The Houston Texans have struggled to find an identity since the departure of Deshaun Watson. On Thursday, the franchise's rebuilding effort got a new face on each side of the ball.

With the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Texans selected Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.

In a stunning move, the Texans then acquired the third overall selection from the Arizona Cardinals to draft pass-rushing linebacker Will Anderson Jr. out of Alabama.

In return, the Cardinals received the 12th overall pick, as well as the number 33 pick in the second round, and a first- and third-round pick in 2024.

Houston is the first team with two of the top three picks in a single draft since Washington back in 2000.

The Texans' picks came after the Panthers drafted Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with the top overall pick, acquired from the Chicago Bears.

Stroud was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes, tallying 85 touchdown passes to just 12 interceptions. He was a 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist and cemented himself as a top-tier pro prospect by throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a College Football Playoff loss against Georgia – the eventual national champions.

At six-foot-three and 214 pounds, he projects as a traditional pocket-based quarterback who has been hesitant to create opportunities with his legs.

Anderson led the Alabama defense for three seasons, making 34.5 sacks in 41 career games. After landing on the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2020, Anderson followed with 17.5 sacks in a decorated sophomore season.

Anderson lacks the elite size and athleticism of the very best pass-rushers, but he was consistently disruptive over an impressive career at Alabama.

Former NFL defensive lineman Chris Smith has died aged 31.

Smith was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Arkansas in the 2014 draft and spent eight years in the league, representing teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

He last played in the NFL for the Houston Texans in 2021 before signing for the Seattle Sea Dragons in the XFL in March of this year.

Smith's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed his death on Twitter, saying: "Rest in Peace Chris. Condolences to all his family, friends and loved ones. We will miss you."

Smith's cause of death has not been released.

Several former teammates paid tribute, with Browns tight-end David Njoku declaring on Twitter: "Rest in paradise Chris Smith.

"Hometown hero and a brother to everyone. Such a kind soul. This is heartbreaking."

Smith also played for the Las Vegas Raiders and their former quarterback Derek Carr posted a photo of the two together and wrote: "Love you bro."

The Houston Texans are still over a month away from picking their quarterback of the future, but they are continuing to build around him.

On Monday, the Texans added a starting tight end to their roster, signing Dalton Schultz to a one-year deal worth up to $9million, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

Schultz did not have the market he might have anticipated after his contract with the Dallas Cowboys expired, but he will have the chance to cash in next offseason if he can thrive in Houston playing with the quarterback whom the Texans will almost certainly select with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Last season, Schultz finished with 577 receiving yards and five touchdowns, having racked up 808 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021.

His 13 receiving touchdowns over the last two seasons rank fifth among tight ends.

Houston also added to their backfield, signing former Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary.

Singletary is unlikely to be the starter following the emergence of Dameon Pierce, who had 939 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground as a rookie.

Also arriving on a one-year deal, according to multiple reports, Singletary gives the Texans versatile depth at running back.

He has produced over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of the last two seasons. In 2022, he finished with 819 yards rushing and five touchdowns, as well as 280 yards receiving and a further touchdown through the air.

Singletary has 2,197 scrimmage yards since 2021, putting him 20th among running backs across that span.

Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil is once again the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL after signing a three-year extension worth up to $75million.

Tunsil, previously became the highest-paid at his position back in 2020 when he signed a three-year, $66m deal after arriving in a blockbuster trade from the Miami Dolphins.

His new deal, which he again negotiated himself without an agent, includes a $30m signing bonus and $60m in total guarantees, per ESPN's report.

The 28-year-old is coming off his third Pro Bowl selection, and finished third in All-Pro voting among left tackles.

Tunsil's extension is a reward for yet another stellar season where he ranked among the best in the NFL, anchoring an offensive line that allowed 38 sacks, the 14th-fewest in the league. 

His pass block win rate (91.9 per cent) was 17th among offensive tackles, as he allowed only one sack (tied for second-fewest) and 17 pressures (sixth-fewest).

The Texans are expected to select their quarterback of the future in the upcoming NFL draft and have now locked up a premier blindside protector to make his life easier.

The Houston Texans will likely have a new quarterback in the 2023 season, and he can be hopeful of better protection after they traded for guard Shaq Mason.

Houston, according to multiple reports, agreed a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will see the teams swap late-round picks.

The Buccaneers will receive a sixth-round pick from Houston, while the Texans will get a seventh-rounder in addition to Mason.

It is an extremely reasonable price for a guard who has been one of the best in the NFL in recent years but has now been traded in successive offseasons.

Tampa Bay acquired him in a trade with the New England Patriots in 2022, reuniting Mason with Tom Brady for what proved the legendary quarterback's final campaign.

Mason's sole year with the Bucs saw him post an aggregate win rate across pass and run blocking of 78.3 per cent, seventh among all guards.

The Texans will hope Mason can maintain that kind of form in 2023 as they build around a new face at the quarterback position.

Houston hold the second overall pick in the draft and the Texans are expected to select one of the top signal-callers in a class featuring four quarterbacks seen as top-10 picks.

DeMeco Ryans was drafted by the Houston Texans and spent the first six seasons of his playing career clad in the club’s deep steel blue and battle red uniform.

Ryans is now the head coach of the Texans, a gig he calls his "dream job".

"It's a dream job because we can win here," Ryans told reporters Thursday. "And we're going to win here by collaborating, working together and building it the right way with the right people."

Ryans will have plenty of work to do, however, to help turn around a Houston franchise that finished the 2022 season 3-13-1 and just hired their fourth head coach in four years.

"This is a young team; we were on the cusp," he said. "We got to add some pieces to what we're doing here, but I'm so excited to get started and get to work with the young guys, and to build a winning program here with the Texans – I'm fired up.

"The excitement is real, and I can't wait to get to work, to get to coaching."

Ryans' connections to the NFL’s youngest franchise run deep.

The Texans selected Ryans in the second round – 33rd overall – of the 2006 draft, and the Alabama product made an immediate impact.

He was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year after amassing 126 solo tackles, still a franchise record. Ryans made two Pro Bowl appearances with the Texans and was involved in many milestones as the club matured from their 2002 expansion roots.

Ryans was there for the club's first winning season, their first playoff appearance and their first postseason win. Now he will try to lead Houston back to the playoffs after the team was a combined 11-38-1 over the past three seasons.

As evidence of Ryans' connection to the Texans, Thursday’s press conference was attended by several of his former teammates, including former Texans Pro Bowlers Andre Johnson, Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus.

"It's outstanding. It's my former teammates that are here. It's great to see all you guys here," Ryans said. "The work we all put in together here – it means so much to me just to see you guys here and see your faces."

Ryans spent the past two seasons as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, coaching top-three scoring defenses in both 2021 and 2022.

Ryans' performance – along with his history with the Texans – caught the eye of general manager Nick Caserio, who called the hiring a "no-brainer".

"What better person to lead this organization, lead this team, lead [our] players than DeMeco Ryans," Caserio said. "So, I think everything that DeMeco exudes as a player, exhibited as a player, he's done as a coach. His leadership is selflessness, his toughness, his team-first mindset, his charisma."

The Texans will get a chance to kick-start their rebuild this offseason as they hold picks number two and 12 in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The Houston Texans are turning to one of their former star players to help turn the franchise around.

DeMeco Ryans is returning to Houston after agreeing on Tuesday to become the Texans coach. The deal is reportedly for six years.

Ryans spent the past two seasons as the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator, directing a unit that led the NFL in fewest points and fewest yards allowed in the 2022 regular season.

"Being the head coach of the Houston Texans is my dream job and my family is thrilled to be back in H-Town," Ryans said in a statement. "I have been around the game of football my entire life and I've always had a natural ability to lead others. I know what it takes to win and be successful in this league as both a player and coach."

Prior to serving as the Niners' defensive coordinator the 38-year-old coached their linebackers following a 10-year career as a linebacker in the NFL.

Ryans' playing career began in 2006 after he was selected 33rd overall by the Texans in that year's draft.

In six seasons with the Texans, he was named Defensive Rookie of the Year and to a pair of Pro Bowls. In 2012, he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played for four seasons before retiring in 2015.

He now becomes Houston's fifth coach since the start of the 2020 season taking over for the recently fired Lovie Smith.

The Texans have gone 11-38-1 in those three seasons after finishing 2022 with a 3-13-1 record.

"We're going to build a program filled with players who have a special work ethic and relentless mindset," Ryans said. "I understand the responsibility I have to this organisation and to the fans of Houston to build a winner and I can't wait to get to work."

Sean Payton is interested in the prospect of taking over as Houston Texans head coach.

Payton is eager to get back to work after leaving his New Orleans Saints role at the end of last season and has held talks with the Denver Broncos as they look for a new head coach.

The 59-year-old on Monday revealed he is set to hold talks with the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals over their vacancies.

Houston have already started interviewing in their search for a new head coach after sacking Lovie Smith and Payton thinks that could be a good opportunity.

A deal would have to be struck for Payton's next franchise to agree a compensation package with the Saints, given he remains under contract with New Orleans.

Payton stated that he has discussed with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis what sort of compensation it would take to free him up.

Asked about the Texans job on 'The Herd with Colin Cowherd', he said: "Ultimately, the compensation for the Saints would be a mid or late first-round pick.

"Each team has different ammo or different pick selections. It could be a future one where maybe you have to throw in something."

He added: "When you practice for three days with an opponent, you get a chance to meet a lot of the different personalities and people involved in the building.

"They've got really good draft capital, really good draft capital. They're in a division that you can at least say with Indy, Tennessee and Jacksonville [are games they can win].

"There's growth potential immediately there from their two or three wins they had this year.'"

Payton had a record of 152-89 during 15 seasons in charge of New Orleans, and led the franchise to their first Super Bowl title in the 2009 campaign.

The Houston Texans announced the firing of head coach Lovie Smith on Sunday, just hours after he told the media he expected to retain the role for next season.

Smith was promoted in February after spending one season as the Texans' associate head coach and defensive coordinator.

In a rebuilding season following the trade of franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans appeared destined all season for the worst record in the league and the top overall pick in the coming NFL Draft.

They produced a stirring late comeback in Sunday's 32-31 win against the Indianapolis Colts to finish the campaign 3-13-1, handing the first pick in the draft to the Chicago Bears (3-14) in the process.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Smith said it is ridiculous to propose intentionally losing a game at this level.

"This is an option that I had," he said. "So you say, 'hey guys ... all that you've been working for your life, you play to win, forget that. Lose the game on purpose.

"That will be a hard one to get by. They won't expect me to say that. I didn't. What we work on each week, our game plan, has been to win the game. It's kind of simple as that. That's what we follow through on the day.

"It's pretty simple – we play to win the game. It's kind of simple as that." 

When asked about if he expected to return for a second season at the helm, he said: "Do I expect to be back? Yes, I expect to be back."

That notion was shot down hours later, with Texans general manager Nick Caserio announcing he personally had made the decision to fire Smith, and would instead hire a new head coach for the third time during his three years in charge, and the fourth consecutive year overall with a new head coach for the franchise.

The statement read: "On behalf of the entire organisation, I would like to thank Lovie Smith for everything he has contributed to our team over the last two seasons as a coach and leader.

"I'm constantly evaluating our football operation and believe this is the best decision for us at this time. It is my responsibility to build a comprehensive and competitive program that can sustain success over a long period of time.

"We aren't there right now. However, with the support of the McNair family and the resources available to us, I'm confident in the direction of the program moving forward."

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has no idea how the NFL MVP voters can pick anyone other than Patrick Mahomes for the league's highest individual honour.

Mahomes and the Chiefs had to go to overtime to defeat the one-win Houston Texans 30-24 and clinch the AFC West for the seventh successive season on Sunday.

The 2018 MVP completed 36 of his 41 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns, as well as running for another score, though his impressive performance through the air was undermined somewhat by Kansas City committing 10 penalties for 102 yards and the Chiefs twice turning the ball over on fumbles.

Jalen Hurts, the quarterback of the 13-1 Philadelphia Eagles who look destined for the one seed in the NFC, is the bookmakers' favourite for the MVP.

The Chiefs are 11-3 and on course to finish as the AFC's second seed, but Reid believes Mahomes is still worthy of a second MVP despite the Eagles' superior record.

"You saw Pat and what he did. I mean, he took care of business today," Reid said in his press conference when asked about the team cleaning up penalties.

"He went back to work and worked on it. I mean, you're talking about a guy that, if he's not the MVP in the league, I'm not sure what’s wrong with them.

"But he cleaned it up and comes out, and we have almost 500 yards of offense, minus 100 of penalties.

"That’s a pretty spectacular day there. But that's what he did. Great example of how you go back to the drawing board and make sure that you clean everything up."

Mahomes leads the NFL with 4,496 passing yards and 35 passing touchdowns, while his 40 passing plays of 25 yards or more are the most in the league and nine more than that of Hurts.

The Houston Texans will be without arguably their top offensive player for up to three weeks after rookie running back Dameon Pierce was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain.

Pierce, a fourth-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, took over as the Texans' starting running back in Week 2, and has gone on to rack up 939 rushing yards in 13 games to lead all rookies.

He has also been strongly involved in his team's passing game, with his 30 receptions the second-most by any rookie running back, trailing only Rachaad White (40 catches) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Pierce awkwardly twisted his ankle in the fourth quarter of a narrow 27-23 loss – a game where the Texans entered the contest as 17-point underdogs.

ESPN reports he will miss "up to three weeks", which would not be season-ending, but he may very well be shut down during that period.

Despite Pierce's strong play, the Texans own the worst record in the league at 1-11-1 and are pencilled in for the number one pick in next year's draft – a position they would like to hold onto.

Pierce has already done enough to ensure his position as Week 1 starter next season, and with only four games remaining in the current campaign, it remains to be seen if the Texans will bring him back for the final fixture as the timeframe may allow.

The Dallas Cowboys were the biggest favourites on Sunday, but they needed a touchdown drive in the final minute to defeat the Houston Texans 27-23.

Dallas entered the game at 9-3, coming off a 54-19 pounding of the Indianapolis Colts, while the Texans were 1-10-1 and coasting towards the number one pick in the NFL Draft.

The Cowboys entered the game as 17-point favourites, but the game did not follow the script, with Houston hanging 20 points on one of the league's best defenses in just the first half.

They did it with a touchdown run from rookie Dameon Pierce, before backup quarterback Jeff Driskel came in and threw a 28-yard score to Amari Rodgers, and a pair of Ka'imi Fairbairn field goals gave them a 20-17 lead at the break.

Tony Pollard had both of the Cowboys' first-half trips to the end zone – one through the air and one on the ground – before the second half turned into a defensive struggle, with no touchdowns until the final 46 seconds.

Trailing by three, the Cowboys got the ball back on the two-yard line with 3:20 on the clock, marching 98 yards down the field in 11 plays, culminating in a two-yard, game-winning rushing touchdown from Ezekiel Elliott to spare his side any embarrassment.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott ended up completing 24 of his 39 passes for 284 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while receiver Chris Moore was a standout for the Texans with 10 catches for 124 yards.

Eagles run up the score

The Philadelphia Eagles showed no mercy on their way to a dominant 48-22 demolition of the New York Giants, improving their league-best record to 12-1.

All of the Eagles' offensive stars got in on the act, starting with potential MVP Jalen Hurts, who threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a rushing touchdown with his seven carries for 77 yards.

Running back Miles Sanders racked up 144 yards and two touchdowns from his 17 carries, while their two top receivers – A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith – were on the receiving end of both of Hurts' touchdown passes.

The Eagles' defense also collected seven sacks, with three to Brandon Graham, to leave the Giants (7-4-1) with three losses and a tie from their past four outings.

Lions keep their playoff hopes alive

The Detroit Lions have now won five of their past six after defeating the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings 34-23.

Jared Goff played arguably his best game of the season, taking no sacks and committing no turnovers while passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns, with D.J. Chark enjoying a terrific day on the outside for 94 yards and a touchdown from his six catches.

It was a day to remember for first-round draft pick Jameson Williams, as the first catch of his NFL career went for a 41-yard touchdown, having only made his debut last week after beginning the season with a torn ACL.

The Lions are now 6-7, and are well and truly in the NFC wildcard hunt, only one game off the pace.

Deshaun Watson struggled on his return from an 11-game suspension where he was booed throughout as the Cleveland Browns won on the road against the Houston Texans 27-14 on Sunday.

Watson, who had been banned for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy for allegedly committing sexual assault, completed 12 of his 22 attempts for 131 yards with no touchdown passes and one interception.

The Browns' defense picked up Watson with two defensive touchdowns and a punt-return score to improve their record to 5-7, sitting third in the AFC North.

The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback had left the Texans for the Browns in the offseason on a five-year deal worth $230million guaranteed, one of the richest and most guaranteed contracts in NFL history.

That trade came after Watson had not played in the 2021 season as accusations emerged from more than two dozen women of sexual assault and other sexual misconduct during massage sessions, leading to the NFL-imposed 11-game ban and record $5m fine in August.

Watson's first NFL regular-season game in 700 days was met with displeasure, with his former fans booing and jeering him throughout.

"They're supposed to boo," Watson told reporters after the game. "I'm a Cleveland Brown now, and we're on the road, so they're supposed to boo."

Watson again refused to answer any non-football questions after the game, having been asked if he had any remorse for his actions that led to his suspension.

"That's something that, legal and clinical, we've answered before," Watson said. "They don't want me to address anything like that.

"Of course, it was a tough situation. The suspension was tough. But at the same time, my main focus is just trying to be 1-0 as a football player today.

"I was just excited to be back on the field today. I did everything that I was asked and was required to do. I did all that. I was able to play and be on the field today."

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski conceded Watson was rusty after not played for a season-and-a-half.

"Obviously you're missing a bunch of time so you've got to get back in it," Stefanski said. "You've got to get this first one out of the way. But I know what the kid is capable of."

The Browns face the 8-4 Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday.

Deshaun Watson vowed to focus on football after deflecting questions on his suspension as he prepares for his first game with the Cleveland Browns.

Watson was handed an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine following sexual assault and misconduct allegations. The 27-year-old has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and is facing no criminal charges.

He has now completed that ban, meaning he is set to play for the first time in 700 days on Sunday.

The quarterback will be taking on the Houston Texans, the team he represented at the time of his last NFL game.

Speaking on Thursday, Watson made clear he was focusing on the game, rather than facing questions relating to his suspension.

"I understand that you guys have a lot of questions. But with my legal team and my clinical team, there's only football questions I can really address at this time," he told reporters.

Asked why he agreed to the suspension, he replied: "I was just trying whatever I could do to play football in 2022.

"Most of the settlement stuff with the NFL was mostly my agency and legal team. I had no control. My main focus was doing everything I needed to do to play this year."

A return to action in Houston could provide a fierce atmosphere for Watson to cope with, but that is not something he is thinking about.

"Like I said, I'm focusing on just being the starting quarterback and executing the game plan," he said. "That's my main focus."

The Browns traded for Watson in March before signing him to a fully guaranteed $230m five-year deal.

DeShaun Watson has shown a lack of remorse and should have been suspended by the NFL for at least a year, according to the president of anti-sexual assault organisation RAINN.

Scott Berkowitz spoke to Stats Perform as Watson prepares to make his Cleveland Browns debut.

Watson was handed an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine following sexual assault and misconduct allegations. The 27-year-old has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and is facing no criminal charges.

The ban has meant the star quarterback has yet to debut for the Browns after his March trade from the Houston Texans, which was followed by a lucrative new contract in Cleveland.

The NFL had initially hit Watson with a six-game ban before the punishment was extended. Berkowitz was happy to see that decision taken but says there is still work to be done.

"There's no length of suspension that would make up for the damage that he did to all those women. We initially advocated for a year suspension, which I think would have been appropriate," Berkowitz told Stats Perform.

"But 11's a whole lot better than six. So, it is what it is, and he'll be back on the field. And hopefully, with some different behaviour going forward.

"It [Watson's return] was bound to come eventually. But I certainly wished this suspension had been a little longer.

"But I just appreciate that the NFL added to the initial recommendation, at least, and made it longer than it initially looked like it was going to be."

Berkowitz said he can appreciate the need for second chances, but he claims Watson has not truly accepted any wrongdoing.

Watson has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him.

"I understand second chances, I think that is something as a society we need to offer folks. But usually, there's a requirement that there's remorse and that they make things better," Berkowitz said.

"I think in this case, the day the suspension was announced, I recall he first put out a quote that had been written by the team that said the right things and then he immediately followed that up with what he really thought, which is that he doesn't think he did anything wrong.

"I don't know how you talk about forgiveness to someone who doesn't feel any remorse."

Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said on August 1 that "Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field".

In a remarkable coincidence, Watson – who has a fully guaranteed $230million five-year deal with Cleveland – is set to make his Browns bow against the Texans on Sunday.

During five years in Houston (the last of which in the 2021 season Watson did not make a single appearance), he twice helped the Texans to the playoffs and was a three-time Pro-Bowler.

Berkowitz does not expect Watson to receive an overly enthusiastic reaction from the home crowd.

"I suspect it won't be a hero's greeting, or I hope it won't. You never know when a star comes back to their hometown," Berkowitz said.

"But, you know, I hope that the reaction takes into account the terrible things he's done. It's hard to be enthusiastic for rooting for a guy who's done the things that he was accused of doing."

However, Berkowitz did acknowledge the reception from Browns fans moving forward will likely depend on Watson's performances on the field.

"I'd like it to be taken into account, his actions, but I'm realistic, that's once he gets going if he plays well, that the memory of that, unfortunately, is going to fade pretty quickly," he said.

"Most fans of most teams have learned to put personalities aside and put that behaviour aside, unfortunately, and, once they're playing well, they start cheering for the guy.

"And we're all guilty of that. So, there's always that tension, when your team is putting up people who you need to win but you don't feel comfortable rooting for personally."

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