The end of the 2020 regular season marks the beginning of the future for 18 NFL teams, several of which are already looking for new leadership.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was asked after another brutal loss, in which his squad fell 41-38 to Tennessee in the final seconds, what qualities he'd like to see in the next franchise leader. His answer was illuminating on several levels.
"Man, it just starts with the energy and just the foundation of this program," Watson said, via NFL Network's James Palmer. "There's no real foundation in view. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows that. Got to have a guy that can come in and stand strong, stand 10 toes down and, (say), 'Hey, this is the way it's going to go, and this is the way we're going to win.'
"That's what we need. It's kind of just up in the air right now. That's what I'm looking forward to, some disciplined responsibility and some good, fun energy that cares about winning championships and winning games but at the same time is coming in to work each and every day regardless."
Watson's statement speaks volumes of the type of leadership left in the aftermath of Bill O'Brien's firing earlier in the season.
It can be read as a request from the club's top employee to find a match that can lean on his unquestioned leadership while also spurring change within the organization.
Despite playing on a four-win team, Watson showed this season he remains one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. He carried an otherwise hollow log, keeping the Texans in contention in games in which they had no business competing. Were there blowout embarrassments? Yes, that will happen when, as Watson said, there is no foundation for which to grab hold.
Despite his surroundings, Watson led the NFL in passing yards with 4,823. In addition to it being the most pass yards in team history, the QB also set the club marks for passing TDs (33) and the highest passer rating (112.4) in a single season in franchise history. He did all that after the DeAndre Hopkins trade, watching Will Fuller get suspended, Randall Cobb hurt and Kenny Stills cut.
"We play to a standard; that's what I'm all about," Watson said of leading the league in passing. "Whoever is out there is going to play to a standard, and that's what I wanted to continue to grow and keep pushing. That was pretty dope to kind of accomplish that. I know Pat (Mahomes) didn't play this game, and that would have been a little more tighter and things like that, but yeah, it's pretty dope as an individual and as a stat to be able to do the things I did this year."
Now that standard must be met by the new brass taking over.
With no first- or second-round pick, the Texans GM and coaching gigs might not seem plum jobs. But the advantage Houston has is at quarterback.
In a lost season, Watson proved he is not only a dynamic playmaker but also one of the best leaders in the NFL. A new coach could do a whole lot worse.