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Untangling The Texans’ 2021 Salary Cap

Calling all mathemagicians!

Texas Draft X

The last time the Houston Texans saw the sort of roster churn that’s happening right now was the NFL expansion draft that brought the initial group of players to NRG Park back in 2002.

At last count, Nick Caserio, Jack Easterby, and the Texans have added 32 players over the last few weeks. Along the way, they’ve also released several, including J.J. Watt and Jon Weeks (though Weeks is reportedly coming back). The unenviable part of all this is managing the accounting that goes into making sure the Texans are staying under the $182.5 million 2021 salary cap. Releasing Watt freed up $17.5 million in cap space. Then, Houston restructured the massive contract former head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien gave to left tackle Laremy Tunsil. This new deal converted most of Tunsil’s cap hit in 2021 to a salary bonus, which freed up an additional $10 mil.

In the midst of all that, here’s a snapshot of Houston’s additions over the last few weeks:

Big thanks to OverTheCap.com for this graphic.

So where does all that mathematical maneuvering leave the Texans? According to Spotrac.com, Houston currently has $8,080,673 to sign additional players. That’s actually not too shabby for a team that’s signed enough warm bodies to staff three Walmarts.

However, the Texans might still spend all of that and maybe more in the coming weeks. Houston currently holds eight picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. A third rounder, two fourth rounders, one fifth rounder, a trio of sixth rounders, and one in the seventh. That should hardly eat up all the cap space, but the Texans will also need room for undrafted free agents (UDFAs). Based on what seems to be Caserio’s plan to flip the majority of the roster, we should expect the UDFA list to be longer than normal.

Houston also needs money to sign any veterans cut by other clubs post-draft. Every year, there’s a surge of cuts and signings just after the draft or during training camp as teams cut their rosters down to make the final 55-man limit at the end of the preseason.

Bleacher Report recently posted a current depth chart projection, with the following players in the following slots – (it shouldn’t take long to spot some gaping holes):

QB: Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Finley

RB: David Johnson, Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, Buddy Howell, Scottie Phillips, Dontrell Hillard

WR1: Brandin Cooks, Isaiah Coulter, Chris Moore

WR2: Andre Roberts, Keke Coutee, Chad Hansen

WR3: Randall Cobb

TE: Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Kahale Warring, Ryan Izzo, Paul Quessenberry

LT: Laremy Tunsil, Jordan Steckler

LG: Max Scharping, Justin McCray, Beau Benzschawel

C: Cohl Cabral, Justin Britt

RG: Marcus Cannon, Hjalte Froholdt

RT: Tytus Howard, Charlie Heck

LDE: Charles Omenihu, P.J. Hall

NT: Ross Blacklock, Vincent Taylor, Auzoyah Alufohai, Brandon Dunn

RDE: Maliek Collins, Duke Ejiofor

OLB: Whitney Mercilus, Jacob Martin

ILB: Zach Cunningham, Christian Kirksey, Tae Davis, Nate Hall,

ILB: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Joe Thomas

OLB: Shaq Lawson, Jonathan Greenard

CB: Terrance Mitchell, Cornell Armstrong, A.J. Moore

CB: Bradley Roby, Desmond King II, Keion Crossen, Eric Murray

FS: Justin Reid, Jonathan Owens

SS: Lonnie Johnson Jr., Terrence Brooks, Geno Stone

This is 63 players for those doing the math...and doesn't include Vernon Hargreaves III.

Another cap implication arises from the elephant in the room topic of 2021.

Will the Houston Texans Trade Deshaun Watson?

Despite the recent flurry of lawsuits filed against Watson, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle stated recently there are still multiple teams interested in acquiring Watson’s services via trade. The teams listed by Wilson include the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. Any trade with those teams would affect Watson’s 2021 cap hit, but it could also saddle the Texans with dead cap money unless the receiving team agrees to somehow take that on as a term of the trade. The Texans would most assuredly acquire one or more veteran players and multiple draft picks, all of which come with their own cap implications.

Regardless of whether the moves thus far by Caserio have done much of anything to improve the Texans’ on-field fortunes for 2021, his ability to work the cap has been masterful. The Texans’ GM clearly understands working within the fiscal confines far better than his predecessor ever did.