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Which Houston Texans Are Possible Trade Deadline Assets?

Could Will Fuller be on the move in the final year of his rookie deal?
Could Will Fuller be on the move in the final year of his rookie deal?
Photo by Eric Sauseda

The Houston Texans fell to 1-6 on the season this past Sunday, and anyone with a rooting interest in the team must now face the harsh reality that (barring a miraculous winning streak) what happens between now and the trade deadline, and what happens in interviews with prospective new head coaches and general managers, are far more important than the individual result of any game on the field.

There will be plenty of time to hash out coaching candidates and general manager prospects, but there are seven more days until the trade deadline, which coincidentally falls on Election Day this year. So, yes, nerves will already be frazzled for roughly half of Houston, as the Texans hopefully make moves to recoup some of the draft capital given away by Bill O'Brien during his reign of terror as GM.

Interim head coach Romeo Crennel addressed the dynamic of the trade deadline with the media in his weekly press conference on Monday:

How involved in the trading process will you be?
“They’ll come to me and we’ll sit down and we’ll make a decision about what we think is best for the team. I’ve been informed of some possibilities but nothing definite right now.”

Do you think the trade possibilities have become a distraction to the team about their status?
“Oh, sure. I think players like the security of knowing that they’re going to be on the team and they don’t have to uproot family and move and stuff like that. So, with this situation the way it is, I think that it might be more on their mind this year than it would be any other year. I’ve talked to them and tried to reassure them that I’m not looking to trade guys, but human nature is human nature. Until the trade deadline passes, some guys are going to be worried and thinking about it.”

Do you think a lot of teams are interested in your roster in potential trades?
“I think because of the situation other teams might look and feel like that we are vulnerable and we might be willing to make a trade for guys. But like I told the players, I’m trying to win games and I’m not trying to trade players. So, I want to keep as many good players as I can. Now, I know the record doesn’t say that we are very good, and we are what the record says we are, but we do have some talent. I think other teams realize that and they would like to get their hands on it. But most of the time in this situation, they’re offering peanuts and not offering legitimate trade value.”


To me, the key phrase in all of that is in the very first answer, where Crennel suggests that he's "been informed of some possibilities" for trades. So, I read that as confirmation that the Texans ARE talking to teams, and at 1-6, they almost assuredly are talking about moving players for draft picks, not vice versa.

So who are the possible players that would get sent out in a combo roster purge/draft pick rebuild effort? Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported last week that teams are lining up to try to cherry pick some of the Texans' more prominent players:

"The Texans, who are [1-6, now], also have a handful of veteran players who rival executives have been scouting and assessing ahead of the deadline, and league sources indicated a number of teams are preparing to engage in trade talks with Houston in hopes of fortifying their rosters for a playoff push. In particular, general managers and personnel execs have pointed to pass rusher Whitney Mercilus, linebacker Zach Cunningham, corner Bradley Roby, tight end Darren Fells and receivers Brandin Cooks and/or Will Fuller as potential trade targets."

One prominent name not mentioned by La Canfora in his piece is defensive end J.J. Watt, who would undoubtedly yield the greatest return of any player (not named Deshaun Watson or Laremy Tunsil, both untouchable players for purposes of this conversation). Watt probably deserves his own post, because if the team is going to move him, it likely needs to involve his demanding a trade in some sort of public fashion, lest they get buried under a tsunami of bad P.R. with the average Texan ticket buyer on Sundays.

As for the other guys mentioned by La Canfora, let's delve into the possibility of them being dealt (link to contract info included in parentheses):

WHITNEY MERCILUS, OLB (SPOTRAC)
DEAD CAP $ HIT:
$4.5 million
REASONABLE COMPENSATION: 7th round pick
MITIGATING FACTORS: Mercilus is one of the most overpaid players in all of football, with 14 tackles and two sacks all season, and a $13.5 million annual average salary number. While the dead cap hit is not substantial for the Texans, all things considered, whichever team trades for Mercilus would be on the hook for his $10.5 million guaranteed salary. Honestly, to have a team involve Mercilus in a deal has as good a chance of the Texans attaching a pick to entice a trade partner to take on Mercilus' salary as it does having a team willing to give up a late round pick.
TRADE LIKELIHOOD: 5 to 10 percent

ZACH CUNNINGHAM, ILB (SPOTRAC)
DEAD CAP $ HIT: $9.6 million
REASONABLE COMPENSATION: 4th-5th round pick
MITIGATING FACTORS: The cap hit here is more substantial for the Texans, and they would absolutely be trading a low on a player who has enough physical tools to think it was a good idea for the Texans to give him $14.5 million per year. Cunningham, like Mercilus, has been bad this season, among the league leaders in missed tackles.
TRADE LIKELIHOOD: 5 to 10 percent

BRADLEY ROBY, CB (SPOTRAC)
DEAD CAP $ HIT: $2.0 million
REASONABLE COMPENSATION: 4th round pick
MITIGATING FACTORS: If the Texans are inclined to move Roby, we need to see how serious the knee injury that he suffered on Sunday is. Assuming it's minor enough to allow him to be dealt, then Roby would provide a solid NFL cornerback at a reasonable annual salary (around $10 million per year). The cap hit for the Texans to move him would be minimal, although I'd like to see the Texans hold onto Roby. It was one of the few good deals that O'Brien negotiated.
TRADE LIKELIHOOD: 10 to 15 percent

DARREN FELLS, TE (SPOTRAC)
DEAD CAP $ HIT: $500,000
REASONABLE COMPENSATION: 6th round pick
MITIGATING FACTORS: With Jordan Akins battling concussions and ankle injuries, this would be a true sign the Texans are cashing in on the season, as it would leave Pharaoh Brown as their only healthy tight end, as of today. Perhaps a variable in the tight end group would be second year TE Kahale Warring, who has yet to see the field, but possesses big time physical traits.
TRADE LIKELIHOOD: 25 to 30 percent

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BRANDIN COOKS, WR (SPOTRAC)
DEAD CAP $ HIT: NONE
REASONABLE COMPENSATION: 3rd round pick
MITIGATING FACTORS: This is actually a decent contract for the Texans, as Cooks has salaries of $12 million, $12 million, and $12.5 million the next three years, none of it guaranteed. Also, with Fuller and Kenny Stills possibly leaving in free agency after the season, keeping Cooks around as your deep threat might be a necessity. Still, recovering a 3rd round pick after trading a second round pick to acquire Cooks would be a decent recovery.
TRADE LIKELIHOOD: 10 to 15 percent

WILL FULLER, WR (SPOTRAC)
DEAD CAP $ HIT: NONE
REASONABLE COMPENSATION: 3rd round pick
MITIGATING FACTORS: If the Texans are of mind to trade Fuller, then they need to get it done. While his sketchy health history probably depresses his value somewhat, he has been healthy all season. Knock on wood, this would be selling high on a player who is unlikely to be back in 2021.
TRADE LIKELIHOOD: 30 to 35 percent

OTHER TRADE POSSIBILITIES: RB Duke Johnson, WR Kenny Stills, WR Randall Cobb

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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