From Caserio with Love: A Texans Draft Review

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


Nick Caserio’s Texans took an important step towards healing the wounds that this fanbase has suffered over the weekend. They don’t have anything that is guaranteed to mean anything tomorrow, but they have planted some seeds that could one day be the sort of future star players that an NFL roster needs to be competitive. I think it’s important to point that out. I also think it’s a fanbase reaction that was almost guaranteed to happen unless the Texans selected Malik Willis or someone totally off the map at No. 3. They stayed logical enough to a board of value to not get that sort of implication.

My reaction to this draft comes from two places: understanding and disagreeing.

I understand that Caserio places a mega-premium on the makeup and personality traits he believes are the differences between success and failure. I understand that he fills the roster with other guys that have these traits in an attempt to further create that mindset. And I understand the intersection of those two things create a place where he trades up, as he’s demonstrated often in the last two drafts, because the value he places on culture guys outweighs the value of spending roster spots on young players who won’t be. I have already seen the inklings of “this draft should prove he cares about talent first,” but I don’t think I agree with that interpretation of what happened here. Caserio isn’t even trying to hide how important player makeup is to him. It comes up in literally every public conversation he has.

I can’t square this draft plan itself with any logical and rational standing of the state of the roster. The team’s not good. They have enough good players that I can’t rule out them being good in, say, 2024, as well as competitive in 2023. They aren’t one John Metchie or Christian Harris hitting away from being good. We live in an NFL where teams like the Ravens purposefully went out of their way to stockpile third- and fourth-round picks, and where even the Rams have a plan where the volume of cracks at hitting a successful pick they have explicitly matters. It’s a volume industry, and Caserio is — what were his words again?

There’s a certain football fan that this talk is — let’s be honest — very charming to. It’s certainly a stark contrast to Bill O’Brien’s whiny nihilism where he’d allude vaguely about things that needed to be corrected, then never do anything about them. There’s nothing sexy about saying “We don’t know if we’re going to hit on these draft picks, that’s why we make a lot of them.” It’s smart, of course. Exactly what this roster needs if we’re being honest with ourselves. I would have taken the Ravens draft over the Texans draft even though the Texans started with two picks before Baltimore picked for this reason. But this has long ago stopped being about constructing the best long-term roster that can be created.

I have to be careful when I type this next part because there’s a segment of the fanbase that is on High Easterby Alert and needs to believe in Very Clear Terms that He Is Not Involved. Even though he’s on the sideline on gameday and obviously in the draft room and also is Literally Director of Culture for a team that can’t stop talking about its culture. I don’t think Easterby’s running the draft, I don’t think he’s making personnel decisions.

I do think it’s impossible to escape the fact that from the moment he’s arrived, everything the Texans have done as an organization has been about a) ignoring what everyone else is doing and b) betting as big as you possibly can on what you believe in. And it’s impossible to ignore that he is the reason Caserio was hired. Maybe Caserio would have done the same thing in any GM role he had — he certainly has plenty of pre-Texans background that suggests he’d value his prospect interviews anyway — but for an ostensibly rebuilding team to take so many “we know better than you” stances is revealing to me. “Noise outside the building” is practically an allegation for this organization. And if you fail? Well, there’s plenty of Twitter account quotes for how noble that is.

I think a lot of fans take my stance on how culture is important to this team as a personal attack on the organization. I will say this: I’m happy to stop talking about culture when the Texans are. Win some damn games and we can praise the culture all day. I’d love nothing more than to document the story of how these tough and smart players they targeted cornered a market nobody knew about. That’s just … not the story we have yet.

Caserio has put himself in a position where he needs to hit every single one of his picks in the first four rounds. And I really mean hits, not the kind of hits I think some fans are counting where last year’s mid-round picks got to play on a roster that largely lacked talent and that was a “victory” even though no unit on the team actually empirically played well. What Caserio is trying to do here is, to use his parlance, launch a dinger from an 0-2 count, down three runs in the third inning.

I’m not going to tell you he can’t park one over the fence with this draft. The players he got have talent. But when you concentrate all of it into so few players, some of whom have legitimate injury questions, you certainly open the door to going down swinging.


Thoughts about the picks

I wrote a piece early Friday morning on the Derek Stingley and Kenyon Green picks. With a little extra time to reflect, I think I’m pretty happy with the points I brought up there. I like the upside of the Stingley pick and the fact that this draft class as a whole is pretty weak makes me more comfortable with the gamble on him. I understand the draftnik criticism that it’s not the ideal pick at No. 3 overall, but really there was no market for trading up this year and the class dictated that the pick would “feel” bad compared to a normal year.

I’m even more upset about the Green trade back than I was at the moment, because so much of the capital was spent in trade ups. I think Green’s a legitimate guard prospect, and someone who has a chance to start early if the coaching staff can correct him. But I’m sorry, you can’t make me feel happier to have him than I would with Jordan Davis or Kyle Hamilton. It’s just not going to happen.

On to the Day 2 picks! I did a few mock draft simulators along the way where I connected Jalen Pitre to the Texans in the early second round. Unlike the Green pick, this is one where my thinking became more optimistic with time. I really wanted the Texans to land Breece Hall and most smoke tended to lean that way until the Jets traded right in front of them and snagged him. With some time to reflect on it and the shock of the moment wearing off, I’m happy with the Pitre pick. I think he can bump out and cover inside on passing downs, has enough tackling to play run fits out of two high, and my only real concern on him is the size. 5-foot-11, 198 pounds isn’t “small,” but we haven’t seen it with real NFL punishment. But if someone was stupid enough to make me a GM, size obsessions by scouts might be the No. 1 thing I tried to exploit.

Caserio Press Availability 4/29 on John Metchie III

Where the draft jumps off the rails to me is trading up for John Metchie III at 44. They gave the Browns 68, 108, and 124. Those picks became: Martin Emerson, Perrion Winfrey, and Cade York. Forget the kicker, I’d take the first two picks over Metchie, who is coming off an ACL tear. He broadcast to reporters in his initial Zoom availability that he’s on track to be ready for the season, but Caserio would not commit to a timetable about him coming back when asked. Metchie also required two surgeries at the end of the 2020 season, which is concern at his size.

Metchie did no testing, but at 187 pounds he’s in the bottom 20 percentile of all NFL wideouts, his arm length and wingspan are similarly in the bottom 20 percentile. Guys like that have to absolutely fly — except Metchie had, per Dane Brugler’s draft guide, zero receptions of 50+ yards after September 2020. I don’t mean to diminish the good things that he does do — the route-running and the after catch yardage — but I’m having a hard time understanding the scenario in which a player with this many flags is worth a high second-round pick, let alone a trade up. By the time he’s ready to play this season, he may be so far behind that the team can’t really do much with him. Guys that show little promise in the first season typically have an uphill battle in their second year.

In many ways, I find Metchie to be the biggest test of the Caserio system so far. The Athletic’s consensus big board had him 62nd, and I can’t find anyone in the inner circle of people I trust to do this stuff who will tell me there’s not backup risk. And you’re not taking this chance in a package of an outside receiver, either. There seems to be a lot of risk he’ll wind up as a slot-only player. And what did Caserio say above? “I would say we like probably as much as any football player in the draft.” Read that. He loves him! That’s quite high praise! Maybe it works out, but it’s not where I’d want my chips to be. I’d have been much happier with Skyy Moore or David Ojabo — who I think has a legitimate chance to be a beast edge rusher and thus is worth the wait — at this pick.

Caserio Press Availability 4/29 on Christian Harris

I’m of two minds on the Christian Harris move up. The price wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Metchie trade, costing the Texans just 162 to move up from 80 to 75. (I tend to value the first three rounds pretty highly, and see a fourth as a place where you have a chance at a player. Fifth or on you’re really banking on deep stuff going right.) But this was the one early pick the Texans had that didn’t really seem to target a position of need — they drafted Garret Wallow in 2021 and also have committed mid-level dollars on their dream team of culture leaders at middle linebacker.

What Caserio’s breakdown won’t tell you is that Harris needs to take a step forward in coverage. Lance Zierlein wrote: “Harris’ lack of desired recognition will result in missteps and mistakes that could prove much more costly on the NFL level. However, he could thrive as a chase-and-hit, weakside linebacker, where he can play faster. He can handle some coverage chores but it’s not his strong suit.” His PFF grade declined in every season and he allowed a “111.0 passer rating in coverage” per them, with a comp of … Christian Kirksey. Hey, sounds familiar.

So does he start as a rookie? Probably not on passing downs with that read out, right? But that’s what they praised him for. I’m curious how they’ll square that. I think it will probably be 2023 before he gets a real trial inside. The Texans better be able to teach him some coverage, or it’ll be Zach Cunningham’s worst years all over again.

My favorite pick of the draft was Dameon Pierce, who reminds me a lot of Duke Johnson in that he can contribute in the passing game and never met a hole he couldn’t hit fast. Pierce did his interview with the media shirtless and was by far the most gregarious of the guys the Texans drafted. He makes it to the fourth round because there’s simply not a lot of tread on his tires — why didn’t he start at Florida? Why was he used so little? (Wow, this Duke Johnson comparison keeps growing!) I think his breakaway speed is lacking, but he’s got enough juice in the open field to make defenders miss. That was something that was painfully lacking for the Texans last year, as they finished third-to-last in the NFL in RB broken tackles.

Despite my personal enjoyment of the player, I do worry a little bit about his first-year role. Caserio concluded his roundup about the pick with: “We have a lot of good backs in this building, and I would say he is a part of that group, but I wouldn’t say he is any better than the guys that we have in the building.” I don’t agree, but the Texans do not care about my opinion. I think pass protection has the potential to be a major bugaboo for him. As much as I’d just point to David Johnson’s pass protection from last season as a reason that doesn’t matter, traditionally the Patriots acolytes tend to value it. I understand why a fantasy guy would want to look at this backfield and put major bets on Pierce, but I have my doubts he escapes from the quagmire early without some rough play or injuries by those ahead of him.

I think the Thomas Booker pick at 150 is being a little overlooked. He drew a lot of pre-draft interest from teams. He talks the talk, as you can see in the video above. Caserio mentioned that he’d probably be playing one-technique or three-technique for the Texans. Kind of eye-catching to me when you consider that Ross Blacklock is headed into year three and that’s supposed to be his spot — is he on the outs? I could see Booker growing into a rotational lineman with some pass-rushing prowess. Those guys tend to be reliable NFL players for quite a bit if they hit.

I’m a little surprised it took so long for the Texans to draft a tight end considering the state of the roster at the position. Brevin Jordan showed some promise as a receiver in his rookie season, and Pharaoh Brown is probably better than he showed in 2021. But for how important two tight-end sets are reputed to be for Pep Hamilton, it sure feels like he doesn’t have a second guy who can be counted on to be versatile. Heck, I’m not sure you can count on Jordan to be versatile yet after just one season. Teagan Quitoriano has one of the best names I’ve ever heard, ruined only by the fact that it is pronounced “tee-gan.” I don’t have major hopes for any fifth-round picks, but this was a big stretch compared to some of the other available prospects. Quitoriano had a 6th-7th grade from Zierlein, and was a priority free agent in Brugler’s draft guide. He also is almost solely a blocking prospect. This is a pick where I get why you’d want the player at the end of the day, but the aspirational value of selecting them in the fifth-round feels off. There’s not enough ceiling here to me.

Finally, Austin Deculus — sixth-round LSU tackle — looks like a reasonable pick. 46 college starts, it’s the sixth round, he could be a depth piece, he could move inside.

Thoughts about Nick Caserio’s drafting strategy after two drafts

Eventually we’ll get to the point where we can zero in on some Texans benchmarks as far as speed/frame/arm length and so on. But for now, I just want to start off with what pops out to me about the two drafts in the Caserio Era.

1 — Nick Caserio loving SEC players was the talking point of this draft, but the real talking point needs to be Power Five conferences.

Caserio has taken 14 players so far. Not a single one of them has been from a non-Power Five conference. The SEC has six, the Pac-12 has four, the Big 12 two, the Big 10 and ACC each have one. If you listen to him talk about the high level of play that Stingley went up against every day when he was playing against Ja’Marr Chase in practice, it immediately became extremely clear that he values playing and winning reps against the bluebloods of college football.

2 — Nick Caserio loves trading up

In addition to what we already went over above, Caserio gave up two fours and a five for the third-round pick that would become Nico Collins in 2021. They also traded picks 203 and 212 for 174, then 174 and 233 for 170, which became Garret Wallow in 2021. He talks over and over again at these press conferences about pockets of players and making sure you don’t miss out on a window. And then he does everything he can to not miss out on a window.

3 — Nick Caserio loves players with a long history of being good

Your high school recruiting record matters to Nick Caserio. Kenyon Green was a five-star recruit. Not only that: How quickly you get on the field in college matters to Nick Caserio. Green started as a freshman. You may have heard something about Derek Stingley’s first year in Baton Rouge. Jalen Pitre started eight games as a freshman in 2017. Christian Harris started as a freshman and was 79th on the ESPN 300. While Metchie didn’t start as a freshman, he was a) behind a stacked Alabama class that included Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle and b) still active for every game before starting as a sophomore.

Nico Collins? 150th on the ESPN top 300. Started as a sophomore, was active as a freshman. Even Teagan Quitoriano managed to play as a freshman (a bit) and a sophomore (heavily) — it’s a big factor for Nick’s comfortability with a prospect in my opinion. Austin Deculus was the first player in LSU history to play 60 games.

4 — In 2022, the Texans brought in every prospect they selected in the top three rounds in on a private visit.

I find this revealing, particularly when paired with some of the statements Caserio has made about pre-draft visits:

Now, of course, we don’t keep track of every visit every team ever has, but I find it instructive that not many teams operate like this. The Cowboys are the team who had the most reported top 30 draft visits that I could find. They wound up drafting Sam Williams and DaRon Bland, but had no contact with Tyler Smith or Jalen Tolbert there.

Again, when I harped on this people took it as if I was pointing out that they were foolish or that there was something wrong with this — I don’t really know what to make of it as compared to the rest of the NFL, and some of these visits aren’t well-reported anyway. But I’m not very surprised that Caserio and the gang who value personality traits would want to test these guys face-to-face in the facility before they drafted them.

5 — In my eyes, Nick Caserio is targeting his weakest roster positions in the draft

It wasn’t broadly surprising that the first four picks went cornerback, interior lineman, safety, and wide receiver. The Texans were awful at corner all last season, a fact that Lovie Smith admitted out loud.

They can’t bring themselves to say that Justin Britt isn’t good, so the other interior line positions must be bad if they can’t run the ball. They’re relying on retread wideouts. They lost Justin Reid in free agency. Had the Jets not snapped ahead of them for Breece Hall, they likely would have picked him. Instead they picked Pierce. The Texans had plenty of spots of weakness (or at least that they’re old at if you’re valuing the culture vets), but you didn’t see them go after a quarterback when the board went that way. They didn’t draft a tackle early. They didn’t draft an interior defensive lineman early.

When you have this much leeway to play around in what I think we can all admit is a rebuild, it says a lot to me that they’re still going after positions where they are the weakest first.


Overall, I feel like this is a respectable draft. The process behind the trades are what rankles me the most — I think Green and Metchie in particular have a lot to live up to based on the What Ifs you could play. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad players or incapable of developing into more than the tiny snapshot we have in front of us. Or that my lack of relative interest in them in prospects compared to who could have been taken is some damning statement on their futures. There’s almost as much ballgame left as there can be.

There are just swings here that I would’ve passed on.


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The Texans finally draft a Johnathan Joseph replacement

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


I don’t really do draft preview posts at this point, which is a shame for #thebrand and #engagement because you guys love to talk about the draft. I will be upfront: I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in my ability to pick these guys out to be winners. I don’t watch college games live very often, and while I watch enough video of these players to call it a passing interest, I’m not going to grind down to the bone to figure out if I think this mid-round tight end is a third-rounder or a fourth-rounder. Jordan Pun is your guy for that.

Frankly, when I do that stuff more competitively, what I realize is that we’re blessed publicly with maybe about 25-30% of the total picture. Medicals, interviews, tracking data (Caserio referenced this recently in an interview) — it’s just wildly easy to have a take based on some combine numbers and some highlight clips. But it’s classic Dunning-Kruger effect. And if I don’t have all that much conviction about something, what I tend to do is quiet down and do a lot of listening to the people I actually respect about the process. (Matt Waldman, Dane Brugler, Lance Zierlein, Josh Norris, Nate Tice, etc. etc. etc.)

I think this is a drop in the bucket of a Texans rebuild. But at least there’s water in the bucket. I don’t agree with both picks in so much as I, with my limited information, might have done something else. But where I’m at is: I’ll try to understand where they’re coming from, and I’ll be upfront with you and tell you that nobody really knows how these guys are going to turn out. I try to keep a very probability-focused mindset on the draft.


1 / 3: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU, CB

Name the last great Texans cornerback season. The answer is probably Kareem Jackson in 2018, and I would argue that he was really still a safety playing cornerback even then. The Texans haven’t had a true No. 1 cornerback since Johnathan Joseph aged out of it. Bradley Roby was a stable CB1, but I don’t think anyone would argue that his play here was top-notch. It’s been a hole for a long time. Even people who literally work for the Texans would say this:

The major reasons to draft Stingley over Sauce Gardner are that a) Stingley has more play against better competition and b) Stingley’s 2019 season was the highest high for any cornerback in the class. Nick Caserio cited seeing him play against Ja’Marr Chase and players of that ilk when asked about Stingley at his post-round-1 presser:

Stingley, of course, played just three games last year for LSU as he fought a Lisfranc injury. That was a major reason why he kind of rode the downslope for most of the draft process after being bandied about as a potential top-five guy for most of the college football regular season. It turns out that this didn’t matter to the Texans. I watched his post-selection conference call with local media and you’re not going to get a lot of words out of him. I found that kind of interesting because Dane Brugler’s draft guide listed one of his weaknesses for Stingley (in some eyes around the league, of course) as “scouts say he doesn’t have an Alpha personality.”

If it were up to me, I would have taken Kayvon Thibodeaux with this pick. I think he’s the most talented player in this draft. But knowing how the Texans operate, and knowing the questions about Thibodeaux’s commitment to football, I really didn’t come into this with any expectations about Thibodeaux ever donning deep steel blue. I was expecting this to come down to either Stingley, Sauce Gardner, or Ikem Ekwonu. I think of those three players, the Texans probably made the right pick. I can see the arguments for either of the other two players. I think Stingley is the swing-for-the-fences pick of the two cornerbacks and, while I understand Ekwonu’s appeal, I was a little lost on the value proposition of a guy who might start at guard at third overall.

It’s hard to say how quickly the rookies will get run on a team that is ostensibly full of veterans that deserve a chance, but Stingley will be in competition with Desmond King, Tavierre Thomas, and Steven Nelson. One thing I am earnestly curious about is how quickly he’ll get a chance to play. Rookie cornerbacks only rarely look great right away.

1 /15 Kenyon Green, Texas A&M, G

Caserio’s post-draft presser gave us the nugget that he could have traded down again with this pick, as he initially did from 13 to 15 for picks 124, 162, and 166. He ultimately deemed the idea “too cute” and instead settled on something that has very obviously been a point of contention within the building due to the back-to-back 32nd place finishes in run DVOA: people who can move people.

Green tended to be regarded from what I read as the more raw of the two big guard prospects in this draft between himself and Zion Johnson, who went to the Chargers two picks later. Brandon Thorn, who I would trust on offensive line play more than most, appeared on a few podcasts (I’ll dig these later, sorry, I do like to sleep) and the basic gist of what I got from him is he thought Round 1 was rich for Green, but that he could understand what the scouts were seeing.

Green’s major dings are about technique, not the body that made him a high-level high school recruit. Brugler’s draft guide cites him as a “penalty magnet.” I’m a little worried about giving George Warhop this high of a pick to build with because it’s not like his recent track record with young linemen is great. Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson barely developed at all. His Bucs days with Lovie had Ali Marpet, but also Donovan Smith.

In short, I’m not a huge fan of this pick because I a) understand the burden it’s going to put on one guard to turn a run game around and b) I just think there were better values up and down the board. I would have picked Zion of the two guards, I just think he seems more likely to be a steady contributor. But more to the point — and I have to note that depending on which draft models you believe in, the Texans did well on this trade — I simply would have stayed put and drafted Kyle Hamilton or Jordan Davis at 13 if these were my options. Frankly, I would have been happy with Hamilton at 3, so to have that scenario just fall into Houston’s lap and watch it slide away was a little disappointing.

I’m less in love with that return than Seth is simply because the top three rounds are the draft bread-and-butter to me and the Texans received no picks that happen in those rounds. The real question here is what happens with the picks. It gives Caserio ample ammo to move around and target other fallers that he likes, which in theory can be a very good thing. He could also simply take many shots, which could also be a good thing. My read of Caserio is that there will be some trade-ups over the next two days to target players, as he did with Nico Collins in 2021, that he values higher than consensus. Given the volume of culture veterans already on the roster, I would be surprised if Houston made all the picks they have left.

It was also of note that Caserio quickly dialed in on Green as an inside guy. He again parroted the idea that the best five linemen will play. I think at this point I’d expect Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, Tytus Howard at left guard, Justin Britt at center, Green at right guard, and Charlie Heck at right tackle. Based on how things have played out publicly, that seems like the five they believe in most at the positions they believe they’ll tolerate best.


Day 2 and a few random thoughts

37th overall has fallen in a manner that invites some intrigue. Malik Willis is still on the board, as are Breece Hall, Logan Hall, Nakobe Dean, David Ojabo, Arnold Ebiketie, Jaquan Brisker, Christian Watson, Skyy Moore, and Jalen Pitre. Both of the Halls have come in for top-30 visits with the Texans — as both Green and Stingley did. Caserio noted that there was some consideration about trading back up into Round 1:

I do wonder who they might be targeting here if they were considering moving up. I think you can argue any of the above players — plus a few more — would be good fits for the Texans. I personally would favor Dean and the Halls as my favorite picks left for them at 37.

-Wanted to point this out because it came up again as I was reading things and I realized that Jair brought this up earlier:

Green? You guessed it, a top-15 overall recruit. Caserio really seems to value the idea that someone who shows great talent at a young age counts for something over the long term.

Nakobe Dean was the 19th overall recruit in the 2019 class…


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The Texans backed up their words and paid Brandin Cooks like a core player

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


After an offseason of mostly dull signings, the Texans did exactly what you could have predicted they’d do by their words: They re-signed Brandin Cooks to a two-year extension that is commensurate value for his performance.

We don’t quite have full details of the deal, but at the very least, this will likely tie Cooks to the Texans for the next two seasons. It’s possible that the third year is also onerous enough to latch Cooks on to the roster because that’s a large amount of guarantees, but we’d need the full contract structure to know for sure. (And there’s also the question of if the deal is guaranteed for injury or fully guaranteed … agents tend to promote whatever part of it looks best. We’ll see where this comes in.)

Cooks is the Texans player that everyone always calls underrated. But underrated is a buzz word used by people who don’t actually watch players and just see some line score stat compilations and don’t hear anyone else talking about the player. He’s in a perfect situation to be underrated. In his first year without The Quarterback Who Used To Play Here, Cooks morphed into a volume receiver. He finished sixth among qualified receivers in Targeted Air Yards at 36.7%. That was up almost 6 percent from 2020. He performed better with Davis Mills in the lineup and I don’t think that was a mistake — Mills started the year extremely focused on Cooks and often had problems getting to his second read. It also made some sense to focus on Cooks because, well, nobody else in the lineup was producing or winning often.

I think in an ideal world, Cooks would lose a little of his volume. His rate stats declined slightly under extra target duress this year — he gained just 3.8 yards after the catch, his lowest since 2017, and a career-low 50% of his catches went for first downs against a career average of 60.8%. That probably relies on the Texans getting more established weapons around him, something that they’re going to have to dream into existence via a Nico Collins breakout or a highly-drafted wideout.

I don’t have to admit it often over the past few years, but the Texans made a better evaluation of Cooks than I did when they traded for him. My major concern was about the concussions, and while I believe he has been evaluated once or twice for one in his Texans career, he’s been able to stay healthy for the most part. Now whether Cooks is more valuable than the player he was ultimately traded for, Van Jefferson on a rookie contract, is probably an open question depending on how you feel about tanking. Lance Zierlein pegged Cooks’ value at about a fourth-round pick now. That’s not what Texans fans want to hear, but it could also help explain why there was not a trade. Jeremy Fowler noted that teams were still worried about Cooks’ concussions in the past.


Of course, if you actually listened to the way the Texans talked about Cooks, you’d realize that there was no way he was getting traded. It’s been a constant barrage of positivity about his leadership, to the point where Houston media began parroting what they’d heard and started asking other players about it often.

I will be honest, from the outside, I don’t get it. Cooks complained loudly about Mark Ingram getting traded, calling it “bullshit.” He pouted that he would retire if he was traded before the Nick Caserio hiring. He quipped “at least someone’s doing great things this year” about the Astros playoff run. I’m not saying he doesn’t work hard, and I’m not saying he doesn’t do other great things inside the building. But the leadership that we can see doesn’t quite mesh with what we hear about it.

Regardless of my own feelings about his leadership, it’s clear that everyone on the personnel side values who he is as a person. He was an Easterby guy in New England. He is, as far as I know, the only player on the team to directly be asked about Easterby and provide a fully positive response.

And thus, this extension felt like something that was always going to happen — it was just a matter of when.


Where I ultimately come down on the issue of keeping him versus trading him is that I don’t think it actually matters. I know that’s kind of odd to hear about the Texans actually taking a stand on someone, but it feels like they took a stand on him so long ago that this didn’t change much. Would I have traded Brandin Cooks for a second-round pick if I were general manager? Probably. But I don’t think the team is going anywhere, and I would just be trying to accumulate long-term value. If all they could get was a three or a four, well, it makes sense to keep him.

I don’t think it’s a bad contract — it’s a contract that has some shock value, even to me, but when you compare it to other extensions signed this offseason there’s some sense in it. The other part of it is that the Texans still have a ton of cap space in 2023 and 2024, no matter what. This doesn’t lock them out of doing anything. And anyone who has had to be the face of this miserable last two years deserves to be well-compensated for it.

I don’t think there’s a reason to believe that Cooks is going to fall apart in the near future. His speed looked normal last year. There’s nothing in watching his sample of passes that gives me cause for concern. It’s just that they need many, many more players as good or better than him to create any momentum as a franchise.


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Nick Caserio has created CultureBall

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


The bet that Nick Caserio has made this offseason is the same one he made last offseason. It’s not about tanking, because if they were tanking, they’d trade Brandin Cooks and Laremy Tunsil. They’d employ a full lineup of young guys and try to find some long-term value out of some of them rather than signing veterans. It’s not about full-on getting the best players, because, well, look at the roster. There are clearly enormous sacrifices made for talent in the name of culture. Some teams get Robert Woods and Amari Cooper for their late-round picks. The Texans get Blake Cashman and Ryan Finley. And they retained almost all of their myriad free agents, bringing back 18 of the 22 free agents they had that have signed so far. Even guys like Jeff Driskel.

The bet is something that I think you can best find in this answer from the We Traded Deshaun Watson presser:

Over and over again, the culture is enjoined as a reason for these particular players to be here. There’s an unstated belief that these players can somehow instill the values that the Texans want all their players to have into the next generation. Combine that with the front office self-selecting for their favorite personality traits in drafts, as noted below:

It feels like the Texans are trying to create the players that they cannot find — the mythical players who are both really good at football and also have their desired level of conviction, self-starterism, and teamwork values. When the rubber hits the road on those things, they pick the player with the characteristics they value over the talent.

It also feels like a very, very stupid way to run a football team to me. I’m not saying that you have to build a team 100% with talent over culture, there are plenty of players on the roster and selecting for chemistry over talent is a sensible tradeoff at times.

The problem is that the Texans are all-in on it. They’re doing CultureBall.


Having gone through two Nick Caserio offseasons — talking about the actual acquisitions, not the everlasting Watson drama that he couldn’t do much about — my major conclusion beyond the culture is that it’s fence-paintingly boring.  I don’t think that his signings are bad in a vacuum, I just think they’re all so low-risk as to be pointless, and there’s so many of them that the big picture largely becomes pointless.

Could Ogbonnia Okoronkwo become a good rotational edge rusher? Sure, I could buy that as a potential outcome. Does the contract he signed benefit the Texans if he does? Not really! It’s a one-year contract for a 27-year-old. He’ll have to be re-signed almost instantly to be a part of the next good Texans team. Could Dare Ogunbowale be a solid third-down back? Sure! Does the contract he signed benefit the Texans if he does? Not really! It’s a one-year contract for a 28-year-old (in May). These are the kinds of deals that make sense if you’re trying to create competition for a role on a contender. This team isn’t a contender. If I tried to analyze every Texans contract, 85% of them would end up in that same basic vein.

Caserio’s best signing from last year’s initial flurry, Tavierre Thomas, is also one of the few players that he actually gave a two-year deal to. (The only reason nobody praised it at the time is because Thomas had almost no NFL playing history on defense, he was primarily a special teamer.) This offseason he’s handed out more two-year deals, but instead of giving them to players who could be risers, it’s to 31-year-old Justin Britt, 30-year-old Christian Kirksey, and 28-year-old Desmond King. Caserio has approached roster building for this team like he’s an insurance adjuster. Even nominal splurges like Jacob Martin — one of the players they were rumored to want to keep — getting a three-year deal at $4M per season are too much to match. Caserio defended re-signing Britt and Kirksey like so:

Now, I don’t know what kind of metrics Caserio is relying on in saying these two were good last season, but the run offense was historically bad and performed slightly better without Britt. (The best game the run offense had all season, against the Chargers, actually had Jimmy Morrissey at center and Cole Toner at guard.) The defense suffered no drop-off without Kirksey and gave up plenty over the middle with him. I’m not saying these guys are “bad” players. They’re NFL pros, and obviously as you can glean from the clip, their locker room contributions are valued. Enough so that they don’t even get dinged for being hurt last season by the front office. But I can’t get behind them being two of the better players on the team last season from any space of objectivity.

Is Caserio right in a vacuum to not add risk to this team’s future cap space? I guess I could squint and believe that. But at a certain point, you have to believe in some football players to be good. Someone to be the core of what this team will be in 2024 besides rookie contract guys and Brandin Cooks. And he just doesn’t seem to do that. Brandin Cooks is here, and Laremy Tunsil is here, but neither of them are currently on contracts that go past 2023. (I’m sure they’ll work to extend Cooks if he wants to be here.)

The 2023 Texans, post-Watson trade, will have about $100 million in cap space available. Some of that will go to draft picks, sure. But that’s before they renegotiate with Laremy Tunsil, who has a $35 million cap hit in the last year of his contract. They are literally nothing but rookie contracts and Some Guys at that point. Before you get all excited about the free agents Caserio can sign, well, teams that go 4-13 three years in a row don’t really get the pick of the litter. Players like winning. Players like winning on their terms. Short of overpaying somebody who is actually in demand, something that would seem wildly against the Caserio Brand after these past two free agency periods, why would anyone come here? The Texans are going to need instantaneous dominance from both their 2021 classes and 2022 classes to get to a point where players want to come here in 2023. There’s a long recent history of teams like the Jaguars and Browns and 49ers in their Losing Eras getting stonewalled by free agents. To some extent, that may already be happening to the Texans, and they may be dealing with laughs from someone who might make sense on paper. Let’s imagine a New England roots free agent who has a real chance to be good in 2024. I’ll call him J. Jackson, no, too obvious, how about J.C. J.  

Now, would I like if they signed Jackson? Sure. Remember: Literally $100 million in cap space next year with easy avenues to more. They can backload the hell out of any deal they want right now, please do not tell me things like “Rivers they can’t because Deshaun was on the books still!” Bullshit. The goal is to build a good football team and every brick you put in the wall for 2024 — to use a McNairism — helps. That’s my point of view. 

But even if that’s not something you want to do, because Jackson could get hurt in 2023 or whatever, Caserio also isn’t using his wares all that creatively. He’s eaten cap space to make a trade, but outside of having to do so to deal with the Saints, he’s not really canvassing the league trying to help broker things. He’s trading for low-risk guys with his late-round picks. His biggest swings were for Marcus Cannon and Shaq Lawson and those were disastrous trades. You’re telling me the Texans can’t find an Osweiler contract to take on for a third-round pick? I don’t believe it. Caserio talks all the time about how thorough the operation is, but it’s thoroughness wasted in the guise of staring at mortality rates for football injuries or caring deeply about culture instead of getting players that are or could be good at football in 2024 signed up for it. Once you clear the culture veil, you have a free pass. He literally even re-signed his waiver claims this year. Royce Freeman! Early in free agency! 


OK you fucking smartass, who would you sign then? Fucking so smart, not an NFL GM, are you!

I get some variation of this sometimes. I hope I got the spirit of it right.

Lemme tell you some players I would have been targeting if I were the Texans, who have successfully turned second-year contract players like Kevin Walter into solid/average fixtures. I’m not trying to hit home runs here; I’m simply trying to nail down some young guys who I think could still be good in 2024. There’s a very clear type here in my eyes: Guys who could be 28 or younger in 2024.

*Tim Settle, who signed with the Bills, has a history of being good and is just 24. He got a two-year deal. Maybe you would have had to pay him a little higher than the Bills did to get him in the door, but this is the kind of guy who could both a) be swayed by a higher payday and b) could still be starting/in a big role in 2024.
*James Washington turns 26 in April and has spent his past three seasons anchored to Ben Roethlisberger’s inability to throw deep. Signed with Dallas.
*Ja’Whaun Bentley is coming off a nice season in New England and turns 26 in August. They brought him back.
*Former first-rounder Jabrill Peppers is coming off an ACL injury and is just 26.
*The Falcons just brought on Lorenzo Carter, another 26-year-old with some versatility. I can keep going.

I want guys who could be in their primes in 2024. Or I want to be paid to take on guys who can still play. What if the Texans had accepted Austin Hooper as part of the trade with the Browns for Deshaun Watson, and they got an extra pick out of the deal? When a team like the Saints plays salary cap hell on a fiddle, why aren’t the Texans there with a fifth-round pick seeing if there’s a deal to be made for someone talented that makes money on the roster? “Oh, well, they don’t have the cap space!” you might say. But, well, a) they did and b) every contract is made to be re-negotiated. The Texans chose to spend a lot of it bringing back older culture players, and a little of it on Maliek Collins. Now for all I know, the Texans were in on one or two of the guys I mentioned. I’m almost positive they have internal measurements to be met that might make Washington a bad fit in their eyes on body type. That’s part of why I’m not all that interested in TwitterDebating specific guys. Forget about the specific players; it clearly isn’t an ethos to chase guys in this vein. (They finally brought in Marlon Mack for a workout after I started crafting this post, he’s 26!)

I admit that I’m not a professional general manager, and I have mostly stopped creating pieces in the vein of “the Texans should trade/sign for (THIS GUY)” because it has felt wildly pointless since 2019. I don’t know everything an NFL team knows. I also don’t think the Texans are operating in the same parameters I am because they don’t believe the same things about football that I do. But for all the Deep Process the Texans claim to have … it sure doesn’t amount to anything all that creative, and certainly not to anything with a real risk to it.


Let’s be blunt: For everything the Texans can claim they did well in 2021, all of it is fleeting. Their culture is so good and important that they fired the head coach and had to have a last-hour intervention stop them from hiring someone who’d literally never coached anywhere before in his life. They turned the ball over a lot more on defense. Cool, thankfully no team has ever regressed in turnover rate. They brought back several key veterans from a 23rd-ranked DVOA defense only now those players are older and Lonnie Johnson is projected to start at corner and Justin Reid is gone. The less said about the offense the better. None of this, broadly speaking, matters. While I’m not a tanking guy, the four wins don’t matter. Nobody cared, certainly not the fans who didn’t show up.

There are moments to be remembered (Tyrod’s first game, picking off Tannehill with no targets four times, some bad things I won’t rehash to save your memories) and that’s about it. The broader NFL will pretend this team doesn’t exist post-Deshaun outside of whoever they pick high in the draft. Do I think it’s good to have a good culture? Sure! Did it materially change anything for the Texans as far as better players on the roster? Nope. All the rookies played, and that was good. But despite flashes, nobody really established themselves as a core piece going forward just yet. 

They spent the entire year playing older veterans at several positions — why is Eric Murray still here? — and those players have largely either declined in value or held steady. A few guys got raises — Kamu Grugier-Hill got $750,000 more this offseason, for instance — but that’s mostly because of the cap increase. They all stayed in roughly the same dollar bracket. They signed almost no undrafted free agents, and with 69 players on the roster and a ton of draft picks, they’re likely looking at the same tiny class of UDFAs they did in 2021. Let me set aside the actual starters on this team for a second. Why would you rather employ Cedric Ogbuehi than an undrafted free agent if you already have a tackle surplus? It’s a complete disregard for any rational semblance of value.

Listen, I’m not going to tell you the Texans are the worst team that ever existed. They’ll probably win 2-6 games again. I’m not going to tell you Caserio’s a dumbass, in over his head, and so on. He believes in culture and he clearly is not a risk-taking GM in free agency, and I think there’s an argument in those things even if I don’t personally agree with it. But the team’s identity right now is “there will be a team here one day.” You can’t pop out literally one non-rookie on a below-market rate contract for one year and get anywhere when you are as behind as the Texans are.  

To a certain extent, from the moment Watson wanted out this was going to be about developing rookies. And fair enough, they do provide most of the value contracts on a roster and the 2021 draft was pre-compromised by the Tunsil trade. But other NFL teams also sign good players to play for them, and it’s important to put rookies and young players in spots where they could develop next to legitimate NFL talent. Caserio has shown no interest in using his cap space to supplement these guys. There’s no No. 2 receiver for Davis Mills if Nico Collins doesn’t step forward. There no interior OL fix. Just the same guys they had last year who weren’t providing a lot of tangible value.

It’s reclamation project after reclamation project, without a real reward for actually being right beyond “we sure have a great culture!” quotes and this vague promise that Cooks and Grugier-Hill’s approach to doing things The Texan Way will eventually rub off on Brevin Jordan. It’s actively paternalistic and, when you really drill down on it, a little insulting to those young players to assume they can’t find their way without a Culture Roster. (Jordan credited Dylan Thompson for helping him grow into his role late last season, and last I checked Thompson isn’t on the active roster.) Some football teams rely on the coaches and other employees to teach players how to grow up and do things their way, but I guess those teams don’t have a culture director who has never played football either.

Outside of spot-checking the young players, I can’t give you a single reason to watch this team next year. Just as I couldn’t in 2021. Whatever progress the front office thinks is happening, it’s mostly progress about seasons that don’t yet exist. When the Sixers coined Trust The Process, they continually wound up with high-value assets when they made controversial trades. When the Astros tanked openly in the early 2010s, outside of their bad contracts, they played almost exclusively young players. Even the A’s — famous champions of sports analytics with Moneyball — knew enough to find high-value free agents for cheap and continually get good value in trades for guys they couldn’t keep.

CultureBall? It’s staring at two four-win seasons in a row and about to bring in another season that almost certainly will be bad. It’s sent almost every talented player on the team packing. It’s been easily first-guessed since the 2019 offseason — and yes, this is a Jack Easterby dig. It’s been very clear that the culture shifted the moment he came aboard, ask That Person. There is almost no value being created on this roster besides the rookies.

It’s put them in a position where the Texans almost have to nail every first-round pick to be a real live NFL organization again. After years without a high pick thanks to horrific trades, the pressure and expectations on this team’s first-rounders are going to be enormous. And hey, maybe they will succeed. Maybe it will all work out. But the roster built around the draft picks seems like a huge heat check that is utterly pointless from the outside. The modern NFL is all about creating good young players, so if you torture your logic a little bit, you can squint and understand why the Texans are doing what they’re doing.

But it’s a big departure from what every other team in the NFL is doing. The Texans do not have a good track record on going out on a limb over the last four years if you haven’t noticed.


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Empty Cans

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


But something that was not meant to be is done
And this is the start of what was

Hard times started last year. They’re here to stay.

It’s very easy to write a history of how this happened and focus on Deshaun Watson’s sexual assault allegations. There will be many other people writing pieces centered on this. I’m gonna talk about the football here, not to dismiss the allegations or claim they were without merit. He is facing 22 civil lawsuits. I would be surprised if all of them were without merit.

The record shows that Watson wanted off of this team before lawsuit one was filed. While other franchises have managed to piss off their young franchise quarterbacks, none of them have ever managed to piss them off enough to effectively quit on the franchise. That’s what Texans leadership did. And they were more than happy to tell you about how Deshaun Watson was going to be a Houston Texan until those lawsuits dropped and it became unpopular to say his name. 

Since the end of the 2018 season, dovetailing with the death of Bob McNair and the hiring of Jack Easterby, the Texans have chased off their best players in droves with their decisions and behavior. They were so pissy about DeAndre Hopkins’ practice habits that he reckoned he could get a trade by asking for a raise and he was right. An incredulous J.J. Watt was left trying to call attention to what was wrong in pressers throughout the 2020 season, he left without even getting a final presser, then told Houston media before a 2021 game that he saw this massive turnover coming. Will Fuller. Jadeveon Clowney. DJ Reader. Tyrann Mathieu. Kareem Jackson. Justin Reid. Zach Cunningham. Bradley Roby. Not every one of these guys is a superstar, but they were all valued heavily by other NFL teams. They got good contracts in new locales, or in Cunningham’s case got his big contract claimed.

The only two players the Texans have brought in since that have anywhere near that cachet are Laremy Tunsil — who also appeared to quit on the team last season after getting hurt — and Brandin Cooks, who noted that the team’s Mark Ingram trade was “bullshit” last year and is the only person on the team who was Easterby pre-cleared. 

So much as I’d like to be bitter that Watson is leaving, because he quit on the team I’m a fan of, I can’t say his thought process is off. This surely on the face of things is not a place to win a championship. He leaves behind a complicated legacy with the Texans. I guess we’ll never know how things would have turned out without the lawsuits — would the Texans have eventually folded anyway, or would they have pressed things? — but even without that as fans we have to embrace the fact that he was becoming a quarterback savant in 2020 and made every single game watchable and enjoyable. And that’s gone. Never coming through that door again. And while it’s easy to hunt his character for what happened later, most of the 2020 vets agreed with his choices and backed him publicly. He was far from the only one the team — overtly or inadvertently — pushed away. 

The sexual harassment allegations give us reason to be angry at him, or hate him if you’re the kind of person who can feel that about someone you don’t really know. I don’t want to downplay them in any way. They are serious, he can be circumstantially guilty without literally being guilty. The whole process felt sickening and it’s made me eager to be done with the trade. I also think once we get some time and distance between the situation, it’ll become a little like what happened to Ben Roethlisberger. The majority of NFL Media will be happy to overlook what happened for the greater good of the league. There will be snarky Twitter comments about massage parlors until the end of time. We won’t ever forget that it happened because it was part of the story that sent him away, but the immediacy will fade for all but those who feel the strongest about what he did to those women. Most people watch football to be entertained and Watson has a lot of entertainment value left to give. Like Tyreek Hill before him, and several others before that. The NFL will dole out a random number generated punishment and be done with it. For the rest of us it will be a matter of our attention span, something that most of us don’t have much of. I think the women deserve to be heard in civil court. I hope that they remain a part of the discourse. But on a purely football level? I don’t think they’ll amount to much.

In making this trade, the Texans are admitting that they aren’t going to be an NFL team with real goals for a while. We mostly knew that from how last year shook out, when they spent the year watching veterans be babysat by David Culley while sending off or burying almost anyone who played for the 2020 Texans besides Cooks. But there was no last-minute reprieve. The team has only itself to blame for what it has become. The leadership that they’ve embraced — whether you want to blame Easterby or Cal McNair or Nick Caserio or all of the above — is reaping what it sowed on the field.

As usual, I want to point out that just because the truth is harsh does not mean it is hyperbolic. The players the Texans employed fought hard last year. They were never going to be a winless team. This year’s team won’t be that either. There are non-zero chances that 2021 rookies take real steps forward. There are non-zero chances that some of the 2022 rookies are instantly good. They are going to play their asses off, partially because that is part of the front office criteria for their selection. They’re just not a very talented football team as a whole. Chris Conley won’t suddenly become a superstar. Cedric Ogbuehi won’t develop into a real NFL tackle here. Jeff Driskel won’t be good at quarterback or tight end. They’re good men sent to win two or four or, if Davis Mills really develops, maybe six or seven games. They’re good men who will talk about how they just need to be a little more consistent to win next week, most every week. And time will march forward. And maybe one day there will be a good team here again. 

Or maybe the one thing that has held constantly true here since 2018 will continue, and turnover will spiral again and again and again. And everyone who can leave will, while Nick Caserio will replace them with his latest thrift store find. Even in unprecedented NFL circumstances like, say, losing a young franchise quarterback you’d just signed to a four-year extension. 


Here’s how I’ll frame this trade:

-I don’t blame Nick Caserio for the fact that it’s not fair value. It’s not his fault that Watson demanded a trade. It’s not his fault that Easterby, the negotiator of his contract, gave Watson a no-trade clause that he used to great effect. None of this is on Caserio’s hands. He was simply the guy tasked with carrying out what he could with a bad situation. It feels weird to type that about getting three first-round picks, but it’s true. Carolina would have offered more and almost nobody is disputing that.

-The Texans can still generate plenty of value from this trade, and the trade can deliver players who may one day want to play for the Houston Texans while being good. It’s not even impossible that it helps them find their next franchise quarterback. Just unlikely. 

Of all the trade destinations for Watson, Cleveland was the worst for the Texans. They’re the best team to make the rumored final four cut, for one thing. They were 8-9 despite a couple of massive COVID-19 replacement games and starting Baker Mayfield hurt all season. Their future first-round picks, in other words, are more than likely appearing in the 20s or 30s. Whereas with say, Atlanta, there was at least a possibility that things could tilt one way or another in 2023.

The fact that they couldn’t get a second-round pick is disappointing, and the fact that this is a deep class and that there are rumors that they won’t come out of it with a single Day 2 pick in 2022 are also disappointing. The 2022 Browns first hits at 13th overall, which isn’t bad. It opens up taking a quarterback at 3 if they really love one — I doubt they do. It really feels like the Texans should be hoping to stockpile these two future ones to move up for the quarterback of the future. As for 13th overall, I’d be looking at a wideout or corner if I were the Texans.

It isn’t everything most fans were hoping for when the grand jury refused to bring criminal charges against him. There were no defensive young stars. No second-round picks. No Day 2 picks in 2022. It’s also not nothing. It’s a big help for the future of the franchise for a guy who wasn’t going to play here anymore. If you want to be upset about what they got, you’ve got one place to direct your anger towards — 2020 Texans upper management.


Where I close on this is: We just watched the ending of one of the most incredible squanderings of talent in NFL history. A team that was leading the Chiefs 24-0 in the Divisional Round, 40 minutes from hosting the AFC Title Game, with one of the most valuable QB/WR combos in the NFL even after a year of horrific moves, was systematically destroyed. I understand that the fans want to be happy again, and I’m not providing anything here that I think is broadly mean-spirited. I’m just caught up in the spectacle. 

The leadership who oversaw this disaster have replaced that team with the promise of what may be a football team again some day. They did it move-by-move, in steps that were so easy to first-guess that even this schmuck with a shitty WordPress blog has documented them and ended up in the right an astonishingly high amount of the time. 

At best this team is a Thought Experiment brought to you by the people who traded all their players for draft picks in Madden, except without any of the certainty that playing a tangible game with resets and ratings could have provided. At worst it’s a parody of a classic Silicon Valley story where some dumbass got a bunch of investor money and power to Disrupt The System and eventually landed on “I know NFL players are generally sorted by how good they are, but I know better and keep practice data, and I’m out to re-sign the same guys I had that went 4-13 last year to prove it, except this time with MJ Stewart.” They’ve brought in enough Football People You’ve Heard Of to cover the stench up with Lovie anecdotes and quotes about Cooks’ leadership and underratedness. They produce half-heated optimistic slop as a major export almost out of obligation rather than any real belief this is going somewhere. 

Like most trades the Texans have made over the past three years, the old team for the new one isn’t fair. It’s not fair to the fans who wanted to root for good and exciting players, it’s not fair to the players that appeared to be building something. It’s not fair to the new players, who are forced into roles they can never fill. It’s not fair to the diehards who will cheer for this team no matter what because it leaves them isolated and singled out to be mocked. The only humans to benefit from what has happened here are an unaccountable couple of people who never answer for what they’ve done short of being invited on a Philadelphia high school duo’s podcast. So, I guess congrats to those people on the final achievement of a period in time that will go down in NFL history. And not in the way they intended.  


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The eye of the Deshaun Watson storm remains over the Texans

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


We’ve gone a while on this blog without having to talk about Deshaun Watson. I didn’t miss the subject matter, but it remains the most important thing about the Texans right now. Trading him remains their only way to accumulate real assets in a rebuild that forecasts to be a slog. He is the only part of the Texans franchise that matters to most NFL fans. Without the two sides being stuck with each other, the entire plane from a national perspective would just be “Brandin Cooks sure is underrated!” fantasy spins and “Davis Mills had better stats than some of his rookie counterparts, curious!” takes. The only Watson public comment we’ve had since March was:

Aaron Wilson dropped an enormous article on Pro Football Network about the situation this weekend, and it’s with this article that I’m beginning to crystallize the thought that had crossed my mind earlier this week: This might be a longer haul situation than anybody wants it to be.

The rhetoric both sides have used so far doesn’t paint a picture of a situation that’s getting solved any time soon

The tea leaves from Wilson’s enormous article are that the Dolphins are dead as a Deshaun Watson destination between Brian Flores being fired and Stephen Ross’ ownership suddenly becoming imperiled. The national media has tried to paint some dots about teams with quarterback situations that need fixing around Watson, but none of them have really stuck to this point. Watson’s own camp is talking about clearing Watson’s name first. It’s always been imperative that he solidify that ahead of a trade — the story that he would have been a Dolphin if all cases could have been settled at the deadline remains true in my eyes. But now that it has dragged on past a full NFL season, I think acquiring teams are getting more skeptical about the situation being settled in a timely fashion. Don’t look past this quote from the Wilson article:

Even if the civil cases get settled, there’s still plenty of other investigations ongoing. There’s a lot out here that could spook an acquiring team, from the potential discipline from the NFL to the potential of literally being charged with a crime. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture. So let’s go back to what the Texans have said when asked about it:

The openness that Lovie talked about the situation with is welcome, but being hopeful that the situation will get resolved points me more towards the idea that they don’t really know when they’re going to be able to trade him. The Texans would be stone-faced on discussing it if they already knew exactly where he’d get traded to, I’m sure. But other than wanting a resolution as soon as possible, it sure feels like it’s out of their hands. To me there’s no doubt that the Texans intend to trade him the first time they get an offer that measures up and that Watson is willing to accept. They want the cloud over the franchise to go away, and want it to be someone else’s problem. But they also can’t just release a player who has as much perceived value as Watson does. Lovie added to this in Football Morning in America with this quote, which to me feels like it’s about Watson rather than about one of the rookie quarterbacks:

Based on my limited sample of him as a head coach, Lovie’s an optimism salesman. He knows how much it would be worth to the fanbase to have a player like Watson in the fold. But I think he also has to throw this out there because, well, there’s a lot of uncertainty that remains.


The stubbornness of Deshaun Watson has been at the center of this situation for a long time

I don’t mean that in a snarky way, either. I have been pretty soft on Watson on these pages. That comes from a few different places:

1) I don’t think Watson is altogether in the wrong that Cal McNair and Jack Easterby are running the team in a disastrous manner that would prevent him from winning.
2) While what he’s accused of is heinous, and it sure seems likely to have merit given 22 accusations, he remains accused rather than convicted.
3) At my heart I believe in redemption for everybody. There remains a lot of time for him to redeem himself. I understand this is not a particularly popular take in today’s climate, and especially so when his stubbornness is at least partially preventing the Texans from moving on. But time heals a lot. People don’t really talk about Michael Vick as a dog murderer these days. Ben Roethlisberger had a large share of people upset at him this past season — and fair enough, I’m one of them if only for the fawning sendoffs — but you have to note that he did reform who he was in a more positive way after his sexual assault allegations.

What I’ve been more willing to say is: Deshaun Watson quit on his team. Whether that matters to you or not is a personal opinion, but I can guarantee you other NFL teams believe it matters. And whenever Watson has been given an option to pursue what he wants, he has not compromised in any way.

It would have been possible to settle cases to make his move work initially, before trenches were dug in. But he hasn’t done this. In fact, recall that all but four of the cases could have been settled to make the move to the Dolphins work, right? But none of those cases were actually settled. It would have been, in some ways, a PR victory to have “only” four cases remaining. And he made no real movement towards settling the cases until a deal was in place. I don’t know who is talking to him, who is moving the levers here — I’m simply not that deeply embedded in the Watson camp — but it was extremely obvious from the start that a long-drawn out legal battle would be brutal for his career. But for him, as he says, it’s about clearing his name. I don’t know that his name will ever be cleared at this point without a full-flung trial that he wins, and such a trial is not going to get him on the field any sooner. The perception amongst the fans and media has already taken hold.

Source: Pro Football Talk

Watson has used his no-trade clause to drive the forces of his market. He reportedly denied to waive it for the Eagles. He did … whatever this was in legalese … to the Panthers. If he wanted a fresh start to his career, I think it’s possible that one could have materialized without the Dolphins had he been more open to it. Instead we heard things like the Panthers wanting to meet with Watson but being unable to do so. I think if Watson wanted to talk to the Panthers, he could have found a way to make that happen through a back channel. My belief is that the only team he could have been traded to from March to November was the Dolphins because that’s the only team he would accept.

Finally, with it becoming extremely likely that a trade wasn’t happening in August, Watson could have recanted and tried to play this season for the Texans. I don’t think a situation like that would have been “normal” or “healthy” for anybody. It would have forced the NFL to take a stance on him, and might have cost him money as compared to the extremely kind “you’re on the roster and we’re paying you but you’re obviously not playing wink wink nod” scenario the Texans came up with. But he could have continued to showcase his talents and kept himself in the minds of decision makers, and getting any kind of NFL clarity on his status probably would have helped him be moved this offseason. I guess you can say he’d be risking injury, but outside of literally the worst-case scenario, I don’t think any injury he suffered was likely to drive down his price much. I think he might have done more damage to his ultimate price sitting out than he would have getting hurt.

Watson has had many opportunities to “hedge,” so to speak, on the lawsuits, the Texans, and with his no-trade clause. There have been opportunities to settle for less. He hasn’t taken any of them that we know of. I’m not saying this to judge the decisions, but note that his stubbornness has not done anything to help the situation he wants resolved get a real resolution. I think if you truth serumed Watson’s camp, they’d tell you that they wish they could go back in time and settle the cases before this became Operation Shutdown. But now, they simply are where they are.


So, what do the Texans do? Who actually wants Watson at this point?

I don’t know that there’s a lot the Texans can do besides lowering their asking price for Watson. There are three reasons for this:

1) We’ve seen no indications that Watson plans to waive the no-trade clause for just anybody at this point, meaning as good as a Panthers or Broncos fit looks on paper (I know that Jonathan Albright reports that the Broncos aren’t interested), we have no idea if they’ll actually be in the pool of available teams.
2) The scenario where Watson is on the roster this year, getting paid $35 million in guaranteed money, is much worse than it was in 2021. The Texans could try to get him commish-exempted this year, but that creates bad blood in a situation that has to this point been fairly congenial to this point.
3) If Watson really isn’t interested in providing teams while he’s working on the legal situation, the Texans can’t magically “make” a team appear that Watson will accept a trade to.

When I posed this as a poll question and even kept it at two first-round picks, it turns out a lot of you were not happy about that concept:

The flow of time has not been kind to the Texans, who already lost Nick Caserio’s first head coach — a guy who said that Deshaun Watson would be a Texan emphatically in his presser! — and desperately need some of what Watson can return to sell a rebuild. At the same time, we have this line from the Wilson piece:

Those are two nos, to go along with the Dolphins and Giants nos earlier in the piece, and two teams that Watson has so far refused to waive the no-trade clause for. Now, obviously, things can change in a hurry in the NFL. It only takes the whiff of someone potentially losing their job to fuel desperation. But it’s hard to see much of a market for Watson without everything settled, and it’s hard to see everything settled in a way that will make trading for Watson risk-free, be it criminally or from the NFL.

While obviously I’m hoping for a resolution that favors the Texans more than this, my instincts are just screaming at me right now that the three first-round picks offer from the Dolphins is going to be the best offer the Texans will see. And — to be clear — it is no fault of their own that they couldn’t take that offer given it was contingent on settlements. I don’t think Nick Caserio deserves blame for not being able to work with this situation. He would have looked like a witch if he got a Watson trade settled before allegations popped up, but I think that’s an unfair standard to hold him to.

I think lowering the price for Watson would be an admission that the Texans just need to be done with this whole situation. I think this team’s remaining fans would eventually come to grips with that after griping about the trade. This isn’t DeAndre Hopkins in 2020 or Matthew Stafford in 2021, where the entire NFL market should be open and interested at the very least — you need a team willing to deal with the baggage that Watson brings. It’s not an easy sell!

At this point I think the Panthers are the team that has the most known interest. They are the right combination of desperate and willing to deal. That comes with a few buts. One is that the longer the Watson courtroom battle carries on, the longer the Panthers have to shift eyes elsewhere. And then, as we saw with Flores and Ross in Miami, regimes can topple quickly. What if Matt Rhule doesn’t make it past Week 11 while Watson is suspended? Is that a situation Watson wants to potentially interject himself into? Would Philadelphia re-engage? Would Washington or Tampa engage? Would Watson be willing to join any of those places? I think the price could be a significant issue for some of these teams to meet.


What happens if Watson is still here in August?

As I’ve said, things can change quickly. But I don’t think anything is currently pointing towards them changing quickly. We are blessed with a lot of law scholars in the Texansphere and one of the best is Mike Meltser, who covered Monday’s hearing:

A deeper thread of Mike’s coverage on the hearing can be found here. It is, broadly speaking, good news for the Watson camp that they expect to hear a decision from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office on the criminal aspect of this case by April 1st. (Well, it is good news if there are no criminal charges out of that, anyway.) They also pushed Watson’s deposition date to after April 1st. My opinion: Courtroom delays do not help the Texans or Watson, and yet the system around our legal system currently creates a lot of delays. For instance, some of the delay in this case is from Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, not being available again until March 7th. It would not surprise me at all if portions of this continued to be delayed, including the criminal aspect, because that is the overarching theme of things right now.

The Texans are in the eye of the storm. They can implore Watson to consider playing, but it seems like they’ve decided that’s not in the best interests of the football team. (Or, more accurately, the football team’s image.) The new timeline of the course would seem to encourage settlement, but Watson hasn’t exactly seemed interested in settling unless it is a pre-requisite to him finding a new team.

Is Watson sitting out a second consecutive season going to help his value? I find that hard to believe. NFL teams have short memories and most of them, already, hate holding on to players they perceive to be injury risks. Uncertainty is hard to tolerate in this business. This is obviously an extremely special situation, but outside of Vick, how many guys have essentially quit football for multiple years and come back? And how many of those guys were worth first-round picks? Vick was released.

I continue to believe there is only a very tiny chance of Watson ever suiting up for the Texans again, because at this point I think both sides are firmly dug in. When you tie your timeline to our court system, you are anchored to uncertainty. The best-case scenario for Texans fans is probably something like: it is announced early that no criminal charges are coming, the Panthers are willing to meet the three first-round picks and change cost, Watson considers this enough to waive the NTC and settle the cases, and Carolina has to deal with the fallout of the NFL personal conduct policy. But just listing all of that out, it feels like a lot has to go right for that to happen. There are a lot of pitfalls here. I have internally begun setting the bar lower and hoping I am pleasantly surprised, which has been a good rule for Texans fandom so far. There are a lot of possible futures here and many of them are not quite this kind to the organization.

The end game feels so far away right now. We’re all just waiting for that moment the eye passes, and motion returns to the situation.


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Hiring Lovie Smith makes me feel like a lonely bird

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


When I met my wife, she had two birds — budgies. They were named Wilbird and Orbird, and were brother and sister. They bonded very close, because my wife (back in the days before COVID existed) worked long hours at an office. Wilbird wanted to make eggs with Orbird, and Orbird would tend to fly away from him because she didn’t want that. Sometimes she even hung from can lights on the ceiling to get away from him. But despite that lack of understanding, they were very close and took care of each other.

After we moved, Orbird suddenly became ill, we suspect from chewing too much on the walls of our new house. She had cancer, which is somewhat common for budgies. It’s almost impossible to do anything about budgie cancer, as their bodies are too small. We drained her once, but she had no chance of fighting the thing off long-term. She died.

We expect a certain emotional state from people at times like these, and we turn our expectations on to our animals. And my wife was really upset at Wilbird, because he wasn’t emotional at all about his sister passing. In fact, what overtook him was … boredom.

And it makes sense, in a way, as a flock member with no flock, that your life just kind of feels pointless, right? Wilbird ate, and he drank. He flew around a few times. But he didn’t have a bond with either of us. He didn’t miss his sister emotionally, but he missed her presence. He missed being part of something bigger than him. And even though we weren’t sure if it would work, we wound up getting him two new bird friends. They don’t always get along, but they’re a flock and Wilbird is energetic and engaged in helping his new bird friends, even as he hits an older age for budgies. (He especially likes the yellow female bird.)

Where I’m at with my Texans fandom right now is kind of about where Wilbird was without his flock. I’m not emotionally upset at them, because I don’t know that anybody involved in this enterprise is a bad person and because there’s nothing I can do that changes the fact that they’re collectively not interested in seeing what they’re doing wrong. These are the facts of the situation: Unless they draft well and all their young players develop beyond their initial draft grades, they’re not going anywhere for years. The team is incapable of luring a new head coach with any options, and doubles down on that approach by making sure the front office has to have a heavy hand in every bit of the process. On a team that has completely crumbled as they have made decisions against the grain of the NFL, Bill O’Brien was the only one punished for those moves.

And I am alive, and I am moving around and eating, but I don’t really know what the point of any of this is. It’s just kind of here because it’s the only situation this current leadership can muster.


There are two sections about hiring Houston’s abrupt Josh McCown circling that ended with Lovie Smith: the optics and what actually changes. Let’s start with the optics.

The weirdest thing about firing David Culley wasn’t that Culley was fired, because he was essentially hired to be fired. It was just how effusive the praise of Nick Caserio was when he was fired. Caserio’s post-firing presser went out of its way to say amazing things about Culley.

That doesn’t really read like Caserio wanted to let go of Culley. I know this organization is tainted with toxic positivity, but it would have been very easy to just say “philosophical differences” a bunch of times. He didn’t have to go in like he did about “the foundation” that Culley laid:

My takeaway from the Texans firing Culley was that they thought they were trying to get their coach of the future. Their version of, as Caserio alluded to in the presser, Mike Tomlin. When asked about retaining Smith, Caserio was completely non-committal.

Lovie Smith isn’t anybody’s coach of the future. He’s 63, and will turn 64 before next season. So, what happened?

I think some of the theories I’ve seen floated have overrated the effect that the Brian Flores lawsuit has had on the optics vis a vis not being able to hire Josh McCown. The Jaguars literally just hired Doug Pederson over Byron Leftwich to keep their terrible general manager employed. I also don’t think the NFL league office — the same place that called Flores’ allegations “without merit” and then spent most of last week producing memos that proved that there was some merit — is organized well enough to put down a McCown signing. I do think Caserio probably realized how bad it would look in a post-Flores lawsuit world to hire a guy with no coaching experience anywhere, but I don’t think there was guidance from above on that.

My reading of this is a little more simple: The Texans wanted Brian Flores to be their head coach. He was the first interview with the team, the day that they announced Culley’s firing. But the lawsuit makes him unemployable in the eyes of the NFL, which organized very effectively to collude against Colin Kaepernick as a free agent. The league refuses to have a head coach who is actively suing the league get a grand platform to continue to say what he thinks. That’s a future they weren’t going to allow happen. It sure feels like Flores felt the same way:

So who was left? I think you had McCown as Jack Easterby’s finalist, Jonathan Gannon as Caserio’s finalist, and a situation where the two couldn’t agree on a coach. That led them to the compromise candidate: a guy who they literally had last season.

Regardless of the vibes put out earlier by Caserio after he dispensed with Culley’s job, what we have here in Houston is a situation that still has no appeal to outsiders. Part of that is because the team is bad and just fired their head coach after one season. Part of that is because the roster is still barren of long-term talent after last year’s ingenious decision to prioritize older players on one-year contracts, one where essentially the only offensive or defensive starter they found for next year was Tavierre Thomas. They extended two players all season: Rex Burkhead and the kick returner. And, my belief is that part of it is also the fact that the head coach role in this scheme barely has any power.

Caserio’s on the headset. It’s not normal. I know that it’s something that the sect of you who are still hardcore fans don’t enjoy hearing about. I know that same sect of fans doesn’t understand why a big deal is made out of Easterby hanging on the sidelines. Well, the reason a big deal is made out of this team’s power structure is because this team just completed two head coach hiring cycles and barely got interviews with top head coaching candidates. It was a sideshow where people like McCown and Hines Ward were interviewed and taken seriously. They brought in Eric Bieniemy for one interview in 2021 and didn’t like that he wanted some actual agency. I wouldn’t have been a humongous fan of the Jonathan Gannon hire because I think this team really needs someone who will fight back with upper management and he was the “consensus builder,” but at least he had some experience and another team had interviewed him. They’ve been turned down by candidates like Matt Eberflus. Brandon Staley had no struggle in deciding between the Texans and Chargers.

The people who this team have hired have not been on the radar of any other team in the NFL. Nobody else was looking to give David Culley or Lovie Smith (or Josh McCown, for that matter!) a head coaching job. And it’s impossible to escape that this team’s organizational structure is helping to deliver these results. Whether you think that’s purely Easterby, Easterby and Cal McNair, or the whole trio. This can’t be the outcome of your coaching search if you’re a serious franchise, which means you can’t be a serious franchise with your current situation.


Let’s lead off the actual changes with some praise for Lovie Smith: His defense truly did do what it promised and turned the ball over plenty last year, and they adjusted away from being a wildly outrageous Cover-2 team early in the season. I was worried after that Panthers game that they would be absolute toast all season, and they showed a bit better than that. It was still a turnover-heavy profile, but the defense improved from 30th in DVOA to 23rd in his first season as Texans defensive coordinator. It had, in my opinion, less talent than it did the year before when J.J. Watt was in uniform and they had the full buy-in of players like Bradley Roby and Zach Cunningham. He was also cited by numerous free agents who joined the defense — Christian Kirksey most loudly — as a reason to join the Texans.

But in a weird way, signing Smith to be your head coach turns into an endorsement of last year’s staff. The one where the guy who led the charge was fired. In fact, the darkest part of the Josh McCown-Lovie Smith “debate” is that they could have hired McCown and still had Smith. They didn’t have to fire Culley to retain Smith. And I think defensive coordinator is a better role for him than head coach at this point. If you think Culley was a conservative stick-in-the-mud as a play caller, Lovie is not going to appeal to that in any real way. Lovie finished 90th out of 131 coaches from 1983 on in aggressiveness index, which measures how often coaches go for fourth downs compared to their peers.

In his only professional stop since leaving the Bears, Lovie was a quick two-and-done in Tampa. They were a bad defense in both years, and only improved on offense in his second year by drafting Jameis Winston. The offense they asked Winston to run was based heavily on running the ball and shorter passes. He finished 20th in Football Outsiders’ ALEX ranking — something that measures the average distance to the sticks on third down. When Lovie was fired, and Dirk Koetter took over, that number immediately leaped to sixth, then third in 2017.

In other words, it sounds exactly like what the Texans ran last year. So much for “philosophical differences!” Ultimately if the final two choices were McCown or Lovie, what it really came down to is McCown or Pep Hamilton. I don’t think Hamilton is some sort of savant that will quickly work magic here or anything, because I covered those Andrew Luck Colts for Bleacher Report and wasn’t all that impressed by the offense. But I also don’t think the Texans had much in the way of better options that were interested in coming here. Heck, they were connected to Joe Brady heavily in the 2021 offseason and he’d rather be the Bills quarterbacks coach, apparently. I expect Hamilton will probably carry much of the actual play calling.

I don’t mean to insinuate any lack of respect for Smith here. He’s a huge part of football history, both in Texas and in America in general. He and London Fletcher are big reasons the Rams defense turned around in a major way. The Bears defense was absolutely stellar for the better part of a decade. He’s shat turds that have more schematic knowledge of the game than I have. There’s a reason he commands the respect of the players.

It’s just that, at this point in his career, set in to the ways that he is, I thought DC was a better role for him because it gave him more space to make adjustments. The last two stops as a head coach that he had were brutal.

Lovie got a ton of time to work at things in Illinois, too. That wasn’t a fluky pandemic thing. They never finished over .500 in a season in his five years there, peaking as a 6-7 bowl team in 2019. They immediately went 5-7 in Bret Bielema’s first year in 2021, beating all but one of Lovie’s win totals.

I don’t think you can see a 64-year-old as the next coach that’s going to lead the Texans to the playoffs. I don’t even necessarily see any reason why he’ll survive beyond this season other than pure optics. In many ways, it feels like an extension of the Culley era — partially because Lovie was a big part of the small measures of success in the Culley era. Lovie’s the coach with the better track record, yes, but a lot of it is ancient history in the grand scheme of the NFL at this point. I don’t care about Super Bowl appearances in 2006 when we’re in 2022. I’m not surprised that fans are rallying around him being a better candidate historically than Culley and talking themselves into it. But that’s mostly because at this point I fully believe that this team’s loudest fans — the ones who always complain about how the team is covered negatively — would take news of Nick Caserio eating a baby whole from the NRG rooftop and respond with “wow, he really did eat the whole thing tho, pretty good can’t lie” or “that’s a natural part of the process that has to happen, the baby had to go.” If the last two years haven’t broken your optimism, nothing will.


In the end, where I’m at with this is that the Texans are stagnant and that it probably doesn’t have a lot of bearing on this team’s real future. The potential Deshaun Watson trade matters much more than the head coach in 2022 does. The draft picks that this team has this year are more important than anything the head coach in 2022 does. I don’t expect Lovie Smith to be here when this team is ready to compete.

But I think the backlash I’m seeing hits from a place of again seeing this front office just look comically out of their depth. They ran a head-coaching search with three finalists and didn’t pick any of them, and in which the only one who had real NFL experience was busy filing a lawsuit against the NFL. Caserio set expectations very high in the press conference in which he fired Culley.

Things were supposed to be different with Nick around. And instead of something new or inspiring, this head coaching search just reverted back to what it has been for the better part of the last four years: Same. Ol’. Texans.

12:50 P.M. 2/8 Edit: I changed two years (2020 to 2021) that I misremembered when I wrote this post, and I also added Rex Burkhead to the re-signed players list.


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The optics of firing David Culley are terrible; the decision is rational

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


There are many reasons to hate that the Texans fired David Culley, so I want to start out by laying a few of them out.

— He’s the first one-and-done coach in Texans history.
— By all accounts, there wasn’t a lot more he could have done with this roster. His four wins equaled the pre-season over/under for the team. Expectations were at rock bottom, and the team fought hard to rise above those. That’s a credit to the head coach.
— The Texans took four days post-season to actually come to the decision to fire Culley, and then the very day it comes out that he’s fired, three very obvious candidates are circled almost instantly, all of them are former Patriots.
— The idea that the Texans fired a black head coach after one season in which he lived up to expectations, fair or not, is a brutal look for the team and the league.

There’s probably more than this. It’s been a long day. I’m tuckered. Let’s get to the point.

To be honest with you, boots on the ground here, it’s hard to really understand why they hired David Culley in the first place beyond him being a placeholder. I wrote about it the day it happened. It was almost impossible to have an opinion on him because he was a 65-year-old first-time head coach! The Texans brand was toxic, and anybody who came here knew they’d be saddled with losses.

Culley gets to ride off into the sunset with, apparently, four guaranteed years of money for being a punching bag. What is your soul worth? I don’t think I would have had it in me to take this job. But that is lifechanging money. I think there were a lot of people that turned down interviewing for this job because they knew what was happening here. To have a general manager on your headset the entire game feeding you advice and undermining your authority is not something I think a lot of people would sign up for.

I don’t think you can find a single person with a bad word to say about David Culley the person. He was pitched as a leader and a motivator and he did just that. Nick Caserio pointed to “philosophical differences” in their parting, and the one thing I’m curious about with this idea that nobody has pointed out yet is the parade of disciplinary actions: Justin Reid, Desmond King, Zach Cunningham, Charles Omenihu, even Shaq Lawson in training camp. Culley defended those very strenuously at all times.

Now, I can’t tell you who in the organization was for these punishments and who wasn’t — all I can tell you is that it’s pretty wild that they happened. It’s not something you see very often. And with how vociferously Culley defended them, it would make sense to me that he led that charge. That doesn’t mean it’s how it went down! But it’s something I think could have been an easy tension point in the organization if the power structure didn’t seem to agree.

I enjoyed the human side of Culley. The fact that he couldn’t help but chew his damn tongue in pressers or on the sideline. The fact that he later switched to gum. The fact that he all but admitted he doesn’t watch film that often when he’s not working. The fact that he could wax poetic about a Hershey’s bar. I liked the guy more than I liked the coach. And I think that’s about where the Texans wound up on the situation as well.


David Culley couldn’t reliably say the word “analytics,” always lisping it to sound like “analythics.” David Culley apologized after wild in-game decision mistakes multiple times in the first six weeks of the season, including not letting the Patriots score so they stopped bleeding clock, and declining a penalty that would have given the Texans another third-down play so that he could punt on fourth-and-short. David Culley’s offense was so conservative that it would barely look out of place in the 1980s, when he came of age in football. In one interview he joked that he was computer-technology illiterate.

It was very obvious that this was a big wedge between Caserio and Culley, particularly when he was being fed advice and going with his gut, which did not particularly appreciate being second-guessed.

Culley was the coach the Texans settled for, not the coach they actually wanted. And as extremely haphazard as it played out over this last week, it’s not like he was slaying people with in-game decisions. He was 28th the last time EdjSports put up their list of coaches by pure decision WPA added. And I think that undersells how conservative he was because Edj’s model downplayed Houston’s chances to win often on account of how bad the team was.

Firing David Culley the head coach is, at the very least, not worthy of scorn. He wasn’t downright embarrassing all that often, but it was clear that he was behind the times. There was little hope that this would improve or that a second year of it would go better than the first. About the only positive thing you could point to in a major way was that Davis Mills improved drastically after he was benched, and that’s not something that often gets attributed to Culley so much as Pep Hamilton.


I don’t know how much optimism I have that Brian Flores can make Deshaun Watson play for the Texans again. I think he’s a worthy target in the sense that if you paired him with a better offensive coordinator, he has proven that he can be an effective NFL head coach already.

But what I am optimistic about is that this horrific year of Texans football will be buried quickly. Because if the Texans are willing to upset the apple cart by firing Culley, they must believe that this is a year where a lot can happen in a very short time. Like last year, where a lot also happened in a very short time. But except maybe unlike last year, with a head coach that has some credibility and that they have stake in the success of, and who will be working with talent more equal to that of a real NFL franchise.

I can’t tell you I’m brimming with joy about the fact that the Texans continue to actually be Patriots South, but Josh McDaniels is pre-eminently one of the best-regarded candidates available, and I think highly of Flores’ work in Miami. I’d be less excited about Jerod Mayo, but I’d be willing to hear more about why I should be excited.

But in a way, the feeling of firing Culley reminds me a lot of when the Texans traded up to get Deshaun Watson. They were mired in quarterback hell, and whether Watson worked out or Watson didn’t work out, it was clear that something was going to give about this team. This happened in plaid speed as opposed to the Bill O’Brien era, where we were three years into mediocrity already, but the message is that the Texans understand and are acting like they can’t continue to fritter away time.

Maybe that will work out, and maybe that won’t. It’s beyond frustrating that the candidate list would have been a funny joke told the day that Bill O’Brien was fired based purely on who Jack Easterby liked. But I’m glad to dispense with what appears to have been a WarGames simulation of what the Texans might look like and try something that might have a chance of working. It’s time for the front office to take some praise or take some heat, and with the decision to jettison Culley, it’s clear that they’re willing to put themselves front and center.


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Four Downs: Texans 25, Titans 28

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


I’m going to share a snippet of one of my very favorite videos with you. It comes from a larger video called “The Entire ‘Here Comes The Pizza’ Affair,” and it stars a couple of sports broadcasters (rest in peace, Jerry Remy):

One of the reasons I love this video as I do is that it gets people who are supposed to understand what’s happening completely out of the element of knowing the answer. Why would you throw a slice of pizza at someone? Why would that exact sequence of events have sent this fan down the rabbit hole of throwing the pizza? It poses a question that is immediately unanswerable without more questions. Questions of motivation, of character, of wonderment. 

Those are the underlying feelings I carry about the 2021 Texans. We can rehash the how and the why, and we can get answers that provide fuel into Nick Caserio’s pattern of thoughts. At the end of the day, I just watched Rex Burkhead become a feature back for seven weeks and become the lone Texan of any acclaim to receive a contract extension. I thoroughly enjoyed him eating against the Chargers and he seems like a nice enough guy, but why would anybody build a team to accomplish this series of events? What was the point of watching Danny Amendola get on the rejuvenation machine against the Titans in Week 18? Why did Mr. Caserio throw the pizza?

Of the four seasons I have covered the Texans thoroughly since joining The Athletic in 2018, this was by far the worst of them. 2020 was terrible, but brought with it the end of Bill O’Brien and the hope that I could learn about someone new to eventually get mad at for wasting a generational quarterback. Or at least empathize in sorrow with them over a bad beat if the coach was good. 

Instead, that quarterback quit on the team. The team, shepherded by leadership who cannot begin to understand or care about how terrible this situation and the hiring of Caserio looked from the outside, embraced an ethos of burying their heads in the sand to any outside questions or suggestions. For shits and giggles, Cal McNair and his wife both thought that demonizing COVID-19 as the “China Virus” in a large public setting was just hilarious. They were barely held accountable at all, with only a panty pinch of an apology issued. They were happy to have security bother anyone who would dare speak against them at games, eventually not letting angry fans in at all. And because the team placed on the field was largely uncompetitive when not facing the Jaguars, nobody really wanted to talk much about the football. 

2021 was a terrible year to express an opinion about the Texans. For one thing, any thought about the team that was focused on actual football was haunted by the shadow of the barely-connected reply guy who has made an inference: “They’re tanking, they must be!” But as they finish third in what looks to be a two-person elite talent draft, the assumption of rationality didn’t roll out in the way many wanted it to. The Texans genuinely tried to win as many games as they could. They brought in high-functioning hard-practicers who would do whatever the front office asked as far as nutrition and sleep. They brought in high-effort guys with a lot of Want. Guys that are easy to root for, but who can’t win games for the team in major roles on their own. There are many players here who deserve a lot of credit for buying in and playing their asses off for 17 games while many of the Louder Yous thought they were tanking. 

This wasn’t a secret. The Texans shouted it all along. Nobody listened, because many have learned from our bubbles that our opinion is all that matters. The art of listening is dying as more and more people come to understand that being loud and never admitting you’re wrong is a winning strategy in the attention-grabbing world we now live in, one that is only wins and losses. The art of backpedaling, however, soars to the moon. 

To the 2021 Texans, a team that floated through these last twelve months as gracefully as a slice of pizza. 

1) Davis Mills made some pretty passes to rebound from a bad first half

At halftime, Davis Mills was 7-of-14 for 61 yards, and 25 of those came on one deep completion to Brandin Cooks. I don’t think he was out-and-out playing poorly, but he was playing to the limitations I thought he’d shown over the course of this season. He wasn’t great at throwing deep, and he struggled with blitzes. He felt a little extra emotionally frenetic early on too, which I think can best be exemplified by this attempt to scramble:

But, to Mills’ credit, he rebounded hard in the second half. I think you can run them through the ringer of typical “interesting, but let’s see the quote tweets” ways: Nico Collins catches one off a deflection, he’s making his receivers really work for balls, they were down 21, and so on. But the No. 1 thing that was interesting to me in the scenario is that the Texans focused on up-tempo offense coming out of the half and it worked.

This has been an extremely common thing for the offense under Bill O’Brien for years, and under Culley with Tim Kelly coordinating this year as well: Whether it’s Deshaun Watson or Davis Mills, the offense always looks better when they play like this. It would be incredibly stupid to just shout out “run no-huddle all the time,” because that’s not how football really works. But I think it says a lot about how stuck in their ways the team is that when they do stuff like this — or say, when Mills and Cooks improvise that route in the Rams game — that the empirical results suddenly get a lot better. It’s a point I feel like I’ve made for years and can make in my sleep at this point. And yet, the team just can’t get out of their own way. That’s the hallmark bit of it.

Mills again had no running game to help him — 17 running back carries for 52 yards led by David Johnson’s longest carry of the season. The defense struggled on third-and-long as Ryan Tannehill shredded them in all quarters not starting with “third,” and the run defense remained splash-or-be-splashed. Games like these only get winnable if the Texans start grabbing turnovers left and right, and Terrence Brooks missed the two balls he got hands on while Lonnie Johnson’s actual pick was turned away after a rough defensive pass interference call.

This game didn’t change much of the established orthodoxy of Mills in my view. I don’t believe the Texans are going to challenge him unless they fire David Culley, at which point with a new coach, all bets are off because there’s a new voice in the building. He’s shown enough development that I’m not totally uncomfortable just giving him an offseason and a few more games to see what else can stick, but I’m also not at a point where I’d personally let him go unchallenged this offseason. I’d want him to beat out some real competition for the starting job. But I’m not losing my mind over this or anything, the odds of the 2022 Texans mattering in the grand scheme of things are fairly low. It’s house money. Unless…

2) David Culley in The Gum Chewer Who Might Be Unemployed

I literally am stunned that CBS ran a segment about David Culley chewing gum. The depths that they attempted to plumb here to make the Texans interesting in a game they were (momentarily) getting blown out in were fascinating.

The big news that broke in the morning was that David Culley’s future — which had seemed pretty assured up until this point — was suddenly tenuous. Jay Glazer reported it pre-game, and John McClain followed up a little while later.

Now, this is again a mission where Rivers tries to discern meaning from context clues rather than “Rivers has sources,” but there are two possible ways to interpret a Culley firing in my view. One of them is, in my opinion, positive. The other one is chaotic.

The Pressure Scenario — The team continues to look like a disaster with very little in the way of marketable players, ticket sales are way down, and so there’s renewed focus from ownership to make the team look presentable. David Culley isn’t the coach for this job, he’s the coach you let build culture when there’s no expectations. The second you shift to a place where a coach’s reputation is on the line, nobody is playing tiddlywinks anymore. As Aaron Reiss pointed out in his Athletic column, most general mangers don’t get to hire three coaches. So if they do rip that band-aid off immediately, it probably means we’re in for a stormy offseason with a lot of changes. Some of them could be very good! At the very least, I imagine this would mean they’d be Actually Trying.

The Chaos Explanation — This one is very simple, and some of you are going to hate it. Ever since Jack Easterby took his spot in the inner circle of the Texans, the team has just made splashes on top of splashes. They literally can’t sit still. They’re a team that signed Mark Ingram and promoted him as one of the linchpins of the culture rebuild, then traded him at the deadline for a future pack of gum for Culley. The one constant is that there’s churn everywhere. Laremy Tunsil in, DeAndre Hopkins out, this season there were no big moves but they literally brought in 25-plus veteran free agents, of which they’ve re-signed exactly one player who wasn’t a practice squad elevation. Under this scenario, Culley is out because everybody is eventually out on the Texans. Whatever you want to build here has to be so idiot-proof that even the extremely hands-on management team can’t help but not want to mess it up.

I don’t really have any skin in the game with Culley and I’m finding it hard to find the motivation to defend him. It’s funny, he’s a very likeable person when you get him not talking about the Texans — it’s just that the head-in-the-sand stuff that he preaches makes him practically unrelatable when it comes to what his job actually is. He’s way too conservative in both direction and game management, but that only really matters if the Texans believe they’re going somewhere in 2022. As a child who grew up in two divorced households, Culley has strong That’s The Best Mom Could Do? Energy — but at the same time, you’re just wanting her to be happy, right? And if this goofy man is what she needs for the moment, then I can tolerate him.

3) Zach Cunningham’s “revenge game”

We don’t really get the full gist of what’s going on behind the scenes, and we won’t until these players retire or this regime fails, because most players are media-savvy enough to know that limiting their future career prospects in any way is a bad move for them. But rarely do we get a former Texans bagging on the team in such an obvious way that it turns Andrew Catalon into a “hey, I’m just the messenger” actor in punchlines.

Cunningham was one of the worst interviews on the team for years — you practically could not get him to say anything interesting. The only thing I really remember slipping out that was interesting was watching him stand at a podium in 2020 and acting like he deserved a Pro Bowl nod when the team was a dumpster fire, and him seeming totally unaware of how those two facts would mesh. I didn’t wind up posting that online because — some of you are going to find this hard to believe — I don’t always try to kick the Texans when they’re down. And yet he goes to a production meeting and we get all this? Very tonally weird way to end the season.

Anyway, I don’t have any deep insights on this situation. I know the Texans didn’t think he worked hard enough at his craft. I’ve certainly got no inner window in to how true that is or was. But beyond that, it feels like there’s more beneath the surface that we just won’t know until it’s not relevant to anybody anymore. Was it about Watson wanting out? Why is Laremy Tunsil also not playing? What exactly went down to get this team to have to literally replace almost a full roster of players?

4) Personal and acknowledgements

My own personal experience of this year was developing what I now believe is an anxiety disorder. I wrote about this briefly in September. I had random heart palpitations hit me right after Labor Day. They were joined by headaches, major gas, and a self-perpetuating anxiety that comes with an admission of one’s mortality. I have spent more time in doctor’s offices in 2021 than I had in any year prior.  I’ve been cleared by cardiologists and hematologists, and now we’re on gastroenterologists and psychiatrists. I know that in the grand scheme of things, many people have had it much worse than me these past two years, but job one for this year had to be protecting myself and making sure I was okay. It’s something I’m still working on. I’m supposed to try to handle less stress. I’ll come back to that in a second. 

Job two and three was making sure that the crews at Football Outsiders and NBC Sports Edge got what they paid for. I wish I had more time to give them, because in a world where your best ability is availability, I didn’t hit previous year’s bench marks as well as I would have liked. There are writing gigs that I had to give up that I liked for lack of time and energy. Heck, I entirely walked away from any management duties involving Free Enterprise. I have been fried for five months. 

And then there’s this labor of what used to be love. I still want the Texans to win and, though I missed days or had delays here or there, I provided the game coverage I’ve been known for to mostly bemusement or angry fans. But as the idea of “reducing stress” laid with me more and more, covering the Texans largely became at odds with that. For one thing, it turned every Sunday into a marathon session where I probably put down 7,000 words between a Texans gamer, NBCSE blurbs, and the Monday NBCSE column. That’s a lot of pressure to handle, even if a substantial portion is self-inflicted. 

I greatly appreciate those of you who actually read these pieces and who silently take in what I have to say, with the spare encouraging comment or compliment or donation. Most of the interaction I get from people now is not that, even as I’ve actively worked to curb the amount of literal opinions I put on Twitter down. It is from people who barely know me and who believe the worst of me because I represent something they don’t want to understand. It is the long-standing petty pisses from bad faith trolls. It is from people who don’t like that I have skeptical points of view of things they take for granted. 

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting in service of a team that wasn’t good, for management I don’t have a lot of belief in, for an ownership group that has a lot of work to do in my eyes to bring fans back. I don’t know what the next eight months will bring us, but I want to be up front that what I’ve given will likely change in a major way next year. Maybe there will be no in-game videos. Maybe I will have fewer jobs. Maybe I won’t write gamers anymore. Maybe I’ll try something a little more creative to shake up the tedium of what looks to be a long rebuild. The worst time for self-reflection is immediately after something is over, but the one thing I walked away from this year thinking is: This was not fun. Sunday was like the last day of school, and it’s summer time, and I was much more interested in watching the Raiders and Chargers play than writing this.

What I largely learned this year are the capacities of my own boundaries. I’m not trying to compliment myself when I say that I’m generally a pretty sweet and loyal person, because it has lead to a lot of time invested in things that don’t bring a lot of joy at times. 

I won’t miss 2021. Let’s bury it. 


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Four Downs: Texans 7, 49ers 23

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


The dog days of seasons like this are always difficult, because a lot of the narrative of the offseason is already established. There’s also not a whole lot new we can discover about established players at this point. Pharaoh Brown, like Darren Fells before him, is going to get called for a ton of penalties when you ask him to block across the line of scrimmage constantly. Christian Kirksey is a pretty solid little linebacker, but that’s about all he is. And so on.

Losing to the 49ers was mostly a return to normalcy for this team after their stunning win against the Chargers last weekend. They’re not a horrific team at this point of the season, with Davis Mills giving them a little bit more execution on third downs than they were getting out of Tyrod Taylor post-hamstring injury. But they’re also not very good. They don’t have non-Brandin Cooks playmakers on offense, and they have almost nobody who can win in space. They are a splash-only run defense that has trouble whenever they can’t get someone in the backfield. When they manage to be well-designed enough as an offense to actually counteract those issues, as they were against Los Angeles, life can go pretty well for them! In games like this, it’s right back to praying you find something horizontal.

The screen game just hasn’t been very consistent for the Texans this year — nor should it, if we’re being honest, because screen passes are amongst the worst play calls in the NFL. They are conservative plays that are built to keep the ball moving, but the NFL is a league without the same physical mismatches you can hunt in college football on plays like this.

The ultimate philosophical goal of David Culley’s offense is to drain clock and conservative its way down the field with third-and-short execution, ala the 2019 Ravens if they replaced Lamar Jackson’s running with even more horizontal stretch plays and their good backs with Rex Burkhead. It’s not a stunning surprise when this team can’t run the football (3.2 yards per carry felt downright above-average for them!), nor is it that the only drives that got anywhere happened when Mills consistently executed on third downs and the Texans got about 50 yards of Brandin Cooks DPIs.

And, well, seven points. So much youth, but seven points. Their seventh game of the year where they finished with a single-digit point total.

1) David Culley gives up

David Culley sure seems like he’ll be coming back next year. It’s not a decision I’ve spent a lot of energy on because there’s not really a lot of upside in firing him right now in my estimation. But because this has become more of a layup, and because this team ostensibly is trying to not waste our collective time, it’s time to treat Culley like we’d treat the coach of a real football team. And that coach simply can’t look at the situation the Texans were given at the end of the fourth quarter and punt.

There was no way the Texans had two extra scoring drives left based on any consideration of how they’d been playing, and no guarantee that when they went on those drives, they’d ever do better than fourth-and-8 at the San Francisco 41. Maybe they’d luck into a long touchdown pass. But down 10, you really don’t have much of a choice. And David Culley coward-punted, as he mostly has all season.

It’s one thing to manage an offense conservatively — and I am not even saying that can’t be the optimal strategy for a Texans team that needs a lot of things to go right — but you have to do it in a way that makes logical and consistent sense. If the team is bad enough that they need to be managed as conservatively as they do as far as running the ball often despite no chance of a big play, well, they also need to be aggressive when they actually get chances. Culley is 28th in the EdjSports rankings that measure only in-game decisions. I personally think these undersell how poor he’s been a bit because there is a pre-built bias into Edj’s rankings that gives Culley an out: They don’t think the Texans are very good, so many marginal calls actually don’t gain or lose much win probability because the Texans aren’t expected to win often when down 10 anyway.

I continue to have little hope for Culley as a game manager, but the Texans job was never going to be something that attracted big-time candidates, so it is what it is at this point. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported that the team is expected to keep Culley after the game.

I think he’s a really fun and energetic person, and I’d love to listen to his Horror Movies podcast, but no amount of people on the headset with him can keep Culley from mainlining 1970s and early 1980s NFL game theory and it’s going to be a problem in 2022.

2) Davis Mills’ encouraging deep throws

Davis Mills’ numbers don’t look great. 21-of-32 for 163 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. But I was encouraged by his tendency to push the ball. First, there’s the play that a Pharaoh Brown holding call ruined, but was our first real example of Mills hitting Brandin Cooks on a deep pass against a normal defensive structure:

There’s also this play that Mills would say he checked to based on a pre-snap look, a pretty loft ball in Cooks’ direction:

I found it very interesting that Mills noted after the game that the 49ers continually had him checking to shorter plays. It didn’t seem like they were blitzing very much until the fourth quarter — always harder to react without hard data — but it feels like the identity of the Texans essentially is that Mills should only throw deep when he’s positive he has something schemed. They had a few plays where Mills was waiting longer than usual early in the game — including one where he seemed to force the ball at a well-covered Cooks — and then they seemed to lean more into checkdowns.

Other than his turnover — which, much to David Culley’s chagrin, I’m going to tell you that turnovers happen — I don’t think Mills played all that poorly. Towards the end of the game with the threat of the run removed, the 49ers began sending more blitzes and teeing off on him, and the offensive line couldn’t quite hold up anymore:

What Arik Armstrong did to Justin McCray on that play is illegal in 23 states.

And I think at that point Mills got flustered and started leaving some throws short, and the emotion of the game got a little big for him. And that’s fine, it’s a rookie quarterback learning on the job. I’m more encouraged than discouraged by this start, if only because we finally got a deep completion that didn’t feel like a fluke of circumstance or Cover-0 blitz.

3) The Texans get their first major ref screwjob of the year

The Texans have had bad calls against them this year, as they do every year, because every year there are several bad calls in the NFL. But none of them were as potentially game-altering as what happened when Davis Mills was picked off in the third quarter and the refs ruled that a defensive players forward progress was stopped before Rex Burkhead got him to fumble:

The fact that it was followed up immediately with a weak DPI call on Terrance Mitchell did not help things:

Generally I try to give officials the benefit of the doubt. I can remember the 2019 game against the Ravens when DeAndre Hopkins didn’t get a clear DPI call and how upset the fanbase was about that … even as the Ravens romped all over the Texans. That didn’t really matter. I don’t think anybody is trying to screw the Texans — why would they, who actually cares about the Texans? — these are just hard-working officials who make very public mistakes. But given the 7-3 scoreline when this happens, and the fact that these two calls directly lead to a 49ers lead in a game where Trey Lance looked shaky throwing the ball without the help of play-action, it’s hard to not believe that these calls didn’t completely alter the course of the game. They were devastating for the Texans.

4) I could see it with Brevin Jordan last week, why can’t I see it with Nico Collins?

Nico Collins did have a nice toe-tap catch in this game, so let’s show that off before we get too down on him:

But the one thing I have had problems with all year is that Collins is an extremely tall, physically skilled player — but he doesn’t always play like it.

He barely generates any force at all on Ambry Thomas on this throw. In fact, Thomas boxes him out. Notice how little movement back to the ball there is for Collins. He puts his hands in there, but he’s locked on the spot. Let’s go to the fourth-down play that ended the game:

Quick slant to the outside, Collins doesn’t do a great job of getting off initial jam, but the ball is already coming his way. But notice he is able to create the space off that, and then … the ball comes his way and there’s just no way for him to fight through this contact to get the ball. Inside of five yards of the line of scrimmage, even! He’s clearly bigger than the SF corner. He’s got the body to box him out decisively. But what he needs to do to win that ball from that spot isn’t clicking with him yet.

It’s very clear that they want Nico Collins to be a red zone, big box-out threat. Because they throw to him there, often. No wideout on the team has more goal-to-go targets than Collins, and he hasn’t caught a single one of them. Could you argue one or two of them should have been interference? Yeah. Does he look impressive after he actually catches the ball and gets in to space? I think so. But I’m a little concerned about how he’s not performing well up to the limited box that the Texans have put him in so far. He’s got the lowest catch rate of anyone on the team with more than 15 targets. A lot of that has been the Texans forecasting him to win the physical matchup and him struggling to execute.

There’s a lot to dream on and it’d be extremely stupid to give up on Collins in Game 16 of his rookie season. But I think there needs to be a big step forward next season, and it’s these kind of plays that make me want another high-round rookie wideout added to this mix — preferably a tackle-breaker — in the 2022 draft.


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