Breaking Down The Brandin Cooks Trade (Football Media -- You’ve Got It All Wrong)…
*I literally set out to do a few paragraphs on this latest trade and it turned into a 4,000+ word, multi-day event that I did not expect. Buckle up! I’m guessing no one else in football analysis had this take on things...
The #1 group-think football thought of 2020 (to date) – “Bill O’Brien is the dumbest personnel decision maker/GM in the NFL!”
How did this happen? Because he dared trade the holy one…DeAndre Hopkins…that’s what got this ball rolling.
The last time we saw media drive fan reaction to a trade like the one with Hopkins was when the sky was falling over the OBJ trade of 2019…as the Browns were sudden top AFC North title favorites and Super Bowl contenders per betting odds, and Giants GM Dave Gettleman needed to be fired immediately.
Before we threw or throw stones at Dave Gettleman or Bill O’Brien’s trades of high-profile wide receivers in the last two years – let’s keep in context that the most consistently stupid/wrong common denominators in all football analysis year-after-year, trade after trade is the hive-mind football media. You’re safe/smart to auto-assume the opposite is true of whatever the media-collective is bellyaching about. It’s not 100% surety but whatever side they are on – bet on the opposite, blindly, and you’ll come out way ahead in short order.
Now, they (the football intelligentsia) have all gotten together at their secret meetings we’re not privy to and all decided that Bill O’Brien is the worst, and there is no other opinion to be had on him or his trades. This Brandin Cooks deal only cemented that for them.
Before this Cooks’ trade, O’Brien was already the media’s (and thus their herd/the fans’) public enemy #1 for trading Hopkins, and the Texans have the falling Super Bowl odds and falling projected 2020 win totals to prove it (as Arizona is getting the same media push/love this season as Cleveland did being the recipient of the high-profile wide receiver trade last season). The sudden media klatch of Never O’Brien’ers got so mad/silly about the Hopkins deal that it set off a spark of daydream/hit piece articles about Deshaun Watson going to New England in 2021…the media’s version of a Boston tea Party revolt on the Houston Texans, mostly on Bill O’Brien by the media taking the Texans beloved, franchise player and making him out to be so mad that he wants to leave the scourge of Bill O’Brien as fast as he can and would wind up the Patriots’ quarterback in a year(?). This set off a weeklong national talk show debate and churned up fan unrest as well. Talk about ‘fake news’…
How ‘fake news’ from the football media works -- they assumed Deshaun Watson was on THEIR side (but that’s wrong, and I’ll make my case why in a moment) and he felt their same feelings and thus he was now so mad that he was going to force his way out of Houston about it.
The generic football fans followed right along to the national football media pipe playing, as they do. The football media has now made the Houston football fans hate their coach and his trades as well. Most fans fawn over big-name wide receivers anyway, so they went along with this willingly. Just like a lot of crying Giants’ fans when they ditched Odell Beckham (a year later they are not so upset/they are happy with the deal).
In all this nonsense -- why isn’t anyone asking the question or just assuming… Wouldn’t you think Bill O’Brien cleared the idea/the plan to move Hopkins WITH Deshaun Watson? That would be pretty safe to assume, no? If so, don’t you think Watson must have given his consent…willingly, happily? We’ll get into that more in a bit.
If O’Brien was getting crushed before, then this Brandin Cooks deal really poured gasoline on his media standing fire. Five minutes after the deal was announced, articles on how stupid it was and how dumb O’Brien is hit the internet. Going forward, no matter what trade he makes or draft he has, before September kickoff, the football people will all go back to talking about the Hopkins trade and how stupid that made O’Brien, eternally.
Bill O’Brien has been head coach of the Texans for six seasons, he’s won the division in four of his last five seasons. But somehow, O’Brien is very stupid…and the media is very smart. Really? I think I’d trust O’Brien ahead of the entire media on one-side of a football issue.
Before we analyze this Cooks deal, and the series of Texans’ deals in 2020 – we should at least give credit to Bill O’Brien for actually trying to make trades (he had big deals last year too). Most GMs hide in a corner worried that any trade they could make will get the brilliant football media’s ire raised and the scrutiny will trigger the face painting fans into all having their butts hurt about everything. It’s a reasonable concern as to why football GMs are afraid to make any trades.
The media and the fans are never happy about anything, so O’Brien should keep pressing on his path and piss on the media.
We should all piss on the hysterical media in every facet of our lives. I want a free, open, questioning, abundant media in football and in life – I just don’t want all of them agreeing with each other without thought, study, experience…and everything dominated by J-school grads on the big sites/media outlets parroting the same weak narratives and writing hit pieces on things they are sore about that day. Larger examination of the state of the high-profile media is fodder for another day – but the base concept of that needs to be a foundation here because the way the mainstream is covering Bill O’Brien’s activity is mostly thoughtless and hysterical (which is their typical/auto-response).
To really examine what O’Brien is doing – we first need to dismiss that 99% of the big football media has become an echo chamber, so that any thought against it seems like lunacy. If you think ‘they’ (all the big talking heads on the impressive websites/TV channels) are holy, and many of you do…you will never be able to consider an alternative opinion here. That’s why the first thousand+ words here were setting that table.
Now, I’m not saying I know everything more than ESPN/NFL.com, etc., but can we at least explore an alternative thought here? I’m going to try. Let’s look at what the Houston Texans are doing with/after the Brandin Cooks trade…
Let’s look at the Hopkins and Cooks trade together as one from Houston’s standpoint:
DeAndre Hopkins, #57 overall pick (2020), #131 overall draft pick (2020)
David Johnson, Brandin Cooks, #40 overall pick (2020), 4th-round pick (2022), 4th-round pick (2021)
For the sake of discussion/evaluating, I’m going to break this into three parts:
#1) The 2021 and 2022 picks…
I like the accumulation of 4th-round picks in future years by Houston. I think those kind of mid-draft picks are gold, if I were an NFL GM…but NFL teams are typically so bad/random at drafting that these picks wind up kinda meaningless/valueless almost. It’s like three lottery tickets are better than one, but they are still lottery tickets for odds of winning. You’re still likely to lose, but statistically you did improve your odds of actually winning by having more tickets. That’s the NFL Draft in a nutshell…if it were not so, there would be 1-2-5-10 teams always dominating the draft to the amazement of all the other teams. That never happens in this era.
For the sake of the overall trade analysis, I’m ignoring these future 4th-round picks for now – they are in the future and of lower value in the NFL. You could get some 5th and 6th round picks for nothing and get players just as good as in the 4th-round if you mastered the NFL Draft. Let’s ignore these future picks as not ‘mattering’ much for this analysis.
#2) Isolating the 2020 Draft picks exchanged in their two deals…
Would you rather have pick #40 overall (as Houston has retained) in this draft or #57 and #131 (which Houston has dealt away)?
A team willing to trade pick #40 to ‘fall back’ for more picks, might do so in exchange for picks #57 and #131. I think I’d rather have pick #40…just because of the same logic of what I described on the 4th-round picks already. Later picks in the hands of the NFL is a wild dart throw, so it’s really #40 being much more valuable than #57 as the major impact item here.
If I were rebuilding a team, gutting it and rebuilding it, I might trade pick #40 for picks #57 and #131, for the extra lottery ticket picks. But I give the edge, in NFL valuation, to having pick #40 instead. Not a huge edge, but the edge. In all the 2020 picks swaps involved in the two deals, I give Houston the slight edge/they come out ahead in the end.
In my points #1 and #2 (above) the Texans ‘win’…or definitely do not lose. Not a major win, but they have pick #40 (and #57 and #131 gone). They have the two future 4ths. It’s not a great victory, but at this point in the analysis it’s a minor edge/thumbs up for the Texans.
#3) That leaves us looking at the players…would you trade DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson and Brandin Cooks?
There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ here…
IF David Johnson is healthy all 2020.
IF Brandin Cooks is healthy all 2020.
What IF DeAndre Hopkins is going to require a massive contract the next three months?
What IF DeAndre Hopkins really is a problem behind-the-scenes?
What IF we just look at this assessment as ONLY what the players will do in 2020?
What IF we look at this with a bigger picture in mind…1-2+ years from now?
IF all the players played their best football and stayed healthy – both sides of the trade argument would win…it’s a classic win-win.
Hopkins is arguably the best WR in the NFL. David Johnson is arguably the best RB talent in the NFL, and if you don’t think so I don’t have time to argue with you at this point – you’re blind to really knowing football/you listen to talking heads who all think-alike (and remember, I said ‘playing their best/staying healthy’).
You might react with: Isn’t Christian McCaffrey better? David Johnson (at his best) is like Christian McCaffrey as Dr. Bruce Banner before he gets really mad. David Johnson is gamma radiation overdosed Christian McCaffrey…bigger, stronger, faster, and better hands (and if you don’t know that DJ has better hands than CMC then you’re not really watching them). No running back in the history of football may have better hands than David Johnson.
David Johnson, at his best, is Saquon Barkley but with all-Pro wide receiver skills. Go look at his 2016 season if you need some evidence of my claim.
Is a top NFL running back worth more than a top wide receiver, or vice-versa? We could argue that in circles, but I’d say it’s pretty close in 2020/current values. Running backs are watered down in value in today’s NFL…but so are wide receivers suddenly (especially for their exorbitant costs compared to running backs in general). In the end, a great running back is probably more desired than a great wide receiver, in my book…for on-field football operations.
Did you know that the first running back was selected in the NFL Draft before the first wide receiver in each of the last four NFL Drafts? The recent NFL Draft action says that the great running back is more coveted than the great wide receiver.
But let’s just say ‘at their best’, just looking at 2020, Hopkins and Johnson are near a ‘push’ of 2020 value. Cooks added into the analysis, strictly talent/2020 operations-wise – it then gives some kind of an edge to Houston in the exchange/in-outs of players here…just because of the simple theory two talented players are better than one, in that sense.
All the draft picks moving around in Houston’s two 2020 deals? Edge to Houston.
All the players traded at their best in 2020? Edge to Houston.
So, my math, on their two deals at this point would be – edge to Houston.
But what if the players are not at their best in 2020?
That’s where this get tricky…and swings against Houston’s big bet. Which of these players in this are the most likely to be hurt in 2020? Brandin Cooks for sure…one more concussion and he may never play football again, it feels like. Cooks seems to be getting more fragile and has been passed around a bunch and paid a lot of money – not sure what he’s got a ton left in the tank to be ‘great again’. But he is talented and a quality player, just not as much of a ‘star power’ player anymore. David Johnson hasn’t been ‘David Johnson’ for a few years…because of injuries, mostly. His injuries have not been severe/debilitating (more unlucky), but they have held him back from greatness…nothing like his magical 2016 season.
On the other hand, DeAndre Hopkins is never hurt, it seems. Even though his body looks like one that would battle injury issues. He’s been reliable and then some.
If Hopkins plays a full 2020 season, and David Johnson breaks his pinky and misses 7 weeks and then sprains an ankle for 2 more missing weeks…this deal will be castigated weekly in-season by the media, and it would be a fair argument they’d make. From a risk standpoint, Houston took on much more risk in these series of trades…made much more of a ‘bet on the come’ series of moves here (the bet being everyone stays healthy all 2020). Considering the players involved and their recent injury history…Houston does NOT have an edge there if you put injury concerns into the mix. The Texans could survive Cooks getting hurt but would not be better for 2020 after these two trades if David Johnson gets dinged up again.
Considering injury fears, which are not reality but fears, I could see not liking this trade on those grounds. I could see questioning O’Brien’s bet – but I wouldn’t question his sanity or IQ.
But, there’s another risk to talk about here…
If the injury risk scares you for Houston, then what fear factor do you place on the other big ‘what if’ -- what IF DeAndre Hopkins is about to flake out…go full scale diva? He may already have begun this process and the full story/awareness of it is not totally out there yet. Sure, Houston took on the injury risk, but what they allowed in injury risk they may make up for in ‘locker room’ gains…and attitude or locker room concerns are more ‘fact’ right now than ‘worried someone will get hurt’.
The locker room/attitude aspect of these two O’Brien trades is never really addressed by the wolves howling about how dumb O’Brien is.
David Johnson might be the nicest human in the NFL…he was up for the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2019. He is one of the most humble, hardest working players I’ve researched over the years for the NFL Draft…and he hasn’t changed a bit with more money and fame in the pros. Brandin Cooks is no slouch in the character department either – he’s beloved by teammates (and has been on three different winning teams in the past five years). You might be stunned by a Google search of all the incredibly nice/generous things Cooks has done for people and in the community. Houston went out and got two ‘pro’s pros’, on purpose (I suspect), for their team in these 2020 trades – and I think that is where Bill O’Brien is trying to go for the huge win in all these dealings – he’s following the Belichick model for locker room and high character players.
Shouldn’t he be trying to copy Belichick?
O’Brien would know Cooks’ background from people in New England, from Cooks’ time there. David Johnson is known by all in the league. O’Brien wasn’t ‘reaching’ for names here. He was purposefully seeking experience, grit, and character. Man, how terrible…how stupid!
Houston may not win the Super Bowl, but between David Johnson, Brandin Cooks, J.J. Watt, and Deshaun Watson – they might win the team with the most charitable players in the league. There will be a subset of Texans fans who will rail all day long about ‘rich people’ and how awful they are with ‘the man’ holding us all down and them not sharing or doing good or paying their fair share…and then go on profanity laced tirades on social media if Houston loses a regular season game because Cooks dropped a pass or Watson missed a throw -- overlooking that their favorite team is filled with some of the most altruistic, hardest-working, dedicated to community people in the sport (or any other sport). Overlooking that these specific guys give the team and community all they got.
Let me ask you a question…
Would you rather your favorite team win the Super Bowl by chance one year…
…for them to be a consistently good/winning team but never winning the title -- but with that so many of the top paid guys on the team are active in changing the community MORE than any other team, and are filled with team-first and pro-community attitudes?
Should Bill O’Brien be given credit for building a real ‘culture’…a real community thing – or you don’t care because you are just wanting to have the upper hand in an online chat with a bunch of dolts because ‘your’ team made it to the Super Bowl once every decade or so?
I seriously ask you that question – do you want a Super Bowl title once in 10-20 years with a bunch of up and down results, several coach and GM firings and a bunch of five-year plan re-rebuilds mixed in or would you rather have a team that is always good, has hope that they might win a title every season but never does, BUT is a team filled with guys you’d want your sons and daughters (and yourself) to emulate – people who are giving 110% on the field and actively changing your community for the long term?
If you’re a rabid fan of an entity/a local team…and if you read my question above and proclaim that, “It’s all about titles and rings, baby!” I then reserve the right to think you’re a jackass (as you are reserved to think I am). What exactly are you rooting for if not guys who are all about team, give 110%, win a lot and are totally active in their communities/the country? Does that ‘Texans AFC South Champions’ t-shirt really define you…makes you complete, makes you proud? If so, for how long does the feeling last? In this era…what we’re all going through globally in early 2020, have you learned nothing of what’s really important?
Is a great, enduring NFL team about some ‘star power’ names or about ‘great culture’?
Go ask Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder how the ‘star power’ thing has worked out (maybe ring up Jerry Jones as well). Go ask Bill Belichick or how the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens’ owner how the ‘culture’ model has worked out.
Houston sports fans, of all people – you should know the importance, the value of players you can be proud of versus title winners who are now labeled as cheaters. No?
How’s that for Brandin Cooks trade analysis!? Send your hate email my way if you wish.
I only hope to offer a different way of thinking about things, as I do. If you want a two-paragraph snapshot ‘Bill O’Brien is stupid’ analysis…feel free to go check literally every football analysis written by or spoken about by every single football reporter and analyst.
Speaking of nice people, let’s revisit something…(really think about this question)…
Do you think Bill O’Brien went to franchise players, quality human’s Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt and discussed the Hopkins move ahead with them and got their blessing?
Think about that. He’d be insane not to, no? Especially insane if he didn’t have input/blessing from Deshaun before the move. Let’s assume Bill talked to Deshaun (and J.J.) ahead of time…what do you think they thought? Do you think they both screamed at O’Brien and told him he was stupid, and then O’Brien went and did it anyway?
So…what if Bill O’Brien turned to his most trusted players, the franchise players and asked/discussed things AND they were all for making a move/for making this culture change…because they all know what we all only know parts of (if true) – the growing sentiment that DeAndre Hopkins is a developing problem behind the scenes a la Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham. Hopkins isn’t as ‘off’ as Antonio or OBJ, but I think he is blinkering to get off the same exit…one more big/giant contract and suddenly the production starts to slide, and the off-field antics continue to rise. Diva #1 wide receivers are never the answer to winning titles in the NFL, but most football fans think in terms of Madden or Fantasy on these things.
If you were Bill O’Brien (and Deshaun Watson, and J.J. Watt) and you knew Hopkins was becoming a problem, and that he was going to want a massive extension, and that he might holdout this year (a la Le’Veon Bell from a few years ago), and that NOW was the time to act ahead of the curve – would you be so against what O’Brien has done football-wise?
Which leads us to the long-term ramifications…
Let’s say this deal, after 2020, doesn’t really change the season outcome as much…let’s say Houston goes 10-6, goes to the playoffs, and is out after 1-2 weeks per usual lately. Nice season, no title, people whining (as they do…it never changes no matter what happens). Only now, Cooks can be cut in 2021 for no cap hit at all (thus Cooks has a lot of reason to be motivated for 2020, by the way). People keep saying the AWFUL Brandin Cooks contract O’Brien dealt for…I just saw an ESPN talking head chicken coup of people clucking about it, laughing at how stupid O’Brien was. Cooks cost $8M this year and can be cut for no hit/cost next year…it’s a great contract to acquire. Total cap flexibility. Unlike Hopkins who will want/get five years/$100M, $50M+ guaranteed, I bet.
David Johnson can be dropped in the 2021 offseason for just a $2.1M cap hit. If the Texans wanted, they could drop both and have a ton of space ready to utilize. The decks would be clear for Houston to do a ton of fresh things in 2021 – buy new players, pay Deshaun Watson a mint, negotiate with DJ and/or Cooks for more appropriate deals, etc. Houston would have total flexibility going into 2021.
Big picture…this is all brilliant, Belichickian maneuvering by O’Brien. The football media doesn’t see it because the football media has no business sense at all, so this angle of the 2021 cap flexibility goes right by them – they’re just looking at the remaining contract on paper, which is not reality ever in the NFL.
The alternative for O’Brien would have been staying as-is, making no decision so as not to not incite the media/fans, and thus paying Hopkins a ton of money, and becoming the L.A. Rams south, where in two years they’re falling apart with a few high-paid all-stars (Hopkins, Watson, etc.) and limited money left to fill the roster properly and having to cut/absorb bad deals to make room…and generally swirling down the drain. But that same genius media all crowed that the Rams would be so stupid not to pay Todd Gurley a massive deal. Two years later the team regrets it and just ate like $20 million not to have to pay him $25M to stay (it wasn’t all about the knee…there were issues looming otherwise not spoken of because the media loves Gurley and now looks stupid for pumping him as the greatest). Ditto the Giants (and Browns) on OBJ. Ditto Antonio Brown. And any number of other ‘dittos’ on highly paid, soon to fail/not be worth it big ticket wide receivers (or running backs) the media swoons to.
When you really look at the big picture – what Bill O’Brien did is potentially bordering on genius chess play, versus the media’s (and fans) simple checkers logic. O’Brien potentially got better on-field players inbound (total) for 2020 then what he traded away (if they stay healthy). He vastly improved the long-term payroll flexibility and outlook. He got a couple middle rounds draft picks to utilize in 2021 and 2022. He got a #40 pick (and lost #57 and #131 to do it). He improved the locker room and the community dramatically. What else do you want Bill O’Brien to do?
I know what Texans fans are thinking without realizing they are thinking it… Everyone in the football media loves Hopkins and is making fun of our team…and we so want to be adored by the football media (for some reason), so we’re going to be mad at this too! Look, I’ve been studying and analyzing football for 10+ years, I don’t even need to know the details on things…I just need to know that if ALL the football media is on one side, the best bet is to be on the opposite being correct in the end.
These series of 2020 deals and their logic by Bill O’Brien runs deeper than ‘DeAndre Hopkins is a great wide receiver, how could they!’ It’s not fantasy football valuations at stake here – there’s much more to all this for the NFL. I totally get what Bill O’Brien is going for here. He may get burned by it in 2020 if David Johnson misses too much time for any reason, but I think when we look back on this in a few years…we’ll see Bill O’Brien was one-step ahead on all this, or at least he was not ‘stupid’ in what he was trying to pull off.
…that’s if he isn’t fired after this year if Hopkins goes to help Arizona win the NFC West and Houston misses the playoffs in 2020, and the media whips the fanbase into more of a frenzy and they pitchfork and torch O’Brien out of power.
I’m sure fans would never overreact/get played by the football media like that, though…
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