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How Nick Caserio Can Fix The Texans’ Salary Cap Mess

Get to cutting.

New England Patriots v Detroit Lions

Finally, your Houston Texans have someone on staff who won a Super Bowl at NRG Stadium. New general manager Nick Caserio, who happened to be part of the New England Patriots, won it all there in 2017.

Now Caserio can win it all with NRG as his home base, but first he has to do a LOT of clean-up work. The prior resident left a bit of a mess.

Yesterday, we touched on the first thing Caserio should do: jettison running back David Johnson. It just makes too much sense. Next up, let’s take a look at the top 10 highest paid players on the Texans’ roster right now and their current hit for 2021:

  1. Laremy Tunsil - $19,400,000
  2. J.J. Watt - $17,500,000
  3. Deshaun Watson - $15,940,000
  4. Brandin Cooks - $12,000,000
  5. Whitney Mercilus - $12,000,000
  6. Zach Cunningham - $11,400,000
  7. Randall Cobb - $10,625,000
  8. David Johnson - $9,000,000
  9. Nick Martin - $8,750,000
  10. Benardrick McKinney - $8,5000,000

For extra credit:

  1. Eric Murray - $6,750,000
  2. Duke Johnson - $5,150,000
  3. Brandon Dunn - $4,250,000
  4. Ka’imi Fairbairn - $4,200,000
  5. Zach Fulton - $3,750,000

Grand total: $133,275,000

With the 2021 NFL Salary Cap currently projected to land around $181 million, 73.48% of the Houston Texans’ salary cap for 2021 is already eaten up by 15 players.

Let’s take a closer look at these 15 players.

  1. Laremy Tunsil - while paying Tunsil this much isn't the most business savvy thing to do, the ink is barely dry on his new contract and having him protect Deshaun Watson blindside is a must. Chalk this up to a necessary cap evil. Estimated savings - $0.
  2. J.J. Watt - Nick Caserio should be doing everything in his power to either A) work out a long-term, team-friendly deal with Watt to keep him a Texan through retirement or B) finding a trade partner in the NFC to maximize Watt’s residual value to bring in more players to fill roster holes. Estimated Savings - either $7 mil-sh or $17.5 million.
  3. Deshaun Watson - making sure Watson is happy is Caserio's #1 job. Worrying about his paycheck is a waste of time. Watson is worth every penny Houston pays him. Estimated savings - $0.
  4. Brandin Cooks - the enigmatic receiver recently came out and said he wouldn’t accept any more trades. Presumably that means he wants to stay in Houston. Well, then he’ll need to put his money where his mouth is and restructure that contract into something more team-friendly. Especially if the Texans hope to retain the services of Will Fuller V, but that’s a topic for another day. Getting Cooks down into the $8-10 mil range with a nice signing bonus should help. With an impending franchise tag projected to land around $15 mil for wide receivers, Cooks needs to come in well under that for Houston to want to keep him around. Estimated savings - $2-4 million.
  5. Whitney Mercilus - I love Whitney Mercilus. He’s a great guy, a wonderful human being, and in the right system, a good linebacker. Unfortunately, that system hasn’t been in Houston for some time. There’s too much dead money in his contract right now for Houston to do anything other than play nice and hope Whitney will renegotiate his deal to help out the team. Estimated savings - $3 million loss.
  6. Zach Cunningham - as far as linebackers go, this is the guy Houston should be paying all day. With a linebacker franchise tag expected to be north of $14 million, the production the team gets from Cunningham is a bargain. Estimated savings - $0.
  7. Randall Cobb - no one in their right mind should be okay with paying Randall Cobb $10,625,000 in 2021. In 2020, Cobb contributed 38 catches to the Texans’ offensive efforts; that amounts to $279,605 per catch. Seriously. #HardPass. Estimated savings - $1.765 million loss.
  8. David Johnson - see yesterday’s post. We wish him all the best with his next team. Estimated savings - $9 million.
  9. Nick Martin - this one is tough. Finding a starting quality center in the NFL isn’t easy. Paying Martin like a top flight offensive lineman also makes no sense since he’s never even come close to realizing the potential he had coming out of college. Maybe the new head coach can bring in a real offensive line coach who can make something of Martin. We’ll have to wait and see. Estimated savings - $0.
  10. Benardrick McKinney - this one hurts. McKinney is a solid anchor in the middle of the defense and losing him in 2020 hurt, big time. Bu the Texans can’t have $31,900,000 tied up in linebackers, which means McKinney might be the odd man out. The only real bright side to this is there should be a few other teams lining up to trade for the thumper so the Texans can perhaps clear some cap room and get a mid- to -late round draft pick in exchange, if not another player. Estimated savings - $8.5 million.
  11. Eric Murray - #HardPass. Estimated savings - $968K.
  12. Duke Johnson - Like Martin, Duke sure seems like he should be a great player; unfortunately, he hasn’t been for Houston. Maybe the incoming head coach can change that. We all know Bill O’Brien and Tim Kelly couldn’t, but maybe [insert new head coach here] can? Estimated savings - $0.
  13. Brandon Dunn - For a team desperate for defensive line help, keeping Dunn at this price tag might make sense. Depending on how free agency, the draft, etc. shakes out around him, Dunn might be another cap casualty like McKinney. Estimated savings - $0.
  14. Ka’imi Fairbairn - who pays a kicker over $4 million a season? Bill O’Brien, that’s who. Sure ,the franchise tag for a kicker is around $5 mil in 2021, but Fairbairn isn’t the best in all the land, so he shouldn’t be paid like he is when your team is drowning in a cap quagmire. Time to move on from Fairbairn and find a kicker who’s paid more in line with the league average. Estimated savings - $50K loss.
  15. Zach Fulton - here’s a player Houston should have moved last offseason. When he was brought in, word on the street was he would be a plug-and-play starter for years. Then he lost his job to a rookie who wasn’t solid enough to hold onto the job either. Take that cash and put it towards a deal for Brandon Scherff or Joe Thuney and move along. Estimated savings - $3.75 million.

Grand total: Approximately $28.25 million if they keep J.J. Watt; $38.75 million if they release Watt.

Granted, Caserio and the Texans are going to have to turn around and spend a lot of that savings, but spreading the wealth from 15 players out to 25 would go a long way to fixing the roster and even allow them to make a play for a handful of starter-quality free agents.

With Caserio’s background, it’s pretty easy to assume he won’t have much interest in overpaying anyone; that’s not “The Patriot Way” (and it’s worked for them, at least). With a little luck and lack of interference from Jack Easterby, Houston should rise from the ashes of this cap disaster and get back into the game fairly quickly.