Nov 20, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (78) on the field before the game against the Washington Commanders at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Caserio makes moves with Tunsil, Cooks that will impact DeMeco Ryans’ offense
Sunday was a busy day for the Texans and general manager Nick Caserio.
While the University of Houston was still celebrating its victory over Auburn and another trip to the Sweet Sixteen, Caserio also got the city’s attention when he made wishes come true for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Brandin Cooks – deals that will impact coach DeMeco Ryans’ offense.
First, Caserio completed Tunsil’s three-year, $75 million contract extension that had been in the works for weeks. It’s the second time the Texans have made Tunsil the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. In April of 2020, they signed him to a three-year, $66 million extension. Tunsil, who turns 29 in August, had one year left on that contract.
Then, Caserio did what just about everyone expected – traded Cooks to rid the Texans of a problem that had festered since last season’s trading deadline when the nine-year veteran pitched a fit after he wasn’t traded to Dallas. Former coach Lovie Smith responded by removing Cooks as a team captain. Now, 4½ months later, Cooks got his wish when Caserio shipped him to the Cowboys for a fifth-round draft choice this year and a sixth-round pick in 2024.
The Cowboys’ fifth-round pick helps the Texans replace the selection they lost when the NFL stripped them of a draft choice in that round and also fined them $175,000 for violating the salary cap. The league accused the Texans of paying for Deshaun Watson to get a membership at a facility where the quarterback could work out during the 2020 pandemic. Caserio now has 12 picks in next month’s draft and 11 next year.
Ryans and new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik have to be excited to secure Tunsil through the 2026 season. He’s anchored the left side of the offensive line since 2019 when former coach Bill O’Brien acquired Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills for two first-round draft choices and a second-round pick. Tunsil is coming off an excellent season in which he allowed one sack and was voted to his third Pro Bowl.
Tunsil, who started every game last season for the first time in his career after missing 12 in 2021 because of a broken thumb, could earn another extension if he continues to play well. He and right tackle Tytus Howard, who enters the last year of his contract and makes $13.2 million, are bookends on an offensive line that should be improved under new coach Chris Strausser – the Texans’ fourth line coach in four years.
Tunsil is the leader of an offensive line that has Kenyon Green at left guard and the newly acquired Shaq Mason at right guard. A new center could be on the way, possibly a draft choice since Caserio hasn’t signed a free agent at the position where Scott Quessenberry started in 2022 after Justin Britt left the team early in the season. Quessenberry recently signed a new one-year contract.
Since he was hired, Ryans has said repeatedly that dominating up front on both sides of the ball is essential to winning. With the exception of center, the Texans are set at four positions in the offensive line, led by Tunsil, whose 91.7 pass-blocking grade last season was the best among the league’s offensive tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.
As for Cooks, his trade was expected. In 2020, O’Brien acquired him from the Rams for the Texans’ second-round pick, and he produced for Watson and Davis Mills in his three seasons in which he caught 228 passes for 2,886 yards and 15 touchdowns. He started 44 of 50 games but missed four in 2022. Cooks’ best game was the last of the season. He caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in the 32-31 victory at Indianapolis that cost the Texans the first overall pick in the draft.
Cooks, who’ll turn 30 in September, has now been traded four times. The Cowboys have been looking for another receiver to go with CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup since they traded Amari Cooper to Cleveland last year.
One reason Caserio signed free agent receivers Robert Woods and Noah Brown was his intentions to trade Cooks. Woods, 30, caught 53 passes for 527 yards (9.9 average) and two touchdowns for the Titans last season. Brown, 27, is coming off his best season with the Cowboys. In 13 starts, he had 43 catches for 555 yards (12.9 average) and three touchdowns. By the way, in Cooks’ last season with the Texans, he caught 57 for 699 yards (12.3) and three touchdowns.
If the Texans had to play this week, their three starting receivers would be Woods and Nico Collins outside and, hopefully, John Metchie III in the slot. The Texans are hoping Metchie can play after spending his rookie year undergoing treatment for Leukemia. Brown and Amari Rodgers, who flashed last season after being claimed on waivers from Green Bay in November, also would figure in the playing time picture.
Caserio, who could sign another veteran free agent, is expected to address wide receiver in the draft. He’s expected to use the second overall pick on a quarterback – Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud – and could select a receiver at 12 or wait until the second or third rounds. This isn’t a great draft for receivers, but good value does begin in the second round.
As always, Caserio has been active in free agency and the trade market. He won’t sit on his hands during the draft, either. This is the third year of the Texans’ rebuild under Caserio, and it’s going to get even more interesting on April 27 when the team, fans, and media finally learn what prospect he’s targeted to become the new franchise quarterback.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).