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BRB Groupthink: Creating Cap Space

What does the new cap space created by contract restructures mean?

Houston Texans v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

The big news this week in Texans land, was the decisions Nick Caserio made to create additional cap space. He restructured Laremy Tunsil’s contract to drop his cap hit to from around $19 million to $9.2 million this year, which will balloon up to $26 million next year—an absurd number for a left tackle, meaning he could possibly be extended as early as next year. This move saved Houston around $10 million for this season. He also restructured Whitney Mercilus’s contract to create $4 million of cap space. Houston could have outright released him this season and lose $3 million against the cap, with the opportunity to create double digit cap space in 2022. Instead, the rest of his salary is a wash. Those savings down the year have been pushed to $4 million this season.

For this week’s groupthink I asked the masthead the following question:

Why do you think Caserio decided to do restructure these contracts to limit future savings for this season? Does it make sense to create cap space this year, that hurts the savings they could have had next offseason?

These are our responses:

MATT WESTON:

Personally, I don’t get it. This isn’t going to be a good football team with Tyrod Taylor, and it would probably only be a nine win team even with Deshaun Watson. The Texans don’t have the defense for a run heavy ball control approach to work with the defensive talent they have. Christian Kirksey, Maliek Collins, Shaq Lawson, and Lovie Smith’s Jurassic scheme aren’t going to save a defense that finished 30th in DVOA last year. The talent has been purged. Houston didn’t have the talent last offseason, and the moves they’ve made this year doesn’t change that.

The only answers I received that explain this are: the Texans are trying to be good this year , they aren’t, which is toxic positivity at its finest, and if they wanted to be good, then maybe they should have added more than four actual football players; it helps the contract implications if they trade Deshaun Watson, which only drops their cap by $5.6 million so that doesn’t work; and Nick Caserio only knows what teams do to stay good, instead of how to rebuild a football team, this statement is put on hold at the moment.

By all means, this season should be one of pain and suffering. Sacrifice made in the present for a better future. The bad contracts Bill O’Brien handed out should have been devoured this season, to open the door for future salary cap space down the road.

Instead, Nick Caserio decided to clean house so he could sign bad players on short term and cheap contracts. Salary cap space was created this season, limiting future cap savings, so he could sign five bad linebackers, five wide receivers that aren’t Will Fuller, and seven players who could return kicks. The contract structure wasn’t the problem. The number of players, and the talent level of those players is.

Caserio’s offseason has been strange. There are two different offseasons he faced. The one where Watson is traded, and the one where he isn’t. The current allegations made a complicated situation even more complicated. That being said, there hasn’t been an unified approach between the two. In some way or the other, he’s had his toes dipped in two separate pools. Whether it was churning the bottom of the roster, keeping David Johnson around, or restructuring contracts to create cap space for this season, his decisions have been scattered.

L4BLITZER:

As stated in previous entries, the Texans are not offering any coherent documentation/confirmation of their strategic vision under the McEasterby/Caserio regime. We are once again left with trying to analyze and assess based on a series of actions and seemingly incomplete clues. The free agent splurge at the all-you-can-eat-discount buffet (back when people could go to those and only worry about GI issues and not COVID) is filling up the roster and Texans salary cap, but those moves do not scream a sudden return to playoff contention and prominence. Still, the Texans seem [Easterby]-bent on going that route. Taken in that light, the moves with Tunsil and Mercilus are necessary evils to clear short-term cap space to continue bringing discount veterans, along with the limited few draft picks and UDFAs we will be on-boarding later in the off-season.

Yet, none of these moves change my assessment that this team is writing off 2021 and they are playing for the massive strike next off-season. In the short term, the moves with Tunsil/Mercilus seem very short-sighted, adding higher cap numbers and dead money to the future cap. However, if you factor in that a) most of the new players signed in this current blitz will most likely not be calling Houston home in 2022, thus removing their salaries off the cap, that b) it is possible some of them get traded mid-season for low-round draft ammo during the 2021 season and that c) as more people get vaccinated and more fans are allowed into stadiums, this will increase team revenue, and coupled with the money from the new TV contacts kicking in, the cap numbers will go up, so the cap figures, to include the Mercilus dead-money, will not be as onerous for the grand 2022 rebuild and beyond.

Could they have saved money and just gone with cheaper free-agents and UFDA? Sure, but based on the nature of most of these contracts, I think the team will make the needed cap room for targeted free agents in the future to go with the better quality draft picks.

Granted, this is only my assessment based on what facts are out there. There is the danger of projection, biases and a sense that the McEasterbys/Caserio regime will do what I would expect. This team could also be live-acting a jacked-up Madden simulation. Nothing would shock me at this point. All that to say I may not love the individual implications of the recent Tunsil/Mercilus contract restructurings, but they do not indicate a deviation from the rebuilding plan I see the Texans currently undergoing as they are playing for 2022 and beyond.

MIKE BULLOCK:

Oh, how I’d love the fly-on-the-wall ability right now to see and hear what’s going on in Houston’s front office.

I’ve no doubt’s Nick Caserio is a brilliant guy who wants to bring Houston a championship. In fact, looking at him in a vacuum, it’s understandable why a certain segment of the fanbase is voraciously defending his every move like he’s the next coming of Vince Lombardi. He’s not, but I get the basis for that delusion.

Unfortunately, he has the stench of Jack Easterby, Cal McNair and Bill O’Brien staining the lens used to view his efforts. And, from the outside looking in through that acrid smoke our POV doesn’t provide a very appealing vision of Houston’s future.

In looking to the past, we can see how New England often did things. Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots brought in no end of ‘no-name’ players, demanded they give themselves 110% to the ‘Patriots Way’ and do so with blind faith. So far, it’s worked out pretty well for them. Every season for the last two decades, Belichick’s team has seen at least 1, if not several, ‘no name’ players rise up and make a name for themselves in that system.

The evidence is undeniable: the Patriots Way works... in New England.

When we’ve seen others try and take the Pats system elsewhere and replicate that... well, we all know it’s never, not once worked out.

Since most people do what they know, I’m assuming this is exactly what Caserio is up to: bring in no name players, demand they adhere to the ‘Patriots South Way’ and hope for the same results he saw time and again in New England. Why wouldn’t he? He has way too much empirical data proving it’s viable. It’s all he’s known at this level.

Unfortunately, with Jack Easterby, David Culley and Cal McNair taking the place of Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft, Caserio’s mileage will vary greatly. No one in their right mind would put David Culley and Bill Belichick in the same discussion as far as coaching ability. And, the same can be said of Cal McNair and Bob Kraft, although McNair is allegedly a far better human being.

So, to the question at hand, the more money Caserio can free up right now, the faster he can re-populate the roster with players willing to buy into the new way of doing things. If this means leveraging the future, so be it (or at least, that’s probably his POV) since the NFL is nothing if not a “what have you done lately?” league.

And, with way more than 55 players currently under contract, it makes sense to sign a bunch of them to one-year deals that might not have much future cap implications, even if they’re cut in the coming months before final roster cut downs.

While I’m still not impressed with Caserio, as mentioned above, he alone is the sole bright spot in the context of Houston’s more famous front office personalities. If he can manage to wipe the filth off the lens left there by Easterby, O’Brien and McNair, he just might deserve GM of the Year honors. As it stands right now, however, I’d trade him for Rick Smith in a hot heartbeat. Simply because I don’t think Easterby would last on Smith’s watch.

JOE CRITZ:

Maybe he’s opening up cap space for 2021 in case we end up trading Watson for a few players with big contracts? I can’t imagine he’s got his eye on that many more free agents, unless he wants this entire team to consist entirely of one-year contract players or something. Or, he just saw an opportunity to pay less for starting players in 2021, and he took it without any plan on what to do with the extra money.

Just opening up some cap space for whatever might happen in this Watson trade, the potential of an in-season Tunsil or Mercilus trade, or the chance to sign several more cheap players.

CARLOS FLORES:

Caserio is trying to reshape this roster at the bottom with guys that he likes or has known, but the restructures are a bit confusing.

Mercilus’ restructure helps because he’ll be a free agent next season and I don’t think he’ll have some miraculous 180 this year. The Tunsil restructure opens things up for this year, but still leaves us on the hook for big money moving forward. There can’t be any huge target Caserio is looking for this year because frankly, there’s really not too much left.

A trade would have been preferable for Tunsil, regardless if Watson plays or not. Many detractors point to the risk of missing with a first round pick on a tackle to replace Tunsil. I think it’s more about taking advantage of quality players on their rookie contracts, which we can’t do with Laremy. The restructure nixes any ability to trade Tunsil this season.

Restructuring might make more sense when you’re a team that is at the fringe of winning it all and you want to pursue free agents to rent and win. Right now, we’re nowhere near that and I just don’t quite understand why the extra room is needed.

BIGFATDRUNK:

Caserio isn’t doing much more than shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic with these restructured deals. What is he going to do with the new 2021 money at this point, anyway?

It seems like the entire off-season has been making masturbatory moves that make the front office look remotely competent after the threesome of Brian Gaine, Bill O’Brien, and Jack Easterby turned the Texans’ GM position into a clown car of suck. Look, that’s fine and all, but it doesn’t mean the team has actually improved or brightened its future.

And the Deshaun Watson nightmare is its own Sword of Damocles over the entire franchise.

Also, too, before we anoint Nick Caserio as the best GM in the history of the Texans - and he isn’t! - can we at least let him run a draft or two? K? K.