I’ve always approached the value of things from a baseball perspective. That’s just how I’m wired. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros taught us a couple of very key lessons. Essentially, they took the Ricky Bobby Rule (you are either first or last) and drove it to its logical conclusion. They tanked by reducing their payrolls to a mere pittance. It not only saved money; it brought high end draft picks in consecutive seasons.
The concept is pretty simple. Why spend decent money to win 75 games in a 162 game season? 75 wins doesn’t even get you within ten games of the MLB Playoffs. So does it really matter if you win 65 games? What about 55 games? It worked. The question is whether a concept like that is portable to football. There are mechanisms in place to prevent that from happening, plus the question of whether tanking actually works.
Given that, there is one open question the Texans have coming into the 2022 NFL Draft. They already have eleven picks. Could they get more? They have two players that could generate enough interest to possibly net a second or third round pick in return. Would the Texans be in better shape if they are able to select thirteen different players and possibly save just a little bit more on the 2023 cap?
Decision One: Brandin Cooks
The calculation on this is somewhat complicated, but the first part is rather simple. Cooks has one more season left on his current contract. The Patriot Way has been pretty clear. The New England Patriots rarely re-sign pricey free agents. They would rather get the compensation pick coming back. Depending on player performance, those picks either come at the end of the third round or in the fourth round.
The initial question is simple. Would Cooks net you a pick in the third round or better? Obviously, if he wouldn’t, you can easily keep him and get the compensation pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. If a team like the Green Bay Packers were to give you a second or third round pick now, that selection would be superior value to the compensation pick.
Obviously, your opinion of Davis Mills matters. If you think he is the future, you want to give him as bright a future as possible. Cooks has averaged close to 1,000 yards receiving as a pro. There isn’t another guy on the roster anywhere near that. If you would rather see Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud here in 2023, winning football games in 2022 is not in your best interest. Getting a young nucleus around that guy when he arrives is in your best interest.
Luckily, this is a good wide receiver draft. An extra second round pick (let’s say Green Bay’s second-rounder) would allow you to prioritize wide receiver with any of your first or second day selections. You could even take multiple receivers. So Davis Mills would have some guys to throw to, the team would save some on the cap for 2023, and Houston would likely lose enough games to have a chance with one of those top quarterbacks in the next draft.
Decision Two: Laremy Tunsil
The Laremy Tunsil decision is a little more complicated. According to Spotrac, Tunsil is signed through 2023. The Texans restructured his deal for the 2022 season to offload some of the cap hit. They could do it again following the season to keep kicking the can down the road. The New Orleans Saints have made a killing doing business this way. That could add a year or two onto Tunsil’s contract and make him a long-term fixture on the offensive line.
The whole compensation pick angle really isn’t relevant here. What is relevant is whether you want Tunsil as your left tackle moving forward. There are a couple of really good prospects at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft that could fill that role at a cheaper price. Tytus Howard finished the season there last year and looked pretty good. You could move him there and draft a rookie to start at right tackle.
What makes this decision difficult are all of the factors that come into play. With Cooks, it is merely about 2022. Few expect Cooks to be a long-term answer at receiver. It isn’t so much if he’s capable, but if he wants to be a part of a rebuild. With Tunsil, he could be here long-term, but do you want him to be? He is an elite pass blocker, but his run blocking and overall physicality leave a lot to be desired. Will a team give you a second rounder for him? Would they give you multiple picks?
On the one hand, it would likely force your hand and get you to select a tackle with one of those picks in the first or second round. That limits your options. Yet it would save money on future seasons and it would allow you to draft a lineman that might fit your aggressive running style a little more. Keeping Tunsil opens up both the third and thirteenth pick to move to positions other than the offensive line if you think that’s where the value is.
The Final Analysis
In baseball, the decision would be easy. You deal the guys for whatever you can get for them. You aren’t a Cooks and Tunsil away the NFL Playoffs, so those picks and the cap savings are just too valuable. In football, the decision is not so easy. Dealing either would make life more difficult for Davis Mills, and no one is quite sure if that’s the best thing you could do right now.
More importantly, there is some level of debate of whether tanking for the first overall pick really makes sense. It will likely be a subject of a Value of Things in the future; for now, just suffice it to say that trying to lose probably doesn’t pay as much as people think. Trying to lose might not be the most important factor here. You could net two more second rounders, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. At the very least, it creates some level of drama for us to follow before the draft.