With or without Deshaun Watson, rebuild will take time for Texans

HOUSTON -- When Nick Caserio took over as general manager of the Houston Texans, he inherited a team without an early draft pick, several bloated contracts on the roster and little promising young talent.

While Caserio was saying publicly -- and privately -- in January the team had no intention of trading Deshaun Watson despite his request for one, all of the above could have been fixed if he had decided to move the franchise quarterback -- for the right price, of course.

Now the conversation has drastically changed and the prospect of trading Watson is on hold for the time being with Watson facing lawsuits alleging assault and harassment from 22 women. While the legal process plays out, the organization has mostly been quiet outside of two statements and Caserio saying the allegations are “very troubling” and the team takes them “very seriously.”

It seems unlikely another team would trade for Watson before the draft while he is still being sued, especially not knowing if he will be on the commissioner’s exempt list and/or suspended for part of the 2021 season.

Instead, the Texans are in a position made worse by the way the front office has operated over the past few seasons. Had the Texans not traded away their 2021 first-round pick in 2019 as part of the package to acquire left tackle Laremy Tunsil, they would have had the No. 3 pick and this offseason might have looked a lot different.

Caserio started this rebuild during free agency, turning over the roster significantly, but signing only one player to a contract longer than two years. He signed a few players, such as former All-Pro cornerback Desmond King and former Pro Bowl running back Phillip Lindsay, who could stand out on their short-term contracts and could lead to a bigger deal down the road if they have success in 2021.

The Texans still have several veteran players with big contracts such as outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and wide receiver Randall Cobb. Both players are out of guaranteed money after this season, which will give the Texans even more spending power in free agency next season.

There is no sample size to see how Caserio operates leading a draft given this is his first offseason in Houston. But if he builds his future teams the way he did as the director of player personnel in New England, it will be through the draft. Without a first- or second-round pick this year, Caserio doesn’t have the ammunition to have an impactful draft. Not long after Caserio took the job, he talked about the need for competition to turn this team around. He made sure that was the case before and during free agency by adding a high volume of players.

When Watson first requested a trade in January, the Texans’ future got murky as Caserio had to decide the franchise’s future at quarterback. Now, with Watson’s NFL future in question, it has become increasingly likely that Houston will be in a rebuilding mode for even longer.