In a shocking move that may pave the way for Tony Romo's arrival in Houston, the Texans traded quarterback Brock Osweiler and a 2018 second-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for draft-pick compensation, the Browns announced Thursday.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the news, noting Houston will receive Cleveland's 2017 fourth-round pick in exchange. The Texans are also sending a 2017 sixth-round pick to the Browns.
Osweiler, 26, signed a four-year, $72 million contract with Houston last offseason. The contract proved disastrous from the start, as he threw for 2,957 yards and 15 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. The Texans briefly benched Osweiler in favor of Tom Savage late in the season.
Borderline unprecedented in NFL circles, this type of deal is standard-affair for those who follow the NBA. The Texans, wanting to get out of a bad contract, turn over a draft pick to a team well under the cap in exchange for giving them some salary relief. Osweiler's $16 million salary for 2017 was fully guaranteed.
Houston gets $10 million in cap wiggle room as part of the deal, after accounting for dead money. The Browns, who entered free agency with more than $100 million in cap space, get a free second-round pick for money they likely weren't going to spend anyway. Rapoport noted Cleveland may wind up releasing Osweiler and eating his $16 million guaranteed rather than keeping him.
Perhaps the best comparison here would be deals made by former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie. During his time in Philadelphia, Hinkie would constantly use the Sixers' cap space and flexibility to add more "assets" to their roster—mostly in the form of future draft picks.
Browns GM Sashi Brown is a known analytics acolyte and even dropped a "process" reference in November.
The Texans may now focus their energy on available quarterbacks, most notably Romo. The longtime Cowboys starter is widely known to be leaving Dallas in the coming days—whether via trade or free agency. Rapoport said Houston will not trade for Romo, but that does not rule out adding him if the Cowboys cut him loose.
"To say 'Am I looking to add or are we looking to add a quarterback in free agency?'—my experience in this league is we don't even know who's out there in free agency yet because some of these guys sign back with their teams," head coach Bill O'Brien told reporters. "That's been my experience as a head coach in this league. I think it's more about, every day, monitoring the league, focusing on ourselves and making sure that we communicate as an organization. That's what we're doing."
Other available free-agent quarterbacks include Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the latter of whom played under O'Brien in 2014. The Texans may also be in play for the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo or A.J. McCarron via trade, though that would involve giving up further draft-pick compensation.
Following two straight division championships and equipped with perhaps the NFL's best defense, this feels a lot like Houston clearing room to keep Romo in the state of Texas.