Sean Pendergast

Nick Caserio's To-Do List for the Biggest Week of His GM Career

Nick Caserio has a lot on his plater heading into free agency.
Nick Caserio has a lot on his plater heading into free agency. Photo by Jack Gorman
In his one year-plus as Houston Texans general manager, Nick Caserio has been dealt one of the roughest hands an incoming GM has had to withstand in recent NFL memory. Some of it, such as the complete obliteration of draft capital and cap space by his predecessor Bill O'Brien, Caserio knew about coming in. Some of it, though, like the whole Deshaun Watson saga, happened after Caserio signed up for the gig.

Caserio's plan of attack was to basically make 2021 a Year Zero of a rebuild, executing a ton of small short-term moves, resetting to set up the bigger reset, and the result was a 4-13 season on the field, but a more normal outlook in terms of rebuilding and resources.

So now here we are, 14 months on the job, and Nick Caserio's early moment of truth has arrived. The Deshaun Watson Trade, when it does happen, will likely be the move that charts Caserio's course as a GM, both functionally and perceptually. However, this is a big week, not just on the Watson front, but overall in getting Year One of the Texans' rebuild (remember, last year was basically Year Zero) off the ground.

Here are the priority to-do's:

Trade Deshaun Watson
Predictably, the Harris County grand jury's decision not to prosecute Watson criminally has opened the floodgates on teams wanting to trade for the Texans star quarterback. Now, there are teams who normally would be in on Watson who have said "We're out" based on the nature of the allegations against the Houston quarterback, most notably the Giants and the Dolphins. However, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints have both made offers to the Texans, and Watson is expected to meet with both as he and the Texans work together to find a suitable trade partner for everyone.

Expect the Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks to get into the mix, as well. As for teams that can be added to the "OUT ON WATSON" list, go ahead and Tampa Bay, who is now getting a returning Tom Brady out of retirement, and Minnesota, who extended Kirk Cousins' contract by another year for the 2023 season on Sunday night.

Prioritize certain veteran free agents
Over the weekend, the Texans began the process of re-signing some of the short-term veterans that dotted the roster last season. Specifically, they re-signed WR Chris Conley (1 year deal), LB Christian Kirksey (2 year deal), TE Antony Auclair, and QB/TE Jeff Driskel, and reportedly talks are heating up with DE Jacob Martin and CB Desmond King. The two veteran free agents that I would imagine the Texans most want to bring back are LB Kamu Grungier-Hill and DT Maliek Collins. Collins should get the most interest on the open market after a stellar 2021 campaign that saw him finish 6th among defensive tackles in pass rush win rate.

Find a couple quasi building blocks on the market
The Texans should enter free agency with over $20 million in salary cap space, and if the Watson trade comes together sooner rather than later, that will open up another $25 million or so. In other words, if the Texans do want to shop for a couple luxury items, then theoretically, they could. The most likely approach to free agency is one similar to last offseason, a slew of one year deals for veterans trying to prove they still belong in the NFL, but if Caserio wanted to shop upscale a bit, maybe he kicks tires on a cornerback, an edge rusher, or some offensive line help. Also, he will likely need another veteran backup quarterback with last season's backup Tyrod Taylor hitting the open market.

Figure out Laremy Tunsil's trade market
The Watson trade is an inevitability. However, the future of the Texans' second highest paid player, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, is a bit more murky. On the one hand, Tunsil is one of the better left tackles in football, a two time Pro Bowler, and a premier pass protector. On the other hand, Tunsil is a below average run blocker, is very expensive ($26 million cap hit in 2022), and may not even want to be in Houston.

Keep in mind that he basically quit on the team last season, getting healthy enough to play from a thumb injury suffered in Week 5, but just never returning to the field. Caserio gives very vague answers when asked about Tunsil, which would seem to indicate they would jettison the left tackle for the right price. Cincinnati and Miami are teams that could use offensive line help.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast