Last offseason, Nick Caserio didn’t fully rebuild. Instead, he signed dozens of veteran on short contracts to hit doubles and singles—with only Kamu Gruiger-Hill, Maliek Collins, and Tavierre Thomas getting on base. Caserio also restructured contracts that created dead money so he could sign more veterans, traded up in the draft multiple times, tossed a short undrafted free agent net, and didn’t sign younger players with the allure of future potential. Has-beens. Never-weres. Caserio thought with more veteran help, the Texans could be competent, creating some temptation of a culture that would open the door for the next good Texans team.
It didn’t happen. Caserio’s plan failed. Houston had a terrible run defense and passing attack, the worst running game in the NFL, and a defense that was generally horrid unless it forced turnovers, which it finally did after an inept 2020 season in that regard. The Texans went 4-13. David Culley lasted one season. The rookies received the chance to play. Davis Mills looked better towards the end of the 2021 season after he looked unplayable against competent defenses to begin the season. This paragraph summarizes Houston’s 2020 season.
This offseason, Caserio hasn’t done much of anything. He re-signed the same bad players from last season, with only Collins and Gruiger-Hill having posted performance worthy of a return to Houston. He signed more new bad players like A.J. Cann and is stuck wading through dead money until 2023, when he can throw away Whitney Mercilus’ and Zach Cunningham’s albatrosses.
Caserio did do one thing this offseason. He traded Deshaun Watson for three first round picks and some change. That move that will define his entire career. That sentence will be etched on his tombstone. Rather than push and delay to maximize the return he could get for Watson, Caserio wanted to get it over with. Three first round picks were enough. When it’s all said and done, the Miami Dolphins will have acquired more for Laremy Tunsil than Houston did for Watson.
None of this matters anymore. The foundation is laid. The past has been set. It’s all about landing draft picks. Caserio has to nail his first three selections in the 2022 NFL Draft and start acquiring cornerstone players the Houston Texans can build around. This organization has no identity on the field itself. They aren’t good at anything. They lack top talent to build around. High-end talent is going to come through the draft, not through free agency. Caserio has one avenue to succeed.
He has made his job into a incoherent mess. There are venture capitalists who do this. The NBA has had success doing this. Nothing is answered right away. Everything is complicated. Sometimes a tree is just a tree instead of a symbol of the Great Mother and the cross. Caserio’s job is simple. Get good football players. That’s it. That’s the job. Take off the sweater vest. It’s growing into your skull. Draft good football players and the Texans may be a good football team before the end of this decade.
The draft, as we know, is about maximizing the number of spins you get at the wheel. One day, the Texans get an ‘A’ for their 2014 draft class and getting big in the trenches; four years later no one is left from it. Houston currently has five top 100 picks, including two first round selections (Picks 3 and 13), one second round selection (Pick 37), and two third round selections (Picks 68 and 80).
Caserio had the opportunity to add more capital to the current draft by trading Laremy Tunsil. Houston’s ‘star’ left tackle cares more about fashion and music than moving defenders in the run game. He’s a premier pass protector who ensures Alex Hendrickson isn’t going to ruin your day, but that’s it. Tytus Howard was more than adequate filling in for Tunsil at left tackle last season. Howard was about 90% of the same pass protector and gave the same run blocking production. The difference is Howard is still on his rookie contract and has the potential to get better without the thumb aches.
Rather than collect a late first or second for Tunsil, Caserio decided to restructure Tunsil’s contract once again and push the decision down the road. Houston will either have to trade Tunsil next offseason or re-sign him to another enormous contract extension. Sure, Houston will win four games, but at least Kwity Paye was limited to one pressure.
Houston has one last chip in their pocket to improve their draft capital, and that’s trading Brandin Cooks. The difference is that Cooks provides more value to the team than Tunsil does at the moment. Cooks is Houston’s only competent pass catcher and is the entirety of Houston’s passing offense. The Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins to ‘open the passing game up,’ only to be led by one receiver a single season later. Last season, Cooks had 90 catches for 1,037 yards and 6 touchdowns. Houston’s next most productive wide receiver was Nico Collins, who produced a third of what Cooks did. The Texans had 20 players catch a pass last year; Cooks was the only one who was good at it.
The problem is that although Cooks is just 28 years old, the Texans are never going to be good while Cooks is on this roster. If Caserio hits on this draft, next year’s, and finally puts his free agency dollars to work next offseason, the Texans could be good in 2024. Even then, 2025 is the most likely point when the pain comes to an end. Cooks is a free agent after 2022. He has already been publicly frustrated by the team’s decisions. Unless Davis Mills becomes Tom Brady, Cooks is going to be gone after one more year.
There’s value in having Cooks on the roster, since he’s the only competent receiver the Texans have. He can still blow the top off a defense, go up and get it over trailing cornerbacks, sit in zone coverage well, and run inward-breaking routes along the sideline. Houston’s passing offense was abysmal last year. It becomes all-time terrible without Cooks.
That being said, it’s better to get something for Cooks now instead of letting him walk for nothing in a year. The NFL Draft has been bursting with wide receiver talent the last three drafts. Second round selections like Michael Pittman Jr., Chase Claypool, and A.J. Brown have epitomized that. Sure, there are the Denzel Mims types as well, but the chance at landing a player like Pittman Jr., or Claypool is better than having Cooks sit around and toil on another four win football team before finding salvation elsewhere.
The rumors have started. The Texans have received calls. The Texans won’t trade Brandin Cooks. Cleveland, Dallas, Green Bay, San Francisco, Las Vegas...there is a wide assortment of teams who need wide receiver talent, teams that would and could offer a second round pick for Cooks.
Keeping Cooks in Houston is purely to ensure that Davis Mills has one viable pass catcher on the roster to help get a better read on what Mills is or he isn’t. Cooks won’t play for the next good Texans team. He’s a free agent next year. He’s 28 years old. Houston could add wide receiver talent with the same pick they receive for him.
The right move would be to trade Brandin Cooks, but as we have seen so many times before, the right move isn’t usually the one the Texans make.