HOUSTON - It was no secret Nick Caserio was in for a tough offseason. Amidst the Deshaun Watson dysfunction and the search for a new head coach, the former New England Patriots' executive was going to feel the heat.
Perhaps the biggest fire was going to result from the trimming the fat of overstuffed contracts. That process is underway, as by Friday afternoon, Caserio and the Texans cleared nearly $10 million into their cap space for next season.
With the releases of J.J. Watt, Nick Martin, Senio Kelemete and Duke Johnson, the Texans are now in the positive realm of cap space entering March. Those names will be the biggest to leave, but perhaps not the last.
Houston must decide on David Johnson's status. Cutting the running back would save $6.9 million and could use the money saved in adding defensive players in free agency.
The same could said for linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who has been paid all of the guaranteed money from his five-year, $50 million extension. Houston would add another $7 million should McKinney be released.
And another: Would Houston be smart to cut ties with Whitney Mercilus? The trend of recent moves suggests he could be the next Texans standout to be looking for a new home.
Mercilus, 30, has been a staple of the Texans defense since being drafted out of Illinois in 2012. A fan favorite, Bill O'Brien rewarded his off-the-field merit with a lucrative contract worth $54 million in December of 2019.
We can fairly say Mercilus has yet to live up to the standards of his salary. In 2020, he finished with just four sacks and 21 total tackles, both career-lows in seasons where he played more than nine games.
The Texans will owe the outside linebacker at least $10.5 million due to his guaranteed contract clause. All the money Houston just used to free up in cap space basically would go back to a player just to make sure he's not on the roster.
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The concerns for Mercilus' future are warranted entering the offseason. For much of 2020, he was found rushing off the edge of Watt, who saw more double-teams than most last season. With Watt gone, does that make Mercilus production outlook worse?
Is it worth cutting Mercilus? For now, we say no.
O'Brien handed out terrible contracts left and right as the acting general manager. He made awful deals that Houston still regrets. Mercilus' contract might be the one O'Brien's worst one to date.
Houston will owe Mercilus no matter his status. Few teams will offer a decent trade package to eat his contract for even a year. Worst of all, his best days as a pass-rusher could be behind him.
Caserio will be building the Texans the way he sees fit. In the end, Mercilus is the one name who might return, whether the new GM wants him or not.
The best hope here is for a breakout year from Mercilus ... or at least one that even begins to justify $10.5 million.
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