Tate and Crabtree headline the list of free agent wide outs the team could target

Texans have options if they want to add a WR this off season

Antonio Brown, Golden Tate and Michael Crabtree.

The Texans head into the offseason with plenty of holes to fill. General Manager Brian Gaine has a full complement of draft picks and a good chunk of money to spend but his biggest challenge will be deciding how much money he can allocate to each position of need. If he overspends on one player or group, will he have to under deliver on other areas of need?

If he goes after some big names in free agency will he be able to find college athletes capable of starting in the NFL to fill positions that under delivered or fell short last season? The challenge of balancing draft picks and cap space is extremely daunting and if Gaine doesn't get it right it could set the franchise back for years to come.

For example, a year ago Nate Solder was the top offensive lineman available in free agency and everyone wanted the Texans to be first in line to swoop in and sign the super bowl champion that protected Tom Brady for years. Houston kicked the tires on the veteran tackle but felt his price tag was too high for their liking as the Giants signed him to a huge four-year, $62-million dollar contract with $35 million in guaranteed money. His first year in New York was less than impressive as the line struggled as much as the team did. Solder did start and play in all 16 games but it's safe to say Houston dodged a bullet by avoiding that big contract for a lineman over 30 years old. This year the team will have the fifth most cap space in the league at their disposal, but they need to spend wisely with several key positions to fill.

It's universally known that Houston needs to upgrade their offensive line this offseason but the Solder situation of a year ago hopefully has taught the team a valuable lesson about quality lineman. The best blockers in the NFL are developed through the draft and if a team finds a quality player in the trenches they will more than likely make sure to hang on to him and keep him in the fold for the majority of his career. Guards and tackles that hit free agency are looking for a big payday and rarely live up to their cap hit when playing for their new squad. Therefore, it is probably a safe bet that the Texans will address their deficiencies up front by drafting a few linemen on the first few rounds of the draft. If that indeed turns out to be the case, what else do the Texans need and where will they turn to get better?

One seemingly sure bet is that the team will look to upgrade and improve the second wide receiver spot next to all-pro DeAndre Hopkins. Last year was another frustrating and injury-plagued year for the players trying to take heat off of Hopkins. Will Fuller was hurt again, this time suffering a torn ACL that ended his season before it ever really got started and rookie KeKe Coutee also struggled with leg injuries throughout the campaign.

Desperate for quality and depth late in the regular season and in preparation for the playoffs saw the team trade for veteran Demaryius Thomas. The former pro-bowl wideout struggled to learn the playbook and eventually was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

With all the uncertainty surrounding these players and their health heading into next year, it would behoove Gaine and his staff to address the position group with free agency offering up several interesting names to consider. If they really wanted to make a splash they could call the Steelers and inquire about Antonio Brown but that would cost the team at least one high draft pick in the first 3 rounds as well as forcing them to eat up valuable cap space by absorbing his 17 million dollars a year salary for the next 3 years. If those numbers prove to be too rich for the team's blood, there are a few other names out there that will be less expensive and still would provide the team with a quality veteran option opposite Hopkins.

Golden Tate is a free agent receiver that would provide Houston with a durable and tough wideout that can still pop the top on defenses with his deep speed, as well as using his reliable hands to secure the tough catches over the middle and in the slot. He split time between the Lions and Eagles in 2018 and caught 74 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns. He has only missed seven games in his nine year career and last year was the first time in the last five years he didn't catch at least 90 balls in a season. Tate made an average of $6.2 million dollars per year on his 5-year deal that just expired. Even if you had to pay him a little more than that on a short term contract of 2 or 3 years, he would be a nice upgrade over any receiver on the roster not named Hopkins.

Another option that the Texans could consider is Michael Crabtree who was released yesterday by the Ravens. He had signed a $3 year, 21 million dollar deal with Baltimore last season and struggled to find chemistry and productivity with the unstable QB situation of Joe Flacco and then rookie Lamar Jackson under center.

He had 54 receptions for 607 yards and three touchdowns while playing in all 16 games last season. He has only missed two games in the last five years and last year was the first time in four years he didn't tally at least eight TDs in a campaign. He has struggled recently with drops but some of that can be attributed to the uncertainty at QB in Baltimore.

Crabtree probably can be had for a contract in the $5 million dollar range for next season and might welcome a chance to play for a winner with an up and coming quarterback like the situation in Houston. Crabtree, like Tate, would be a substantial upgrade for the Texans and give the team a much needed additional weapon in the passing game. If Brian Gaine is able to add one of these two veteran wide receivers it would go along way towards upgrading the passing game as well as the overall productivity of Watson and the offense.

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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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