The Texans’ offseason is pretty much complete. Sure, there will be new additions before and after training camp releases, but the main avenues for team building are over. Although there are three more months until the 2021 NFL season begins and teams aren’t fully built by May, the big decisions for Nick Caserio to make have already been made.
For this week’s GroupThink, I asked the masthead to grade Nick Caserio’s offseason. These are our answers:
Casero’s offseason lacked an overall strategy. Is this team rebuilding? Are they trying to get better? Are they tanking? I have no idea.
In some warped version of reality spinning in their heads, the Texans are still believing that the culture is more important than the quality and talent of the players they have. They brought in more players they deemed as ‘tough’, ‘competitive’, and ‘selfless’ to turn the Texans from a 62 to a 64 overall—minus Deshaun Watson of course.
Of the horde of signings, only a few are actually football players. Shaq Lawson; who you want to be your third best pass rusher, is now the Texans best pass rusher; Desmond King, a slot corner who can do everything but cover; Phillip Lindsay; a midzone running back the Texans don’t have; Mark Ingram, who used to be good before hitting the age barrier; and Marcus Cannon, the Texans newest starting right guard, are all real football players. Yet, none of these are true difference makers. Even with Deshaun Watson, the Texans would only be a playoff contender. Without him, the Texans won’t have to be unlucky to be a 4-12 football team. The talent dictates this.
The difference is Houston didn’t make the moves a 4-12 team needing to rebuild would make. They have the oldest roster in the league, solidified by their free agency decisions. Most of the players they added weren’t younger players with athleticism, or draft pedigree, or previous performance, that imagines any sort of higher level. And, not only that, Nick Caserio restructured the contracts of Laremy Tunsil, Zach Cunningham, and Whitney Mercilus to create cap space for this season. Yes, he limited future cap space so he could sign Neville Hewitt. This is a thing he did.
Rather than pay their bills this season so they could be big free agent spenders next year, or in 2023, they turned salaries into bonus money to sign twenty-seven linebackers. Rather than trade down in the draft and collect lottery tickets for the future, they moved up in the draft and were hosed the entire way up. Rather than make a decision on Deshaun Watson, and trade him before this draft, they opted for the swampy and the murky, and held onto him in a deep quarterback draft—but hey, Davis Mills would be a first round pick if he stayed in Stanford for another season. If Houston trades Watson this summer, before they know exactly what draft picks they’d be getting, NRG stadium should be liquidated and the franchise should be folded.
There was a schism in Caserio’s design. It lacked cohesion. It didn’t match Houston’s competitive cycle. They chased a t-shirt slogan—COMPETE COMPETE COMPETE—and that mystical being they can never catch—CULTURE—instead of making decisions to build a foundation for the next good Texans team, or actually build up the talent on a despairing roster.
Grade: Hard C+. A 77 on the report card.
The restructuring of Laremy Tunsil and Whitney Mercilus’ contracts to is bewildering. Trading multiple late round picks to move up this year is illogical. I support all of the short term veteran deals we made on the defense and some band-aid ripping moves on offense.
They’ve handled the Deshaun Watson situation as blatantly vague and blatantly obvious as possible. All the acquisitions at quarterback point to a conclusion that Watson won’t be a Texan next year.
I still contend that this is a multi-year tank. A deliberate long-term slide into irrelevance. Houston’s front office has to gain the trust of the owner and fan base. Otherwise they will only be the front office that was here for the tank and not for the ride.
First, let me be clear that I understand how badly his hands were tied this off-season. Between the wacky antics of Brian Gaine, Bill O’Brien, and Jack Easterby, Caserio inherited an absolute mess of a roster. That said, what has he done to improve the team?
Instead of trading J.J. Watt, Caserio released Watt, who then signed a huge contract. It was a huge missed opportunity to pick up some draft capital.
The only things Caserio has done to improve the pass rush was to trade for Shaq Lawson, and sign Desmond King. Lawson is already a journeyman at 27 years old (for the season). It’s a decent gamble, I guess, but it was literally the only move to pressure the quarterback. King was a nice signing.
As for the draft, Caserio drafted QB2LastNames and a couple of skill position players with his first picks, trading up for one. The quarterback pick will be a waste when we draft first overall in 2022. I like the Brevin Jordan pick, and Nico Collins will contribute, but we have so many other needs, and these weren’t two positions that needed addressing. Maybe the only two!
Signing 64 LBs in the spirit of competition does not improve your team. At all. Even a little.
Caserio is a massive upgrade over BOB, but a crystal ball gazer who doesn’t know football would have been as well. The bar was 6’ underground, and Caserio barely managed to clear it.
I felt that many aspects of this off-season could have run the spectrum from C+ to F---. For starters, Caserio was dealt the NFL equivalent of a 2-8 off-suit for hold cards, with a fairly ugly cap situation, little quality returning talent, and few quality draft picks, especially for a team that finished 4-12.
He came into the position with at least a franchise quarterback, but that quickly went south for so many reasons. His free agency moves were big in quantity but not quality. There are some decent prospects, but they are not likely to see the team improve a great deal from last season’s meltdown. I did like that he at least kept most of the contracts to one to two year varieties, which can come off the books for next off-season and not hamstring the cap.
However, some of the moves, like the cap maneuvers for Tunsil and Mercilus are head-scratchers; they added cap space this year, but will incur higher cap figures in the future, which might hurt if/when the team is looking at higher caliber free agents for the future. Also, why is Bradon Dunn still on this team? That seemed like an easy cap casualty, but so be it.
The draft, well, it was not likely that the Texans were going to rival the 1974 Steelers for quality picks, and they didn’t. Mills doesn’t inspire a great deal of excitement, but given how the Watson situation devolved into a worse situation than expected, can’t completely fault the move. The team has so many talent gaps that anyone the team drafted could have been an improvement. The trade ups to get players who were probably not worth the price are major head-scratchers. At this point, the Texans have absolutely no one that scares an opposing team on the roster.
Tunsil, Jon Weeks and Justin Reid are quality players, but opposing coordinators aren’t losing sleep game planning for those guys, or the rest of the team. Overall, Caserio’s moves, and the franchise writ large, are not dispelling my belief that 2021 will be a lost season. I can’t figure out the strategy for the team, if this year is a deliberate tank or not, but that the team did not significantly improve means that the grade can’t be higher than C-/D+.
Some of the cap moves are strange, especially without the context of knowing the team’s objectives for 2021 and the next few seasons. Signs indicate that he was setting up for a major pre-draft day deal involving Watson, and it might have worked, but alas...However, Caserio did offer some off-ramps for next season, even with the flurry of off-season free agent signings, and the team will have a full complement of higher draft picks (down a 4th, but not as bad as other regimes). For that, his moves are not a complete failure, and the team has zero expectations from most of the fanbase, so the current grade is a D (regardless of Watson’s near-term future).
Look, Caserio basically walked into a bear trap so maybe winning a foot race isn’t immediately in the cards. Daniel Plainview has sucked this roster dry.
Free agency played out like a mad dash through the bargain bin of a Blockbuster. Most of these guys are pennies in wishing wells, but Caserio still has the benefit of the doubt for now.
The draft was somewhat underwhelming. Nico Collins is an interesting pick, not too interested in whatever a Garret Wallow is, and Roy Lopez is my spirit animal. Davis Mills will be fed to the wolves by season’s end.
So much of this offseason feels like a man lost at sea, simply thrashing to feel purposeful and alive. Next year might be the real test for Caserio and what he can do, but we won’t see dividends on anything for a few years. All of this results in a resounding “meh”.
There are still 800 signings to go before opening day.
I think it all depends on which glasses you want to wear.
If you don some rose colored ones, Nick inherited a bag of wet dog poo when it comes to cap space and did a little re-jiggering that netted quite a bit of cap savings and cleared up some future financial pitfalls. Pass.
If you’re interested in wearing dark shades, he took a team that was 4-12 last season and turned them into a unit not expected to win so much as 1 single game this season. Fail.
If you’re the clear lens, pragmatist type, you’d have to take both of those views into account, and come to the conclusion that a D is the best grade he could earn at this point based on what he’s done so far.
An “A” grade for a new GM would mean this team had an exciting roster with a handful of new playmakers and potential for at least some highlight reel games this season and an improved record over 2020.
A “B” grade would require a similar effort, but maybe just one or two new stars in the Houston firmament, whether it was Eric Bieniemy or similar level head coach and at least one new Pro Bowl caliber leader in Houston’s locker room.
A “C” would mean the status quo. Lose Watson and Watt? Replace them with however many guys it takes to keep this team from sinking further.
Caserio has done nothing to earn any of those grades, but he hasn’t been quite bad enough to get an F. We can cut him some slack since he inherited a mess. But nearly every great GM and head coach inherits a mess. The greater the mess they overcome, the greater the legend they become. The 2021 Houston Texans are about as big a mess as any could hope to inherit.