Publish date:

How Good Are the Texans?


As Texans coach Dom Capers walked off the field late last month
after his team's first full-squad practice, all the excitement
over a talent-rich expansion draft and a bountiful college draft
that brought in a strong-armed quarterback was far in the
rearview mirror. "My gosh," Capers said, "I am so glad we don't
have to line up and play today."

Houston should be competitive in the AFC South, in part because
the Texans' three division rivals (the Colts, Jaguars and Titans)
are in some stage of rebuilding. Only three of Houston's 16 games
this year are against teams that made the playoffs in 2001. But
more than that, the Texans, if healthy, have respectable players
at important positions. Left tackle Tony Boselli and right tackle
Ryan Young form a strong tandem to protect the first pick in the
draft, Fresno State quarterback David Carr. Cornerback Aaron
Glenn (formerly with the Jets) is a solid NFL starter. Two
borderline Pro Bowl linebackers, Jamie Sharper (Ravens) and
Kailee Wong (Vikings), will be playmakers. Wideouts Corey
Bradford (Packers), Jabar Gaffney (a second-round draft pick from
Florida) and Jermaine Lewis (Ravens) give Houston a better set of
receivers than any of the last three expansion teams--Carolina and
Jacksonville in 1995, Cleveland in 1999--fielded in year one.

But in a division stacked with excellent passers, the Texans have
no stud pass rusher, and if expansion history is any indicator,
their secondary will likely get torched. Stocking a new team is
more difficult these days, and the Texans simply couldn't address
all of their needs. Unlike the Panthers, who in 1995 and '96 were
able to sign free agents like linebackers Lamar Lathon and Kevin
Greene because the league was still learning the ins and outs of
free agency, Houston has had very little to choose from in the
market. Instead the Texans built their base in the expansion
draft, which was chock-full of expensive players from teams in
salary-cap hell. "We were fortunate because Baltimore, the Jets
and Jacksonville had cap problems," says Capers. "We decided if
we waited until free agency to stock our roster, we would be
bidding against 31 teams for guys who weren't as good as the guys
we could get in the expansion draft. We concentrated on players
who we felt would be here for at least three years, because we
figured it was in that third year that we hoped to be a really
good team."

Houston paid a pretty price to build its roster. The Texans stand
$6.6 million under the 2002 cap of $71.2 million, but their
rookie pool is expected to eat up all but $250,000 of that.
Houston had better hope that players like Glenn ($8 million cap
number) and former Jaguars defensive tackle Gary Walker ($5.3
million) earn their money. Capers, though, knows he's in for a
long ride. "I think you can put together a winning team quickly
today in the NFL," he says. "I'm not sure you can build a Super
Bowl team quickly." That's particularly true with the free-agent
pool dried up. The bottom line: Carr had better be the genuine
item. And Houston had better continue to draft well. --Peter King

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Work in progressThe Texans will call $425 million Reliant Stadium home.