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What the Skunk is Happening in Houston?

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This week, our sports have all been reduced to videogames. Everyone has different home rules but generally speaking, they have some sort of a Madden “skunk” rule when they play. The most common I’ve heard is some version of roughly 21 points.. Something like “if someone’s up by more than 21, it’s over” or “if someone goes up 21, the other guy has to score the next possession or it’s over.” We saw in the NFL playoffs, time and time again, why the NFL doesn’t function in the same way. The Chiefs beat “skunk” after “skunk” along their way to the Super Bowl, and perhaps no flip was bigger than being down 24-0 to Houston, then following it up with a 51-7 comeback to win 51-31. It was the first time in playoff history a team that won by 20+ was also down by 20+ at some point in the game.

To start the craziness of the NFL Off Season, the Houston Texans sought to make the biggest splash: Deandre Hopkins and a fourth round pick to Arizona for David Johnson, a second round pick, and a fourth round pick next year.

In an NFL off season that will likely see Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers change teams, the Hopkins move made the NFL world, cumulatively, scream “what the heck is going on in Houston?” After five days without professional sports, much of the world was happy to get to talk about something besides COVID-19 and the delay or cancellation of games… But no one saw one of the top players in the NFL changing teams so suddenly. The mood out of everyone was shock at both the exodus from Houston and the return.

Well, the mood from almost  everyone.

This is Head Coach and General Manager Bill O’Brien’s third acquisition of a runningback in ten months. Last fall, just before the season started, the Houston Texans swapped a third round pick for Duke Johnson, and sent a rotational offensive lineman to Kansas City for Carlos Hyde. The team also acquired OL Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills in exchange for a pair of first round picks, a second round pick, and a pair of back up practice squad players.

To say Bill O’Brien has come under fire in the hours following the Hopkins trade is kind. Texan insiders have cited a poor relationship between O’Brien and Hopkins as the cause for the split, but O’Brien has also notably had poor relationships with other front office folks as well. Which all begs the question… Why can’t the team just fire Bill O’Brien? Sure, he should’ve “skunked” the Super Bowl champs.. but then he got SKUNKED in the two and a half quarters that followed.

As a General Manager, O’Brien mortgaged the future for current success. He freely spent picks to build a 2019 roster that lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. He brought in multiple runningbacks and wide receivers and just one starting offensive lineman, even after issues dealing with quarterback pressure a year ago. Further, Tunsil proved to have his own issues adjusting in Houston. Tunsil led the NFL in false start penalties, a mark of an uncomfortable offensive lineman.

To be fair, O’Brien did build the  team that, under his own guidance, was up 24-0 on the eventual Super Bowl Champion Chiefs. While the Chiefs proceeded to go on a 51-7 run in a little more than a half of football, there was that brief moment when it looked as if Bill O’Brien had created a masterpiece. Using multiple playmakers, and with a young dynamic quarterback, Houston appeared to be moving into modern football.

That team was built on how difficult it was to cover every offensive threat. Double team the first team All Pro Hopkins? Good luck on Will Fuller IV or Kenny Stills in one on one coverage. Take away all deep threats? Hyde and Johnson snag the ball well out of the backfield. Cover shallow parts of the field with Linebackers, and bail the safeties? Deshaun Watson is agile enough to run through all of the gaps left in the middle of the field himself. Truthfully, when everyone was healthy, it was an offense built to score in a multiplicity of ways, all of which are quick.

Now, Houston – or at least Bill O’Brien – has decided they needed to go in another direction. Instead of first team All Pro wideout Deandre Hopkins, who demands the double coverage that opens up everything, they’ve decided they need another runningback. David Johnson turns 29 next season and has seen his yards per game drop from 58.8 in 2018 to 26.5 in 2019. Johnson had an incredible season in 2016 with 77 yards per game and 16 rushing touchdowns, but hasn’t broken ten scores in any season since. History would point to runningback production going down after the age of 27. Frequently, the drop in production from age 27-30 is sudden. Whether it is the wear and tear of the position or the normal aging process or some combination, David Johnson will need to be some force outside of nature to not make Bill O’Brien look like Pepe le Pew.

Late Monday night, reports from Adam Schefter indicated Houston had come to a deal with wide receiver Randall Cobb. Cobb has been a great complimentary receiver, and showed glimpses that he still had it last season in Dallas. The problem with him as a Hopkins replacement is he doesn’t demand the same double team Hopkins did. He doesn’t bend the defense, doesn’t open up the other options. He can, however, be productive in a strong offense, if he has a number one. Fuller IV’s health leaves him in and out of the lineup, but could he be that guy? Kenny Stills was that guy in Miami, and their offense struggled… Could he be that guy now?

Instead, can Houston draft that guy?

The draft is deep with receiver talent… but the majority of picks Houston could’ve used were tossed away to build this roster. If anything, the Texans have to hope the right option to replace Hopkins is somehow available with the second round draft pick they got for him.

All of this bungled mess, and they were up on the champs 24-0, a quarter and a half into the game. Should’ve just called skunk.

All of this bungled mess, and a team that gave up a 51-7 run in two and a half quarters of a football game. They should’ve saved the embarrassment, and admitted the skunk.

At some point, the GM and Head Coach model has to be seen as a failure. The unilateral decision making proves difficult… being focused on the team as it currently stands can get you to go up 24-0, but selling away the future can make you do drastic things to figure out how to fix the 51-7.

Many took to social media to fact check the trade. Hopkins moving in the trade market is as big of a splash as there has been in the NFL trade market in some time… and, as many pointed out, it was a trade that isn’t even conceivable in the videogame world.

Petitions have been asking management to fire O’Brien for months. Well before the loss in the playoffs, many Houstonians wanted O’Brien fired for a last second loss to New Orleans. Houston had scored with 37 seconds left to take the lead… and lost as time expired.

And when I say petition, I really mean Houston Texans fans petitioned: https://www.change.org/p/houston-texans-houston-texans-fire-bill-o-brien

O’Brien had five winning seasons out of the six he’s been in Houston. He won the AFC South 4 times. He is certainly the coach they needed 6 seasons ago, and has helped build the team in his role as a general manager to a place that got them up 24-0.

But man, this trade? Hopkins for Johnson and a second?

That may be about to prove worse than losing 51-7. Generally someone calls “skunk” and makes you pass the controller in Madden, it’s to keep you from embarrassing yourself further. This trade isn’t even possible in Madden, and it’s hard to save yourself from an embarrassment in a videogame if there isn’t even the possibility of it.

Houston’s been skunked, if not worse. It’s time for the Texans to make Bill O’Brien to pass the sticks.

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Robby Anderson Signs Two-Year, $20 Million Deal with the Carolina Panthers

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For the first time in his NFL career, Robby Anderson won’t be playing football for the New York Jets. The 26-year-old signed with Jets as an undrafted free agent back in 2016 and turned himself into a very quality wide receiver.

Anderson’s breakout season came in his second year back in 2017, when he made 63 catches for 941 yards and seven touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, Anderson has amassed 1,531 yards combined.

Now Anderson will be leaving the Jets to sign with the Carolina Panthers on a two-year, $20 million deal.

Anderson’s decision to go to Carolina should not be too surprising, as he is reuniting with his former college coach Matt Rhule.

Rhule coached him at Temple University, where Anderson finished his collegiate career with the second-most receiving yards and catches in school history.

Now Anderson gets the chance to play on a short-term deal with the Panthers in an offense he is comfortable in. He can then test free agency one last time before he turns 30 years old.

Anderson should provide Teddy Bridgewater with the type of deep threat that may have been lacking in their offense prior to his signing.

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Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer Set to Purchase The Forum for $400 Million

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The site for the Los Angeles Clippers new home is finally set in place, as they have long looked to leave Staples Center to get their own building.

Now Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is putting the pieces in motion to build their own arena, as he has purchased The Forum from James Dolan for $400 million in cash.

Ballmer has long been in a legal battle with Dolan and the city of Inglewood to make it the new home of the Los Angeles Clippers. Ballmer was struggling to get clearance to build a new arena with The Forum still in operations.

Now Ballmer simply buys The Forum himself and can use the site to build a new arena for the Clippers and music fans alike.

The Clippers desperately needed to have their own building, as they will always play second fiddle the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center.

When those two teams play against one another, the crowd is always more filled with Lakers fans, regardless of if it is a designated Clippers’ home game.

Now the Clippers can create an identity and fandom of their own, with an impending new arena set to built in the coming years.

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Carolina Panthers Release Former MVP Cam Newton

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This offseason, the Carolina Panthers made it abundantly clear that they were planning for life without Cam Newton.

First they signed Teddy Bridgewater to a lucrative three-year, $63 million deal, clearly establishing him as their new starting quarterback. They later signed XFL star P.J. Walker to be his backup, while exploring all options to trade Newton.

After failing to find a taker on the trade market, the Panthers were forced to release the former 2015 NFL MVP.

After only missing five games across his first eight seasons with the Panthers, injuries derailed Newton’s career last season. A fractured foot limited him to just two games played.

If Carolina tried to trade Newton prior to that injury, there is a good chance that they would find some suitors for his services.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, teams are unsure if he will return to the field healthy and were unwilling to trade for Newton. Especially since Carolina was clearly going to be forced to release him with the addition of Bridgewater.

One of the more difficult aspects of acquiring Newton is that teams are unable to put him through a physical during this uncertain time due to the coronavirus. If they were to trade for him, teams would have had to pay his near $19 million salary.

Now that he has been released, teams will be able to sign Newton for far less money and also won’t have to give up any other assets to acquire him. This should make it more likely that someone takes a flier on the three-time Pro Bowler.

Newton is still just 30 years old, and is one-year removed from completing a career-high 67.5 percent of his passes for 3,395 yards. Across his career, few dual-threat quarterbacks have been more successful than Newton.

While his tenure with the Panthers didn’t end how he would have liked, hopefully Newton can once again return to the field healthy and be a big contributor for a new team next season.

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