Texans' McNair talks how they pulled off shocking draft-day trade

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HOUSTON -- Secrecy was a memorable theme for Cal McNair when he reflected on Day 1 of last April's draft.

The Houston Texans' owner, who was the CEO and chairman of the team at the time, remembers countless calls from reporters hours before the franchise made the No. 2 pick, which humored McNair.

"Some calls were like, 'What are you going to do? We can't get anything out of you. Are you going to take a quarterback?'" McNair said.

He replied with "Well, we don't pick first. We can't tell you which [player we'll take]. I don't know."

"It was a lot of fun," he said while laughing.

That moment was almost a year ago, with this year's draft kicking off Thursday (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, ESPN App) in Detroit when the Chicago Bears, who traded out of the No. 1 pick last year, are on the clock for the first pick.

Last year, the Carolina Panthers traded with the Bears and were expected to select quarterback Bryce Young at No. 1. But with the Texans, rumors swirled weeks leading up to the draft about what they would do after.

McNair's game plan of staying tight-lipped aligned with Texans general manager Nick Caserio and coach DeMeco Ryans' approach. It was an intentional tactic they all executed to perfection.

"You're playing a card game, you're not going to show your opponent your hand," Ryans told ESPN. "We don't need to be blabbermouths to everyone about what we're thinking and what we're doing because that will only hurt us in the long run. It's a strategic path."

The Texans went on to draft quarterback C.J. Stroud with the second pick.

They made a shocking move to go up and get pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. with the No. 3 pick. They sent the Arizona Cardinals their No. 12 pick and No. 33 pick of the draft and one of their two first-round picks in 2024 (No. 27) to make it happen.

Stroud and Anderson played vital roles as the Texans won the AFC South and reached the second round of the playoffs. Both earned Pro Bowl honors and swept the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards -- which had only been done three times prior by teammates.

It was the first time that a team made back-to-back picks in the top three since Washington drafted linebacker LaVar Arrington (No. 2) and offensive tackle Chris Samuels (No. 3) in 2000.

Keeping information in-house is the golden rule for Caserio and Ryans. On bigger moves, they sometimes keep it between them and McNair.

"We're just trying to do what we think makes the most sense for the organization and kind of protect the organization," Caserio said.

McNair wasn't sure the trade could be executed, but once things came together, he knew the partnership between his GM and first-time coach had potential to be special.

"Nick is very conscientious of setting things he should do. We didn't know if we would be able to accomplish that within those goals and guidelines he put up for himself," McNair said. "We were waiting, holding our breath as the phone calls went back and forth. When they traded up, working together, they were fully committed to both of those players. It felt like to me, the gas is on, let's go. That was a big moment for me."

Caserio and Ryans keep things close to the vest, but that doesn't mean they don't listen to input from their scouts and assistant coaches.

"For myself and Nick, we're the same about how we feel about information getting out. How does it help us," Ryans said. "Me and Nick want to operate under the mode of how do we help the Texans? We talk about protecting the team first. Keeping information tight between me and him is our way of protecting the team."

It was widely believed the Texans coveted Anderson. But when rumors arose that they might pass on Stroud, members of the organization didn't even know whether that was true or not.

The whirlwind of rumors had oddsmakers all over the place. Quarterback Will Levis was the pick early in the week, and Anderson was the heavy favorite hours before the draft. Stroud didn't become the favorite to go second until moments before the draft began, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"Despite what everybody thinks, our job isn't to really publicize what we're doing," Caserio said. "We just try to do what we think makes the most sense for our team. Not everybody has all the information. The people that need the information, have the information."

Mission complete.

The outside world didn't know what they would do, but the brass inside the building remained aligned. The Texans believe their tactic also limited leaks to prevent the trade price from increasing beyond what they eventually paid to jump to No. 3.

"We had talked about it for a while, to know exactly what it would take to get Anderson," Ryans said. "I'm happy we didn't have to worry about it getting out. If teams kind of know what you're doing, maybe teams try to jump ahead of us and Arizona could kind of drive the price level up a little bit. What I love about last year's draft, we had two guys we really liked. We were able to do whatever it took to go get both of them."

As of right now, things will be far less exciting for the Texans in this draft. They traded out of the first round after a big spending spree in free agency, but they do hope to take full advantage of the value of their nine picks to help fill out depth along the roster.