Even amid the slew of trades over the last several months, and in the wake of his first draft as general manager of the Texans this past weekend, Bill O'Brien has been quick to point out that there is still work to be done on the roster between now and whenever players and coaches can convene once again. Truth be told, in the NFL, unless you're heading to a Super Bowl, the roster is never really a finished product.
I would imagine that O'Brien and the scouting staff are going to take a little bit of time off over the next several days to recharge their batteries, and pray that we get a normal training camp, come August. (Honestly, the scouts are probably also praying for the college season to go off uninterrupted, since who knows what a spring college football season would do to NEXT season's draft. And yes, the powers that be ARE discussing a spring college football season.)
For now, if I were prioritizing O'Brien's "roster construction" checklist, here is what it would look like:
Hit the free agency bargain bin
O'Brien said after the draft that that they would sign enough undrafted free agents to get them to about 84 or 85 guys on the roster. That would presumably leave some room to sign a few veterans. Right now, the biggest position of need on offense is probably running back, with Duke Johnson and David Johnson the only backs with more than just a small handful of carries to their names. It's possible they could wait until near the start of the season to find some veteran backups. After all, last year's 1,000 yard rusher, Carlos Hyde, who is still a free agent himself, was picked up on August 31 in a trade for Martinas Rankin. Finding a safety may be a priority now, too, after the release of veteran Tashaun Gipson on Monday.
Figure out the Zach Cunningham contract situation
Much will be discussed about Deshaun Watson's contractual situation (including this post in about two paragraphs or so), but the other potential big ticket extension the Texans could conceivably get done this offseason is that of inside linebacker Zach Cunningham. With the forecasts for his deal coming in around $12 million per year, I'm hesitant to commit that much to the inside linebacker position. Bernardrick McKinney is already making around $8 million per year. I would wait it out, if I were the Texans, and see if Cunningham follows up his first very good season with another, then take my chances at signing him during the season, give him some incentive in a contract year. Also, it's worth noting that Cunningham is one of the few players with some trade value on the roster, which brings me to....
Get some 2021 draft capital
One of the things O'Brien will need to keep an eye on throughout the season, leading up to the 2021 draft is chance to add to their draft capital. He's managed to pick up an extra 4th round pick, and two extra 6th rounders in his various trades, but we know the elephant in the room is the lack of a 1st or 2nd round pick due to the Tunsil trade. Right now, there 2021 board looks like this:
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4th (from the Cardinals),
6th (from the Dolphins)
6th (from the Saints)
I don't think a deal for a 1st or 2nd round pick is out there right now, but focusing on chances to continue to pick up Day 3 capital that might allow them to maneuver into the second round, or maybe even back end of the first round, should be a priority for O'Brien. Two years ago, in 2018, they didn't have a first or second round pick either, but they did have three third round picks, which netted them Justin Reid and Jordan Akins (and Martinas Rankin, but you can't win 'em all).
Get Deshaun Watson's deal done
Finally, this will be the one checklist item that secures everything going forward, and at least has the potential to put a happy ending on what has been a tumultuous few months between O'Brien and the fan base. Reports are that the negotiations have begun, and are still very preliminary, between the Texans and Watson's camp. The Texans have announced, to the surprise of no one, that Watson's fifth year option on his current contract (for the 2021 season) will be exercised. I would imagine that when the long term deal is finally done, the years tacked onto Watson's 2020 and 2021 seasons will come in close to, if not right at, $40 million per year. Worth every penny.