The rookie QB has opened a long competitive window for the Houston Texans with his rookie contract and a poor division.
While top-four 2023 NFL Draft selections Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson have struggled at quarterback, Houston Texans‘ second-overall pick C.J. Stroud has been nothing short of tremendous over his first four pro games.
Stroud completed 16 of 30 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday in a 30-6 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That puts the rebuilding Texans ahead of schedule at 2-2 and in a four-way tie atop the AFC South.
The former Ohio State Buckeye‘s 1,212 passing yards leapfrogged Andrew Luck into second place all-time in yards for a QB in his first four career games, trailing only former NFL MVP Cam Newton. Stroud has six TDs and no interceptions, joining the legend Gardner Minshew in 2019 as the only QBs with no picks in their first four pro games with at least 30 pass attempts in each game.
At just 21 years old, C.J. Stroud is fourth in the league in passing yards, third in yards per attempt, and ninth in passer rating. His four-year, $36.3 million rookie contract included a $23.4 million signing bonus, which means his total cap hit for the next three seasons beyond 2023 is just over $12 million.
Every football executive knows that the cheat code to long-term team success is building around an excellent quarterback on his rookie contract. It’s a major reason why the league’s two undefeated teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, built such strong rosters around Brock Purdy and Jalen Hurts, who have a combined 2023 cap hit of just over $7 million. Amazon broadcaster Al Michaels makes more money per game than Purdy will make this entire season.
Stroud’s emergence comes at an opportune time for Houston. Looking around the division, Tennessee’s window of opportunity around its offensive core of Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, and DeAndre Hopkins is seemingly closing. Indianapolis seems further away with Richardson, while Jacksonville will be in a similar competitive window led by Trevor Lawrence, Calvin Ridley, and Travis Etienne. So the Texans will have a chance to win division titles over the next several years if they use their cap space wisely before Stroud is due a contract extension.
This cap flexibility is further boosted by last year’s DeShaun Watson trade to Cleveland for three first-round picks, a third-rounder, and two fourth-rounders. It enabled the Texans to trade up for defensive end Will Anderson, the third overall pick in April, and still have a first-rounder in 2024. One of those fourth-round picks turned into starting running back Dameon Pierce, who has struggled so far despite having the league’s seventh-most rush attempts. Offensive lineman Kenyon Green started 14 games last season after being drafted 15th overall in 2022, but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason and should be a long-term anchor moving forward.
Thanks to the early emergence of C.J. Stroud, a weak division, and a Watson trade that has a chance to continue to pay dividends, the Houston Texans are not only competitive earlier than expected, but could be for a long time while they benefit from a strong QB play on a rookie contract — one of the NFL’s greatest keys to success.
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