Nick Caserio finally swung with daring Will Anderson trade

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.

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