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The Current State Of The Texans’ 2022 Salary Cap

Besides hiring a new head coach, how much work does Nick Caserio still have on his plate to get Houston’s salary cap in order?

Los Angeles Chargers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

While your Houston Texans do hold a high draft pick in the NFL Draft for the first time since what feels like ever, the team’s salary cap situation is still a little jacked up. The 2022 NFL salary cap is expected to land at $208.2 million. Cap tracking site Spotrac has the Texans sitting in 15th place of available cap as of right now with $23.6 million. For a team utterly lacking in talent across the board, that’s not a ton of space to sign new players.

But there’s still plenty of cap room that can be made, and the status of these three contracts could have an impact:

  • Deshaun Watson (accounts for $40.4 million of the current cap number)
  • Laremy Tunsil (accounts for $26.1 million of the current cap number)
  • Brandin Cooks (accounts for $16.2 million of the current cap number)

While Nick Caserio can still do something about those three contracts, which equal $82.7 million or 39.7% of the Texans’ projected cap space, he can’t do anything about the drag the following contracts, all of which will affect Houston’s salary cap in 2022 despite the players not being Texans any more, have on the team’s financial situation:

  • Zach Cunningham (accounts for $12.8 million of the current cap number)
  • Whitney Mercilus (accounts for $7 million of the current cap number)
  • Shaq Lawson (accounts for $5.2 million of the current cap number)
  • Bradley Roby (accounts for $4.8 million of the current cap number)
  • Randall Cobb (accounts for $3.5 million of the current cap number)

That’s $33.3 million, or 15.99% of the 2022 cap, paid out to five players who are no longer part of the team.

So what can Caserio do if he hopes to talk Brian Flores, Jarod Mayo, Joe Lombardi, Jonathan Gannon or anyone else he intends to interview for the opening head coach position into taking the gig?

Well, the potential Deshaun Watson trade is a keystone piece in and of itself. Getting another team to take on Watson’s contract as it stands would be ideal. Watson’s fully guaranteed money kicks in on March 20th, which will hit Houston’s cap for $35 million if they haven’t traded Watson by then. $5 million isn’t much of a difference, but every little bit helps. Preferably, the Texans trade Watson before then and take a smaller hit for it, more likely in the $10 mil range.

Next up is the insane Laremy Tunsil deal, negotiated by former head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby. The franchise tag number for an offensive lineman in 2022 projects at $16.6 mil on the high end, making Tunsil $10 million worth of overpriced blindside protection. Can Caserio retool Tunsil’s deal to something that makes more sense? With rumors swirling that Houston put Tunsil on ice for the end of the 2021 season so they could trade him this offseason, odds are some of his $26 mil will be dead money on the 2022 cap, like Cunningham and Mercilus.

Next up we have Brandin Cooks. His price tag is actually in line with a franchise tagged wide receiver, and he’s certainly the best asset Houston has on the offensive side of the ball. Can Nick re-jigger Cooks’ deal and convert some to a bonus or future year earnings to lower the ‘22 hit? Possibly.

After that, things get murky pretty quickly.

Caserio signed nearly every veteran free agent linebacker last season in the biggest free agent haul in franchise history. Thankfully, most of them were one or two-year deals that will expire when the league year ends. The two-year deals are likely structured so Caserio can void them without Houston taking a significant cap hit.

Without Watson’s $35 million and Tunsil’s $26 million on the books, tens of millions of dollars could potentially be freed up. Add that to the current $23.6 million projection and the Texans are sitting pretty with north of $75 million to spend on free agents.

The last time they had this sort of draft and free agent capital, Bill O’Brien and former general manager Brian Gaine screwed the proverbial pooch with it, which may have led to Gaine’s sudden promotion to fan.

Hopefully Caserio, (insert new head coach here) and Easterby can do better this time around. In the meantime, we can always take solace in this: