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Strength in small numbers

The numbers might be thinner, but the names will be bigger.

That's the message Texans general manager Charley Casserly delivered Tuesday when he addressed the upcoming expansion draft at a workout at Rice's Autry Gymnasium.

"Really, you enter into two processes when you approach this draft," Casserly said. "You have to decide whether you're going to go the 30-35 player route, which is what the other three teams did, or are you going to go with less players.

"We're going to go with less players."

The three most recent expansion teams -- Cleveland, Carolina and Jacksonville -- selected an average of 34 players in their respective expansion drafts. But when the Texans tee it up at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Feb. 18, expect less than 20 names to be called. By NFL guidelines, those names need to encompass 38 percent of Houston's 2002 salary cap (roughly $27 million).

"We anticipate we'll take between 12 and 18 players," Casserly said. "Now, could that change over the next 10 days? Yes, it could. But I don't think it's going to change by much."

Why this route? When the league announced most of the unprotected players on Jan. 25, Casserly and his staff poured over the list to see who might make the inaugural 53-man roster.

"We went through our list and said 'Let's do this like the other teams did it. Let's take 30 players and see how many of them we think can make our club,'" Casserly said. "We ended up with about five.

"Now any player that we take that's on our roster after June 1, their minimum salary is guaranteed. Now you've got $10 million of dead money on your cap."

The Browns selected 37 players in their 1999 expansion draft. Sixteen of those players made the 1999 roster, but only eight of the final 26 players selected suited up. Four of those eight were gone by the next season. Those numbers weren't encouraging to the Texans.

"So we decided to take the other approach where you take fewer players, but quality players, even though their cap figures are higher than what we anticipated," Casserly said. "So you're taking the $10 million of dead money and adding it to the good players. We feel it's a better way to do it."

The quality of the free agent market also affected Houston's philosophy. In 1995, the Panthers and Jaguars were content to spend a majority of their cap dollars on the free agent market. But teams are doing a much better job of protecting their free agent gems in this day and age.

"The free agency market is not very deep," Casserly said. "The more players we take in the expansion draft that are starters, the less players we have to take in March."

Nothing is set in stone yet. The Texans are still looking at medical records and contract language. Houston is also waiting for the unprotected lists from the two Super Bowl XXXVI participants (New England and St. Louis). And once the Texans select a player from a team, that team can pull another player back, which could alter Houston's decision-making process on the 18th.

"When I say 12 to 18, it could be closer to 12 with the pull-backs," Casserly said.

Regardless, it's looking more and more like some recognizable names could don Texans jerseys in 13 days. Let the speculation continue.

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