HOUSTON -- Change was inevitable for the Houston Texans. Now, they can finally start "retooling" rather than "rebuilding." At least according to general manager Nick Caserio.
After back-to-back four-win seasons, Houston has higher hopes in 2022. No, playoffs are not expected by the front office or the fans base, but unlike in years past when the team simply would run through the motions, there's a sense of urgency this summer.
New coach Lovie Smith will have his work cut out for him, but few are expecting immediate results that will help the Texans win right away. Houston is looking for its foundational pieces to kick start the next phase of its process in becoming postseason contenders. Outside of that, every other positive is a feather in the cap of what is expected to be a prolonged season.
Here are the three best moves made by the Texans this offseason.
3. Rebuilding Defense
Houston struggled to find its defensive identity under Smith, but it did finish top 10 in takeaways. Caserio and Smith spent most of the offseason fortifying that side of the football to only build off one of the few bright spots in 2021.
Re-singing veterans such as linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill and Christian Kirksey, along with defensive tackle Maliek Collins and cornerback Desmond King gives the Texans veteranship in the locker room. The same goes for adding linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Steven Nelson, both of whom have started in a zone-heavy defensive look.
On the defensive line, the Texans have adequate pass rushers in Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes. Neither are viewed as cornerstone pieces given their age, but their connection with new defensive line coach Jacques Cesaire gives them experience in the four-man rush similar to that with Buffalo.
The real success came via the draft. LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. was regraded in 2019 as college football's top cornerback during his freshman season. Arguably the most versatile cornerback in the past three years, when healthy, the 6-foot defender can be a Day 1 starter covering each team's top receiver.
Smaller moves should help the Texans fix their foundation early as well. Baylor safety Jalen Pitre is coming off an All-American campaign and has experience playing a variety of positions in the secondary. Alabama linebacker Christian Harris is a plug-and-play starter in coverage reps and should be the team's full-time weakside linebacker by midseason. Stanford's Thomas Booker provides depth on the defensive line at both a five- and three-technique.
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2. Extending WR Brandin Cooks Before Training Camp
Cooks made it clear that he wanted to be a part of the Texans' future plans. Rumors swirled that for the right price, he could be shipped prior to the draft. Instead, Caserio elected to sign him to a two-year extension worth $39.6 million prior to the draft.
The deal in itself is a win for Houston as it will keep its best target in the passing game. Since being drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2014, Cooks has been one of the league's more consistent receivers, finishing with six 1,000-yard campaigns in eight years on four different teams.
The real kicker is the price. Cooks is now set to make an average of $19.8 million per year. Following his extension, teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles traded for Tennessee Titans' star A.J. Brown, then offered him a four-year extension worth $100 million. Earlier this month, the Washington Commanders came to terms with Terry McLaurin on a three-year, $71 million extension, making his annual salary roughly $23.7 million.
By extending Cooks prior to the draft, Houston didn't break the bank in an offseason where receivers were bringing in massive paydays. Cooks will also be a mentor in the room to second-year standout Nico Collins and rookie John Metchie III, both of whom are viewed as building blocks in the passing game.
1. Trading QB Deshaun Watson
It was time. Nothing else truly needs to be said at this point in the Watson saga found at NRG Stadium.
By moving off Watson, Caserio is ridding himself of all the fallouts that will come with lawsuits. Initially facing 24 civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct and sexual assault, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback settled on 20 cases prior to the start of training camp. Multiple sources have told TexansDaily.com that Watson will likely be suspended by the league for the entire 2022 season as well.
For those wondering why the move was essential, Watson now will miss two seasons of on-field play. That lowers his value on the trade market. Three first-round selections likely turn to two. Multiple mid-round picks turn perhaps into two or three.
The value Houston received in return from the Cleveland Browns is substantial now knowing more of Watson's status with the league. The Texans will have at least four first-round picks, three third-round picks and three fourth-round picks through 2024. That's enough to kickstart a rebuild and give ample ammunition for Houston to move up and down draft boards to select "its" players.
Davis Mills might not be the answer at quarterback for Houston. Watson wasn't after the 2020 season. Both sides can start fresh. For Caserio, he truly can begin building the team in his image without a negative cloud of concerns hanging over his head.