INDIANAPOLIS -- Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio knows things are different going into the upcoming season.
Heading into Year 3 on the job, Caserio isn’t fazed by the heightened pressure to accelerate a complete rebuild of an organization that has won just 11 games in his past three seasons, and he also isn’t allowing the higher expectations to change his approach to how he envisions building his team.
“Every year there's pressure associated with being in the NFL, so each year is its own entity,” Caserio told ESPN. “So what you want to try to do is focus on that season, what do you have to do this year? What do you have to do to put ourselves in the best position to put a good product on the field?”
Caserio won’t let outside expectations deter his approach which centers around “getting the right people and the right players that fit what we're trying to do.”
He feels this approach allows the organization the opportunity to lay a foundation for sustainable success.
The offseason began with the firing of Lovie Smith, who was let go on the final day of the season after finishing with a record of 3-13-1 in his lone year as the head coach.
That paved the way for the hiring of one of the hottest names in football in former Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans, and by all accounts, he and Caserio are off and running to turn things around.
“It’s been awesome working with Nick," Ryans said at the NFL scouting combine. "We hit the ground running. Nick is a very knowledgeable guy. and I’m happy to be a part of a team that has a GM in place who has so much experience.
"It’s been a very smooth transition, a smooth process. Communication has been awesome working with Nick. We see the game the same way, which is great ... and see players the same. It will be really nice to continue to work with him.”
On Friday, the Texans started free agency by agreeing to terms with veteran wide receiver Robert Woods after he was released by the Tennessee Titans last month.
Unlike the past two offseason cycles, Caserio had about $40 million in cap space to work with, and that figure is bolstered by quality draft capital.
In 2021, the organization had $20 million in cap space but lacked a third-round pick, and in 2022, they had $15 million in cap space.
Things did look up on the draft front in 2022 after the Texans added to their draft capital when they traded quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns. That move gave Houston five picks in the top 75, and the same will be true in April's draft if the Texans keep their current picks.
There has been seven instances since 2016 where a team has selected five or more picks in the top 75. The Browns are the only team to do it twice (2017, 2018) in that span.
With all of that said, the Texans currently came into the weekend before free agency week with the third-most cap room, and the No. 2 and No. 12 picks highlight their draft capital.
Regardless of which direction the organization decides to go this offseason to add talent, the Texans know they need to address the quarterback position in particular. The only quarterback on the roster is Davis Mills, who struggled in Year 2 before being benched for Kyle Allen in Weeks 12 and 13. He regained the starting spot in Week 14 in a two-QB approach with Jeff Driskel, but he still finished the season with 15 interceptions, tied with the Dallas Cowboys' Dak Prescott for the most in the league.
Beyond quarterback, the Texans also need to fill holes on a defense that allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in a single season (2,894) ever and ranked 30th in total defense, allowing 379.5 yards per game.
“Having those picks there, you know you're gonna get good quality players. ... They can come in and add quality depth for you,” Ryans told ESPN. “I think when you are at the top it's easier to pick those guys because the core guys are a really good group of guys. So you have your choice to add the right guys. ... Talent is great, but are we adding the right people and the right players so this is exciting.”
Ryans is right, having high picks can create excitement, but turning those picks into impact players is another story -- and striking out on those picks can halt the progression of the franchise.
For example, the Texans used the No. 3 pick on cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and the No.15 overall pick on guard Kenyon Green in last year's draft.
Both had bright sports in their rookie years, as Stingley didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage and Green was able to plow defenders in the run game at times, but Stingley did miss eight games with a hamstring injury and Green struggled in pass protection at times as he allowed eight sacks per ESPN Stats & Information.
But in the second round, the Texans safety did seem to find a gem in safety Jalen Pitre, who made history as the only rookie to finish with more than 145 tackles and five interceptions.
The opportunity to build on the young core and fill holes on the roster begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET when free agency officially begins.
The Texans only have one impending free agent who started 10 or more games in safety Jonathan Owens, who finished with 125 tackles. Defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo could be someone Houston tries to retain after he had 5.5 sacks in his last six starts.
On offense, tight end Jordan Akins, who led the team in receiving touchdowns (5) and wide receiver Chris Moore, who finished second in receiving yards (548) are free agents.
Whether they keep players or let others walk, Caserio's approach won't differ much, but he's hoping that the results in the win column will.