Richard Justice: With a new head coach, the coming draft of a quarterback and almost $40 million in cap space, Texans fans finally have a reason to be optimistic

Dec 4, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans fans cheer for the defense against the Cleveland Browns in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Justice: With a new head coach, the coming draft of a quarterback and almost $40 million in cap space, Texans fans finally have a reason to be optimistic

   Dallas-Fort Worth columnist/talk show host/legend Randy Galloway for years argued the Texas Rangers had the best fans in all of Major League Baseball.

   His logic was this: The Rangers for decades and decades gave their fans losing teams and lousy management. No matter. Rangers fans still showed up at the ballpark and still cared deeply and believed that next season would be The Year.

   That’s how I feel about our Texans and all the thousands of people that still love their team and have an unshakable optimism that good times are around the corner.

   Don’t let those empty seats at NRG Stadium fool you. The Astros may be No. 1 in hearts and minds because they’ve been run so smartly and had so much success the last decade.

   But the Texans lurk. Even during the postseason runs, fans would still want to chat up the Texans.

   Do you think Davis Mills can be the guy? 

   Are you as impressed by this draft class as I am?

   I know a guy who dropped his season tickets and dog-cussed the poor Texans staffer on the other end of the phone.

   “I’m done with you guys,” he declared.

   He wasn’t. He still has the depth chart nearly committed to memory and still dies a little with each loss. He’s why this should be one of the NFL’s great franchises.

   That passion has been waiting on a spark of hope to be lit all over again, and that hope was delivered Jan. 30 with the hiring of DeMeco Ryans.

   Fans typically are cynical about these things. Twitter is built around snark. Not this time.

   Texans fans love this guy and believe the NFL’s next great head coach has just walked through the door. He’s seen as one of ours, a kid who showed up as the 33rd pick of the 2006 draft and played his tail off for six seasons.

   Fans understand that he was as much a leader as a player. He grasped things only the really special ones grasp.

   He had a presence, too, one of those people that makes you think that the five minutes you spend with him are the best five minutes of his day.

   That ability to touch people and to get them to buy in and believe in themselves are huge parts of what impressed the Texans about him.

   His hiring will be remembered as a monumentally important step on the road back to respectability. 

   Another big one will come this spring when the Texans draft a quarterback. To be able to put the two most important ingredients to a winning team into place in one off-season is the best reason it’s okay to be excited about this team again.

    Because the Texans have lost 31 of 38 games, progress hasn’t been obvious. But we may look back two years from now and understand it has been there thanks to the good work of general manager Nick Caserio.

   Among them:

   • 25 new players on the active roster, including 10 rookies (six of them draft choices).

   • Defensively, the Texans gave rookies the second-most playing time in the NFL. Offensively, they were in the top ten in playing rookies, thanks mainly to Dameon Pierce, Troy Hairston, Teagan Quitoriano and Kenyon Green.

   • Because of Caserio, the Texans have five of the first 73 picks in the 2023 draft, including two of the top twelve. The Texans also have two first-round picks in 2024 and two fourth-rounders.

   • The Texans have money to spend. They’re around $37 million under the salary cap. Only the Bears, Falcons and Giants have more.

   Fresh off a 3-13 season, it would be unrealistic to see the Texans making the playoffs in 2023. On the other hand, the AFC South probably offers the easiest path to the postseason.

   But that’s not the point. Texans fans want to see progress and competence. DeMeco Ryans is easy to believe in, and with all those young players and the arrival of Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud to play quarterback, there could be an entirely different feel around the franchise next season.

   Hope has been in such short supply the last few years that it’s odd to suddenly be feeling so optimistic about the state of the Texans. Hopefully, we get used to it.

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