The NFL trade deadline is just five days away, and while all the headlines surrounding the Houston Texans have been focused on a potential trade for wantaway quarterback Deshaun Watson, the fact is that there are very few players on this roster who should consider themselves 'safe.'
Keeping this in mind, exactly who falls into this category? Who has done enough to consider themselves a building block for this rebuilding team?
Well, for starters, the rookies should be impervious from trade talks.
Quarterback Davis Mills has made five straight starts and while far from playing at an MVP level, he has shown signs of improvement and at this time is an important player for the Texans.
Fellow rookies wide receiver Nico Collins and tight end Brevin Jordan will be safe. While Jordan has yet to suit up for a game, he has the raw skills to be a contributor down the line. Collins, however, has already shown signs of what is, hopefully, to come. A rangy and powerful weapon, Collins is a core member of this offense already and will be one of the building blocks of this team moving forward.
Arguably Houston's most valuable rookie to date, defensive tackle Roy Lopez, has shown more than enough that he should be considered a potential mainstay in this defensive front for some years to come. A sixth-round pick, he's outperformed his draft selection by far and is already a starter.
Linebacker Garret Wallow is a valuable depth option and special teamer who should be safe for the time being given his age.
Offensively, 25-year-old versatile lineman Tytus Howard has proven he is a starting-caliber player who can be relied upon.
The Texans also seem keen on right tackle Charlie Heck who, now a starter in his second year, could be a long-term option and thus relatively secure in his position.
Elsewhere, left tackle Laremy Tunsil is one of the best in the league. However, with $36.35 million in base salary alone remaining on his current deal, the scale of his contract could make him surplus to requirements for general manager Nick Caserio as he looks to free cap space.
Star wideout Brandin Cooks is a player no Texans fan will want to see depart given his production and textbook professionalism, but if it's draft picks Caserio wants, a valuable player like Cooks may not be safe from yet another trade.
Defensively it's similarly slim pickings.
Texans Trio Sick with Non-COVID Illness
Houston Texans Tracker for 2021: Check back often as we keep you up-to-date on Texans NFL news as Houston works on its roster-building
Former Texan Wins NFC Defensive Player of the Week
Former Texans cornerback Rasul Douglas has won NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the Green Bay Packers, three months after being cut by Houston.
Texans vs. Colts: What's Houston's Key To Stopping Indianapolis?
Running has been key to Indianapolis Colts' success
Former second-round pick defensive tackle Ross Blacklock has shown signs of improvement from what was a disappointing rookie year in 2020.
However, any improvements on his part have been outshone by fellow sophomore, defensive end Jonathan Greenard. With a team-leading six sacks on the year already, he could be a real force in years to come and crucial to this defense.
Veteran lineman Maliek Collins has also shown glimpses of his former best since joining the Texans and given how young this team will inevitably be next season, a trusted veteran presence up front would be an important role.
At linebacker, Texans leading tackler Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill have both had strong seasons so far with the latter in particular proving a somewhat unexpected success.
Zach Cunningham, however, has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and has seen his role significantly diminished compared to previous seasons. And having signed a new four-year $58 million contract last year, trading him would give Caserio significant financial breathing room.
When it comes to the defensive backfield, so far safety Justin Reid is the only player who looks like a bonified NFL starter.
His contract is set to run out this offseason, so trading him is of course off the table. He should be a top priority for Caserio come the end of the season.
Like Cunningham and Tunsil, safety Eric Murray has a hefty contract, due $5 million in base salary alone next year, and given that since arriving last year he's failed to make much of a consistent impression he could be one on the move soon.
Also, don't be surprised if third-year defensive back Lonnie Johnson is moved also. While he leads the team in interceptions with three so far, his overall play remains inconsistent and the coaching staff doesn't seem sold on him as a starter given that they continue to rotate at the position.
A former second-round pick, teams could see him as a project worth gambling on.
Ultimately, an NFL player can never rest on their laurels thinking that they're secure in their job - Job security in this league simply doesn't exist for 99% of those guys.
This is especially apt when it comes to discussing the Texans. At 1-6 on the year, nobody should feel completely safe, now more than ever with the trade deadline just five days away.
But with this in mind, some players should feel relatively comfortable knowing they'll be spared from trade talks or an impending departure, safe(ish in the knowledge that they have done enough to prove they can be a building block moving forward for this new-look team.