After conducting a search that included eight known candidates, the Houston Texans have decided on former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans as their new head coach. Ryans, who succeeded Robert Saleh as the Niners’ defensive boss before the 2021 season, helped San Francisco to back-to-back NFC Championship Games. Now, he’ll take over a Texans franchise with the assets to make waves in the AFC South.
Texans Hire DeMeco Ryans as Head Coach
Ryans was the hottest candidate on the 2023 head coaching circuit, as all five teams with a vacancy expressed at least some interest in meeting with the 38-year-old. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given the 49ers’ success on defense this past season.
It’s always tough to gauge whether a coordinator will make a good head coach simply because his unit performed well. For Ryans, the numbers were certainly there — the 49ers ranked first in scoring, defensive DVOA, and expected points added per play.
But putting the statistics aside, San Francisco’s defense played with a tenacity that’s unrivaled around the NFL. The teams that played the 49ers got beat up. Every one of San Francisco’s opponents lost the week after playing the 49ers.
Ryans also has the respect of San Francisco’s locker room, as evidenced by linebacker Fred Warner’s comments after the 49ers’ loss to the Eagles on Sunday.
“I hadn’t thought about it up until this point because, obviously, you think you’re going to win it all,” Warner said. “But seeing [Ryans] was emotional, it was. It was the first time it kind of hit me, right, that this was the last one with him, and we came into this thing together.
“I owe everything to him. He’s the reason I’m the player I am today. He’s fully deserving to go on and be a head coach. It hit hard today, for sure.”
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For Ryans, taking the Texans’ job marks a homecoming. The Alabama alum was Houston’s second-round pick in 2006 and spent the first six seasons of his career with the franchise before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. Ryans isn’t that far removed from his playing career, as he didn’t retire until after the 2015 campaign.
For the Texans, their decision to hire Ryans suggests a reset for the organization. Houston fired head coaches during or after each of the previous three seasons: Bill O’Brien in 2020, David Culley in 2021, and Lovie Smith in 2022.
This is a team that was bordering on laughingstock territory (if they hadn’t gotten there already). Now, the Texans have landed the No. 1 head coaching candidate on the market and have the resources to help make Ryans’ tenure successful as soon as 2023.
The Texans Can Compete for a Division Title Next Season
Houston is set up better than any NFL franchise to have an active offseason in the coming weeks and months. General manager Nick Caserio will have a lot of work to do, and Ryans will surely have a hand in personnel matters as the Texans revamp a roster that finished 3-13-1 last season.
The Texans project to have nearly $40 million in available cap space, the fifth-most in the NFL. That figure could grow if they decide to release veterans like edge rusher Jerry Hughes ($5 million savings), defensive tackle Maliek Collins ($4.5 million), or linebacker Christian Kirksey ($5 million).
Houston’s roster doesn’t need to get older, and free agency is typically full of veteran players who are reaching the open market for a reason. But they can make targeted signings and fill voids with players such as defensive tackle Daron Payne, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, cornerback Jamel Dean, or safety Jessie Bates III, all of whom are 27 years old or younger.
Coaches love bringing familiar players to new destinations, so Ryans might be interested in having a few ex-49ers join him in Houston. Many of San Francisco’s free agents are on the wrong side of 30, but pass rusher Charles Omenihu and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair could make sense for the Texans.
Once free agency is wrapped up, Houston can get to work in the 2023 draft, where they hold more draft capital than any other team.
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The Texans have the second overall pick in the draft and boast the Cleveland Browns’ No. 12 selection thanks to the Deshaun Watson trade. That deal also gave Houston Cleveland’s third-rounder (No. 73), and they have three extra picks in the sixth round via trades with the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, and Minnesota Vikings.
Houston has the ammunition to trade up and acquire the No. 1 overall pick from the Chicago Bears, something they might consider as they search for a franchise QB. Even if they stick at No. 2, the Texans will have their choice between two of Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, and Kentucky’s Will Levis.
Clearly, Houston will have a lot of need areas to fill. But they do have several intriguing pieces already on their roster. Laremy Tunsil is one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, and Tytus Howard is solid on the right side. On defense, 2022 draft picks Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre look like long-term building blocks.
The Texans could be a realistic playoff contender next season, depending on how their offseason goes. The Jaguars represent their primary competition after winning the AFC South in 2022, but they’re more than $20 million over the cap next year. While Jacksonville will gain Calvin Ridley in 2023, they may have to part ways with a few other veterans.
The Colts are largely in the same quarterback-less position as the Texans, but they have fewer draft picks and less cap space to work with. Meanwhile, the Titans are stuck in limbo, with no apparent long-term answer under center and financial issues of their own.
Expectations will likely be low, at least initially, as Ryans inherits a Texans team that went a combined 11-38-1 over the past three seasons. But if Ryans is as good of a coach as his track record suggests, and Houston uses its assets to execute a smart offseason plan, the Texans could surpass even the rosiest of 2023 forecasts.