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BRB GroupThink: Is This Tanking?

An attempt to explain the Texans’ offseason strategy.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Texans are currently in the haze of limbo. Their franchise quarterback asked for a trade and has since been clobbered by sexual assault allegations. After finishing 4-12 and set to have the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, they were instead without a first or second round draft pick. It’s a rebuilding team without draft capital and without cornerstone players.

To battle this, the Texans traded up in the draft twice to select players instead of hording spins at the wheel to correct a roster missing talent throughout it. They also signed a horde of veteran free agents. But wait there’s more! In order to do so, they restructured their existing bad contracts to create cap space to sign those veteran newcomers.

Nick Caserio and his ensemble are all over the place. It’s difficult to nail down what their strategy was this offseason. The enormous crucifix in the room: Do the Texans think they are getting better this offseason, or are they trying to keep the roster decrepit to lose games and get better draft picks in 2022?

This is the question I asked the masthead. These are their responses:

BIGFATDRUNK:

Frankly, I don’t think they have to try and tank next year because, without Deshaun Watson under center, this is maybe a one or two win team. Maybe. Both the defensive and offensive units will be among the worst in the NFL, if not the worst.

Instead of addressing the elephant in the room, Nick Caserio has focused laser like on upgrading the --- checks notes --- special teams. But he’s done more, even I must admit! He has created competition...among a myriad of has beens and never wases because, somehow, that will make the team better.

The first pick in the 2021 draft was a backup quarterback talent. It was a waste of a pick when we will likely pick first overall in 2022.

The Texans are still a league-wide joke, even with Caserio at general manager. This is going to be an awful squad in 2021, and it’s going to take years to rebuild, even if Caserio somehow proves to be even mediocre.

L4BLITZER:

This is actually a challenging question to get right. You might have an easier time trying to figure out the mindset of the Kremlin than you would the mindset of the Texans with their method to roster building coming into the 2021 season. Every time you think they should go with either option A, B or maybe C, they somehow choose option 5. While it is not unexpected to purge a team after a bad season, what the Texans have replaced the squad with is at best a very creative way to run a franchise, and at worst, complete and utter incompetence.

Much like the Kremlinologists of the Soviet era, we will have to parse each and every public action and statement of the Texans to even try to get a true sense of their intentions. Even with the words, there is reading the written words, and then there is reading between the lines. The team talks of “competition” but that is such an ambiguous term that it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Yes, they are acknowledging new players and new coaches, but they can’t quite bring themselves to utter the words “rebuild” or “starting over”. If they did that, then there might be some actual clarity in the team’s actions. Might be a morale killer for the current players, but most of them will likely not call Houston home in 2022.

Best Case Scenario: They realize 2021 is a lost season and are trying to tank without outright saying they are tanking. All of the free agents they brought in are on short term deals that won’t hurt the team’s cap after this season. They won’t count against the comp picks, and the team will look to load up on draft picks (not counting what happens with Watson) and set up for a massive, legit rebuild in 2022, which should include a lot of top picks in each draft round (if not the highest).

Worst Case Scenario: They think that they are going to field a competitive team that will legitimately fight for a playoff spot and are convinced that fans will pay money for this squad. The short-term cap moves (Tunsil, Mercilus) freed up cap space this year, but they just added to the cap numbers next year, which is an unnecessary handicap for what will be a prime rebuilding year. With J.J. Watt gone and Watson’s status unclear, you will be hard-pressed to find any reason whatsoever to get excited about this team if you were not a die-hard fan and McEasterby will be legitimately surprised when they can’t fill up Reliant Stadium. The draft class (underwhelming at first glance) makes the 2020 class look like the Steelers’ drafts of the early 1970s and the trend for bad draft talent evaluation becomes a Texans characteristic.

Honestly, I wish I knew what the Texans were thinking. If I were them, I would be going for the best case, but like the analysts of the Cold War, you can’t project your own values and actions on to the adversary. You have to figure out what the minds in the Texans’ Presidium are actually thinking, and if this team has done nothing else effectively this off-season, they are doing a bang-up job of confusing and frustrating the fanbase on the direction of the team.

RIVERS MCCOWN:

Nobody signs an entire roster of veteran free agents to try to tank.

KENNETH L.:

This is a two year tank. They added all this talent and drafted a quarterback because this won’t be a one year tank. This will be a three year drought.

The defensive free agency moves were to be respected as a general manager and new leadership group. But everything is very short term. All those guys will be done in a year and the Texans will have a tonnnnn of cash to make legitimate moves with. Y’all got to think long term. This is a tank, but will be a slow burn.

MIKE BULLOCK:

Even though I’ve been using the word “tank” I think it’s an oversimplification of the 2021 Houston Texans so far. What it seems is truly going on, from where I sit at least, is Nick Caserio is laying the foundation for a 2022 rebuild.

Other than setting a record for most free agent signings in one off-season, and most free agency deals in a single off-season, it looks like throwing every available player at the wall and hoping something sticks while you thumb twiddle and clock watch waiting for better days. Houston has to field a team whether they want to or not...

For all the money spent, time invested and contracts signed, the Texans didn’t in any conceivable way improve the roster from the team that last took the field. Then, essentially wasting their first pick in the 2021 draft on a project quarterback who will most likely just become trade bait later on if he isn’t forced into retirement, again points to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

Movement just for movement’s sake to distract the passengers from their inevitable doom.

If the Texans can indeed get the first pick in the 2022 draft, have a giant pile of cap cash to spend in free agency and essentially reset the clock to pre-Brian Gaine draft status where there was an embarrassment of riches in draft capital and cap money, then a sharp talent evaluator, great head coach, and solid scouting staff could build a team that becomes a dynasty.

Granted, I have no illusions that an organization with Cal McNair, Jack Easterby and David Culley calling any of the shots is ever even sniffing a Super Bowl. Professional sports is a brutal cut-throat politically charged business. As BFD likes to say, those guys are playing checkers in a chess tournament.

For Caserio, trying to build a contender in 2021 was a pipe dream, even more so without Deshaun Watson. Therefore, it makes a lot more sense to look at this as an extended off/pre-season of sorts, one that lasts from January of 2021 to September of 2022.

In simple terms, it is a tank job. But, it’s really a lot more than that.

JOE CRITZ:

I don’t think they’re trying to tank this year, but I do think they’re indifferent towards winning games. I think Nick Caserio and the Texans were blindsided by the Deshaun Watson mess, tried to use it to spur a full rebuild, but once their window to trade him before the draft closed, decided they’d just put together a mediocre roster and see if they can develop some young players we picked up in this year and last year’s draft.

I think this also explains the drafting of Davis Mills. They’re not expecting him to become a starter or develop into one in under a year, but they see him as an interesting prospect and believe they put together a team good enough this year to get a decent idea on whether or not he can be an NFL starter. This team isn’t good enough to win a lot of games, but it isn’t bad enough to fully punt on the season and start from nothing next year (or at least that’s what they think). There’s enough talent on this team to give a few young players a chance to guarantee their futures post-rebuild (Blacklock, Greenard, John Reid, Mills, Jordan, Wallow), and this year will be the test year for all of them. If they look good, now Caserio doesn’t have to worry about filling in their position in the 2022 draft. If they don’t, then we’ll all know definitively that literally every position needs to be reassessed. Taking Davis Mills was basically proof that they’re in it for the long haul, and we’re taking the weird backroads to our destination.