Last year, Houston sent [NAME REDACTED], a 2018 second round pick, and a 2017 sixth round pick to Cleveland in exchange for one of Cleveland’s 2017 fourth round picks. The trade saved Houston $10 million in cap space and $16 million in cash last season. It also plucked the worst starting quarterback from the league off their roster. Cleveland, like the chameleon they are, ranging from orange to brown, acted like [NAME REDACTED] would be their starting quarterback in 2017. Instead they cut him before the season started. They pretty much used their beaucoup cap space to buy a second round pick off of Houston. Chumps.
At first this trade was great. The Texans were up against the salary cap and had no use for the worst quarterback in 2017 whose name doesn’t rhyme with pilaf or Olaf or face-off. They moved on. They got their head above water. All for the price of a second round pick.
But then something strange happened. The beautiful and spectacular became bizarre and ugly. The Texans turned a no brainer trade into something putrid.
After the trade was made, the Texans had $28,700,555 in cap space and went to work by re-signing Shane Lechler, Nick Novak, and Ryan Griffin. Then they extended Jay Prosch, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Andre Hal. Before the season started, they also extended DeAndre Hopkins.
Aside from Hopkins, who they could have extended without making this trade to begin with, none of the players they re-signed or extended were worth a second round pick. Lechler again led one of the worst punting units in football. Novak didn’t make the 53-man roster. Griffin was injured for the majority of 2018 and did what he always did when healthy, miss blocks and catch 50% of his passes. Prosch scrapped his way to average, but there’s no need to pay for an average fullback. Fiedorowicz was a bet on potential; he has since retired after sustaining additional concussions. Hal was fine last year. He’s a starter in this league. But he could have been brought back for less this year in an unenthusiastic safety market, and there was no rush to lock him in anyways.
The Texans did barely anything with the cap space they created in 2017. High quality players weren’t brought in or retained. The Texans should have franchise-tagged A.J. Bouye. Other than Hopkins, they extended a bunch of underwhelming players they could have and extended anyways. They released a troubled quarterback they could have cut after June 1st to end up with a net cap savings of $0.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Texans used the additional fourth round pick they got from the Browns to draft Carlos Watkins, a defensive tackle from Clemson. He played 330 snaps as a rookie, picked up 21 total tackles, defensed one pass, and had zero sacks. He was fine. He looked better on film than his production shows, and he’s better than I thought he would be coming out of college. Despite having limited athleticism, Watkins understands the game. He’ll likely be a whatever rotational defensive lineman like Christian Covington or Joel Heath for the remainder of his rookie contract. Fine. Cool. Watkins is far from a capable starter or Pro-Bowl caliber player that can be found in the second round.
The Browns used the sixth round pick they received from Houston (#188) on Elijah McGuire (RB), in addition to Pick #181 (Dylan Donahue) to trade for Pick #160 Roderick Johnson (OT) and Pick #224 Zane Gonzalez (K). The Browns netted a kicker who went 15-20 from the field in 2018 and an offensive tackle who didn’t play a game and ended up on injured reserve as a result of this trade.
The NFL is stupid, though. The cap space doesn’t sit for one year. What isn’t spent is rolled over to the next offseason. So in a way, the [NAME REDACTED] trade brought $10 million in cap space to this year’s offseason by giving Houston an adjusted salary cap of $187,149,209 to work with.
Part of the reason why Rick Smith traded two first round picks for Deshaun Watson was palm-reading. He knew the Texans had cap space in the 2018 offseason. He knew they’d have nearly $63 million after a Brian Cushing release, a decision that Smith also would have also made. This offseason the Texans re-signed Johnathan Joseph, Brandon Weeden, Corey Morre, and Shane Lechler. They signed Aaron Colvin, Senio Kelemete, Johnson Bademosi, Tyrann Mathieu, and Seantrel Henderson. They still have $31,374,056 in cap space.
Smith saw the future. What he didn’t forecast was the dullness of this free agency class. The best players in this one were the sixth best guard in football in Andrew Norwell, a mediocre tackle in Nate Solder, a tall, physical, aging cornerback in Trumaine Johnson, and some wide receivers and defensive linemen Houston was never interested in. The Texans had the cap space to make the moves they made this offseason even without the little bit of rollover they gained from trading [NAME REDACTED].
The offseason is far from over. Things are quiet as teams wait for the draft. After the pups are picked up from the mill, teams will go back to free agency to fill out the rest of their roster. From there Houston may make some impact moves, like moving D.J. Reader to defensive end and signing Johnathan Hankins, or they might pick out some bargain bin albums like Human Clay or Get Rich Or Die Trying in Kony Ealy or Jeremy Maclin. There’s also the impending Jadeveon Clowney extension, which the $31 million in cap space would allow the Texans to front load so they can cut him three years from now without leaving a dead money skid mark on the cap sheet.
Even then, the Texans still have some players they could shed if they really needed to. Jeff Allen could be released to save $4.875 million. Derek Newton could be released to save $2 million. Kareem Jackson could be released to save $6.75 million. Lamar Miller could be released to save $4.75 million. There’s something to be said about versatility and stability, but there’s more to be said about using resources to keep great players and bringing in better ones.
The Texans made a trade that was a great trade last year. But they didn’t maximize the opportunity it gave them last year, and really, it hasn’t provided any value to Houston at all, even this year. All in all, the trade allowed Houston to keep players they would’ve had to release to create cap space and flip-flopped them a defensive linemen with ‘just a guy’ talent. The Texans sold a second round pick and still haven’t done anything with the cap space created that they couldn’t have done otherwise.
The [NAME REDACTED] trade was rad and hen it was bad. Now it’s still bad.