New general manager Nick Caserio has drawn deserved criticism for his handling of the Watson situation, yet to his credit, has also built a lot of depth on the roster with some savvy free-agent moves.
If certain veterans restructure their contracts, Caserio should still have some salary cap cash left over to make more open-market moves. Here are five players Houston should target even after its wave of acquisitions to date.
Duron Harmon, safety
Caserio spent a long time in the New England Patriots’ front office, and was the director of player personnel from 2008 through last season. Harmon was drafted by the Patriots in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and developed into a fine role player in the secondary who was part of three Super Bowl winners.
After being traded to former Pats assistant Matt Patricia in Detroit and seeing the Lions go up in flames, perhaps Harmon doesn’t want to use his prior connection to Foxborough as the means to secure his next contract.
On the other hand, Harmon obviously knows Caserio well, and has an obvious chance to start in Houston, playing under a veteran defensive coordinator in Lovie Smith.
Harmon has appeared in 127 career games, yet has just 45 starts and was only ever the full-time starter last season in Detroit. It stands to reason he wants a crack at redemption, especially after playing in a Lions secondary that was hopelessly outmatched under Patricia’s leadership.
Trai Turner, guard
Something has to give for Turner. It’s the classic buy-low scenario that works perfectly in the Texans’ favor as they try to upgrade their roster while not shelling out huge money.
Turner was supposed to help fortify the Los Angeles Chargers’ line last season. Instead, he appeared in only nine games and was ranked as Pro Football Focus’ second-worst guard among 80 qualifiers.
This is a redemption story waiting to happen. In Houston, Turner could start with a clean slate, and if he can show off improved form, his market will explode next offseason with the salary cap set to rise.
Still only 27 years old, there’s a lot of football in front of Turner. Who knows what factors went into his severe regression in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help matters.
There’s also a common connection here. The man who could well be the Texans’ signal-caller, Taylor, played with Turner as a member of the Chargers, so he knows better than anyone what went on in LA. If Taylor gives the green light, expect Turner to be in Houston in short order.
Darren Fells, tight end
There’s no question the Texans seem determined to establish the running game more than in the past in light of their decisions to sign ball-carriers Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay with David Johnson already on the roster.
True, Caserio signed former Patriot Ryan Izzo to address the tight end spot, but Izzo had PFF’s third-worst receiving grade among 50 qualifying players and isn’t a world beater as a run blocker, either. It’s unclear which personnel packages Izzo will be most effective in, since he’s not very valuable no matter what the play call is.
Enter Fells. His advanced football age (turns 35 in April) is deceptive, because Fells didn’t enter the NFL until 2013, so he’s a much fresher mid-30s player than most pro football vets.
Having already played for the Texans over the past two seasons, Fells is well-acquainted with offensive coordinator Tim Kelly’s system, and has chemistry with Watson. Oh, and Fells was teammates with Taylor in Cleveland during 2018, so there’s familiarity in that regard, too.
Fells has appeared in every game across each of the past four seasons. He’s caught 11 touchdowns as a Texan, and ranked 26th out of 76 tight ends in run blocking last season, per PFF. It’s unclear why Caserio didn’t want to bring him back, at least initially, given how superior Fells is to Izzo as a player.
The 6-foot-7 red-zone weapon can also get it done as an extra pass protector, so Caserio should make the minimal effort required to re-sign Fells and keep him in the fold for 2021.