Owen Daniels and Eric Winston are a gaping void on the strong side of the Texans line. By that, I mean that they have both excelled on the field and achieved playing time to void the final year of their contracts. Now they're both in their contract years. If the Texans stand pat and let these contributors play out their contracts, there will be a gaping void in the Texans line.
Even though Daniels and Winston are in their contract years, they will not be free agents after the season. When the owners opted out of the current CBA, the rules for free agency changed. It now requires 6 years of experience to reach free agency, so Daniels and Winston would be restricted free agents for another 2 years.
So what kind of deals will keep 2 young building blocks of a rising Texans team in place for the next few years? Let's look around the league and see what kind of deals are out there.
2/21/2005: Signed a seven-year, $36 million contract. 2008: $3.5 million, 2009: $3.75 million, 2010: $3.85 million, 2011: $5.4 million, 2012: Free Agent.
3/11/2006: Signed a seven-year, $36 million contract. The deal includes $12.5 in guarantees. 2008: $2.9 million, 2009: $2.65 million, 2010: $2.9 million, 2011-2012: $3.4 million, 2013: Free Agent.
Eric Winston is probably as solid as any RT out there, and he's only 24 this year so he's got some leverage. He'll also be looking for the big payday he missed in the 2006 draft.
The Texans can hold onto him as a restricted free agent, making just over $1 million for at least one year, maybe two, so I believe a deal will be struck. And the sooner, the better. Contract disputes make for nasty blood.
I'd expect him to sign an extension next year in the neighborhood of a 4 years, worth $35 million with $15 million in guarantees. So his cap numbers would be something close to this: 2009--$6.5 mil; 2010--$8 mil; 2011--$9.75 mil; 2012--$10.75 mil.
This deal leaves him as a free agent (Pro Bowler?) at 29, which would be a great age for another big payday.
Tight End Salaries
8/23/2005: Signed a six-year, $24 million contract. The deal included a $6 million signing bonus and contains $10.5 million in total guarantees. 2008: $3 million, 2009: $3.25 million, 2010: $3.625 million, 2011: Free Agent.
7/22/2006: Signed a six-year, $29 million contract extension through 2012. The deal included a $6 million signing bonus and a $6 million option bonus in the second year. 2008: $1.905 million, 2009: $2.5 million, 2010: $2.641 million, 2011: $3.391 million, 2012: $3.641 million, 2013: Free Agent.
Owen Daniels has been building solid seasons year after year. Right now, he may already be a top 15 TE. In a few years, he may be a Pro Bowler. He's got the tenacity.
If he continues to grow as vital part of the Texans passing attack, I expect the Texans to lock him up long term. They would be looking for about a 5 year deal. How many zeros would it take for Daniels to sign? Something in the neighborhood of $35 million with $10 million guaranteed. That would make his cap numbers: 2009--$3.5 mil, 2010--$5 mil, 2011--$7 mil, 2012--$9 mil, and 2013--$10.5 mil.
That's great that you're looking one, two, or even five years down the road, but what does any of this mean this season? Contract years in the NFL are funny things. Players realize their future is on the line, and they tend to perform at an optimum level. Think back to Albert Haynesworth last year--he knew he was auditioning for his big payday, and he became the force everyone knew he had the talent to be.
Owen Daniels and Eric Winston both know they're in contract years. They're going to take it up a notch because they can smell the $$$ every time they (or in Winston's case, the offense) find(s) the end zone. Expect the strong side of the Texans line to change from gaping void to steel blue stampede this season as Daniels and Winston have a little bit of extra motivation to play for.