In a surprising move, the Houston Texans traded 2 of their best players away in Brandin Cooks and Laremy Tunsil. The moves were made to free up cap space for 2018, with only Davis Mills remaining on the roster as an experienced player.
HOUSTON, Texas — It would have been simple for the Houston Texans to sell away the few established players they still have to give general manager Nick Caserio even more of a blank slate to assemble a club after trading quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Instead, Caserio extended wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ deal for another two years and retained left tackle Laremy Tunsil, changing his basic salary to a signing bonus that essentially binds him to the team for the next two years.
By retaining those two guys, the Texans are demonstrating that they aren’t completely opposed to winning, but also that they want to give Davis Mills a chance to be their long-term quarterback.
Despite letting go of coach David Culley this summer, the Texans have given Mills, a third-round selection in 2021, continuity in his coaching staff by moving defensive coordinator Lovie Smith to head coach and passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton to offensive coordinator.
The Texans had little certainty on Watson’s future, no first- or second-round selections, and little expectation of contending for a playoff place in the foreseeable future when they chose Mills last year. Mills struggled at initially when veteran Tyrod Taylor went down with a left hamstring injury in Week 2, but he improved enough towards the end of the season when he replaced Taylor, who struggled after returning from injury, to earn a chance to challenge for the Texans’ starting position this season.
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The Texans currently control five of the top 80 selections in this month’s draft, including the third overall pick and the 13th overall pick acquired from the Browns in the Watson deal. They have two first-round picks, which is more than they have had in the previous four drafts combined.
Caserio remarked on the need of creating the proper culture in Houston when he was recruited in January 2021. He did so by reorganizing the squad, signing senior players to one- or two-year deals, and attempting to fix a scenario that saw the franchise’s two biggest stars, Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt, opt to depart.
Caserio re-signed several players who he felt were part of the “foundational culture,” which includes players who are “tough-minded, selfless, who are going to work hard every day, and they’re going to compete their a— off,” after a season that he described as “not as much outcome-oriented as process-oriented.”
As a consequence, linebackers Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill, center Justin Britt, and cornerback Desmond King II were re-signed by Houston.
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“You could look at the individuals he signed back, the people he brought in, and they’re simply high-effort leaders who have won a lot of games and know what it takes,” Britt said. “I can’t speak for anybody else, but I can promise that I’ll show up the same way every day.”
While Kirksey said that “creating a culture” “doesn’t happen overnight,” it’s evident that Caserio and Smith think that keeping important players like Cooks and Tunsil is critical to constructing a winning team in Houston.
“It’s a process that’s been put in place,” Kirskey said, “and the people that are brought back on the club are part of that culture that [Caserio] is trying to develop.” “But, to me, the next stage is believing.” We’ve found the appropriate people; now it’s time to put our faith in the system. We have to believe what the coaches are telling us. The coaches must have faith in our ability to perform on the field. That, I believe, is the following section. We’re currently establishing that trust with one another.
“As you know, there will be more additions to the squad in the draft, and now they must embrace the culture that we have established.” Just because we had a [four-win] season last year doesn’t mean we didn’t put in the effort. I believe we’re agitating the situation. I believe we’re still putting the appropriate components together for what we want to be and who we want to be. All we have to do now is keep trusting it, and everything will fall into place.”