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Nick Caserio Still Isn’t Impressing Anyone

An awful lot of action for very little improvement.

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New England Patriots 2007 Headshots Photo by Getty Images

Love him or hate him, former Texans general manager Rick Smith improved the team. Every move he made wasn’t necessarily a home run, and he made a few bad ones, but overall it was easy to see how Smith was building something. We may not have agreed with what he was building, but he left the organization much better than he found it.

The three men who have replaced Smith can’t say the same. Brian Gaine wasn’t around long enough to do more than utterly botch a draft. Bill O’Brien’s crimes against the roster are now legendary. Enter the newest Houston Texans GM.

Nick Caserio’s Moves as the Texans’ General Manager

  • Hired a head coach in David Culley that no one wanted—or even interviewed.
  • Signed a defensive coordinator in Lovie Smith that many believe is running an ineffective, outdated system.
  • Utterly failed to do anything substantial in mending the fence with Deshaun Watson.
  • Failed to convince J.J. Watt to end his career in Houston.
  • Failed to lure in any of the top tier free agents.
  • Failed to make any trades where he clearly won.
  • Failed to wisely leverage the Texans cap space.
  • Failed to remove Jack Easterby from the organization.

After four days of free agency under Nick Caserio, the Texans have made a flurry of moves, but so far none of them have anywhere near the potential impact of the average Rick Smith deal. Caserio was active early on clearing cap space. This seemed like a good thing until he used some of it to re-sign David Johnson.

Then he made some decent looking trades, including sending Benardrick McKinney to the Miami Dolphins for Shaq Lawson. Since McKinney was a very solid starter for the Texans, on the surface the only reason to send him packing was his salary cap hit. Since Bill O’Brien gave a wheelbarrow full of cash to Zach Cunningham and Whitney Mercilus, it didn't make sense to keep paying McKinney. But the Lawson deal actually added to the Texans’ cap number since Lawson makes more than McKinney.

The other trade that brought offensive tackle Marcus Cannon to Houston from the New England Patriots, might pan out, but it’s hard to imagine Bill Belichick giving his former protege a player he believed in, particularly for what amounted to a few draft pick placement swaps in return. Belichick just doesn’t lose trades; the other guys do.

Caserio Burns Through All The Texans’ Salary Cap Space.

Of the free agent signings—and there’s been a LOT—only specials teams return man/wideout Andre Roberts seems to create an immediate upgrade at a position of need. Caserio apparently signed ALL the backup linebackers on the market, or so it seems. None of them are an immediate upgrade over what Houston put on the field last season with the worst defensive unit in recent memory.

Spotrac currently lists over $16 million in added salary for just eight of the newly minted Texans signings. That’s an awful lot of cap space spent on depth players. As of this writing, Spotrac shows Houston to have only $1.84 million in cap room left for the 2021 season. What do they have to show for it? A feast or famine EDGE/linebacker in Shaq Lawson, a solid backup quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, a great return man in Andre Roberts, and not much else. Sure, Mark Ingram is here, too, but 32-year old running backs don’t often put a team on their back and win games. Knowing Ingram will have to split carries with David Johnson makes his signing even less impressive.

With the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft and several quality free agents still on the market, with more to hit the street when other teams make roster cuts, Caserio’s work so far seems very short-sighted. Has he painted himself into a corner? Spent all the cap space with little to show for it? This begs the question:

Is Caserio Simply Filling the Roster With Warm Bodies to Tank in 2021?

Is the Houston Texans braintrust shoving warm bodies into roster holes for 2021 so they can build a bridge from now until 2022? When they’ll have more draft capital and fewer “Bonehead” O’Brien contracts on the books? On the surface, and taken without all the surrounding context of Deshaun Watson’s desire to be traded, Bill O’Brien’s connections, and Jack Easterby’s nefarious scheming, the hiring of Nick Caserio seemed like a smart move. Caserio seems like a sharp, dedicated guy, trained under one of the best head coach/general managers in NFL history. His resume screams “great GM candidate”. Piles of former players, coaches, and co-workers sing his praises.

It’s hard not to believe there’s a method to his madness, but the evidence would dictate that method adds up to a wasted season in 2021.

In an offseason deeply devoid of smart moves, Caserio, right or wrong, bore the hope of the fan base to return some sanity to NRG Park. Make no mistake, the Houston Texans’ core fan base is suffering from multiple doses of PTSD. From the waking nightmares of losing star players in Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins, to the current Deshaun Watson saga, 2020-21 has been seriously traumatic for Texans fans.

Caserio could have been the hero here. Swooping in to save the day. However, this flurry of moves seems more like a rabid dog frantically chasing its tail. The notion that “Patriots South” was an utter failure has already been proven. Unfortunately, Nick Caserio isn’t doing anything to convince anyone otherwise.