Only Romo knows if Houston's refusal to wine and dine him cost the team a starting quarterback for 2017. Now Smith and coach Bill O'Brien face a situation in which 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage is the presumptive starter despite having just two career starts under his belt. As McNair pointed out in Phoenix, Savage has had trouble staying healthy, having been injured in both of his brief stints at quarterback in Houston.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle believes that Savage is likely to start in front of Brandon Weeden and a first-round draft pick to be named later at quarterback. Smith is virtually required to draft a quarterback early this season after failing to take one in the first three rounds during his entire decade running the team.
There are few general managers under more pressure to deliver a big-time draft than Smith. He's trying to move past the Osweiler fiasco and build up a roster that is far weaker than 2016's AFC South title and playoff win would suggest. Football Outsiders' metrics ranked Houston as the No. 29 team in the NFL in 2016; the Texans were incredibly fortunate to win nine regular-season games based on a combination of team defense, schedule and some lucky close wins. The defense will get a major boost with the return of J.J. Watt, who went on injured reserve in September. But this is an organization facing high expectations while its would-be savior quarterback joins Jim Nantz in the booth to broadcast some of their games.
The Texans aren't the only team under pressure to deliver a draft with an immediate impact. The five other teams that most desperately need a great draft haul are below:
Chicago Bears: General manager Ryan Pace did a nice job with his 2016 draft class, landing linebacker Leonard Floyd, center Cody Whitehair and running back Jordan Howard. But this team is searching for blue-chip talent in the worst way, and Pace may need to find three to four starters for any chance to save coach John Fox's job.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As a card-carrying member of the Jameis Winston bandwagon, I'm worried about the hype that will build around this team. The starting running back job is the most obvious glaring need, but the secondary requires a lot of work and the offensive line consistently struggled last season. A great draft could prevent the inevitable "trendy-team backlash" from building.
Arizona Cardinals: Coach Bruce Arians was part of a winning team for nine straight seasons until the 2016 Cardinalschose "Nothing" over "All". They need to rebound quickly from a 7-8-1 campaign. The dalliances with retirement by quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Larry Fitzgerald hammered home the notion that this organization is in win-now mode. After losing three key defensive starters in free agency (Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson and Kevin Minter), GM Steve Keim is under pressure to deliver a rookie class that contributes right away.
The Kangol aside, Arians is an old-school football coach. He requires rookies -- even high draft picks -- to earn playing time the hard way. (Recent first-round picks D.J. Humphries and Robert Nkemdiche started exactly zero games as rookies, while first-round pick Jonathan Cooper started two in 2014 after missing his rookie season with a broken leg.) Keim hasn't been afraid to take developmental players. Both approaches may have to change this season. There is enough top-shelf talent in the desert to lift the team back to the playoffs in a watered-down NFC West, but Keim and Arians need a boffo draft class to help them get there.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens have gone 13-19 over the past two seasons, and GM Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh are one season away from the recent downturn becoming a trend. Elevated expectations and a defensive roster with a surprising number of problems put more pressure than usual on Newsome to deliver a loaded draft class of the kind that helped build his name.
New Orleans Saints: "Operation: Fix the Saints Defense" is the least-appealing, longest-running reality show since "Deal or No Deal." At some point, GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton are going to run out of seasons. A pass rusher and a versatile linebacker are on the wish list, as ever.
Narratives that have been busted
1) The Cowboys were never holding Tony Romo hostage. Owner Jerry Jones revealed at the NFL's Annual League Meeting last week that he was in contact with Romo during the offseason, a hint that the two men were in lockstep about his future. NFL Network's Jane Slaterand Ian Rapoport indicated Tuesday that Romo was genuinely uncertain all along about what his future held. Perhaps the lack of feverish interest was a factor, but all signs point to Romo vacillating about his football mortality.
Rather than making visits and taking physicals before he felt comfortable with his decision, Romo made a final decision at his own pace.
2) The timing of this retirement nearly guarantees Romo will go down as perhaps the most unappreciated quarterback of his era, even if he was overexposed. He was a top-five-to-seven quarterback for most of his career during a golden age at the position. Jones made Romo rich, but the Cowboys also spent the rest of their salary cap poorly for much of Romo's tenure. The Dallas front office let Romo down, not the other way around. It is sadly fitting that Romo's injuries and retirement came just as the Cowboys finally built a strong offensive line and running game to support him.
3)Adrian Peterson's visit to the Patriots didn't result in a contract. It didn't even result in a contract offer, according to the Boston Herald. That's a sign that Bill Belichick was just performing due diligence when meeting with Peterson, or even trying to inspire free agent running back LeGarrette Blount to lower his price.
4) The Bengals aren't going to release cornerback Adam Jones after his most recent arrest. Owner Mike Brown gave an impassioned explanation worth checking out about why he's giving Jones another chance in a roller-coaster career that is entering its 11th season. (And that doesn't count the entire 2007 season, for which Jones was suspended.) Who would have guessed back then that Jones would still be one of the top-paid cornerbacks in football as a 33-year-old?