HOUSTON -- As Nick Caserio gets ready for his second draft as the general manager of the Houston Texans, his weekend will look very different than it did a year ago.
In 2021, Caserio didn’t have a first- or second-round pick to work with, both gone after former GM and coach Bill O’Brien sent them to the Miami Dolphins in the trade for left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
This year, the Texans have five picks in the top 80 and seven in the top 108. In each of the past two drafts, Houston made only two picks in the top 108 and finished the draft with five picks total. The Texans enter the 2022 draft with 11 draft picks, including two in the first round (No. 3 and No. 13).
Houston’s increased draft capital is because Caserio traded quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns, getting three first-round picks (2022, '23 and '24) as part of the package in return for the Pro Bowl quarterback.
Last season, the Texans were in a tough spot, carrying Watson on their 53-man roster all year even though he was a healthy scratch on game day. It was a roster lacking young star players because the organization hasn’t had those draft picks to work with. Now, Caserio has the tools to build this Texans roster the way he wants to, and he’s taking ownership of that.
“Ultimately, I’m going to have to make the decision [of who to draft], but it’s going to be done in concert with the group of people,” Caserio said. “Ultimately, if the player works, [coach] Lovie [Smith] will get the credit. If he doesn’t, you guys can blame me.”
Caserio, who is going into the second year of the six-year contract he signed in January 2021, has been shown a lot of support by Texans chairman & CEO Cal McNair. While it's likely Caserio has a lot of leeway to rebuild a franchise that was struggling when he was hired, the GM knows he has to take advantage of the resources he has now to turn this organization around.
Although the Texans are coming off back-to-back four-win seasons and turned over a significant portion of their roster last offseason, Caserio was quick to not use the word “rebuild” when describing the franchise, saying that term is more of an “external term” used to describe the team and its roster.
Caserio's actions have shown that he's doing more than rebuilding by signing wide receiver Brandin Cooks to a two-year contract extension and not moving Tunsil, converting his base salary to a signing bonus that effectively ties him to the organization for the remaining two years of his contract.
One thing Caserio stressed in his pre-draft news conference was the idea that he’s not just building the 2022 team, but that part of his job is also to “worry about the long-term position of the franchise and try to put ourselves in the best position possible.”
“It’s, try to get good players that are good people that understand we’re building a program, and we are building the 2022 team,” Caserio said. “That’s really where the focus is.”
Last year, Caserio said the Texans were able to eliminate a portion of the board because they knew they’d be unlikely to still be available when Houston was picking at No. 67. This year, Caserio stated there are “roughly 80-100 players that we would actually draft.”
Caserio said he doesn’t expect many teams to be interested in trading up to No. 3, but there could be more conversation with No. 13.
The Texans go into the draft with more than $24 million in salary cap space, which is the third-most in the NFL, according to Over the Cap. Caserio said because of the Texans’ draft capital and salary cap situation, Houston is “in a much better position today than we were a year ago.” Still, the general manager knows it doesn’t matter how many resources you have if you don’t use them properly.
“The most important thing is making good decisions with those resources,” Caserio said. “You can't make bad decisions. You can have 500 draft picks, but if you don’t use those picks appropriately, then it’s not going to work.”