Andrew Luck’s retirement was the culmination of years of mismanagement and misplaced priorities by the front office early on in his career. In short order, the public face of those poor decisions, Ryan Grigson, has become Public Enemy No. 1 in the state of Indiana.
The Colts GM from 2012 to 2016, many have pointed out Grigson drafted all of three linemen before the seventh round in the first four years of Luck’s career, and all three were busts. Luck was sacked 100 times through his first three years in the league, and that’s not even taking into account the hits he took after throwing the ball.
So, to recap: a young, extraordinarily talented quarterback took a beating early on in his career as a result of his franchise’s refusal, or perhaps inability, to address issues on the offensive line. If you’re a Texans fan, that should sound hauntingly familiar. Their own young QB and budding star Deshaun Watson has been sacked 77 times over his first two years in the NFL. Only four other QBs have been sacked more through their first two seasons since the turn of the century.
This all comes despite being far more mobile than a traditional pocket passer like Luck and missing over half of his rookie year. His 62 sacks last year led the NFL, six more than Dak Prescott, the closest QB to Watson in that measure. His chest was in such bad shape at one point he literally couldn’t board the team plane in fear of what the air pressure would do to his body, and drove to Jacksonville instead to play the Jags.
What have the Texans done to address that issue in the last two years? Very little, as it turns out. Their front-office turnover is constant and seems to be full of power struggles. They fired the GM who oversaw their 2018 season after both the draft and free agency in favor of the Patriots’ Director of Player Personnel, but now must move forward with GM by committee after failing to land their guy. They didn’t have much in terms of draft capital in 2018 after trading up for Watson in 2017, and their one offensive lineman selection (Julien Davenport) hasn’t amounted to much.
They signed four offensive linemen in free agency after Watson tore his ACL in 2017, but whiffed on all four and didn’t shell out the money they had to land a big name like Nate Solder, Andrew Norwell, or Justin Pugh. They attempted to remedy their problems this past offseason by drafting offensive tackle Tytus Howard in the first round, but most considered Howard a second-round project at best heading into draft night. They picked up another project, Max Scharping, in the second round. They chose not to address the position in free agency despite having the fifth-most cap space in the league, and therefore the ability to go after guys like Trent Brown or Roger Saffold. By and large, they’ll have the same group of guys in front of Watson as they did last year. The same group that allowed 62 sacks.
Now, not all situations are exactly the same, of course. Going by Luck’s timeline, the Texans still have at least four years to turn things around, and unlike Grigson they’re actively investing in the offensive line, even if they’ve done so poorly thus far. They could have tried to sign every above-average offensive linemen that hit the market in the last two offseasons and simply failed in their pursuit. Watson’s sack numbers are likely slightly inflated due to all the time he spends out of the pocket. But it’s undeniable that Watson is hurting, and it’s because of the team’s inability to take care of their franchise face.
None of this is to say Watson will walk the same path as Luck. At this point, for all we know Watson could end up playing 15 years. But if I’m the Texans, I’m sweating while taking in the Luck retirement. It’s an in-division reminder that the clock is always ticking, whether you’re aware of it or not.