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In Passing on Baker Mayfield Trade, Texans Bet on Davis Mills

With Baker Mayfield heading to Carolina, the Texans are more than content in Davis Mills being the starter come Week 1

HOUSTON -- Wednesday's trade news likely means little to the fans of the Houston Texans. Internally, it likely means something to quarterback Davis Mills.

Though there was little movement from the front office, passing on trying to trade Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield does help confirm that the Texans are putting their trust in Mills. They also likely are closing the door on any chance of a high profile veteran taking snaps at NRG Stadium come 2022.

Houston has been linked to San Francisco 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo due to the ties with general manager Nick Caserio from New England.  Mayfield — who patiently has waited for a trade since the Browns added former Texans' starter Deshaun Watson in March — was shipped to the Panthers for a 2024 fifth-round conditional pick.

That selection could become a fourth-round pick if Mayfield plays at least 70 percent of snaps. Perhaps the part that's being overlooked in the former No. 1 pick's willingness to take a pay cut. Mayfield left $3.5 million on the table for Cleveland to only $10.5 million of his $18.8 million salary.

Garoppolo, who is coming off shoulder surgery and has yet to throw a pass since the NFC championship, is set to make just under $25 million this season. The Texans weren't interested in Mayfield at $18 million. Based on that: Does anyone think Caserio is willing to give up draft capital for Garoppolo and pay a hefty price for what for would be a one-year rental? Better yet, is San Francisco willing to eat say $17 million? Maybe more?

Mills, Caserio's first selection as the Texans GM, isn't guaranteed a thing past 2022. He will start Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts. Barring an injury, he'll likely hold the title of QB1 through Week 18 of the regular season.

Consider it an audition. Mills won't have to worry about the competition of Jeff Driskel or Kyle Allen for the impending year. That doesn't mean he'll forget that the Texans have two first-round picks in 2023 and 2024.

He also has to understand that the 2023 quarterback class is advertised as better than 2022's.

Ohio State's C.J. Stroud often finds himself at the forefront of mocks with the Texans landing the No. 1 pick. There's very little dropoff between him and Alabama's Bryce Young in terms of potential at the next level.

Stroud and Young highlight the impending the class, but they're not the only two to watch. Miami's Tyler Van Dyke has been lauded for his accuracy and frame. Kentucky's Will Levis has been praised for his quick decision-making and pocket awareness. Others such as South Carolina's Spencer Rattler, Florida's Anthony's Richardson, Tennessee's Hendon Hooker and plenty more have potential to break out before April of next season.

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You get the idea. The Texans have options at quarterback. One of those options is Mills.

What version of Mills will new coach Lovie Smith see in 2022? Will it be the one from Week 2 that was frazzled in road games? The one who struggled with consistency in downfield passing? The one who threw seven touchdowns and seven interceptions while posting an 0-6 record?

Perhaps.

Of course, Mills could be the version of himself that showed up final five starts with gusto. His 102.4 passer rating was eighth-highest among all active starters during that span. His completion percentage hovered around 69 percent while throwing for over 300 yards twice. The touchdown total went up from seven to nine while the interceptions diminished from seven to two. 

That version of Mills? Yes, the Texans do have something to work with. 

The best asset a young quarterback can have from a coaching staff is trust. Houston is giving that to Mills while believing he's the best option for 2022. The "best" could mean plenty depending on what the overall plan is.

Hopefully, Houston wants Mills to prove that last year's late-season success is the start of something good. It certainly would save a franchise that's looking for foundational pieces an early selection on a rookie quarterback who could fizzle out of the league by Year 3.

Mayfield likely was the only quarterback Houston would have considered after reports swirled that Cleveland was willing to pay part of his salary. Caserio kicked the tires on that idea and decided he'd rather bet on Mills than go for broke with Baker.

By this time next year, Mills could be the future in Houston. He could be a backup. He could be on a different team if the right price comes along. For now, he has a chance to be something.

He also has the front office's seal of approval.