HOUSTON — About 8,000 Houston Texans fans flocked to the Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston before the start of the NFL draft last Thursday in April, as the Texans hosted a draft party that marked a historic day that no viewer could forget.
A giant screen showing the live action in Kansas City, Missouri, was the star of the party, as current Texans players eagerly await potential new faces to the franchise.
All eyes were on the screen as the Carolina Panthers picked Alabama quarterback Bryce Young at number 1 and the Texans were on the clock for the second pick. Almost all fans eagerly awaited NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to announce the selection.
The fans held onto every word, and when Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud’s name was announced, the sounds of jubilant cheers and a standing ovation echoed from the crowd. And the wait began when the Texans were next to grab 12th place.
Until they weren’t anymore.
As emotions subsided, a surprise announcement was made to a shocked crowd. Yes, the Texans had moved up to No. 3 (where they would sign Alabama defenseman Will Anderson Jr.).
But at that moment it wasn’t about that choice. This 15-minute flurry was about how the Texans hatched a plan that would take years to implement.
Here’s how they got there.
IF MANAGING DIRECTOR Starting in January 2021, Nick Caserio marked the end of a Texans era with former coach and GM Bill O’Brien, quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and pass-rusher JJ Watt — a trio of players who led the organization four AFC South titles from 2015 to 2019 and a coach who has the only .500 record in franchise history.
The Texans were coming off a 4-12 season in 2020 when O’Brien was fired after a 4-0 start. Watson requested a move the same month Caserio was hired, Watt asked to part ways next month to avoid being part of a rebuild, and Hopkins was traded to the Arizona Cardinals the previous offseason after venturing out his frustration had expressed.
Caserio only had $20 million in cap space in his first year. He also had no first-round picks or second-round picks, after O’Brien traded the franchise’s first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 and a second-round pick in 2021 to the Miami Dolphins for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and former receiver Kenny had stills in 2019.
In Caserio’s second offseason, he was able to trade Watson for first-round picks in 2022, 2023, and 2024, as well as a third-round pick from 2023 and a fourth-round pick from 2024, but an ever-increasing dead-cap number, the 77.9 million US dollars reached 2022 capped last year’s cap place (15 million US dollars).
The Texans have had limited long-term signings over the past two seasons, as they’ve had 42 players during that span who made at least one snap while on a one-year contract. That number was the fifth-highest number (the Cardinals were first at 47).
Houston also ran starting safety Justin Reid, linebacker Jacob Martin and receiver Will Fuller V on free agency, and linebacker Zach Cunningham was released in December 2021 after signing a four-year, $58 million contract extension in 2020.
Caserio signed contract extensions to wide receiver Brandin Cooks in 2022 and Tunsil in 2023, but Cooks requested a trade last season. Cooks got his wish in March when he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a fifth-round pick in 2023 and a sixth-round pick in 2024.
But the Texans’ cap issues didn’t stop them from attracting young talent. It provided flexibility for the Aggressiveness to recruit the next wave of Texans when one of those picks turned into running back Dameon Pierce, who finished seventh in rushing (939 yards) despite suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 14 had moved. The Texans also used their second first-round pick in 2022 to defeat left-back Kenyon Green.
The remainder of the 2022 Texans class consisted of safety Jalen Pitre, who became the eighth player in history to finish the second round with more than 140 tackles and five interceptions, and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who didn’t allow a touchdown in terms of reporting it’s No. 3 overall.
But while Caserio tried to fill the squad with younger talent and add players on one-year contracts, he struggled to find the manager of the future. He hired and fired two head coaches in two consecutive seasons — David Culley (4-13 in 2021) and promoted defensive coordinator Lovie Smith (3-13-1 in 2022).
DURING THIS LOW SEASON Caserio has brought in one of the hottest prospects on the coaching cycle in former Texans All-Pro linebacker DeMeco Ryans. He also had approximately $40 million in cap space to work with and only $5.55 million in dead cap to absorb.
The Texans signed former Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz to a one-year, $9 million deal to replace production tight end Jordan Akins, who signed with the Browns after beating the Texans on touchdown receptions had cited (5). Over the past three seasons, Schultz totaled 2,000 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns, ranking seventh among tight ends in receiving yards, fourth in catches, and fifth in touchdowns.
They signed wide receiver Robert Woods to a two-year, $15.25 million deal after rushing for 527 yards with the Tennessee Titans in 2022. The offensive line was strengthened after a sixth-round pick was traded to Tampa Bay Buccaneers right-back Shaq Mason. Mason, who had a 92.7% pass-block win rate (27th in the NFL) and conceded just three sacks last season according to ESPN Stats & Information, signed a three-year extension with the Texans Wednesday.
Mason joins an offensive line carried by tackles Tunsil and Tytus Howard, who have been credited with 12 sacks (also second-least). That trio is why Mason believes the Texans’ offensive line “can definitely be one of the best lines in the league.”
On the defensive side, they signed defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to a one-year, $10.5 million contract and former San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward to a two-year, $13 million deal.
Rankins will be familiar with the Texans’ new defensive system, having played for the Jets and coach Robert Saleh for the past two seasons, and Ryans and Saleh are following the same pattern as the 49ers’ last two defensive coordinators following the split. Both can help teach their teammates the system, as Ward already sees himself as an “extra coach.”
“Obviously I know that defense,” Ward said. “I am not perfect. Sometimes I’m pretty sure I make mistakes.” [I’ll] Just try to take the younger ones with you because I’ve been through a lot in my tenth year in this league.”
The organization also added two veterans, Denzel Perryman and Cory Littleton, former Pro Bowl linebackers.
The hope is that these new defensive additions, including Anderson, improve their running defense, which allowed for the sixth-most rushing yards in a single season (2,894) ever and ranked 30th in total defense and 379.5 in 2022 Yards allowed per game.
However, after giving up picks #12 and 33 and a prospective first-rounder to sign Anderson, the Texans are hoping all the patience it took to reach this moment has paid off.
“I think the goal every year is to add players at every step that we think have the ability to help us,” Caserio said after the draft. “Hopefully we managed to do that through this lens. We’ll find out more when they actually get here and then actually start our program.”