Next Texans general manager could create space with strategic cuts

HOUSTON -- The next Houston Texans general manager will have a lot of holes to fill on this roster and won't have a lot of resources to make it easy.

According to ESPN’s Roster Management System, the Texans are currently almost $18 million over the 2021 salary cap. They also won’t get a cheap fix, as they currently don’t have first- or second-round draft picks in 2021.

However, there are quite a few contracts Houston could move on from this offseason to clear cap space, or perhaps draw an asset or two in return.

A look at some of the contracts that the Texans’ next general manager could get out from under:

RB David Johnson

It’s hard to see the 29-year-old running back returning to Houston on the final season of his contract. Johnson is owed $9 million in 2021 and even if you take out the unbalanced trade that brought him to Houston when evaluating his performance, he hasn’t played anywhere near the $11 million salary he’s making this year.

Johnson is coming off his best performance of the season in the passing game, catching 11 passes for 106 yards against the Colts. But he hasn’t been a difference-maker on the ground, which is what Houston was hoping for when it acquired the 29-year-old. Even a strong finish to the season isn’t likely to change how any incoming general manager will view Johnson.

DE J.J. Watt

Watt is the biggest name on the list. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has one $17.5 million season left under contract in Houston, but that money is not guaranteed. While it might be hard to picture the Texans trading away the face of the franchise, it makes sense to get something in return for Watt, save the $17.5 million and let Watt finish his career in a spot where he has a chance to win right away instead of waiting through another season that likely includes a lot of roster turnover.

WR Brandin Cooks

Cooks has $39 million remaining on his contract over the next three years, but none of it is guaranteed. He has 63 catches for 843 yards this season and has been a consistent presence for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Because Cooks does not have any guaranteed money on his contract, Houston could try to sign him to a contract extension that lowers his cap hit and guarantees him money. A lot of this could depend on how they handle Fuller’s upcoming free agency.

WR Will Fuller

Fuller was playing on his fifth-year option, and was going to be an interesting call for the Texans’ front office if he made it through the season healthy and continued to be a difference-maker for Watson and the Texans’ offense. He did make it through the season healthy and was having an impressive season before he was suspended six games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He will miss the final five games of the 2020 season and the first game of 2021.

But the Texans could bring him back, perhaps under a lower salary because of the suspension. Even after Fuller was suspended, Watson said he thinks it's "very important" that the free-agent wide receiver returns to Houston in 2021. Fuller was likely to get a contract worth around $15 million per season had he not been suspended, and even a number close to that could fit in the Texans’ salary-cap plans depending on the other moves made from this list.

CB Bradley Roby

Houston is in a unique position with their No. 1 cornerback, who was also suspended six games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. According to Over the Cap, the Texans could choose to void the guaranteed money in Roby’s contract because of the suspension. While that could save Houston money, ultimately the Texans are thin at the position and Roby was playing well before his suspension.

RB Duke Johnson

The Texans’ backup running back is another candidate to be cut or have his contract restructured. Johnson is owed $5.1 million in 2021 and didn’t make a strong case in the four games David Johnson missed. The Texans could start over at the position or bring Duke Johnson back on a cheaper contract.

C Nick Martin

The Texans signed Martin to a three-year, $33 million deal in 2019 and he has a cap hit of $8.75 million next season, which ranks eighth among centers. It doesn’t seem likely Houston would want to start over at that position, especially given the familiarity Martin and Watson have developed over four seasons. Martin could be a candidate for a contract restructure this offseason.

RG Zach Fulton

Houston restructured Fulton’s contract in May so they could return all five starters for the first time in coach Bill O’Brien’s time with the team. The continuity has not paid off, and there have been several switches at guard this season. The Texans could save $3 million by cutting Fulton during the offseason.