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BRB GroupThink: Tearing Down The House

Should the Texans hang onto their expensive veterans, or continue to employ them for the 2021 season?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With the Texans projected to be over the salary cap next season and possessing numerous expensive veteran contracts, contracts that would cause them to lose cap space even if they are released in the cases of Randall Cobb and Whitney Mercilus, do you think Houston should cut as much of the dead weight as they can to create roster spots, or should they keep these expensive veterans on due to the salary cap ramifications?

This is the question I asked the masthead for this week’s groupthink. These are their responses:

MATT WESTON:

Nick Caserio should cut the entire thing down and scorch it into cremains. After seeing what the Rams have gotten out of late round picks, and undrafted free agents, incredible and absurd results built around having the two best players at their respective positions no less, they’ve made the investment into playing the kids, and their efforts have paid off. They have numerous valuable contributors on the best defense in the league, and these players were found under couch cushions, in coffee cans, and junk drawers, in the form of late round picks from Pueblo State university, and sifting around through other team’s dumpsters.

I don’t think a defense without Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald making the game easier to play in a defense that is well coached and well executed can get this same level of contribution, but getting something out of cheap contracts is a must when Jared Goff has a cap hit of $34.625 million a year. The Texans are going to have to innovate around salary cap issues of their own created by Bill O’Brien’s contract decisions, and the lack of cost effective contracts this team has thanks to him failing to understand the importance of draft picks.

Houston not only needs to create cap space, but they need to create roster spots as well, to open the door for these couch cushion players to have a chance to see the field. By paying the dead money, going on a diet and hitting the gym this year, the Texans will create the chance for Keke Coutee to take over the slot next season for Randall Cobb, and for someone we don’t know, or for Jacob Martin or Jonathan Greenard to solidify themselves as a starting outside linebacker over Whitney Mercilus. Then by cutting or trading David Johnson into anything they can, and turning Brandin Cooks’s cap hit from $12 million to $9 or so, or trading him altogether, it opens the door for someone else with cap relief. Up and down the roster this should be the thought process to build the 2022 Houston Texans, and let the 2021 Houston Texans somewhat suffer for it.

Regardless of the dead cap hit ramifications, the Texans should eat the poison now, move on from the expensive contracts drunkenly passed around by Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby, and create opportunities and cap space for the future.

L4BLITZER:

This is a hard one to answer, mostly because we don’t know the strategy for the newly minted GM Nick Caserio. This would have been at the top of his list of things to do, at least when he signed the dotted line to come back to the team that always wanted him as a GM in the first place. Now, the bigger concern is what to do about the franchise QB. Yet, what Caserio does with Watson, or how that relationship evolves (or devolves), will have significant bearing on the status of veterans and cap casualties.

Given that the team is currently approx $18M over the cap, there will be cuts. McKinney and the running back firm of (David) Johnson and (Duke) Johnson are probably gone, barring some significant contract restructuring. Cooks and Cobb may not be on the roster when camp opens next season, but that will be based on what the team can work out capwise. J.J. Watt, as painful as the move would be, especially after the PR beating the squad has taken the past few days, saves the team a lot of money if he is let loose. Murray and Mercilus should be purged forthwith, but their dead money hits of $10.75M and $27M respectively and no significant draft picks to add as a sweetener means that both of them will probably still remain on the squad.

Yet, it now goes back to what is the vision for the Texans. Aside from the seemingly critical priority mission of keeping Easterby safe in the organization with all other priorities rescinded, Caserio and the Texans brain trust (assuming there is any actual coherent brainpower there) must decide what is the plan for next season and beyond. If the going-in thought is that 2021 is a full rebuilding year, and you can’t get rid of the bad contracts via trade, then you bite the bullet and take the brutal dead money hits to clear as much of the cap for 2022 as possible. Perhaps Mercilus would be a bridge too far with that much dead money, but if the Texans want a one-step back, two-steps forward approach, then maybe you take the pain now for the greater good in the future.

However, should the squad trade Watson, then all bets are off. It would indeed be a full-on rebuild, but perhaps in that Faustian trade, you force said team to also take the poison pill of Mercilus’ contract, or some other deal that is hamstringing the team. Granted, you would have a lot more problems, but at least you would have the space to throw bad money and future draft picks from that deal at the problems.

After the James Harden deal, I wouldn’t be surprised if Easterby was chatting up Caserio and McNair about how to get rid of the “cancer” that is Watson for a haul like the Rockets got, all while trying to save his neck.

Until we know what Caserio’s plan is, it is hard to project the next moves. I could see a massive purge, or I could see a furious amount of contract negotiations happening between March and July. Would be best if they could cut Easterby, but that doesn’t help the immediate cap situation. At least the off-season won’t be boring...but given how it has started, that may not be such a good thing.

MIKE BULLOCK:

I touched on this the other day in my post about how Caserio can start fixing the cap mess. Moving on from David Johnson should be priority #1. Then, I’d find trade partners for Cobb and Mercilus, even if it’s only moving them for late round draft picks - and a savvy horsetrader could get some good value for each of them. Whitney is one of my favorite Texans, but losing him is just a foregone conclusion thanks to O’Brien. And, Cobb is the slot receiver Houston has been looking for, but really no longer needs with the re-emergence of Keke Coutee and the tight end corps.

Among others, Zach Fulton and Eric Murray should also have new homes in 2021.

Amidst all that, hopefully Caserio can:

1. Get J.J. Watt into a more team-friendly contract that sees him retire a Texan—this goes towards my secret plan for Watt to buy the Texans the moment he retires.

2. Bring back Will Fuller V on a deal that makes sense for all involved - the value of having him around to help Deshaun Watson can’t be overstated, but paying him like a top 5 wideout makes no sense at all given his lack of availability.

3. Hire a head coach who hires an offensive line coach who actually turns these offensive linemen into one of the best units in the league, which will maximize the money spent on Tunsil, Howard and Martin.

The cap is definitely a mess, but Caserio is a really smart guy. In fact, hiring him might just be the best thing the McNair’s have done since they hired Kubiak. While he’s been caught in the acrid smoke of all the #FireEasterby dumpster-fireage, he’s still a guy with a very promising future when it comes to the general manager role. Hopefully, he’s asserting his leadership and laying the foundation for this team to actually become the best it can be...

DIEHARD CHRIS:

I feel like Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby wrecked this roster so completely, that even with an elite QB the Texans can’t achieve a one-year turnaround to “decent”. I could be wrong. So yes, I say you pump as much pain and suffering as possible into 2021 in hopes we can move on from that hurt and get back to where ANY TEAM with Deshaun Watson at QB should be, which is a legit playoff contender. Some smart cap management, a decent couple drafts, etc., later—and Watson can pull you up the curve quick to getting back to not just playoff—but title contender... but I feel like no matter what path is chosen, 2021 is doomed.

BIGFATDRUNK:

I’m for dumping as much as possible, even if we have to take cap hits. There is no reason for Whitney Mercilus to be on the team, for example, and nobody is going to trade for that contract. Dump Randall Cobb.

2021 for the Texans, especially because they didn’t do it in 2020, is to play as many young guys as possible. Let’s see what we have. I would rather take a chance on a UDFA than let a deadweight like Mercilus stay on the roster.

There is no reason to keep veteran talent and play for the division in 2021. Let’s double Jacob Martin’s snaps. Let’s dump Eric Murray in place of A.J. Moore.

There’s a lot of potential addition by subtraction on this roster. Dump anybody who is a JAG.