Analyzing final pieces for Texans from Deshaun Watson trade

ByD.J. Bien-Aime ESPN logo
Friday, May 3, 2024

HOUSTON -- It was just one trade two years ago, but it set off a cascade of acquisitions that has helped put theTexansin place to contend for the AFC crown.

In March 2022, the Texans traded what looked at one point to be their franchise quarterback,Deshaun Watson, to the Cleveland Brownsafter he requested a trade in 2021 and sat out the season. Houston received the Browns' 2022, 2023 and 2024 first-round picks, along with fourth-rounders in 2022 and 2024 and a third in 2023.

Texans general manager Nick Caserio, who took over in 2021, says he doesn't think about the deal, even though he turned those assets into five starters including a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro.

"Honestly, that's so far in the past. You guys are keeping track of that. We haven't spent one day [or] second talking about 'Here is the end result,'" Caserio said. "We're just adding football players to the team with the opportunities that we get, regardless of what trade took place."

Here's a look at what the Watson trade turned into for the Texans now that all of the picks are accounted for:


Caserio didn't stand pat to start. He traded the Browns' 2022 first-rounder (No. 13) to the Philadelphia Eagles for the Eagles' first-rounder (No.15) and later picks (Nos. 124, 162 and 166).

The Texans drafted left guard Kenyon Green with the No. 15 pick, and he started 14 games as a rookie. But he allowed a 13% pressure rate -- the worst among left guards, according to NextGen Stats.

Green missed last season after injuring his shoulder in the final preseason game, but he isexpected to compete for a starting role for this upcoming season -- where he appears to have the inside track.

The Texans packaged Pick124 to acquire the Browns' second-round pick (No. 44) then selected wide receiver John Metchie III. Metchie missed his rookie season after being diagnosed with cancer, and after returning in Year 2, he finished with 158 yards in 16 games. Going into Year 3, he's fighting for a spot in the Texans' deep receiver rotation.

When the Texans selected linebacker Christian Harris in the third round, they traded pick No. 80, their original 2022 third round-pick, and Pick 162to the Denver Broncos. Through two years, Harris has 175 tackles and is projected to be a starter this season after finishing second in team tackles last season (101).

The Texans used the Browns' 2022 fourth-round pick (No. 104) on running back Dameon Pierce. Pierce looked promising as a rookie, rushing for 939 yards in 13 games before being placed on injured reserve (ankle). But in 2023, he was eventually benched for running back Devin Singletary and finished with 416 yards in 14 games.

Singletary signed with the New York Giants in free agency, but the Texans traded for running back Joe Mixon and gave Mixon a three-year, $27 million contract extension. Pierce is projected to be a backup.


Houston went into the 2023 draft with the No. 2 pick and had a decision to make on whether they went offense or defense, but the draft capital from the Browns' trade afforded them the opportunity to address both. They tookquarterbackC.J. Stroudwith the No. 2 pick and thensent the Browns' 2023 first-rounder (No. 12) along with their second-round pick (No. 33) and 2024 first-rounder (No. 27) to theArizona Cardinalsto acquire the No. 3 pick and a fourth-round pick (No. 105). The Texans turned the third pick into defensive endWill Anderson Jr.

Stroud and Anderson went on to become the fourth pair of teammates to win the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. They joined Jerome Mathis (2005) and Brian Cushing (2009) as the only Texans rookies to be named Pro Bowlers and were integral parts in Houston reaching the playoffs and winning the AFC South for the first time since 2019.

Houston packaged the Browns' 2023 third-round pick (No. 73) to move up four spots and acquire the Los Angeles Rams' pick -- where they took wide receiver Tank Dell.Dell was on pace for 1,205 receiving yards before suffering a Week 13 season-ending injury against the Broncos in the first quarter.

"When I knew we had the ability to trade and get Will [along with] C.J., it was 'OK, it's on,'" coach DeMeco Ryans said. "You don't always get the top guys that you want. So for us to get two top guys we wanted at two key positions at quarterback and defensive end, that was the start. Then to come around and get our favorite receiver in the draft in Tank ... I knew that things started to shape up the right way just adding those three guys."

Dell was back participating in offseason workouts with the Texans this offseason, but he was recently shot as a bystander at a private event in Sanford, Florida. The Texans says he suffered minor wounds and isn't expected to miss any time.


Caserio traded the Browns' 2024 first-round pick (No. 23),but the assets from that trade were eventually used to acquire All-Pro receiverStefon Diggsfrom theBuffalo Bills.

In last week's draft, the Texans didn't hold a Day 1 pick after trading out of thefirst-round to get more picks in what they saw as the "sweet spot" in the second round of the draft.

The No. 23 pick was sent to the Minnesota Vikings for the Vikings' second-round pick (No. 42), their sixth-round pick (No. 188) and their second-round pick in 2025. The Texans used the 2025 second-round pick as part of the Diggs trade.

The Texans reworked Diggs' contract and voided the final three years of his deal before increasing his base salary to $22.52 million guaranteed. The move capped an expensive offseason when the organization spent $178.5 million in guaranteed money, according to Roster Management System, the fourth most in the NFL.

"DeMeco and I have talked about this," Caserio said. "We talked about it before the draft. If we had to go out there and play a game before the draft, we felt that we'd be competitive."

Scaling back at the quarterback position from Watson's four-year, $160 million contract extension that he signed in 2020 has also afforded them the opportunity to spend with Stroud on a rookie contract. They took a $16.2 million dead cap hit in 2022, but they avoided a three-year cap hit stretch of $40.4 million (2022), $42.4 million (2023) and $37.4 million (2024).

In comparison, Stroud's deal is for four years and $36.3 million, with his highest cap hit of $11.5 million occurring in 2026. They also can pick up a fifth-year option for him.

As far as the most recent draft, they ended up with Georgia cornerback Kamari Lassiter with Pick 42. The 2023 fourth round-pick (No. 105) they received from the Cardinals was traded to the Eagles for a 2024 third-rounder, which became USC safety Calen Bullock.

The Texans rounded out the Watson trade when they used the Browns' fourth-round pick (No. 123) on Ohio State tight end Cade Stover and the Vikings' sixth-round pick (No. 188) on Oregon linebacker Jamal Hill.

Despite Caserio's claims of not keeping track with what the Watson trade actually yielded, it certainly helped build the foundation of a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

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