Solomon: Nick Caserio gradually improves the Texans roster, but the draft remains fundamental

The food frenzy that is NFL free agency kicked off Wednesday, but Texans didn’t partake in the fine dining.

The high-end players landed elsewhere, as general manager Nick Caserio moved carefully in building the roster for new head coach DeMeco Ryans’ first season.

At this point, there hasn’t been a major meltdown in Houston, which isn’t unexpected, just disappointing.

None of the nearly anonymous Texan baker’s dozen signatories have ever attended a Pro Bowl. Most have not even started in the league. A good bet is that half of them, thanks to low-paying short-term contracts, won’t be on the roster next year, assuming they make this year’s team.

So what are the Texans doing?

Caserio is taking a measured and conservative approach to the 2023 season.

That doesn’t mean Caserio hasn’t improved the roster. Signing names you’ve heard of might excite some fans, but it wouldn’t necessarily translate into wins.

Agency is only step 1 of the list building process and agency is just getting started.

The Texans entered free agency with the fourth-largest escort available under the salary cap. Clearly, they’re not going to waste it just to make the fans and the media feel good.

With Caserio in his third offseason, building a team for his third head coach, perhaps we can now see his plan in action. Better, or he’ll have to start wearing heat-resistant pants.

We are past the time when everything could be blamed on Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby.

The Texans are about to be the DeMeco Ryans team, but this is Caserio’s roster.

Caserio has a penchant for signing players for short-term deals that allow him to maintain flexibility with maximum space in future years.

That’s great, if you ever get to use that cap space on high-end players. The Texans aren’t there yet, but their time is coming.

Next year, the Texans should have a strong core of young players, led by the quarterback who will presumably pick the No. 1 pick. 2, with a bright future playing rookie chords. Additionally, they will have a significant space limit to engage veterans.

Jacksonville signed players and an NFL-record $175 million in guaranteed contracts in the first two weeks of free agency last year and went from a team with three wins – one short of what the Texans managed that season – to South Division winner.

The Jaguars were working with a better overall roster than the Texans, plus they were in their sophomore year with their franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence nabbing the #1 overall in 2021. Maybe next year will be the Texans’ year to show off .

Yes, I know, waiting until next year is an all too familiar refrain for Texan fans.

As for this year, last week’s trade for guard Shaq Mason, who has eight years as a starter on his resume, should be a dramatic improvement. The addition of wide receiver Robert Woods and quarterback Case Keenum will make all the difference.

The Texans’ offensive line is already better than the one it fielded to protect David Carr, the franchise’s first draft pick. OK, that’s not saying much, but with Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard at odds, shoring up the infielder will help the rookie QB settle in.

Keenum, the former University of Houston star, returned to where his career began as an undrafted free agent with the Texans in 2012. Keenum proved that he came to help a team win games.

Woods, whose father was on the Oilers’ 1978 AFC championship team, is a 10-year starter who led the Titans in receiving last season.

But with a trade request from Brandin Cooks, who has led the Texans in receiving in the three years since the team foolishly traded DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans still need peak wideout offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik to set up an NFL offense qualified. Something the Texans didn’t have in the previous two seasons.

While it may seem like the Texans are locked in a perpetual rebuild, they are in the midst of a comeback if Caserio does well in the draft.

Of course, drafts can be hit and miss.

The Texans hold five picks from the top 75, including the second, 12th, and 33rd overall picks.

In 2006, the Texan had five top 100 picks and selected four players who have played in the NFL for at least a decade. It was the best draft in franchise history.

Ryans was picked no. 33 and named Defensive Rookie of the Year that season.

The enthusiasm with which the Texan coaches and staff have shown since the hiring of Ryans indicates that there is more harmony in the building than there has been in years. Going forward, that should pay dividends in player acquisition, player development.

It won’t be long before it becomes known that players want to play for the Ryans, making the Texans a target organization rather than just another team.

For now, Caserio is just putting bits and pieces together.

At least it has better bits than when it arrived. So this is progress.

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