As Good As It Gets

February 19, 2002
As Good As It Gets
by Keith Weiland

The Houston Texans officially added an identity to their football team five minutes into Monday’s Expansion Draft when owner Bob McNair called out Tony Boselli’s name. Houston finally has a team to be reckoned with for the first time in almost six years. In the seven names that followed Boselli’s, Texan fans could at last see the beginnings of a terrific nucleus of players on which their team will be built.

The day itself belonged to the fans and the first eight players selected. Those first eight players represent such a bountiful pool of talent that the Cleveland Browns must be kicking themselves for rushing back into the league three years ago to take a guy named Jim Pyne. It’s taken the Browns three years to assemble as many quality players as the Texans did in just under two hours on Monday.

The Expansion Draft was an affair that was more of a television production than it was anything else. No further proof was needed in confirming that notion than in doing a double take at the Raiderette cheerleaders representing Oakland at the draft, seated among the thirty other team representatives present. I guess when you just swindled the Bucs for their booty of draft picks over the next three years, you know it’s time to strut your stuff.

Did I just use cheerleader, booty, and strut in the same paragraph? Uh…

Anyway, ESPN did a terrific job setting the stage, and there is nothing better than seeing Ron Jaworski break down coaches’ film live, ten feet from my seat. At one point, Jaws was all over the place in a three minute rant extolling the virtues of Boselli which made me feel like even I could play tackle. The whole production was a two-hour long commercial for a first class franchise deserving of the attention. And the Texan fans present for the festivities gave each attending player a standing ovation, thankful to finally put an end to six years of football purgatory.

Houston’s haul is the Noah’s Ark of expansion drafts. They took at least two of every key position they could – two tackles, two guards, two kick returners, two corners – and all will be quality starters for years to come. Three of the players, Jamie Sharper, Jermaine Lewis, and Matt Stevens, even bring Super Bowl rings with them. I bet if Gene Washington, the NFL’s representative in town to host the event, had performed a full body cavity search on General Manager Charley Casserly, he would have turned up another two Pro Bowlers.

Even minus the hometown curve, Casserly’s draft deserves a solid A. The beauty of the draft was not in how he selected the players he did, but in how he negotiated with cap-stricken teams to get the players he wanted even before they named their five unprotected players. According to ESPN, one such speculated negotiation could have been the reason why offensive tackle Tony Boselli was exposed instead of an even more expensive, and less valuable, player, defensive end Tony Brackens. Other rumors indicate that New York Jets tackle Ryan Young, the second player selected by the Texans, was only made available because Casserly agreed to take corners Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman off their books. Shrewd moves, indeed.

So what did the Texans walk away with? Eight of the nineteen players selected were from the defensive side of the ball, and all of them will be given a chance to start this fall for the Texans. Free safety Stevens, who started for the Pats until a Week 4 injury, along with corners Glenn and Coleman, will form a solid secondary. Defensive linemen Gary Walker and Seth Payne have ideal size for the 3-4 defensive front. Sharper will be a star as an inside linebacker, as he can shed blocks to take down a back with the best of them.

On offense, the Texans began building a wall between them and the opposing defense. Perhaps eighty percent of the starting offensive line was taken Monday, maybe one hundred percent if Ryan Schau plays center, and all of them are huge. Heights and weights of the five selected are as follows: 6’7″ 322, 6’5″ 320, 6’4″ 300, 6’6″ 301, and 6’6″ 300. You know David Carr is looking at those numbers right now and smiling…

Despite the Texans’ plans for Lewis to figure into the offense as a wide receiver, the skill positions were largely ignored. In addition to Lewis, by taking Charlie Rogers and Avion Black, the Texans have cornered the market on return specialists. Though Casserly denies that Lewis was taken just to be trade bait, one of the three figures to be traded to another team unless Rogers shows he can be a third down back or Black proves to be an asset as a wide receiver.

Houston’s remaining needs appear to be at the following five positions: Quarterback, wide receiver, outside linebacker, running back, guard/center, and defensive end.

So is this as good as it gets? Hardly. The Texans will make some waves in the free agent market, possibly pursuing players like OLB Jason Gildon, QB Gus Frerotte, and C Olin Kreutz. The Texans may opt to go after a running back like Ki-Jana Carter or Lamar Smith if the price is right.

Then the team will make a big splash on April 20 when Commissioner Paul Tagliabue reads off David Carr’s name as the first player picked in the college draft. Expect the team to follow up the Carr selection by using one of its two second round picks on a wide receiver, probably one over six feet tall to complement the 5’7″ Lewis. The other second round pick will likely be used on a pass rusher, especially if Gildon doesn’t sign with the Texans, which would add someone along the lines of Syracuse’s Dwight Freeney. Also, Houston should figure to pick an interior offensive lineman on the draft’s first day. At running back, the team will possibly take someone like North Dakota State’s Lamar Gordon or Toledo’s Chester Taylor if either slips to the middle rounds of the draft.

Talk of the college draft is for another day though, as Houston can at least relish in what they came away with in the Expansion Draft. Casserly left the George R. Brown Convention Center like a gold thief escaping Fort Knox in broad daylight.

Though Keith Weiland is as excited as the next fan, he wants those who think the Texans will win more than five games in their inaugural season to sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.