The Houston Texans show the rebuilding path not taken by the Lions

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Many NFL fans got their first look at the 2021 Houston Texans on Thursday night when the Texans hosted the Carolina Panthers in the nationally televised Week 3 kickoff. The Texans lost 24-9, dropping them to 1-2 on the season.

The Texans and Lions were generally predicted to be the two worst teams in the NFL entering the season. Both feature new GMs, rookie head coaches and radical changes at quarterback from franchise legends, albeit in very different circumstances. Yet the two franchises have chosen very divergent paths to kick off their new eras.

Detroit has opted for the emphasis on youth, trading more of a chance at immediate success and wins in 2021 for the growing pains of developing one of the NFL’s youngest rosters. The Lions tore the building down, jettisoning several veterans and trusting the current season to an insanely inexperienced group at cornerback to go with one of the NFL’s greenest receiving corps. Even the offensive line, the most obvious strength of the Lions team, remains one of the NFL’s youngest.

Houston opted for a lot more veteran spackle and patch jobs. They plugged massive fissures in the dam with the fingers of veteran discards from other rosters.

Take Danny Amendola. The 36-year-old wideout played well for Detroit in 2020. He would certainly be one of the top receivers on the 2021 Lions, but GM Brad Holmes understands that the temporary bump isn’t helping the long-term rebuild. The Texans have no such qualms about trying to avoid the humiliating pain of a radical overhaul. They signed Amendola to a $1.25 million contract to help flesh out their receiving corps.

Amendola didn’t play Thursday night due to a hamstring injury. But several other past-their-prime veterans took the field for Houston. GM Nick Caserio and guiding force Jack Easterby opted to field a roster chock full of “oh yeah, didn’t he used to play for…” veterans. Lions fans know the names well: Tyrod Taylor, Mark Ingram, Christian Kirksey, Amendola, Terrance Mitchell, Terrence Brooks, Eric Murray, Andre Roberts, Rex Burkhead, Marcus Cannon, among others.

Those veteran presences imported by Caserio and Easterby this offseason help ease the immediate pain. They also create the oldest roster in the NFL. All of those players except Brooks and Murray are at least 28 years old, with most well over 30.

Houston is beginning a rebuild with the oldest roster in the league. Think about the oxymoronic sentiment there. The Texans eschewed developing young players, instead rolling with retreads and temporary patches that won’t help the team win in 2022 or beyond. It raised their floor for 2021, but to what end? They’re still 1-2 and appear fated for a top-5 overall pick.

Holmes and the Lions are embracing the youth movement. Look at this week’s decision on Jamie Collins as evidence of the different path. The Lions are rolling with promising rookie Derrick Barnes and hoping to dump Collins, a legacy veteran from the old regime who doesn’t fit the plans in their short- or long-term plans.

Barnes might struggle to get up to speed. The Lions understand this but also understand that if they’re to get to where they want to be–competing in the postseason in 2022 and beyond–they need to take the training wheels off and ride with Barnes. They’ve done the same in the secondary with undrafted rookies AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs, as well as greenhorn Bobby Price. Playing Quintez Cephus and Amon-Ra St. Brown at wide receiver instead of chasing older “names” hurts Detroit right now, no question.

It’s going to make the 2021 Lions worse. Detroit fans are apt to witness some truly awful football as a result of the precocious players learning their way in the NFL. It’s by design. Holmes used a wrecking ball and a well-heeled construction crew of teaching-oriented coaches where his Texans counterparts opted for applying budget drywall off an old truck to rotten studs and a cracked foundation.

The few veteran bridges (aged 28 or older) that Holmes and the Lions brought in this offseason play minor roles. Michael Brockers starts at DE but cedes snaps and practice reps to youngsters Levi Onwuzurike and Kevin Strong while also mentoring them. Safety Dean Marlowe has played one snap on defense in two games.

Could the Lions be more competitive this season with guys like Mitchell at CB and Amendola at WR? Absolutely. Would it help them in 2022 and beyond? Absolutely not.

The sense of building something that can succeed in the long-term is the focus in Detroit. The Lions have tried the way the Texans chose. That’s how 0-16 in 2008 happened. Detroit did in 2005-2007 exactly what the Texans are doing right now. The endgame was the worst team in NFL history with a roster so bereft of talent that over half of the winless Lions never played another down in the NFL, ever.

The Texans aren’t apt to fall that far. The Deshaun Watson situation will eventually resolve and either land Houston their Pro Bowl QB or a haul of draft picks in return — if (a big if) Watson is permitted to play. The Millen-era Lions had no such variable. But Houston’s reliance on dead-end veterans means they’re delaying the inevitable and necessary overhaul. It’s a more expensive and less effective way to operate to build a winner.