Last week, Houston Texans general manager Brian Gaine met with the media and laid out his draft philosophy.
“We will let the board speak for itself and let the board talk to us... really let the board speak for itself”
Oh, mighty draft board, speak to me! All hail the board! Fear the board! Be the board. Without the board, we are nothing. Without us, the board is nothing.
And once the NFL Draft starts on Thursday night, every GM throws their beloved draft board out the window and goes with his gut. Draft day trades, nightmare scenarios, and runs on positional groups keep GMs up at night, but one thing that does soothe their ills is having assets they can leverage in the draft. With four of the first 86 picks and some players who could be shopped around, Gaine and Houston’s front office can make the most of the upcoming opportunity to improve the roster.
Speaking of assets the Texans could trade, let’s look at some possibilities as they look to improve their 2019 roster.
55th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
With back-to-back second round picks on Friday night, the Texans have some flexibility with how they want to use these draft assets. What better way to use the second round pick Houston received from trading away Duane Brown than moving up and getting the next franchise left tackle? By the time the Texans go on the clock with the 23rd overall pick, the first tier of elite linemen will likely be already gone. This would force the Texans to either draft a lineman they have lower on their board, draft a corner, or draft a position of lesser need.
Gaine has expressed a preference for trading back in the draft to acquire more “at bats” with more picks. In Gaine’s first draft for the Texans last year, he has made the most of a tough situation where he had no picks in the first two rounds and three picks in the third. He could have packaged two or three of those picks to move up for a much higher draft choice, but instead he let the cards fall as they may and took three players in the third round who should all be contributors next season. If the Texans were to move one of the second round picks to acquire more draft capital—perhaps recouping a fourth round pick that was traded away last year to get Demaryius Thomas—it would be with the confidence that Gaine and the scouting department can add talented ballplayers in the middle of the draft.
He is in the final season of a four-year, $26 million deal and will be 29 when the season starts.
Although the team seemingly does not know how to spend money on free agents, clearing a bit of cap space by sending Mercilus to another team would be a win-win. With how much the team is going to have to pay Jadeveon Clowney, either this year or next, the Texans could use some extra coinage to make it possible.
Whitney has done wonders for the Texans as one of the best edge setters in the league. With Watt and Clowney free-lancing on almost every play, the Texans needed another elite presence who knew how to play his role. However, the Texans are evolving out of packages where Whitney is best utilized. The OLB from Illinois played only 54% of the snaps in the embarrassing loss to the Colts in the NFL Playoffs last year, and he was frequently a total afterthought throughout the 2018 season. The team ran a base nickel package most of the time, featuring five defensive backs, four defensive linemen, and two inside linebackers. In this system, with the other personnel on the team, Mercilus is the odd man out.
Since Mercilus’ season-ending pectoral injury in 2017, his productivity has not been the same. His 2015 season was undeniably special. He recorded 15 sacks and 52 tackles; compare that to 2018, where he had four sacks and 39 tackles. The Texans have invested a significant amount of time, tutelage, and money in Mercilus, but the next investment should be in selling him to another team for a 4th round pick or packaging him with an extra second round pick to move up even further. Whitney was the opposable thumb of the Texans’ front seven for a few seasons, but as the Texans’ defense has changed over time, he has become more of a sore thumb.
The Texans already have two top flight inside linebackers in Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney. Cole was an undrafted free agent two years ago and has been lights out whenever he is on the field. That is the just the problem—getting him on the field. Either hurt or sitting behind two starters, Cole’s talents are squandered on this roster with the current defensive scheme; he comes in for McKinney on obvious passing downs to cover tight ends and running backs out of the back field. It’s uncertain what value Cole has, considering he wasn’t a premium talent coming out and has suffered injuries the past two seasons, but someone might like him enough to part with a mid-round draft pick.
Next year’s second round pick
Have you looked at the schedule yet? Pat Mahomes. Drew Brees. Cam Newton. Andrew Luck. Nick Foles. Tom Brady. Jameis Winston. Matt Ryan. Even if this is the most talented roster the Texans have had in years, a daunting schedule and list of opposing quarterbacks does not inspire a ton of confidence. A potential trade partner could see the Texans’ 2019 schedule and reasonably predict a high second round pick in 2020 as real trade capital.
The Texans were handcuffed without their first or second round picks last year, so seeing them begin to repeat this process by selling a future pick may not sit well with fans. However, with several free agents leaving the team this offseason, the Texans are primed to receive several compensatory picks that could mitigate trading away a 2020 second round pick. Picks for the next year’s draft are usually valued a round below their number (for example a 2020 second round pick is valued approximately as a 2019 third round pick) and could be quite useful if the Texans want to get resourceful in a draft day trade.
The Texans doubled-up on tight end in the 2018 NFL Draft and have become adept at developing talent at this position with UFA of late. By the end of the 2018 season, the Texans were splitting snaps between Griffin, Jordan Thomas, and Jordan Akins in a 45/35/20 ratio. Griffin may not be worth more than a sixth round pick, but any opportunity to get younger and improve the roster is more than welcome. With the signing of TE Darren Fells this offseason, Griffin could already have one foot out of the door.
If you were looking for Jadeveon Clowney on this list, you’ve come to the wrong place. The Texans would not receive the compensation required to trade away Clowney. With the swell of talented defensive linemen in the draft, potential trade partners have multiple chances to find a similar talent at a much lower price and less of an injury history. Only the Raiders and Giants have the capital to make a deal for Clowney, and neither of those teams are in a buy-now mode. Clowney means too much to Houston’s defense, and there’s not a suitable replacement available. He’s not going anywhere.
Being the aggressor in football is typically advantageous, but being the aggressor in the NFL Draft does not always work out. If the Texans do decide to use one of their two second round picks to move up in the first round of the draft, they would effectively be rescinding the opportunity to draft another instant contributor. Patience may be the Texans’ biggest asset in the draft; I would be wary of trading a second-rounder to move up.
Let the board speak to them is supposedly Brian Gaine’s approach. Let’s see what he hears, with the understanding that the only thing that really speaks in the NFL is a team’s win-loss record.