By retaining Brandin Cooks and Laremy Tunsil, the Houston Texans show they believe they can win with Davis Mills

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HOUSTON – After the Houston Texans swapped quarterback Deshaun Watson away, it would have been easy for the franchise to swap the few proven veterans they have left to give general manager Nick Caserio even more of a blank slate to build a team.

Instead, Caserio wide receiver Brandin Cooks signed for a two-year contract extension and kept left tackle Laremy Tunsil, converting his base salary into a signing bonus that effectively binds him to the organization for the remaining two years of his contract.

By retaining these two players, the Texans are not only showing that they are not totally against winning, but that they want to give Davis Mills a legitimate shot to be the quarterback of the future.

The Texans have also given Mills, a third-round pick in 2021, consistency in his coaching staff, despite letting go of coach David Culley out of season, by promoting defensive coordinator Lovie Smith to head coach and coordinator of passing games and quarterbacks coaches Pep Hamilton as offensive coordinator.

When the Texans drafted Mills last year, they had no clarity about Watson’s future, no choices in the first or second round and little hope that they would compete for a playoff spot in the near future. While Mills first struggled after veteran Tyrod Taylor went down with a left hamstring injury in Week 2, he showed enough improvement over the course of the season as he again replaced Taylor, who struggled to return from injury, to have the opportunity to to compete for the Texans’ starting job this season.

“It’s huge that we signed [Cooks] back, “Mills said.” I’m very excited to continue working with him. He has a wealth of talent and makes it really hard for the defense to plan to go out there to stop him. … He’s also a good leader for our team. “

And while there was no doubt that keeping Cooks and Tunsil makes the Texans significantly better, with a roster of plenty of holes, it might have made sense for Caserio to get the bigger contracts out of the books and focus on building up around a quarterback in this draft or the next.

Instead, Caserio Cooks paid a contract that averages $ 19.8 million over the next two years, with $ 36 million guaranteed. If the Texans had chosen to swap Cooks instead of paying him, they were looking for another round, a source told ESPN.

The Texans already have five of the top 80 picks in this month’s draft, including the No. 3 pick and the Browns’ 13th pick via the Watson trade. The two first-rounders are more than they have had in the last four drafts combined.

When Caserio was hired in January 2021, he talked about the importance of building the right culture in Houston. He did so by flipping the list over – signing veteran players to one- or two-year contracts – and trying to improve a situation that saw the faces of the franchise – Watson and defensive JJ Watt – decide to leave.

After a season that Caserio called “not as results-oriented as process-oriented,” he re-signed several of the players he thought were part of the “basic culture” that includes players who are “hard-hearted, selfless, who are going to work hard every day and they are going to compete with their fight. ”

The result was Houston, who re-signed linebackers Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill, center Justin Britt and cornerback Desmond King II.

“The people he signed on, the people he brought in, you could look at them, and they’re just high-stakes leaders who have won a lot of fights and know what it takes,” Britt said. “I can not speak on behalf of others, but I can [say] that I show up every day in the same way. ”

And while Kirksey said building a culture “does not happen overnight”, it’s clear that Caserio and Smith believe it’s key to building a winner in Houston to retain those key players. , as Cooks and Tunsil.

“It’s a process that has been put in place and the guys who are being brought back on the team are part of the culture that [Caserio] trying to build, ”Kirskey said. “But the next step, for me, is trust. We have the right guys, now we have to trust the system. We have to trust what the coaches say. The coaches have to trust that we go out there and produce.I think it’s the next part.Right now we’re building that trust in each other.

“As you know, there will be more additions to the team in the draft, and now they have to jump on board the culture we put. just because we had one [four-win] season does not mean that no work was done in that season last year. I think we’re stirring the pot. I believe we continue to put the right ingredients to what we want to be and who we want to be. We just have to keep trusting it and things will happen. “

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