Houston Texans Tip Their Hand in Head Coaching Search and NFL Draft Preparation

Houston Texans CEO and Chairman Cal McNair and general manager Nick Caserio held a press conference early Monday evening following their decision to fire head coach Lovie Smith after his 3-13-1 season. Smith, who overlooked the Texans’ defense in 2021 before he was surprisingly promoted after David Culley’s firing, joined Culley in being let go after one year at the helm. We’re breaking down our top takeaways from their press conference.

Uncharted Territory For Houston Texans

The Texans are entering unchartered waters as Caserio will be hiring his third head coach in as many years. Faced with figuring out how to deal with Deshaun Watson’s trade request and subsequent sexual assault allegations shortly after taking the general manager job, and only having one full draft class to overhaul a barren roster upon his arrival, Caserio has faced some difficult setbacks early in his career. However, he’s also missed some opportunities to inject the roster with more young talent.

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Let’s dive into the two topics that dominated the tone of the press conference as McNair and Caserio delved into the strategies they’ll use in their head coaching search and how they’ll improve their roster for 2023 and beyond.

Texans Address Head Coaching Search Strategy

Caserio, in particular, was grilled for hiring and firing Culley and Smith, two Black coaches, after just one season each despite working with awful rosters. It’s a valid criticism of Caserio’s process. Their list of finalists from last year’s head coaching search seemed to favor Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Still, the Texans suddenly pivoted to Smith at the last minute and promoted someone who was already being outcoached as their defensive coordinator in 2021.

The third-year general manager responded to the heat by taking full responsibility for his miscues in coaching searches and roster construction. He left little doubt he plans on changing the way he’s leading this head coaching job, which McNair confirmed he’s still the main point of.

Caserio continually expressed his disappointment in the results the franchise has seen under his watch but was excited to host a more “inclusive” process that would better utilize their internal personnel compared to their previous searches.

His reflective tone about finding ways to improve was the best he could take considering the way this past season played out. It’s good he’s willing to evaluate a process that’s clearly not fully effective. Despite being a rebuilding team, five of their top six pass-catchers this past season were 29 years old or older, and the team routinely relied upon veterans 30 years or older over the last two years.

That type of process is not conductive when the coaching staff also lacks security. There’s no reason 32-year-old Rex Burkhead, 34-year-old Jerry Hughes, or 35-year-old Mario Addison should’ve been on the roster this season. 2021 was even more egregious, considering their top-three rushers were 30 or older, and 36-year-old Danny Amendola finished third amongst receivers in targets.

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McNair must have complete faith in Caserio. After all, Caserio survived despite handing Smith the second-best corner in the 2022 NFL Draft rather than drafting Sauce Gardner, and he also stuck him with Davis Mills at quarterback. No head coach could’ve pulled a significantly better season than Smith, and he was far from the long-term answer as a 64-year-old who was out of the NFL from 2015 until 2021.

Still Room For Optimism In Coaching Search

But there were promising statements amongst the typical vague promises of improving their process and workflow. Caserio specifically mentioned the Texans’ head coaching search will take time because of the NFL’s edict on interviewing coaches who are currently in the playoffs. Of the top-five candidates I identified for the Texans, four are coaching this weekend and thus cannot be interviewed until they’re eliminated or have a bye week.

His statements point towards a shift towards a younger coach. This is ideal for the Texans, who need an injection of energy, creativity, and a buildable foundation. There might be more growing pains with a first-time head coach who has to cut their teeth, but we’ve also seen young head coaches have incredible success early in their stints for good reason.

Caserio also described the potential of a collaborative partnership with their next coach, even if he doesn’t already have a relationship with their eventual pick. It’s fair to say Caserio is running on borrowed time with his job security waning, but he didn’t sound like someone forcing “The Patriot Way” in Houston. It’s possible that McNair’s patience with Caserio has led to growth that we often haven’t seen from the Bill Belichick tree of coaches and front office members once they leave Foxboro.

Most importantly, I don’t foresee this ownership group and front office landing on the same zany cast of finalists as they did last year. Concerns of Josh McCown and another Smith being in the position to be the head man shouldn’t exist. If Caserio is to be believed, he’ll recommend McNair to hire a respected coordinator who can potentially be a cornerstone franchise.

Texans Express Willingness to Trade Down in 2023 NFL Draft

Both McNair and Caserio lauded the opportunity to have significant cap space and draft assets for the first time in this regime’s tenure. Houston is projected to have at least $46 million in cap space, and their only notable free agent is edge-rusher Rasheem Green. They could open almost $30 million more by trading or releasing veterans Brandin Cook, Eric Murray, Christian Kirksey, Hughes, Steven Nelson, and Addison.

It’s fair to say the Texans suffered a loss when they won their final game of the regular season. Losing control of the No. 1 pick to Chicago is not insignificant. The Bears have their franchise quarterback in place with Justin Fields, and Indianapolis, Seattle, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Carolina could easily trade up to land their QB1.

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Houston would either need to hope that doesn’t happen, be happy with QB2, or move assets to land the franchise quarterback. Caserio didn’t show panic during this press conference, though, instead suggesting he’s open to trading down. He mentioned their 11 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft as possibly shorting them of their eventual total, saying they could end up with more.

I’d be shocked if they moved down from No. 2 considering the strength of this class is at the top. Unless Chicago grades players significantly differently than I, they can only trade so far down before missing out on an elite prospect. Houston could still land their top quarterback by staying put.

Would Houston select Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud even though he’s represented by Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta? That could be a major factor like April if there’s bad blood between the parties. It’s also possible Stroud goes No. 1 if Chicago trades out, and the Texans are happy to move down for another quarterback like Anthony Richardson or Will Levis.

Either move is defensible so long as the pick hits and the Texans don’t pass on elite playmakers. This roster needs depth, but the best pathway to winning is by getting difference-makers. Trading down too much puts that at risk.

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