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Texans top offseason spending with $144.5M in guaranteed money

Note: This article was updated to add that the Texans also traded for four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs on Wednesday.



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ORLANDO, Fla. — Houston Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair stood beside his wife Hannah McNair by a stairwell at the Ritz-Carlton during the annual league meetings last week.

It was the day before Cal McNair was approved to become the Texans’ new principal owner. Cal stood beside Hannah, the Texans’ vice president in the business department, as they took turns answering questions regarding the team’s league-high offseason spending spree.

The Texans spent $144.5 million in guaranteed money during free agency in an attempt to give coach DeMeco Ryans what he needs to meet heightened expectations in Year 2.

It’s a stark contrast from 2020 to 2022, where the Texans went 11-38-1 and had a different head coach each season. But things changed when the club hired Ryans and drafted quarterback C.J. Stroud in 2023.

Texans general manager Nick Caserio and Ryans entered the offseason wanting to build around the success of Stroud after his historic season led the Texans to the postseason for the first time since 2019 and earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

“It’s fun to have those [high] expectations,” Cal McNair said. “We embrace them. Basically, we’re starting a new season, putting a new team together with DeMeco, and they’re starting from scratch. So it’s exciting, but we got a lot of work to do.”

Ryans and Caserio won’t put expectations solely on the shoulders of the former No. 2 pick, and the two have worked aggressively in free agency and the trade market to help improve the team.

“I want to upgrade our entire team and continue to get better, and I think that’s what you have to do each and every year,” Ryans said. “So every year we’ll be trying to upgrade, we’ll try to get better and try to find guys that help our team.”

Ryans’ desire to dominate on defense as well stems from his coaching history with the San Francisco 49ers (2017-2022).

From 2019 to 2022, the 49ers ranked in the top five in total defense and went to three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.

In the the Texans’ divisional round playoff loss in January, the Baltimore Ravens and MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson were able to score four touchdowns as Houston fell 34-10 to the AFC’s top seed.

It’s also part of the reason that the Texans spent the second-most guaranteed money on defense ($98 million) to slow down the “great quarterbacks in this league.”

“[We] are trying to play dominant defense,” Ryans said at the league’s annual meetings. “If you want to win in this league, you want to be successful in the playoffs, you got to stop some pretty good quarterbacks.”

The Texans let their sack leader from last season, defensive end Jonathan Greenard, and leading tackler, linebacker Blake Cashman, walk in free agency. They both found homes with the Minnesota Vikings and would ultimately swap places with defensive end Danielle Hunter. Hunter, coming off a career-high 16.5 sacks, signed a two-year, $49 million deal, and Houston signed former Tennessee Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, coming off a career-high 163 tackles, to a three-year, $34 million contract.

In conversations before Hunter signed, Ryans sold him on the scheme, saying that he’ll always rush upfield and attack while not worrying about occasionally dropping into coverage or catching and reading blocks.

“He has the length. I think that’s what sets you apart as a as a pass-rusher,” Ryans said. “Danielle’s length and his ability to consistently get after the quarterback — he’s had double-digit sacks multiple times in his career, and we’re looking for him to add constant pressure on the quarterback.”

Al-Shaair finished fifth in the league in tackles and was internally viewed as a better fit than Cashman for Ryans’ defense. Ryans coached Al-Shaair in San Francisco, which played a big role in his signing.

Ryans treasures locker room character and felt Al-Shaair could step into a leadership role while being impactful on the field.

“Azeez is going to bring a physical style of play to our defense. He’s going to bring leadership,” Ryans said. “He had a great season with the Titans last season. Seeing him two times a year, you can see the growth that he made as a player. We look for him to just bring the same thing. Bring that intensity, bring his leadership to our team and just be himself and help us.”

The Texans lost defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to the Cincinnati Bengals and traded defensive tackle Maliek Collins to the 49ers before signing defensive end Denico Autry, who had 11.5 sacks last season for the Titans, to a two-year, $20 million contract.

Ryans mentioned the respect that Autry garnered around the league as a reason why he wanted to bring him as they try to upgrade their defense.

“We have to have multiple guys who can get it done upfront,” Ryans said, “and that was kind of our emphasis going into free agency.”

The Texans spent less on the offensive side, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. They aggressively pursued running back Saquon Barkley but were outbid by the Philadelphia Eagles. They tried to trade for wide receiver Keenan Allen, as well, before the Los Angeles Chargers sent Allen to the Chicago Bears.

The Texans were able to trade for Bengals running back Joe Mixon before giving him a three-year, $27 million contract extension. Otherwise, they retained tight end Dalton Schultz (three years, $36 million) and wide receiver Noah Brown (one year, $5 million).

The offseason was busy for the Texans, as the club looks different from last season, but Hannah McNair is ready to see the team attack expectations.

“You want high expectations,” she said. “You don’t want to go into something saying, ‘OK, I hope we just make the playoffs. Oh, I hope we get to a winning season.’ You always want the expectations to be high, and I think the fact that we’re in those conversations is a testament to the decisions that have been made over the last couple of years.”

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