I was asked specifically to do this by a couple of readers last year, I get that it draws a lot of attention. But I want to be clear that I am doing this with no inside information, and that I expect to be wrong about many things in light of that. A lot of what we’re doing here is reading tea leaves.
This year’s changes
Practice squads have ballooned to 16-deep after COVID-19 CBA changes, two of which can be active on gamedays (previous 2020 CBA change) if the team wishes it to be so. However, if a practice squad player is on the active roster for more than two weeks they have to be placed there permanently for the rest of the season. In other words: I don’t expect this to be used all that much. It will likely be a rotation if it is used. Anyone who is not signed to the active roster is probably not a good bet to be with the team.
Active on gamedays has a very weird clause where if you have eight active players who are offensive linemen, you can have 48 active players. If you don’t have eight offensive linemen, you can only have 47 active players. What does this mean in actuality? Pretty much every team will carry at least eight linemen on the 53-man roster.
The final major change from the COVID-19 agreement is that teams are allowed to have six players on their practice squad with no experience limit. That means you could see more than a few real vets pop down to the practice squad this year.
Because the Texans are starting from 80 players, and they’re basically cutting down to 69 (nice!), there really aren’t that many cuts that get to be made. Because teams don’t have preseason tape to grind, I expect there probably won’t be much movement as we’re used to on cut day either. The roster changes have, as a whole, made this process a little more boring.
The most important thing for the Texans will simply be: how many players are healthy on roster cuts day? I expect to not see many more than seven or eight players let go when it’s all said and done just because of injuries.
53-man roster (53):
QB (2): Deshaun Watson (24), A.J. McCarron (29)
RB (4): David Johnson (28), Duke Johnson (26), Buddy Howell (24), Cullen Gillaspia (25)
WR (5): Will Fuller (26), Brandin Cooks (26), Kenny Stills (28), Randall Cobb (30), DeAndre Carter (27)
TE (4): Darren Fells (34), Jordan Akins (28), Jordan Thomas (24), Kahale Warring (23)
OL (9): Laremy Tunsil (26), Max Scharping (24), Nick Martin (27), Tytus Howard (24), Zach Fulton (28), Roderick Johnson (24), Senio Kelemete (30), Brent Qvale (29), Charlie Heck (23)
DL (7): J.J. Watt (31), Brandon Dunn (27), Charles Omenihu (23), Ross Blacklock (22), Angelo Blackson (27), Carlos Watkins (26), P.J. Hall (25)
LB (8): Whitney Mercilus (30), Jacob Martin (24), Brennan Scarlett (27), Zach Cunningham (25), Benardrick McKinney (27), Dylan Cole (26), Peter Kalmbayi (25), Jonathan Greenard (23)
CB (7): Bradley Roby (28), Lonnie Johnson (24), Gareon Conley (25), Vernon Hargreaves (25), John Reid (24), Keion Crossen (24), Jaylen Watkins (28)
S (4): Justin Reid (23), Eric Murray (26), A.J. Moore (24), Michael Thomas (30)
Specialists (3): Bryan Anger (31), Ka’imi Fairbairn (26), Jon Weeks (34)
My last five on the roster: Jonathan Greenard, P.J. Hall, Kahale Warring, Charlie Heck, Cullen Gillaspia
I really don’t think Kahale Warring deserves this spot. But they carried him last year, they opened with five tight ends last year, and have opened with at least four tight ends every year since Rick Smith left. I think he carries much more chance of being waiver claimed on account of the fact that he was a high-ranked prospect on more than a few boards. I would see him probably as a healthy inactive for most of this year unless he out-and-out hits IR.
I don’t think Greenard or Heck has shown a whole lot this August, and Greenard has recently been sitting out a slate of practices. But they both have four-year contracts and I think that carries them on here given that nobody has really been able to out-and-out impress the Texans with play in games. I think Gillaspia just isn’t getting pushed by anybody else — Karan Higdon doesn’t offer the same special teams ability and Gillaspia did ultimately bring good blocking when asked to play last year.
Giving the final spot to Hall is a nod to two things: Anthony Weaver’s ultimate influence as a line coach and how he probably felt about Hall to go get him after he didn’t pass a physical with the Vikings. I think there’ll be more emphasis on the defensive line room this year.
The hardest cut is Tyrell Adams — I think he’s been a pretty good special teamer for the Texans but they’ve let him walk before, he’s already 28, and they filled out the special teams unit in a big way this offseason.
What about Keke Coutee?
I could see the Texans carrying him as a sixth receiver but I don’t think he has any value to them without an injury in front of him. My read of the situation is that he got sat with a minor injury to avoid ruining his trade value. I believe he’ll either be traded or released at cuts, with an outside chance he winds up on the roster or on IR. I also think that Isaiah Coulter is another factor in keeping Coutee — I definitely don’t think the Texans want to keep seven wideouts. Six feels like the max. I’m gonna go with five.
Practice Squad (16)
QB: Alex McGough (24)
RB: Karan Higdon (24), Scottie Phillips (22)
WR: Steven Mitchell (26), Isaiah Coulter (21)
TE: Dylan Stapleton (22)
OL: Greg Mancz (28), Elijah Nkansah (25)
DL: Albert Huggins (23), Auzoyah Alulohai (23)
LB: Davin Bellamy (25), Nate Hall (24), Daren Bates (29)
DB: Cornell Armstrong (24), Jonathan Owens (25)
Specialist: Anthony Kukwa (27) — long snapper
Experience or upside? The hardest thing for me as an outside observer to measure is what they think of the older players versus the younger players. The two big names in that pool are newly-signed Daren Bates and incumbent corner Phillip Gaines. Gaines has missed a lot of practice, but Gareon Conley doesn’t look right yet to me either so that might tilt you to keeping another experienced corner. I think if you read between the lines of the Bates signing that there’s a short-term opportunity for him. Maybe he’s on the roster as an early elevation guy as the team figures out Dylan Cole’s return from a torn ACL. I could also see Tyrell Adams hanging on here, though I think they don’t sign Bates if they think Adams can handle what he handles. Maybe Nate Hall goes instead, since Hall was only signed before the Bills playoff game last year.
The third relatively old player I threw down here was Greg Mancz, who I think is a solid O’Brien life preserver but probably not as versatile as Qvale.
They’re keeping a long snapper? Well, I think it’s silly too, but think about it this way: they valued having a second long-snapper enough to put it on the early wish list. Didn’t work that way for kickers or punters. I think this is some upper-level strategery but I wouldn’t be surprised if he made an expanded practice squad as Jon Weeks insurance in COVID times.
The other player I could be wrong on is Scottie Phillips — I may like him more than the coaches do and there hasn’t been much made of him gaining ground on Higdon publicly.
Last year’s practice squad and how it informs this one: Let’s take the offensive line battle between Kyle Murphy, Rick Leonard, and Elijah Nkansah — all three of them spent a lot of time on the practice squad last year. Nkansah is the only one that got elevated to the roster in Week 17. That’s the kind of tiny nod that you can pick up on without actually being in their heads. I have no idea if it matters or not, but I’ll run with that. Likewise, Nate Hall and Anthony Chesley were both on last year’s quad, but they were late additions. I have Hall just barely hanging on over Adams. I expect to be wrong about a lot of these lower-level roster battles because we have no preseason games and I don’t get to watch practices.
I followed the money with this year’s UDFAs: Since they didn’t get much of a chance to impress, unless I heard someone explicitly praised by O’Brien I’ve mostly kept it to the guys who got bigger bonuses. Their two biggest bonuses were Alufohai ($65,000) and Tyler Simmons ($75,000) — I’ll talk about Simmons in a second.
Who heads to IR? Tyler Simmons and Chad Hansen are a couple of guys who I believe might wind up there. Neither have played all that much recently. It feels weird to stash players beyond 69 of them but this is a COVID-19 season and who really knows? I think Hansen’s big training camp has been more carrot-and-stick than actual flash, but that’s just the impression I get and he’s certainly got practice squad experience. Simmons has future punt returner written all over him but just hasn’t played much this month. Duke Ejiofor is already there.
Who does that leave without a job?
By my track: Isaac Whitney, Rick Leonard, Kyle Murphy, Cordel Iwuagwu, Jerald Hawkins, Chad Hansen, Phillip Gaines, Keke Coutee, Tyrell Adams, Anthony Chesley
The headlines there are probably Coutee, Gaines, Adams, and Hansen. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of them actually did make the roster, either. We’re simply at a point where there’s so many available spots that nothing truly is surprising anymore and the injuries will matter a lot. If they put Greenard on IR that opens a door for Adams. If they’re going to keep Conley inactive early they might keep Gaines. If Coulter goes on IR, that opens up a spot for Hansen, etc. etc. etc.
It’s a situation where there’s simply a lot of ways to get down to the final amount of chairs, and the IR situation means a lot in the final calculus. Let’s enjoy the chaos and pull for all the Texans who don’t make the roster to catch on elsewhere.
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