When the Minnesota Vikings (hopefully) travel to play the Houston Texans this Sunday, they will both be looking for their first win of the season. The two teams have many similarities, but the most intriguing attribute they share will be nothing that will show up on the field.
The Texans represent the ghosts of the Vikings future. As a team that has made several mistakes that have ended the 2020 season before it started, Minnesota can learn a thing or two from its opponents. This includes how to avoid winding up in a hell of eternal mediocrity.
Since their inception in 2002, the Texans have fluctuated between bad and mediocre. More recently, the Texans have enjoyed success under head coach Bill O’Brien. During his tenure, Houston has compiled a record of 52-47 and captured four AFC South championships.
At first glance, O’Brien’s track record looks pretty good, and the Texans look like a model franchise. They are usually competitive and have Deshaun Watson, one of the league’s brightest stars, signed long-term. The only problem is that they always end up at 10-6.
Although O’Brien was officially given the title general manager title last January, he’s been making decisions dating back to the start of the 2019 season. With the Texans having a good, but not great roster, he decided that maintaining the status quo was more important than constructing a long-term contender.
With Watson getting pounded behind a bad offensive line, O’Brien saw visions of Andrew Luck‘s early retirement. Instead of waiting and landing one of three solid offensive tackles in this year’s draft class, he wanted instant gratification and traded for Laremy Tunsil.
Adding an offensive lineman is never a bad idea (unless you ask Rick Spielman), but the cost to do so set the franchise back. With the Texans also acquiring wide receiver Kenny Stills, O’Brien sent two first-rounders and a second-rounder to Miami. While the deal didn’t sting last year, the Texans’ 0-3 start could mean that the Dolphins may be enjoying an additional early first and second-round pick next April.
This happened before the biggest head-scratcher of them all when O’Brien dealt DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. With a void in the backfield, O’Brien decided to send one of the top receivers in the NFL in return for a 28 year old running back. Again, all of this was done for the sake of 10-6…and it may result in 3-13 this year.
While the Vikings’ moves this offseason weren’t as egregious, they had the same state of mind. They wanted to stay competitive rather than endure a full-blown rebuild. As a result, the Vikings made a series of “win-now” moves, including paying Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook, signing Michael Pierce and slapping the franchise tag on Anthony Harris.
The writing was on the wall that the Vikings probably weren’t a Super Bowl team, but that didn’t stop Spielman and company from being hell-bent on finishing 10-6. Even though there were signs that they might be taking a step back this year, the Vikings still coughed up a 2021 second and 2022 fifth-round pick to acquire Yannick Ngakoue to keep the dream alive in 2020.
Now with one foot in the grave, the Vikings need to make sure they don’t make the same mistake that Houston did. Even with several positives, including a great defensive line (when healthy) and a blooming star in Justin Jefferson, the Vikings need to accept that rebuilding may be the best answer for long-term success.
Minnesota has already put itself in a hole with those big contracts. But unlike the Texans, they can still find a way out.