‘Big picture’ defines Texans’ Roby trade for 3rd rounder, conditional pick

Bradley Roby is a sticky, fast and aggressive cornerback. That’s why the cornerback-needy and salary-cap strapped New Orleans Saints coveted him.

The Texans have finalized a trade with the Saints that netted them a 2022 third-round draft pick along with a conditional 2023 sixth-round draft pick and cost them a starting cornerback and paying $7 million in a bonus converting the majority of his $8.972 million base salary, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.

The reasons why the Texans traded their top cornerback are multi-layered, but ultimately comes back to wanting to acquire valuable draft capital for the future and seeing the deal as an opportunity to ultimately upgrade their roster. It also sheds Roby’s three-year, $36 million contract.

Balancing the big picture of rebuilding and overhauling the roster while trying to win as many games and be as competitive as possible this season is underscored in the Roby trade.

“I’ll probably put my foot in my mouth for saying this, but it’s not as much outcome-oriented as process-oriented, and that’s what we’re trying to do and build,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio, the architect of the Texans’ dramatic roster shift with 32 new players on the 53-man roster, said during a press conference last week. “ What we’re trying to do is create a foundational culture where we have players who are tough-minded, who are selfless, who are going to work hard every day, and they’re going to compete their ass off. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Wild Card Round - Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans

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By trading Roby, theTexans will be going with Vernon Hargreaves and Terrance Mitchell as their primary outside corners and Desmond King as their nickel out of necessity. It also means the Texans won’t have Roby’s proven coverage skills as a part of their defense this year.

The trade wasn’t popular inside the Texans’ locker room as safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. wrote on social media to Roby: “Shit crazy and I don’t understand it, but go spin bro.”

How do the Texans explain the trade to their players who perceive it accurately as the loss of a good football player and a respected teammate? The buy-in aspect is crucial.

“Players don’t ever look at it like that, players always look at it as if everything is now,” Texans coach David Culley said. “Every time we go out to play a game, they’re going out to win. They feel like the guys we are playing with right now are good enough to do that with, and that’s how they see it. They don’t look at it from the big picture as sometimes maybe you do from an administrative standpoint or that kind of thing. They look at it as if they’re going to play. They’re going out to try to win the game, and they look at it and they see it that way.

“We only think the one way, and the one way is that every time we go out to play, we’re going out to win. And we feel like the guys we are going out there to play with are good enough to win with. We approach it that way. It’s never brought up. It’s never even an issue. When we make those decisions, we feel like we make the decision that’s best for the football team. We feel like looking at the big picture. Looking at where we are right now, if this thing goes through, then we feel like it was the best thing that we needed to do for our football team.”

The Texans have one of the oldest rosters in the NFL, ranking second with a 26.8 average behind the Chicago Bears’ 27.0 at the 53-man roster cutdown. Since then, they’ve gotten even more experienced by signing former New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola to a one-year, $2.5 million contract.

The reaction from the Texans’ players was primarily one formed from their knowledge that the NFL is a business and things can change fast. Veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks, acquired in a trade last year from the Los Angeles Rams for a second-round draft pick and previously traded from the Saints and New England Patriots, acknowledged that reality.

“As you know, you’re talking to a guy who’s been traded multiple times, it’s the business,” Cooks said. “But the guy is a great player, and I think he’s going to have success over there in New Orleans. You wish him the best of luck, for sure.”

Cooks deferred to Caserio and the personnel department when asked about the balancing act between trying to win now and build for a future that may not include a lot of these players on the current roster who are on one-year deals.

“That’s a great question for Nick and his staff,” Cooks said. “That’s above my pay grade. I’m just here to do my job the best that I can to help my team win, and all that other stuff I let take care of itself.

“No, it’s not hard to stay focused at all. We’re playing this game, we all know it’s a business. We just got to focus on doing our job, and those type of things, those decision we got to leave in the hands of the organization and Nick and his staff. We got to continue to focus on the task at hand.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Houston Texans

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Roby is suspended for the season opener for a violation last season of the performance enhancing drug policy. He five games out of a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, ending his season last year. 

Roby and former Texans wide receiver Will Fuller and former Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye all tested positive for a banned substance given to them by a Houston area medical professional, according to league sources. Roby said at the time in a statement that he didn't know the supplement he took contained the banned substance.

Roby was the Texans' top corner and regularly assigned to cover opponents' most dangerous wide receivers.

Roby intercepted one pass last season and was usually assigned to opponents’ top receivers. He defended seven passes.

Two seasons ago, Roby  was limited to 10 starts last season because of a Grade 1 strained hamstring that sidelined him for six games. Roby still finished with 38 tackles and two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble. He picked off former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in a December victory.

Not having Roby in the starting lineup does take away the Texans' most talented and accomplished cornerback. He has 4.39 speed in the 40-yard dash and plays with an aggressive style. Roby has 301 career tackles, 10 interceptions, four sacks, eight forced fumbles, 75 passes defensed and three defensive touchdowns.

Roby was also left home and didn’t play in a road game last season against the Jaguars after a loud argument with secondary coach D’Anton Lynn over a coverage scheme disagreement, according to sources.

“Bradley was not going to play this game anyway,” Culley said. “The guys we are playing with right now are the guys we are going with. We are comfortable with those guys. Basically, we’ve been going with those guys all training camp, and we feel comfortable with that. We brought in some other guys who hopefully will give us some depth at that position also.”

The Texans recently added former Washington Football Team nickel Jimmy Moreland off waivers and signed former Philadelphia Eagles corner Cre’von LeBlanc to the practice squad.

Signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract that includes a $1 million base salary with $300,000 of it guaranteed, a $200,000 signing bonus, $300,000 in total roster bonuses for games active and a $500,000 playtime incentive, Hargreaves started every game last season for the Texans.

The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round draft pick allowed 73 receptions on 107 targets for 907 yards, six touchdowns and an opposing passer rating of 109.1 He recorded 72 tackles, one interception and one tackle for a loss while playing for the NFL's 30th-ranked defense that ranked last in the NFL in interceptions.

With Bradley Roby suspended for the first game of the season for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy, Hargreaves is expected to start opposite Terrance Mitchell in the Texans’ season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I'm ready for anything,” Hargreaves said during training camp. “I've been a starter the whole time I've been in the league, so I'm ready for whatever comes my way.”

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans

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Culley was asked if the Texans are looking to trade more players. Their top potential trade assets would be Cooks, Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil and linebacker Zach Cunningham, who led the NFL in tackles last season.

“I don’t think we’re shopping anybody,” Culley said. “I think what happens is people make calls, people try to get their team better, we try to get our team better. People have different conversations, and sometimes things come up that may work for both of you. And if it does, then you make a deal. As far as shopping, we’re not shopping anybody.”

Signed to a one-year contract with a maximum value of $12.5 million, Tyrod Taylor is the Texans’ starting quarterback with Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson remaining on the roster after issuing a standing trade request and dealing with legal issues that include 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints.

It’s Taylor’s job to stay in the moment, not ponder the implications of transactions overseen by Caserio and the front office.

“I would say over my years in the NFL, you kind of learn to control what you can control, and that’s in the locker room as well, too,” Taylor said. “Some of the things are above you. You have to trust management, trust the coaches that they’re doing the things that they need to do to make our team the best that it can. We rely on that leadership. Some of those moves are above us, and as players we just have to focus on going out, doing our job the best we can and executing. You can’t necessarily worry about, ultimately things that are out of your control.

“As a team, obviously we want to win. Week-in and week-out you want to win. You want to win the day, you want to go out and be the best person that you can every day. To put your focus on something that you can’t control, whether it’s trades or anything that’s outside factors, that just takes your focus away from what you’re here to do, and that’s to help win games. That’s where the focus has to be. Things happen across this league. Things happen in the building that necessarily might be over your head, but you can’t let it take your focus away from playing the game.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128

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