parties' – a non-guaranteed deal that doesn’t require any commitment on the team’s end is a contract in name only.  No one should be put in a position to play for nothing.)

Brown then was critical of Bob McNair when McNair was exposed for his ‘inmates running the prison’ comment.  It was so offensive to NFL VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent that he got up and walked out. Vincent said in his playing days he had been called many things, but never an inmate.  

Brown not only criticized the owner’s comments but spilled the beans that he wasn’t surprised because it wasn’t the first time he had heard McNair say racially insensitive things.

Brown recalled that during his rookie season in 2008, McNair addressed the team regarding the election of President Obama.

“(McNair) was visibly upset about it. He said, ‘I know a lot of y’all are happy right now, but it’s not the outcome that some of us were looking for.’ That was very shocking to me.”

Brown further went on to recall McNair addressing the team after Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was exposed for making many racially based discriminatory comments by his mistress.

“The message was more to be careful who you have private conversations with because things that you think are confidential can spread like wildfire.  In my mind, it would probably have been better if he said ‘don’t be a racist’ instead of ‘be a racist in private and make sure it doesn’t get out.'”

Brown addressed how the team “sent him to the wolves” when he protested during the anthem, and that the team did not back him as a leader or as a player.

Now consider Texans COO Cal McNair’s comments on Brian Cushing, who served a 10 game suspension for another failed PED test:  "Brian Cushing has meant a great deal to the McNair family and few players have meant more to the Texans franchise…  His work ethic, toughness, and leadership, not only as a member of the team but in the Houston community, is to be commended, especially his dedication to the military and their families.”

Just a little bit different, right? One stood for what he believed in, one left his teammates hanging getting caught cheating.  Do I really have to say what is worse?

Brown played one game for the Texans this year before the team gave him away for 40 cents on the dollar to the Seahawks. The Texans were desperate for offensive line help and gave away a Pro Bowl tackle.

So, they didn’t back one of the greatest players in their team’s history after a demonstration.  They refused to give him a new contract when he was a team leader, and team’s best offensive lineman when they were going to play 2 quarterbacks with a combined 2 starts between them in the NFL. They traded him on the cheap to a contender in the NFC. They lauded and praised their PED using LB who has been a shell of his former self for years.

Now agents around the league know the Texans will refuse to consider any player who has participated in an anthem protest or may participate in the future.  

The truth is the Texans aren’t the only team who will take this stance, but it bothers me more because of who the owner is.  Bob McNair brought the NFL back to Houston. He is a magnanimous man known for his charitable works. Bob McNair isn’t supposed to be the kind of man who holds these petty grudges.  

McNair always talks about wanting to win, and give a championship to the city of Houston, but in this instance is he more concerned with peripheral issues than putting the best possible product on the field?  Perception is 90% reality.

McNair couldn’t win back the locker room when he spoke to the team after his “inmates running the prison” comment.  His excuse held no water. How does he mend the fence with his African American players when agents know the team is holding a grudge against all their fellow players who stood up for their rights and their beliefs?  How does the owner look his players in the face and say he cares about them and the issues that are important to them when his actions clearly indicate otherwise?

McNair has a trust issue with his players, the majority of whom see the reasons for the anthem demonstrations as important social issues.  He needs to change the perception that he views them as little more than gladiators being sent to the Colosseum to please the Roman mob.

It will not be an easy task since he is already fighting an uphill battle, but he is the ultimate leader of the team.  As such, he needs to change the perception, not just to the public, but to his players, and soon. Another such episode could result in a full-scale mutiny that could have ripple effects throughout the league.

Patrick Creighton is the host of “Nate & Creight” heard weekdays 1-3p CT on SportsMap 94.1FM, and “Sports & Shenanigans” heard Sundays 12-5p CT on SB Nation Radio.  Follow him on Twitter: @pcreighton1

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The Texans are moving in the wrong direction. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

1. This team started incredibly slow and outside of a couple of drives in the second half disappointed. The defense got worked by the Chargers' star players, and the offense sputtered too often. It was really a summary of the season up to this point which is to say inconsistency.

2. Davis Mills was shaky early. The first drive interception was tough to stomach. The pocket got messy as he tried to drive the ball and he floated one up there. It gave the Chargers an easy drive for seven points.

3. One of the early offensive mistakes erased a scoring opportunity. Kenyon Green got nailed for a holding call that erased one of the best passes and catches between Brandin Cooks and Davis Mills all season. The rookie’s mistake was compounded the very next play when the offense allowed Mills to be sacked. It was a 40-yard swing that led to a punt.

4. Another third down penalty led to a mishap for the Texans. Laremy Tunsil gets a false start on third down to make it third and 10. The shovel pass to Rex Burkhead goes for six yards and then the Texans botch the field goal. Back-to-back drives and third-down penalties affected the offense and ended with no points. That was all just in the first quarter!

5. The Texans were abysmal with short yardage in key spots yet again. In the second quarter, Pep Hamilton opted for a pass on fourth and one. Davis Mills never got the play off and was sacked. After the game, Mills said the team wanted to catch the Chargers off guard running when most expected a pass, but Rex Burkhead was the running back. It was again a situation, a key and critical moment, that the team trusted Burkhead over the more dynamic Dameon Pierce.

6. The Chargers were very chunky on offense against the Texans. There were 16 plays that went for at least ten yards for the Chargers of their 67 plays. Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler were fantastic for Los Angeles.

7. The pass rush was non-existent for the Texans. This was one of the more disappointing aspects of the day to consider the Chargers were playing a rookie right guard, their center is injured but playing, and the left tackle was a backup left tackle. Nothing seemed to get home on an injured Justin Herbert. The Texans recorded just two quarterback hits in the game.

8. The linebackers got worked again. This is the absolute weakest unit on the team right now. They look like they’re easily exploited by most opposing offenses.

9. It was a rough day for the rookie class of the Texans. Derek Stingley was handled by Mike Williams on multiple occasions in key spots. Kenyon Green allowed a big sack and had a holding penalty erase a huge play. Jalen Pitre was the target of some offensive success in the Chargers' passing game.

10. Not all the rookies had a bad day. Dameon Pierce is so much fun to watch. He has the chance to be a truly impactful player for this team. His 75-yard touchdown scamper gave the team some juice, and he constantly fights and gets extra yards when the ball is headed his way. He finished with 14 carries and six catches for 20 total touches.

11. The Texans need teams to help them stay in games, and even then, it is a challenge. The tough part about where the Texans are through four games is there are some positives to look at and point to, but not enough to say the team is surely headed in the right direction. There surely has to be some adjustment by the team when the season is where it is after nearly a quarter of the year. The current direction isn’t going to lead anywhere positive soon.

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