How do the Texans improve in 2020?
Texans offseason CliffsNotes: A look at all the potential moves
The Houston Texans look to improve on their 2019 season, which saw them advance to the Divisional round of the playoffs before squandering a 24-0 lead to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs went on to win the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers after beating the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship game.
The Texans hope to have their own quarterback from the 2017 NFL Draft, Deshaun Watson, to lead them to a realm in which they've never been before.
This is how I believe they should spend their offseason...
Houston has over $55 million in salary cap room for the 2020 season, per Spotrac and OverTheCap. They need to sign some key players and also have potential moves in which they could make to free up even more space.
UPDATE (Feb. 14th, 2020 -- 3:30 pm CST): Texans have cut Vernon Hargreaves. The move frees up almost $10 million in cap space for 2020 and leaves $0 dead money on his deal.
Deshaun Watson - Watson is the first legitimate franchise quarterback that the Texans have ever had. They need to give their signal-caller a long-term deal before Patrick Mahomes breaks the bank. Signing Watson early, before the deals of Dak Prescott and Mahomes are finalized, could end up saving the Texans around $4-6 million per year.
Laremy Tunsil - Tunsil gives Watson a blindside protector for the foreseeable future, if and when the Texans workout his long-term contract. The Texans could wait until after the 2020 season to pay up, but the thought of Tunsil playing out the final year of his current deal would give many in the Houston community concerns, after watching Houston move former #1 overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney for pennies on the dollar. Houston gave up a lot for Tunsil. I would still do the trade, despite the price, 10 times out of 10. The caveat being that Houston ensures Tunsil remains in Houston for years to come. Tunsil already has a contract in 2020 that has a $10.3 million cap hit. Getting his deal wouldn't hurt the Texans cap situation for 2020.
Nick Caserio / Cap - The Texans parted ways with highly-thought of cap man, Chris Olsen. Reports are out that Nick Caserio is close to re-signing with the Patriots. It'll be interesting to see who handles the contracts, now that Caserio could be out of play and Olsen is no longer with the team. Regardless, Houston should look to get their big players under contract soon.
DJ Reader - Reader has proven his worth to the franchise. Unfortunately for Houston, he's also proven his worth to the rest of the NFL. I'd expect Reader to be priced out of the Texans future plans.
Zach Cunningham - He's the future of the inside linebacker group with the Texans. His contract runs through 2020. It would make sense for Houston to lock him for the long-term with other possible moves that they may make this offseason. (More on that later)
Gareon Conley - I held Conley in the highest of regards as a prospect when he entered the draft. His best pro days are probably still in front of him. While they don't have to extend him right now, it would make a lot of sense to get him at a "buy low" price, now. If Conley has a stellar 2020, his price tag skyrockets.
Trades / Cap Moves
The Texans can free up even more space by trading some talented players or extending / restructuring current contracts.
Benardrick McKinney - In a passing league, McKinney is a dinosaur. A talented, run-stuffing linebacker that is out of place when chasing down players in coverage. Houston could save $5 million on the cap by moving him in a trade.
Dylan Cole - He's a restricted free agent that the Texans will have increased interest in bringing back, especially if they move McKinney's contract. Cole would then move up to a starter position with Cunningham and the duo would provide better coverage as a unit.
JJ Watt - Houston could look to restructure Watt's contract. It would be a move that's mutually beneficial to both the player and the team as Watt currently has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract. The move would save the Texans several million in cap space for the 2020 season.
Will Fuller - Players don't get healthier as they get older. Fuller has failed to stay healthy through each of his first four NFL seasons. A trade of the speedster would save Houston $10 million in cap space.
Zach Fulton - As the Texans offensive line improves year-over-year, Fulton should find himself out of a job. His $7 million cap hit for 2020 evaporates with a decision to cut him as he's owed $0 in dead money.
Texans Free Agents
Houston likes to retain and reward their players that are fits with the organization, both on and off the field. Here are the current free agents that I'd look to retain if I were Houston.
Jon Weeks - If you don't hear the long snappers name, often, then that usually means he's a great long snapper. Such is the case with Weeks. He should be back.
AJ McCarron - I was against the move to bring in McCarron as the backup quarterback, initially. He quickly changed my opinion in camp. The market for cost-efficient backup quarterbacks is less than stellar. McCarron would be a guy that I'd look to bring back in the fold.
Ka'imi Fairbairn - When the kicker misses, people call for their head. Fairbairn righted the ship after some early season struggles. Kickers can be fickle. I'd live with the devil I know rather than the devil I don't. Houston would be wise the bring Fairbairn back.
Roderick Johnson - Tunsil and Tytus Howard should be Watson's bookend tackles for the bulk of his career. Johnson has shown tremendous growth during his time in Houston. Offensive linemen are tougher to find now, than ever. Bring him back as the swing tackle behind Tunsil and Howard.
Bradley Roby - When he returned in week 13 and throughout the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs, he stepped his game up another notch. Roby would be a nice piece to bring back for the 2020 season, but he bet on himself on a one-year deal, similar to Tyrann Mathieu and as was the case with Mathieu, Roby should get priced out of the Texans budget on the free agent market.
Lamar Miller & Carlos Hyde - O'Brien seems to love the toughness of Miller and his willingness to do what's asked, when asked. Hyde provided great value at a position of need, after O'Brien traded Martinas Rankin for the veteran running back. I personally wouldn't look to bring either back. I'd sign another veteran on the market and draft a rookie for the position in the middle rounds to pair with Duke Johnson and the veteran signing.
Johnathan Joseph - He's become the cornerback that the fanbase loves to hate. While he's lost a step, he's a great locker room guy and still has talent as a down the roster veteran at the cornerback position. I'd look to bring him back on a team friendly deal for one year.
Brandon Dunn - He's gone mostly under-the-radar on a roster that included DJ Reader and JJ Watt on the defensive line. While he has an NFL skillset, I believe the team could upgrade the position without breaking the bank.
Darren Fells - A solid find and signing for the Texans in free agency last year. While a case could be made to bring him back, Houston has to figure out what they are doing at the tight end position with Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas and Kahale Warring. Thomas seemed to join the O'Brien doghouse last year at different times. Akins' production has been inconsistent. Warring was always a three-year project in my opinion. A lot will depend on how O'Brien values Fells and the youngsters at the position. I wouldn't be opposed to a one-year deal to bring back his blocking and size as a chain moving, redzone target.
NFL Free Agency
Due to the moves listed above, the Texans could be players in the free agency market. I don't see them going after the top guys during the first wave of free agency, but wouldn't be surprised by one or two big name, big money signings. Below, I'll list the top targets that I would be after if I were the Texans. I'll then list some other players that could be in the market for Houston, if they miss out on my top guys or choose to go more cost-effiecent.
Top of my list:
Vic Beasley - The Falcons have parted ways with their former first round pick. Beasley has made multiple position changes in the NFL and has had some great success at times. Beasley has one of the fastest getoffs that I ever evaluated, when he was coming out of college. Beasley had 8 sacks last year and during his second NFL campaign, he put up 15.5 sacks and six force fumbles.
Bud Dupree - The former Steelers' pass rusher is coming off a season in which he had 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. The addition of Beasley or Dupree would be perfect for Texans new defensive coordinator, Anthony Weaver to put in the front seven with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Brian Poole - Outside of another pass rusher, Houston needs a solid, talented cornerback to add with their mix of young corners, who have yet to live up to their pre-draft hype. Poole is a guy who isn't afraid to get into the action, all over the field. His 2019 stats had him with 58 tackles, 5 pass defensed, 5 Quarterback hits, 4 tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble.
Jordan Howard - Howard has put up either 6 or 9 rushing touchdowns in each of his four NFL seasons. 25% of his career carries have equated to first downs. He's still only 25 years old.
Maliek Collins - Houston could look to pass on an upgrade on the edge and instead look for a significant piece on the interior. If DJ Reader and Brandon Dunn leave Houston, Collins would be a great addition. Through four NFL seasons, Collins has been basically good for 20 tackles, 10 QB hits, five TFLs and four sacks each year.
Jamie Collins - This is the type of linebacker that the Texans need in a pass-heavy league. Trading McKinney would open up the spot for Collins to come in and play next to Cunningham and allow Cole to rotate in. This addition gives the Texans the type of versatility at all three levels of the defense that they'll need in a conference with Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. Collins led the Patriots in tackles in 2019 with 80. He also had 10 QB hits, 10 TFLs, seven sacks, seven PDs, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.
Robby Anderson - There's not much on the wide receiver market that should be in the Texans price range or a worthy upgrade. Anderson could easily get priced out of the Texans range in regards of what they're willing to pay the pass catcher. If they can work out a deal with Anderson, it'll soften the blow of parting with Will Fuller and give Houston a solid trio of receivers with DeAndre Hopkins, Anderson and Stills, while keeping the deep ball threat.
Anthony Harris - He tied Stephon Gilmore (defensive player of the year) and Tre'Davious White for the NFL lead in interceptions (6), this past season. A pairing of Harris and Justin Reid, as the Texans starting safety would be deadly against opposing offenses. Harris also had 60 tackles and 11 pass defensed to go with his six interceptions, last season.
Mackensie Alexander - He was overdrafted as a developmental cornerback prospect. He fits with the young additions that the Texans have made at cornerback. Just like with Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves, a change of scenery could pay dividends for the Texans, by adding him on a team-friendly deal.
Other free agents that could make sense for Houston:
QB - Jeff Driskel, Blake Bortles, Brett Hundley
RB - Kenyan Drake, Devontae Booker, DeAndre Washington, David Fluellen
WR - Nelson Agholor, Demarcus Robinson, Kendrick Bourne (Restricted Free Agent), Keelan Cole (RFA)
TE - Ricky Seals-Jones
OT - Shon Coleman
DL - Javon Hargrave, Michael Brockers, Andrew Billings, Sheldon Day, Michael Pierce, Dante Fowler Jr, Kerry Hyder, Anthony Zettel
ILB - Mychal Kendricks, Jon Bostic, Preston Brown
CB - Byron Jones, Logan Ryan, Chris Harris Jr, James Bradberry, Kendall Fuller, Daryl Worley
S - Tre Boston, Vonn Bell, Jimmie Ward (with a promise to not fight Hopkins, again)
Texans 2020 Draft Picks
The Texans don't have a first round pick, but could end up with three picks inside of the top 105 prospects, after compensatory picks are handed out.
#57 Overall (2nd round)
#101 Overall (4th round)
#121 Overall (4th round )
#154 Overall (5th round)
#218 Overall (7th round)
Compensatory Picks (per OverTheCap)
3rd round pick (Tyrann Mathieu)
7th round pick (Kendall Lamm)
7th round pick (Christian Covington)
Say what you will about Bill O'Brien and his rise to power, but one thing you can't say is that it's been boring. Houston made a ton of moves once O'Brien took over "the committee" at general manager for the Texans. Now, Houston has salary space to play with, franchise foundation pieces to sign long-term, free agents in house and around the league to make decisions on and an NFL Draft that will be unadulterated for OB.
The next few months should be highly entertaining and hopefully these CliffsNotes will help you stay in the know.