NFL Draft Trade: Houston Texans Blew It — And Now Must Hope It Doesn’t Matter

The Carolina Panthers' trade with the Chicago Bears crystalized the mistake the Houston Texans made in not completing the tank.

In terms of actual football competency and excitement, Week 18 was the highlight of the Houston Texans‘ season. But in terms of long-term impact, their 32-31 come-from-behind victory over the Indianapolis Colts might have been a disaster. The tank crashed into a ditch, allowing the Chicago Bears to leap them for the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, leaving the Texans to pick second.

Impact of Bears-Panthers NFL Draft Trade on Houston Texans

On Friday, we saw the consequence of that loss-by-win.

The NFL Draft trade that landed the Carolina Panthers the No. 1 pick ensured that they, and not the Texans, would have their choice of quarterbacks in this year’s class.

Which means, unless the Texans convince the Panthers to trade again — this time from 1 to 2 — GM Nick Caserio and new coach DeMeco Ryans will be crossing their fingers on draft night. Because it’s entirely possible that — despite all of that losing the last two seasons — the Texans end up with their second choice at the most important position in pro sports.

Both the Panthers and Bears got what they wanted from Friday’s bombshell announcement. The Panthers’ trade means Carolina now controls its fate, and, as Frank Reich told Sports Illustrated, get to spend the next six weeks determining which of the top four QBs — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, or Anthony Richardson — is the guy.

“Excited about this group of young QBs,” Reich wrote, via SI. “We think they all have strengths that make them unique and worthy of #1 pick … We have a little over a month to confirm which is the right one for our team.”

The early belief is that the Panthers prefer Stroud — check out this excellent breakdown by PFN’s Dalton Miller — but only they know for sure. So that mystery will be the NFL’s No. 1 storyline once Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers’ fates are determined.

If the Panthers stay put and make the pick, the Texans can do nothing but cross their fingers and hope their top choice is still on the board at 2.

Does it change the calculus for Caserio? Perhaps they now make a stronger push for Jimmy Garoppolo in free agency, giving the franchise a bridge quarterback and allowing the Texans to take a high-ceiling project (Levis or Richardson).

MORE: What It Means: Panthers Trade for No. 1 Pick

Or — and this would be a real coup for the Panthers — Reich decides he would be fine with one of two options at QB and convinces the Texans they absolutely must move up to 1 to get their guy.

Houston owns the No. 12 pick in addition to the second. Would Caserio be willing to part with it to move up a slot and ensure all of that losing wasn’t for naught? In other words, is a trade up to 1 the right value play?

At the NFL Scouting Combine last month, PFN asked him about that internal decision-making process.

“We’ll look at all of that,” Caserio said. “We actually have a trade chart simulator, where you factor in the points and what’s the costs associated with it. I would say it’s twofold. Some teams have an analytically driven chart, here’s what that summation of the numbers is and then you have the Jimmy [Johnson] chart.

“I think most teams are still using the traditional Jimmy chart as a reference point, but each team has its own sort of model. The issue you have is you’re trying to do a trade, and their model says one thing, and your model says another thing, so we’re speaking two different languages. How do we find a resolution?

“I think that’s more of an exercise for when we get into April. We’re positioned here. What would it cost to move up one spot? We’re at 12. What would it cost to move up a few spots? What would it cost to move back? We’ll look at all those. Feb. 28 is probably not the time to do that.”

NFL Draft History

Granted, it takes two to tango, and there might not be a ton of incentive for the Panthers to give up what they have just acquired. The Texans and Panthers surely know the history of drafts in which quarterbacks go 1-2.

The tl;dr version of that history?

The success rate when you take a quarterback first is far higher than when you pick second and take the second one off the board.

QBs have gone 1-2 six times since the Colts picked Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in 1998. In five of those six drafts, the quarterback that went first ended up being the better pro.

Manning over Leaf looks like an obvious call in retrospect, but it was a real debate a quarter-century ago. The histories of both the Colts and Chargers were permanently changed because Indy made the right decision.

That, of course, is the most extreme example, but it’s not the only one. Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III, Jameis Winston over Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff over Carson Wentz, and Trevor Lawrence over Zach Wilson were all the right decisions.

All is not lost for the Panthers if they cannot move up, however. There are plenty of examples of the second (or third or, in the case of Tom Brady, seventh) quarterbacks taken ending up being the best pro.

In 1999, the Browns took Tim Couch first, and the Eagles took Donovan McNabb second. That was a mistake.

MORE: NFL Strips Houston Texans of Draft Pick

But unless they make a trade, the Texans’ best shot for getting the best quarterback is hoping it’s a mistake that the Panthers repeat.

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