HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans checked off a key box when they hired former Texan DeMeco Ryans to be their next coach. Now, Ryans and general manager Nick Caserio will have to focus on the biggest task remaining: Finding the quarterback of the future.
Whoever becomes the next starter in Houston will have to compete in the quarterback-loaded AFC for a franchise that has been searching for its answer at the position since Deshaun Watson requested a trade after leading the NFL with 4,823 passing yards during the 2020 season.
"We have one quarterback here on our roster, and we have to add more at that position," Ryans said. "We know everybody gets excited about the quarterback. The quarterback is one piece to a team. As I’ve seen in San Francisco, what happens when you don't have that one guy? Is the season over? Are you just booking it? No. How do you build around that quarterback? Yes, we want a great quarterback, but no, we need a great offensive line to protect the quarterback. We need great running backs, great tight ends, great receivers. We need a great defense, special teams."
The next quarterback has to fit new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik's system. Slowik and Ryans both came from the San Francisco 49ers. Slowik spent last season as the pass-game coordinator and will run a West Coast offense similar to that of 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
But things won't come easy for Ryans, who comes over to Houston after spending two years as the defensive coordinator in San Francisco.
The lone quarterback on the roster, Davis Mills, struggled in Year 2. He tied Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for the league lead in interceptions with 15 in 15 starts, and the Texans finished second in the NFL with 19 interceptions. Mills also led the league in fourth-quarter interceptions with seven, and the Texans finished with a 3-13-1 record.
Mills probably won't open the 2023 season as the starter, but the 2021 third-round pick out of Stanford still has two years left on his rookie deal and can serve as a viable backup option with a cap hit of only $1.42 million.
The Texans could use some of their assets to trade for a quarterback, such as the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers or the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson, but those options are unlikely.
According to league sources familiar with the Texans’ interview process, the front office in Houston told coaching candidates it plans on using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback.
The most popular quarterback options in the draft are Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis.
The Chicago Bears have the No. 1 pick and appear set at quarterback after Justin Fields showed promise in his second year, but if the Bears traded the pick -- like ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay predicts in his latest mock draft -- to a quarterback-needy team, the Texans might miss out on the player they want.
What the Bears do with the No. 1 overall pick will be something to monitor throughout the offseason.
In ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s 1.0 mock draft a few weeks ago, he, like McShay, projected Stroud to be the Texans' pick. Stroud’s performance against eventual national champion Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal elevated his stock across league circles after he finished with 348 passing yards and four touchdowns while adding another 34 yards rushing in the last-second loss.
An NFC executive told ESPN that Stroud reminded him stylistically of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
“Not an elite arm but good enough, processes well,” the executive said. “Not fast, but athletic and aware in the pocket.”
If the Texans prefer to address quarterback through free agency, they have almost $40 million in cap space.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, a veteran AFC coach picked Houston as a destination for recently released quarterback Derek Carr. It also should be noted that Carr’s older brother, David, was the first pick in Texans history in 2002 and spent five seasons as the starter.
The younger Carr is a three-time Pro Bowler and threw for 3,522 yards with 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 15 games while completing 60.8% of his passes this season. His 14 interceptions led to his benching for the last two games, but Carr is still viewed as a premier option on the market.
Another potential option could be Jimmy Garoppolo because he has ties to Caserio as both spent time in New England. Garoppolo also has ties to Ryans from when both were in San Francisco from 2017 to 2022. In addition, there was interest in trading for him during training camp.
However, it seems very unlikely the Texans pursue a long-term answer via free agency.
Regardless, the Texans believe they're heading in the right direction, but even if they don't nail their quarterback situation in the offseason, Ryans will remain optimistic about the future.
"We all play together," Ryans said. "That's the awesome part about football is it's not on one guy's shoulders to go out there and win the game for us."