I'm fairly certain that Nick Caserio's motivation in generating the most free agency activity of any offseason in Houston Texans franchise history is to begin the rebuild of the on-field product and the reconstruction of the team's roster. I'm equally certain that the frenzy of activity Caserio is generating is not meant to distract us from the Deshaun Watson Situation (yes, it's attained "emergency proper noun" status), but if it is, you have to admire the effort.
As of Saturday morning, Caserio had acquired 30 new players for the Texans, though both trade and free agency signings. He still has at least eight players he will be drafting. Honestly, any time I get a push notification on an NFL transaction, at this point, I'm mildly surprised when it's NOT Caserio making a move. The Texans better have that "moving and living expense" budget augmented.
So, with Deshaun Watson's future hanging in a state of flux, let's dig into the actual football transactional stuff from the early stages of the current era of Texans football:
You will absolutely need a program at next year's games
As mentioned above, the amount of churn initiated by Caserio has been remarkable, and honestly, kind of fun. It's been cool watching a real general manager trying to dig out from under the rubble and create some sort of rising phoenix from the ashes of an imbecilic prior regime. My guess there is a dual purpose going on with Caserio's approach. The first part is obviously an attempt to upgrade the talent. At the end of the day, that's what wins games. However, I'm guessing that sweeping the culture vestiges from the O'Brien Era out, and creating real competition, not the "teacher's pet" backdrop so prevalent during O'Brien's time, is at the forefront of Caserio's approach. Whatever the case, I love it.
Nick Caserio has acquired a total of 29 players so far this offseason (25 free agents, 4 via trade). We still have a draft left. This will be a different looking #Texans team coming into the 2021 season.— NFL on Texans (@NFLOnTexans) March 20, 2021
(NOTE: The Texans signed LB Jordan Jenkins after the above tweet, so adjust the numbers accordingly.)
Nick Caserio's method of recouping draft capital is to basically replace it
We know that the Texans draft capital situation is dire for the upcoming draft (eight picks, beginning with the 67th overall), and was super dire last season (five total picks, none in the first round). Additionally, the six previous drafts have yielded almost no foundational players still with the team, and the one true foundational player from those drafts (a) doesn't want to be here, and (b) is staring down the barrel of a dozen sexual misconduct lawsuits. So Caserio has decided that he will turn low price, short term free agents into lotto tickets. That's basically what draft choices are anyway, so Caserio's method of dealing with practically no recent Day 2 and Day 3 draft choices banning out is to go buy a bunch of that type of player for a couple million bucks apiece. (Actually, far less than that in guaranteed money.) It's innovative, it's creative, and if it works, it will be fascinating to see if any GMs try to copycat the approach, keeping around $25 to $30 million in dry salary cap powder each year to just throw a high volume of cheap free agents at specific roster issues.
The Ryan Finley trade might be instructive on where the team is with Deshaun Watson
One of the deals Caserio made over the weekend was a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals for their backup quarterback, Ryan Finley, in a deal that involved a swap of late round picks between the two teams, with the Texans moving back 30 slots on one of their selections toward the end of the draft. I have no hot take on Finley, whose been abjectly terrible in the four starts he got as a Bengal, but I do wonder if the presence of two veteran quarterbacks (Finley, in addition to possible Week 1 starter Tyrod Taylor) means that Watson's time is done here in Houston. At this point, even if Watson survives these lawsuits and is found not liable, it's tough to see the Texans being the team that endures the image rebuild for Watson, when he reportedly wants out and teams may still be willing to give up significant assets for him, albeit at a likely discount from what they would have surrendered before Watson's image star fell from the sky this past week.
Phillip Lindsay's signing made me happy, yet angry
One move the Texans made on Friday evening was bringing in yet another running back, with former Pro Bowler Phillip Lindsay joining David Johnson and Mark Ingram in the Texans' backfield, for now. Lindsay was a solid player as an undrafted Denver Bronco, and provides a level of explosiveness that the aging Johnson and Ingram, at this point in their careers, do not. So this made me happy. What makes me angry is that Lindsay's contract, a very reasonable one year, $3.5 million deal, is just a reminder of how absurd it was that Bill O'Brien and Jack Easterby thought it was okay to bring Johnson in at his full salary last season (an $11 million cap hit). Hell, even THIS season, Johnson's reworked contract could top out at around what Lindsay and Ingram make COMBINED. I'll be so glad when the David Johnson Era is over.
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