Can These Texans Get Traded?
HOUSTON - The Houston Texans have a bye this week, but business could still be booming at NRG Stadium. The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, Nov. 3, and we know this: The Texans have already heard from teams interested in some of their players.
Ahead of the deadline, with the NFL contract situation sometimes hard to understand, TexansDaily.com turns to a foremost expert of the Texans cap situation this side of anybody in an office at NRG.
TexansCap on Twitter runs TexansCap.com and is a go-to resource to understand the often complex nature of the NFL bottom line. He works extensively with OverTheCap.com in projecting NFL contracts and salaries.
We reached out to help make some sense, of the dollars and cents (and sense), behind some of the potential trade targets on the Texans. ... With TexansCap's comments ...
He's the former face of the franchise, who coach Romeo Crennel said this week would only be happy if the Texans start winning again. Wins, plural, are a long way away.
So when other teams start calling what do they need to know about Watt and his contract?
"Houston has already paid Watt $6.38 million in base salary for 2020, a trade would send the remaining $8.2 million to the receiving team, along with Watt’s $17.5 million base salary in 2021. A trade would immediately bring Houston back to the black in terms of available cap space in 2021."
Watt's new team would have plenty to think about, and he might be there for more than just this season and next.
"The receiving team would also likely want to complete a contract extension with Watt to lower his 2021 cap number of $17.5 million."
The Texans would have no more big money invested in the defensive line with a move of Watt. They would undoubtedly be much worse.
"Not sure if the defense could get any worse but removing Watt from the equation would easily make this the worst defense in the league. Watt is the only defensive line player remotely putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks."
A surprise extension last year in the midst of a down year had Texans fans scratching their heads. Why did the team pay so much for Mercilus?
"Mercilus’ first extension is the amount of money he should have received on his second extension. It’s almost like Houston tried to make him whole for the low-ball first contract extension. This contract puts the team in a difficult spot given Mercilus’ salary in 2021 is fully guaranteed, which totals $10.5 million."
There might not be a lot of teams looking for an aging linebacker who has showcased less vintage ability and more pass-rushing inconsistency.
"If Houston is unable to find a trade partner, Mercilus will remain on the roster through 2021 due to his contract. Absent a trade, Houston will have paid Mercilus nearly $35 million from 2019 through 2021. This was such a bad contract by Bill O’Brien. Rich Hurtado (the agent for Mercilus at the time) really worked over Houston in getting the early vesting schedule for the 2021 salary."
On the off chance the Texans could find a taker, there are plenty of benefits.
"Frees up over $30 million in cash through 2023, along with $7.5 million in 2021 cap dollars. Allows the team to get a solid look at Jacob Martin and Jonathan Greenard for the remainder of the 2020 season."
The new deal isn't even old yet but Cunningham's usefulness to another team is clear despite his slow start to this season. There isn't much benefit to making this move or even entertaining.
"Moving a foundational player, upside down on cap dollars, and only to move him after paying him nearly $15 million dollars through 2020 midway point, hurts the Texans."
There would be a slight cash saving but as he notes, Cunningham should be in the plans going forward.
"The absence of nose tackle D. J. Reader is playing a big role in Cunningham’s performance with his gap discipline. Cunningham along with cornerback Bradley Roby and safety Justin Reid are the pieces to build around on the back seven of the Houston defense going forward"
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It's only seven games into his Texans career and he has less than half of those where you would consider Cooks has played a good game. There's plenty of on-field advantages, and money movement options, to keeping Cooks around.
"We know Cooks was brought in at the doing of (interim general manager Jack) Easterby. His contract is very friendly for cap manipulation for 2021. Houston would complete a simple restructure of base salary to signing bonus conversion to free up much-needed cap space for 2021"
Cooks has already been traded a couple of times in his career. Yet another deal could mean a red flag decreasing value.
"I would imagine Cooks' value is a late third or early fourth. That is not enough compensation to move on from Cooks."
The speedy wideout has been plenty healthy and dynamic enough for the Texans. Only the game against the Ravens, where he was hurt, was a dud for Fuller. He's scored a touchdown in every game since and averaged 75 receiving yards per game as well.
Trading Fuller, and getting the right deal in a trade, are easier said than done.
"Fuller is a prime trade asset, probably the most valuable given the team is not tied to him like Watt. Texans will be fighting an uphill battle to return equitable compensation. The league knows the front office is weak, has a bad cap situation in 2021, and the 2020 season spiraling."
What would be the best the Texans could get if they made a solid move?
"I would suspect Fuller would return a late second-round or early third-round pick. His pending free agency plus injury history will be a red flag for some rosters. The Texans were not going to afford Fuller as a free agent in 2021, getting something now would help the team."
Stills has been lightly targeted and hasn't lit up the box score. Just 10 catches for 138 yards and a single touchdown. He's still speedy and a veteran in a pass-heavy NFL. "
"Trading Stills would be strictly for the cash savings (about $3.25 million) to be able to roll that money over to the 2021 salary cap."
Our Most-Likely-to-Be-Traded Ranking
6. Zach Cunningham
5. Brandin Cooks
4. Whitney Mercilus
3. Will Fuller
2. J.J. Watt
1. Kenny Stills
Whitney Mercilus is likely staying put because his level of production isn't extremely difficult to replicate for cheaper so that limits the interest of other teams. Brandin Cooks is a favorite of the interim general manager so it is hard to see Cooks going.
Based on the conversation with TexansCap it would seem a light return for Kenny Still is the most likely. A head-lining trade with Watt or Fuller shouldn't be ruled out, though. Each brings actual good compensation compared to what the others may garner in a trade discussion.