HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans have a very good team -- they might have beaten the New England Patriots in the playoffs last season with better quarterback play -- and with quite a few contracts expiring after next season, this is their year to go all-in.
With the NFL's top defense, and an offense with several playmakers, the Texans are a quarterback away from being a dominant team, and before they traded Brock Osweiler on Thursday, they were going to have a tough time rectifying that, given the money they owed him.
But the Texans felt a change had to be made so badly that they made a drastic move by dumping Osweiler's contract in a trade that sent his $16 million guaranteed and a second-round pick to the Cleveland Browns.
Houston got a lifeline from the Browns in a move that made sense for both teams: Cleveland had surplus money and cap space to spend and is trying to stockpile draft picks. The Texans were looking for any way to get out from under the guaranteed money owed to Osweiler, their free-agent prize from a year ago.
For the price of a second-round pick and swapping a fourth-round selection with a sixth from Cleveland, the Texans rid themselves of Osweiler and showed they are intent on going for it 2017. And the next step in that plan might include Tony Romo taking over under center for Houston.
On Thursday, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Romo is now expected to be traded rather than being released by the Dallas Cowboys because the team now believes "they have a trade that will work for Romo and the team."
While the Texans might have been hesitant to trade for Romo before, given their financial situation, and preferred to sign him to an incentive-laden deal once he was released by the Cowboys, now Houston has the cap space to make a trade happen. Along with dealing Osweiler, the Texans won't have to pay cornerback A.J. Bouye, who got a five-year, $67.5 million deal with $26 million guaranteed from the Jacksonville Jaguars. That gives Houston more money to allocate to the quarterback position.
That doesn't mean the Texans wouldn't prefer to wait for Romo to be released, but if the Cowboys are determined to get something for him, Houston might not have a choice. The Texans already made one big trade during this free-agency period and could make another to get the 36-year-old quarterback.
If Romo is released, he probably will still command a big contract. On Wednesday, a group of ESPN Insiders predicted that Romo will sign a contract worth anywhere from $16 million to $20 million that could include several incentive clauses.
If the Texans can't land Romo -- or don't want him -- they have already improved their team, even with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as the only quarterbacks on the roster. The Texans knew midway through the season that Osweiler wasn't the quarterback to lead them to a Super Bowl, so now they have the financial flexibility to improve the team elsewhere if that is not an option. And the Texans do at least have what they didn't have before: salary-cap space. After the moves the team made Thursday, Houston has more than $30 million available for next season, a huge difference from the $21.4 million with which the Texans started the day.
Osweiler struggled mightily in his first season in Houston, throwing for more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15) in 15 regular-season games and failing to top 300 yards in a game. Osweiler was benched for Savage in Week 15; Savage showed some promise in his limited time but hasn't been able to stay healthy in his three-year NFL career. Because of this, the Texans aren't quite sure what they could get from their former fourth-round pick. The Texans could draft a quarterback and choose to give Savage a fair shot at winning the starting job during the offseason and training camp.
Osweiler was a disappointment in 2016, but Houston still won the AFC South and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs. If the Texans have the desire -- and now have the cap space -- to land even an average quarterback in free agency, they could have their eyes set on an even higher mark in 2017.