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NFL Notes: Texans are all in with Stroud

With a young quarterback in place, Houston has aggressively added pieces around C.J. Stroud and hopes to be in the mix in the AFC.

Texans QB C.J. Stroud
Texans QB C.J. Stroud

It's hard not to be impressed with what the Houston Texans have done coming off their best season since the Bill O'Brien days. After a pair of miserable years under Nick Caserio, C.J. Stroud arrived and lifted the Texans from the dregs of the league to a solid playoff team.

Now Caserio seems determined to continue to build on that momentum.

Last week's trade to acquire Stefon Diggs from Buffalo was the latest big-money move made by Houston. Caserio also sunk some significant dollars to acquire Danielle Hunter, Joe Mixon, Denico Autry and Azeez Al-Shaair. Those moves, in addition to adding Diggs and giving him an additional $3.5 million in 2024 in exchange for making him a free agent after the season, have put the Texans near the top of the league in cash spending. (Various reports have Houston with the fourth-most expensive roster in football).

With a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in just the second year of his rookie deal, the Texans are choosing to go for it before Stroud is ready for a big contract of his own. On paper, the Texans would appear to be more talented and deeper than the 10-7 team that won the AFC South and advanced to the divisional round in 2023.

The meteoric rise has some, including some Patriots fans, pointing to Caserio's model as the chosen method of roster building. Caserio didn't find his quarterback until his third season, and some have mistakenly concluded that was by design as he tried to structure the roster first.

But the fact of the matter is Houston didn't wait to draft Stroud by choice. When Caserio arrived in 2021, Deshaun Watson was still a member of the team and was just starting to become entangled in his legal mess. Watson had already expressed his desire for a trade prior to the allegations of sexual misconduct, but Caserio wanted to do what he could to keep him.

In addition, the Texans did not have a first-round pick that season, sending it to Miami as part of the trade that brought Laremy Tunsil prior to Caserio's arrival. With Watson coming off a 33-touchdown season, Caserio was hoping to repair the relationship. When that failed he signed veteran Tyrod Taylor as a placeholder and drafted Davis Mills in the third round. Mills showed flashes but after two seasons it was apparent that he wasn't the answer and Caserio found himself with the second overall pick, thanks in large part to trading Watson to Cleveland.

Unlike in 2022 when the quarterback class held little promise (Kenny Pickett was the lone first-round pick at 20), last year's draft yielded three quarterbacks in the top four picks and Caserio tabbed Stroud at No. 2. The Texans also added linebacker Will Anderson and wideout Tank Dell in that draft and suddenly a team that won seven games combined in the previous two seasons was on its way to the playoffs.

So, on the surface it might appear as if Caserio chose to build the roster before adding the quarterback, but that wasn't exactly how it played out. And truth be told it was Stroud that lifted the roster in the first place as his play in crunch time was the difference between winning and losing in several games a year ago. It's possible that Bryce Young might have had similar success in Houston, but not likely.

Caserio has done a nice job rebuilding the Texans, grabbing solid contributors in the draft including cornerback Derek Stingley, safety Jalen Pitre and wide receiver Nico Collins. He then augmented that with high-level talent like Hunter and Diggs.

But it will only work if Stroud continues to develop and proves to be every bit as talented as he showed as a rookie. Otherwise, the Texans will become yet another team that was aggressive in the spring only to fall short in the fall.

Diggs fallout

Former Bills WR Stefon Diggs
Former Bills WR Stefon Diggs

Meanwhile the story in Buffalo is quite a bit different. Many fans feel the Bills decision to move on from Diggs, as well as part ways with mainstays like Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Mitch Morse and Tre'Davious White, is a sign that the Bills window of contention has closed.

Think again.

What Buffalo has done is not all that different from how the Patriots operated periodically throughout their dynasty. There were periods when a reset of sorts was needed as veterans needed to be replaced and a new crop of talent was infused. As an example, following the 2009 season after the Patriots were knocked out of the playoffs at home in the wild card round and responded by letting veterans Adalius Thomas, Shawn Springs and later Randy Moss (traded early in 2010 season) go in order to make room for young talent like Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Those moves helped pave the way for the second wave of success, and the presence of Tom Brady helped keep the team relevant every step of the way.

The same will be true in Buffalo as long as Josh Allen remains healthy and at the controls. There's no question that the Bills have lost some talent, with Diggs being the latest. General manager Brandon Beane acknowledged the team is "probably not" better at this stage than at the end of last season.

But a reset was necessary in Buffalo, and allowing 30-somethings to leave is part of that process. And with Diggs specifically, it's hard to imagine that Beane and others aren't looking at it as addition by subtraction. The wideout was immense in his four seasons with the Bills, but his act had clearly worn thin in Western New York. How else would one explain the decision to actually have him count more on the salary to play elsewhere in 2024?

Diggs was set to count almost $28 millions against the cap and now that number will rise to just over $31 million. That's a huge dead money figure – the largest for any wide receiver in league history. That's how badly the Bills wanted to rid themselves of Diggs.

Of course, the more pertinent figure to keep in mind is the $18.5 million salary that Diggs was set to earn. The Bills won't be paying that number, which will allow the organization some financial flexibility to reset and determine a new direction.

As long as Allen is part of that, Buffalo remains the cream of the AFC East crop and will be a factor in the postseason race. If Beane and coach Sean McDermott can find some quality talent in the draft – they almost certainly will be looking to add receivers early on – then Buffalo might not even skip a beat.

A year ago when the Bills overcame a sluggish start and closed by playing their best football, Diggs was an afterthought in the offense. Once Joe Brady replaced Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator, the offense thrived while Diggs faded to the background.

In fairness, Diggs' presence in the lineup no doubt helped create space for youngsters like Khalil Shakir and Dalton Kincaid. But Allen was able to thrive with and without Diggs, and that will be the case once again in 2024. Buffalo might not be a true Super Bowl contender as they reload, but Allen will make sure the Bills will remain relevant come January.

Keeping Dugger

Patriots safety Kyle Dugger
Patriots safety Kyle Dugger

The Patriots decision to extend Kyle Dugger was the latest example of the new regime's desire to build with existing players. Dugger was originally given the transition tag but now inked a reported four-year deal worth up to $66 million with $32.5 million guaranteed.

Jerod Mayo and de facto GM Eliot Wolf have clearly prioritized retaining players this offseason particularly from Bill Belichick's 2020 draft class. Dugger joins Mike Onwenu, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings as players who were retained from that class this offseason.

It's the latest move that shows how trying to establish a new culture with players they were familiar was important to Mayo and Wolf. In total thus far this offseason the Patriots re-signed seven players while bringing in eight other free agents. Of those eight, only one – Antonio Gibson – received more than a two-year deal. Clearly the desire for the Patriots was to maintain as much continuity as possible.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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