On the analytics of the situation, there is absolutely no way a team that is as bad as the Texans have been since 2020 should be trading away a future first-round pick. And yet … I both kind of like the trade-up for Will Anderson and also kind of understand where they are coming from. That doesn’t make the trade without risk.
The certifiable, no-questions asked, thank-your-deities-this-happened moment came at pick two, when the Texans bucked weeks of speculation they’d get cute with quarterback and selected C.J. Stroud. I am already on the record that I think Stroud is the quarterback I’d most like to have of this year’s draft. You can imagine how it felt in this household to hear him paired with a head coach I believe in. That is 80% of the problems that the Texans had last year solved.
I don’t want to belabor this too hard because, well, Stroud is not a flawless prospect and Ryans is not a flawless head coach prospect. But after two calendar years of George R.R. Martin Describing Prison Food football, the Texans have finally secured a potential ticket out of it. Both the coach and the player still need to live up to expectations for that to happen. But it is finally some hope that doesn’t ring hollow in the “Well, wait a minute, Davis Mills might do this!” tone. It has been a long 28 months since the Deshaun Watson trade request dropped, and trading him did nothing but fill the air with the stress of needing to find the right pieces to make this a football team. Thursday, I finally was able to think about the team in a “Well, this team still needs a center” way again. I know that feels like damning with faint praise, but the idea to think normal football thoughts about your football team is something you don’t really miss until it’s gone.
So, let’s talk about the Will Anderson trade:
I can look at these terms and know that from a pure value perspective — opportunity cost and all that — the Texans got fleeced. They dropped down a full round in giving up a 2024-third rounder for a high 2023 fourth-rounder, gave up an extremely valuable pick in 33 overall, and most importantly gave up their own 2024 first-round pick.
But here is the thing: The Texans drafted like they just got their franchise quarterback. I doubt anything that happens in 2023 will make them believe otherwise. So they weren’t hoarding picks to trade up next year. They also reside in a division that I’d describe as imminently winnable. The Jaguars are solid, but barely gained anything but Calvin Ridley this offseason and just narrowly fended off a team starting Josh Dobbs last year. The Titans are well-coached, but in a no-man’s land on talent. The Colts are also going to be starting a rookie quarterback. All of Nick Caserio’s moves in free agency — all of his moves in free agency period — are built to win now in service of a core he had never created. Anderson and Stroud are now that core, cost-controlled for five seasons.
So let’s compare Anderson — who I think is one of four players in this class who I’d consider a worthy top-five pick — to what the Texans could have drafted by waiting until next year. You have Stroud in hand. The most valuable positions on a football team are QB (taken), OT (Tunsil is re-upped, Howard is a solid second tackle), EDGE, and … WR.
The wideout part is what gives me pause. Marvin Harrison Jr. coming out, the Texans playing poorly enough to get a top-three pick, and then handing him over to the Cardinals is the nightmare scenario. The Texans do not have a good enough wideout corps to be a serious contender without a major leap from Nico Collins and John Metchie becoming a major factor. The other theoretical future this trade kills is the one where the Texans win the Caleb Williams (or whichever franchise QB you want to boast about) sweepstakes and perform their own 2023 Bears trade. These are real losses, and I don’t want to minimize them or act like there’s no chance they’ll happen … but we also don’t really know how that future will unfold yet. For all we know, Harrison tears his ACL and is available with the Browns pick because people are concerned about his medicals. A lot can change in a year.
But if you told me the Texans finished with the third overall pick next year and selected a prospect the caliber of Anderson, I think I’d be pretty excited about it. The defense and the pass rush in particular has lacked a building block since J.J. Watt tiptoed away from the Jack Easterby Era in progress. Anderson is not the bendy EDGE — he’s not a sure-fire top-two-in-a-good-draft Von Miller kind of pick — but outside of lacking 95th percentile athleticism and length, he does everything you’d want your franchise EDGE rusher to do. He plays well in the trash. He creates tackles for loss in the run game. He’s a smart enough player to win sacks all over the place instead of just being Guy Who Beat The Tackle To The Outside. As with Stroud, none of this means he’s going to be that player in the pros because this is all some manner of crapshoot — but I think he’s got a chance to be a true No. 1 NFL EDGE when it is all said and done.
I both love the player and admit that this could lead to some queasy Sundays if things do not work out exactly as Caserio has foreseen, Sundays where there are rookie pains and lessons followed by the psychic fatigue of understanding — as with the Laremy Tunsil years — that there is no payoff coming for those losses. I am comforted by two things with this trade — one is that I think Anderson was the best defensive player in this draft and a worthy top-five guy, and the other is that if this trade goes down as a boondoggle, I don’t think Caserio will be around in 2024. We’re all going to remain big Whoever Plays The Browns Fans.
But I don’t quite see it as a boondoggle on the day after it happened. I see it as a confluence of circumstances. It’s a deep draft as far as 1st-2nd round types where the player at 33 may be as good as the player at 56, and also a weak enough draft up top where the player at 12 is much less of a prospect than the player at 3. It’s a dysfunctional war room where we’re not entirely sure who is in charge in the new scenario. It’s a desire for the team to finally be something again and tell everyone about it, to sell some excitement where there was none. And on those specific merits, I understand exactly why it went down the way it did even though the price was more than most would be willing to pay.
It may be that I am just too caught up in that excitement and that come November, I’ll be living the sugar crash of every Halloween night. But I think there’s a better than average chance the Texans have traded away the No. 4 pick, or the No. 7 pick — something that they’ll certainly miss in 2024, but not something that would devastate the franchise. And in that case, the only bad news about opening your present early is that the clock is ticking on creating the team around your new core.
And if it all falls apart, and the Texans did give up the keys to the kingdom, at least Caserio got to fulfill his self-prophecy to go down swinging.
I’ve been pretty quiet of late on the Texans Daily Draft Frenzy because there’s not a lot of reason to log in to what is being shared. Nothing you consume will change the fact that the team will do what it will do. But I have a thought that I need to share, and it’s about the idea of passing on a quarterback in this draft.
That thought is: I sure would love it if the Texans stopped trying to believe they were smarter than the room.
To say that being a fan of this team has been made needlessly difficult by the people in charge over the past decade would be an understatement. We have been eating football gruel since Deshaun Watson filed a trade request. J.J. Watt’s prime was wasted with quarterbacks who weren’t able to get him to the promised land. Not only is this team nationally irrelevant, they are so irrelevant that even trying to talk them up as being a year away over the last couple seasons has been a waste of time. They lacked the talent to have a good team, and they also lacked a coach who could lead the team in a manner of play from this decade. I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about how Derek Stingley’s 2022 play would matter for his future because how he was used in 2022 was so obviously never going to be the long-term play here.
But I want to put that aside for a second and make sure I focus on the one thing I need you all to get out of this: None of the things that got the Texans to where they are today were all that hard to see coming.
I have pointed out many of them along the way since I started actually putting Texans stuff back on the radar in 2018. I’ve been bringing up stuff like this since 2009. I don’t say this to feed an ego — I know I’m not always right, and also that I shouldn’t always be right, as I don’t have the information that teams have — I say this because if someone like me, with little to no inside sources or deeper organizational knowledge can see it happening, then anybody can.
So I sat down and thought about it for twenty minutes last night. This is just a list of things I’ve written about at some point in the past 10 years that were fairly easy to see coming. They are things that weren’t about second-guessing a problem that occurred after the fact, but about first-guessing from the moment it became clear that this would happen. Several of these things have been written about on this very website! OK, no more stalling:
-Lovie Smith was not fit to be an NFL head coach in 2022. -Nick Caserio’s free agency strategy would never deliver long-term value to this roster. -David Culley was not a worthwhile head-coaching candidate. (Did you know, non-Texans fans, that Culley has not even coached at another stop since being fired? He hasn’t even coached for a high-school team!) -Keeping Jack Easterby would drive this team into the ground as he focused on character and chemistry instead of accumulating talent. Keeping him when he was supposedly a main reason that the franchise quarterback wanted out — despite the fact that said franchise quarterback would go on to ill fame — was patently idiotic. -The DeAndre Hopkins trade would be a boondoggle. -The Laremy Tunsil trade would be a boondoggle. -Bringing in Randall Cobb had a whiff of desperation. (Did you remember that Randall Cobb was on this team? It happened!) -Re-signing Whitney Mercilus in late 2019 didn’t bring the team any upside. -The team failed to effectively maximize it’s cap window with Watson on a rookie contract by bringing in star-level talent in free agency. -The Brock Osweiler signing would be a debacle. -Not drafting a quarterback in 2014 would be a major mistake and set the team up for years of cascade mistakes.
Now I could have gone deeper on this list. You probably have your own that I left off — that’s the beauty of a 20-minute list. I did not mention, for instance, looking at this the morning after, that they literally just gave away Brandin Cooks for beans because they pissed him off. I did not mention that it was extremely easy to see that Matt Schaub was falling apart late in 2012 and that relying on him going forward was an iffy proposition. I didn’t bring up firing Brian Gaine out of nowhere! This was quick and from the gut.
OK, so now a much shorter list. This is the 20-minute list of things that I can remember the Texans doing that were widely praised by the national media over the past 10 years.
-Hiring DeMeco Ryans. -Signing Tyrann Mathieu before the 2018 season. -Trading up for Deshaun Watson.
With some hindsight and some research, I think you could add something like “extending J.J. Watt” and “extending Watson,” which were easy calls even if Watson would later use the no-trade clause to destroy the franchise’s leverage. I think people were excited about hiring Bill O’Brien at the time, but I wasn’t sure if that hit the widespread attention that these other things did.
My point here isn’t to say that the Texans should run themselves through the lens of what the national media believes. I think there’s plenty of room to believe different things and evaluate differently through the context of scheme fits than what a former player says in a suit in front of a camera. I also believe they have a lot more information than we do.
What I am saying is … if there is one team that I don’t think has any benefit of the doubt, on any level, from anyone in the damn building, about bucking national consensus … it’s this goddamn team. This team would have been in a markedly better position today than it actually is if they ran the team via fan poll for the last five years.
So when I write what I write about the quarterbacks in this class after the next section, spare me the fan explanations about how they know better than I. The last thing I want to be is the one with a better record on seeing this team’s moves for what they are than the team itself. I want them to succeed. I would love to feel stupid in the service of this team actually being good.
But they can’t get out of their own way, and being “bold” has not been a good look for this franchise.
Houston’s general manager isn’t leaving, per his own words. That does not mean that he won’t be fired. And it doesn’t mean that we believe he’s got much rope left. Lance Zierlein said he doesn’t see Caserio getting out of next year with a job unless things go well and Ryans takes to him. And even in the midst of a ton of gratitude expressed by Caserio on Monday, here was the quote that showed he doesn’t know where he stands with ownership in the long-term:
But there was another answer I wanted to talk about that did not get much public play, and it did not get much public play because a) the answer was longer than a Twitter-length clip and b) because it is a depressing thing to take in all at once.
“If we do that, and with enough people, then … hopefully we put ourselves in a position to have some modicum of success. It doesn’t guarantee success, nothing is guaranteed. Like, we’re not guaranteed tomorrow … there’s only so many things you can control … when you look at some of the things that are going on societally, it kind of puts things in perspective … we have to read Sunday morning about another mass shooting that’s taking place in our country … when you just put it in the perspective of football, I mean I’d say it kind of shows you it pales in comparison.”
Here’s what drives me up the wall about Caserio in a quote. He’s smart enough to understand a lot about being an NFL general manager. By all means, he should be doing better than he is if this were purely about how much he knows. He’s a good human who is aware of his place in the world.
But look at what he said … he says there are no guarantees. It takes ego to be a general manager. It really does. You have to believe that your way is best. Just as it takes some ego for me to write this piece because I believe it is the best interpretation of how this team should run.
Your job isn’t to take in all the world’s information, but to take in all that information, suss out what is the best way to run a team from your research, and act on it. But he has no belief about that, or anything of that sort. He is a man who has taken in all the information of the world and drowned in it. Now the only way he can build a roster is vaguely shrugging his shoulders and saying “if this works out, great, and if not this contract isn’t onerous and I can try again next year.” He sees the downside in every contract and every risk. But building a team is an act of ego that entails risks! The egoless general manager that runs the Texans has made a team that has risked nothing and has gained nothing for it.
The capper is bringing up mass shootings. He did something like that early in the Deshaun Watson Requests A Trade Era, at the Culley inaugural presser I believe, where he wistfully kind of ruminated on the fact that there are bigger things in the world than being mad about what happens with his football team. I understand the sentiment, but … my dude … it’s literally your job to run the football team. It might make you a better citizen of the world to put that perspective out there, but do you know what I care about? You making the football team good. That’s all. I’m here to enjoy my brain watching football get solved by the best minds in the sport.
If Bryce Young was the only quarterback you liked, why — why? — did you not find a way to get the first pick? Lose the final game or have some urgency in a trade up. But even this conviction that Young is the guy is not enough of a conviction to demand a risk.
What I find instead is a man who has more questions than answers. Someone who has so little confidence in what he’s doing that he can’t even say that finding the right people means he’ll have a “modicum” of success.
Listen, when the offseason started, I thought the Texans were in a good place that would only get better. There were two top-10 worthy quarterbacks in the draft. They had the second pick. I’ve got my receipts on the feelings here:
My evaluation is … I like CJ Stroud more than Bryce Young. If the Panthers wanted Stroud, great, Young is still a legitimate franchise prospect even if I’m wincing every time he gets tackled. But if the Panthers wanted Young, well, Stroud’s the quarterback with the most upside in the draft in my book. Nobody played a better game last year than he did against Georgia. I value the high floor his accuracy provides. I think his high ceiling gets dismissed because he played in a dull as a doorknob offense that didn’t ask much of its quarterbacks as far as freelancing. I think his running upside is underrated for much the same reason. I’m not saying that his agent being the agent who got Watson out of town is not a cause for pause on any level, but if I get two years of solid play, three years of elite play, and then trade him for three first-round picks because he hates me … that’s not exactly a terrible outcome, you know? It’s too early to say the Texans came out ahead on the Watson trade but there was definitely a real return. You can’t really have an NFL plan that goes further than the next two years and anybody who says otherwise is kidding themselves due to the injury attrition involved.
But I don’t hold this opinion to the point where if it’s not Stroud I’ll flip a car over, because I acknowledge I don’t have the same information the teams do. I’m open to the idea that I’m wrong. I’m happy to hear an argument on Anthony Richardson being better. I’m more reluctant on a Will Levis argument because it relies on things I can’t see and thus feels like it was crafted in a cocoon, but even if that was a stab I personally wasn’t a fan of at least I could give them credit for taking a stab. I am still a Trey Lance believer to some extent, even if I think it’s a little weird to value his three years of control over a rookie quarterback’s five.
This isn’t a good draft class, but it is one blessed with (in my opinion) two top-10 worthy quarterbacks. Others happily put Richardson in that tier. Then I’ll allow the idea of Levis or Lance to percolate even though I don’t see the same upside. To leave next weekend with Case Keenum and Davis Mills as your quarterbacks in the service or whatever in-house galaxy brain narratives you want to tell yourself — that the team isn’t close enough, that the offense works with Brock Purdy as if Kyle Shanahan is the head coach, that we know better than everyone else on this evaluation — is absolute madness to me.
This is me first-guessing. Acquire a quarterback. You need one. The fans want one. It might fail, because many quarterbacks don’t succeed. But if DeMeco Ryans is the coach we think he is, you may never have a chance to do this again.
2014 is the draft class we need to look back on and learn the lesson of. It took a historic confluence of bad evaluations and a trade up to get Watson in 2017, and meanwhile the Texans were stuck in purgatory on offense for years. You know what? The Texans didn’t love Teddy Bridgewater, and they didn’t love Johnny Manziel, and they didn’t love Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo enough. But I don’t think it really has to be quite this complex. The Vikings don’t love Kirk Cousins and they know what he is. I don’t know that the Cowboys love Dak Prescott now at his salary. Your in-house negative thoughts about Stroud or Richardson (and my in-brain negative thoughts about Levis) could be wrong — you really won’t know until they’re in the building every day and putting up what they put up on the field.
Love is overrated. Carr and Garoppolo turned into long-time NFL starters, and Bridgewater probably would’ve been if he didn’t shred his knee. Manziel would have never even been discussed in the first round if he’d grown up in the live video everywhere environment of 2023. The Eagles just made the Super Bowl with a guy they didn’t love — as evidenced by him being there in the second round — and weren’t convinced would be a star until he did it right in front of their eyes. This is the most important position on your football team and any opportunity you have to upgrade from bad to better has to be explored fully, not dismissed because Trevor Lawrence II isn’t somehow sitting there at No. 2 overall.
All I want is for the team to act like a normal football team, to do something that makes sense so I can be happy about it and we all can start to put the recent past in the rearview mirror. It’s going to be hard to do that if we have to watch the Ryan Fitzpatrick 2014 Texans, Mk. II.