In the midst of all the drama surrounding Deshaun Watson, and with the Texans largely rendered irrelevant in the upcoming NFL Draft (the first night of the draft is two weeks from Thursday) because Bill O'Brien's crappy trades have left them without a first or second round pick, we sometimes need a reminder that the team HAS actually been making an effort to improve its roster this offseason.
New general manager Nick Caserio has been very, very busy signing seemingly any available C-level free agent to a one- or two-year deal for a modest (by NFL standards) wage. Along the way, the Texans' GM may have actually stumbled upon some players who can not only help in 2021, but might be worth keeping around longer than that.
One thing is for certain — this will be one of the most intriguing training camps in Texans' history, as the roster has been almost entirely turned over from the Bill O'Brien Era, not to mention that there is a good chance that the specter of Deshaun Watson will still be hanging over the franchise in some way, even if he isn't at training camp in person (which he likely will not be).
If nothing else, the competition for jobs should be very intense, with almost a tryout-like atmosphere. Basically, it's going to be like American Idol for football players, with Caserio playing the role of an American Simon Cowell. (David Culley will be playing the role of the friendly assassin, Randy Jackson. I have no clue who Jennifer Lopez is in my analogy, Let's move on.)
For now, here are four areas of the roster where I feel that Caserio, through his bargain bin shopping approach, has actually improved the Houston Texans for 2021:
I was not a big fan of the Texans redoing David Johnson's deal for around $6 million this coming season, as opposed to just paying him $2 million to go away, but my guess is that certain people still want a lotto ticket chance at a return on the DeAndre Hopkins trade. That said, I like the pickups the Texans made in free agency at running back. Mark Ingram at one year, $3 million, and Philip Lindsay at one year, for a little more than $3 million are both solid enough signings, provided they re healthy. Both have been to the Pro Bowl in the last three seasons, and both provide more upside than the Alfred Blue-level sludge that Bill O'Brien would have trotted out there as a second and third running back.
First, let's acknowledge the addition by subtraction of moving on from offensive line coach Mike Devlin, who in his six seasons as the coach of this group, never seemed to make a single player better at his job. I have no idea how good James Campen will be coaching this group, but he was with some pretty stout offensive lines in Green Bay for a decade, so let's roll! As far as the personnel goes, they are counting on two guys who didn't play in 2020 due to injury and COVID opt-out — Justin Britt at center, and Marcus Cannon, presumably at guard, but maybe swing tackle. I am counting on some of the bodies they've brought in to compete lighting a fire under former second round pick Max Scharping, as well. If Schapring can get back to the potential he flashed as a rookie in 2019, and Britt and Cannon play at the levels they are capable of at full health, this group could be a strength.
The Texans' defense was an abomination in 2020, without a doubt. The main problem, of course, was defending the run, and that's not going to get fixed one offseason, especially when that offseason also includes the release of a still-capable J.J. Watt. However, on the back end, I like some of the moves Caserio has made at cornerback, specifically, the signing of Desmond King to a one-year deal. He was All Pro just a few seasons ago, and might be a good fit for Lovie Smith's scheme. Also, Terrance Brooks played some quality snaps for the Browns in 2020, and could be a starter for the Texans in 2021. Bringing back Vernon Hargreaves was unexpected, but again, he is someone who might trend toward serviceable under a different staff and scheme. Certainly, all of these guys are worth short-term contract flyers.
The sheer number of bodies Caserio has brought in with linebacker and secondary skillsets should, at the very least, mean that the special teams units will be upgraded over what they were in 2020, when they fell from top five the previous two seasons to the lower portion of the league last year. Also, in the return game, I love the signing of Andre Roberts, a multi-time Pro Bowler as a kick returner. Gone are the days of DeAndre Carter fair catching punts, getting a three-yard return, or fumbling the ball over to the opposition.
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