Nick Caserio brought up the organizational clarity in the press conference the day after the trade was consummated. Cal McNair brought it up in an article by Brooks Kubena of the Houston Chronicle:
“There was so much uncertainty,” McNair says. “Things were out of our control. Being able to have certainty and clarity on where we were going, the trade allowed us to do that. And so we’re really excited to move forward.”
The Texans are moving forward with clear boundaries in the front office’s organizational chart, too. The hovering saga stretches back further when considering the fluctuating role of Jack Easterby, whose enigmatic presence drew controversy as his titles (that once included interim GM) shifted.
So now, Caserio moves forward, clarity opening up the boundaries of his mind, and tries to figure out next steps for his team. He’s got 11 draft choices, including the third and thirteenth overall, has some decent cap space still left, and a couple of assets on the roster that can either be moved or kept around. So what are the action items on Nick Caserio’s agenda over the next couple weeks in this post-Watson era. Here are a few?
Is a Laremy Tunsil trade still on the table?
At the end of the 2021 season, with Tunsil having seemingly quasi-quit on the team over the last month of the season, when he seemed healthy enough to play, but just didn’t, it seemed like a done deal that the Texans would dump Tunsil for whatever decent draft capital they were offered. Instead, one contract restructure bonus later, Tunsil appears to be signing off the same sheet of music as the team once again, likely due to a confidence in Lovie Smith that may not have existed in David Culley. Now, it would have to take a real blow-away offer from a trade suitor to pry Tunsil away, because the Texans are more deeply committed to their Pro Bowl left tackle than they’ve ever been. It would cause a mountain of dead cap money if they were to trade Tunsil now. So it would appear Tunsil is here for at least another season.
What do they do with Brandin Cooks — trade him, extend him, or do nothing?
The other commodity on the Texans’ roster, aside from Tunsil, that could potentially start on a good team is wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Unlike perhaps Tunsil, Cooks is viewed as a great culture guy and an example for how to handle the rigors of losing. Cooks still showed up every week, ready to work, ready to go to battle. He did a contract restructure last year that has about $5 million in dead cap money parked in future years. Trading Cooks would bring that money into 2022, but would also see Cooks’ $12 million base salary go out the door. Trading Cooks would ultimately save about $8 million in cap dollars for 2022. I don’t think that’s a key motivator, though, and barring an above-retail offer for Cooks, I think the team keeps him because of his culture fit, productivity, and help in the development of QB Davis Mills.
Does the opportunity to move back in the draft present itself early?
The Texans aren’t the only team that benefits from clarity in Watson’s decision to move onto the Cleveland Browns. Teams like the Panthers and Falcons can now map a long-term plan at quarterback with the knowledge that Watson will not be joining either of their teams. Coincidentally, both of those teams have picks in the top ten of the draft, Panthers at sixth overall and Falcons at eighth overall, but perhaps they don’t have picks high enough to snag, say, Malik Willis, the quarterback out of Liberty. Willis is picking up, by far, the most buzz of any QB prospect in this draft. Even after the Watson talks with both of these teams failed to come to fruition, Caserio likely finds himself back on the phones with their GMs as they try to move up in the draft. Caserio could tack on another few picks just by moving back three or five spots in a trade with these teams. He’s made it clear he is willing to move back if it’s the right deal.
Do the Texans go dumpster diving for free agents in the bargain bin?
Caserio has done most of his work in free agency by bringing back short timers who were in the Texans in 2021. However, spots remain open on the depth chart. On the NFL.com list of remaining free agents, here are a few names to consider for the Texans (with their ranking on the original list of ALL free agents to start the offseason):
12. GILMORE – former Patriot
19. CLOWNEY! – come home, Clowney, come home!
31. JERRY HUGHES – Sugar Land’s own
43. TREY FLOWERS – former Patriot
59. ANTHONY BARR – I went to school with his dad! (Sorry, I got nothing else)
63. JUSTIN HOUSTON – his name is HOUSTON, by gawd!
The work continues over on Kirby.