The sheer volume of Texans new signings in free agency has been staggering. As of March 22nd, there have been over 30 players acquired, 4 by trade, whilst onboarding over $60million in guarantees. Details are still to emerge but Caserio’s first free agency, has been full-throttle but hard to accurately depict in it’s direction.
The historical shape of free agency has been one of big money deals, followed by declining contract values thereafter. But that was thrown into disarray by the suppressed salary cap. Teams were forced to restructure and release players, the wide-receiver market stalled and edge rushers failed to set new parameters. Only three offensive line stalwarts of Joe Tuney, Corey Lindsay & Trent Williams were rewarded the traditional type of market defining deals.
However, the Texans approach to free agency continues to be unique & perplexing in equal measure. Caserio may be within his honeymoon period until games are played, the Easterby-factor aside, but his approach has been arguably been scatter-gun. As he threw dart after dart, in the hope of incremental roster talent, the question arose: What exactly is the offseason strategy for the Texans?
Beyond hoping the law of averages, via a high volume approach, will yield a few talented players who can fulfil specific roles, longer term. The startling high volume or limited quality of singings for a team that had circa $22million in cap space entering the legal tampering period is puzzling. This was after restructuring Brandon Cooks and the heart-felt goodbye of JJ Watt, amongst others.
All moves are currently only reported and have yet to be formalised by the team. Partly, because their salary-cap space won’t allow them to sign all reported agreements. Subsequently, Laremy Tunsil has restructured his contract (a possible trade pre-requisite), Darren Fells, Zack Fulton, Cullen Gillaspia, Bryan Anger were all released. Clearly Caserio fully intends to spend right up to the cap. Rolling money into 2022 & beyond isn’t currently on his agenda, it would seem.
As traditionally, teams spending are less focused on future years and are are planning to win now. That would logically be the case if their public soundings of keeping Deshaun Watson, despite his trade demands, held true. However, only two of the players acquired, cornerback’s Terrance Mitchell & Desmond King (traded mid-season) played over 65% of snaps last year. Adding so few quality, starter-type players isn’t improving a 4-12 roster, considering the departures of Will Fuller & JJ Watt. Moreover, they are exhausting resources of future years to spend on difference makers, when circumstances dictate.
If not in pursuit of quality, it’s been commonly mooted that Caserio is improving competition across the depth chart, with 1 & 2 year deals – this is the start of the rebuild. Possibly hinting that they know Watson has played his last snap in Houston. Whilst Singing a Quarterback & trading for another only adds weight to that theory. Though Caserio’s assessment of the incumbent players must have been reasonably damning and a “drain the swamp” approach would explain the volume of transactions required if this is to be correctly assed as a rebuild.
Although the traditional means of rebuilding would be to acquire picks, draft and find as many young, talented players as possible. But the average age of all the signings is over 28.
The Texans traded for a 33-year-old tackle in Marcus Cannon, who’s coming off a year out of football. At an ever young-man’s position, they’ve committed $5.58million to ageing running backs, across Mark Ingram (32), David Johnson (30) & Phillip Lindsay (26) most notably. Also committing a combined $5.5million in guarantees to a Punter (Cameron Johnson) and 33-year old kick returner (Andre Roberts) does not signal re-build. Whilst accumulating countless linebackers and said devout special teamer’s. Some, if not many, may not make the 53-man roster, come August.
The timing or seeming rush to agree with a multitude of new players so early in the process, is also questionable. As they currently manoeuvre to get under the cap, they will be likely out of contention for any surprise cuts. In the way they acquired Tyran Mathieu in 2018. Between now & September, there are multiple options available in adding to your roster. Considering potential post June-1st cuts, camp cut-downs, street FA’s & and a large rookie class will need to be accounted for also. So Further cap scurrying will be required.
Change is the only constant in the league but how much can one team sustain, with a new coaching staff, on a limited contact model as Covid continues to define schedules. Added to the fact Tyrod Taylor is trending to becoming the starting quarterback. The coaching staff will have a big role in herding Caserio’s band of recruits come September if some cohesion is to be derived.
Caserio has given a fresh feel in terms of running the pro personnel side of the Texans despite the Jack Easterby linger. Most notably the stains of signing Derek Rivers, retaining David Johnson and Vernon Hargreaves may all be a result of that influence – as it cannot be based on 2020 tape. But the ingenuity of the Shaq Lawson trade must be applauded whilst agreeing terms with Maliek Collins, Kevin Pierre-Louis & Jordan Jenkins could provided must needed upgrades to a hapless defence, transitioning to a 4-3 base.
The limited clarity of Caserio’s approach may simply stem from the off-field issues surroundings Watson’s desired exit. As his retention or departure is the defining move in deciding the Texans future, there will be no choice if it’s the latter. But as we standstill at these cross-roads, Caserio’s moves appear like he’s faced with co-ordinating multiple action plans as the on-going saga unfolds.