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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Correa could be on his way out. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Editor's note: Ken Rosenthal updated his column on Tuesday afternoon.


It has not been the best of times to be a star athlete in Houston. In the last year, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins were solid off for a warm bucket of spit. George Springer won't be back. James Harden and Russell Westbrook rumors are rampant. J.J. Watt might be moving on as well.

Now, reports are the Astros are listening to offers for Carlos Correa.

Predictably, Astros fans are livid. And if it's true, they should be concerned about the bigger picture.

Trading Correa makes sense - if you have no plans on keeping him after next season, as was clearly the case with Springer. If the Astros can get a haul and replenish the farm system, it would be the right move, especially considering Correa's injury history.

But in the long run, it does not bode well for the direction of the team. All recent indications are that the Astros are going cheap.

They would still be a competitive team without Correa, but it would be yet another indication their World Series window has closed. Alex Bregman could slide over to shortstop, but who would play third? And they only have one starting outfielder on the roster as it is. Putting together a competitive lineup around Bregman, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez would still be possible, but if the Astros aren't going to spend money, that could be problematic.

The writing was probably on the wall when the team hired James Click as GM from the notoriously frugal Tampa Bay organization. The good news is the Rays have been successful. But this is a new direction for a team that was not afraid to spend big money to make runs at the World Series.

If they lose Correa, they lose a team leader, one of the few players who embraced the villain role in the wake of the cheating controversy and was not afraid to speak out. But he has never lived up to his MVP potential, has battled injuries and will command big dollars on the open market. He is still young enough to become that kind of player, and someone will gamble big money that he will.

Sadly, if this rumor is true, it won't be the Astros.

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