Last week, Rick Smith signed three players who were already on the roster of the Houston Texans to extensions. One of these players was Shaun Cody, who Gary Kubiak, Rick Smith and apparently Wade Phillips believe can play nose tackle in the new 3-4 defense. I made the hypothesis at the time that signing Cody meant that they preferred Earl Mitchell as the starter and that the Texans would probably not pursue a nose tackle in free agency, and very well might draft a prospect for Wade to mold for the future.
In today's Sunday Blitz by the National Football Post, there was an interesting nugget about the Texans:
"The Dolphins raised a lot of eyebrows when they put the franchise tag on nose tackle Paul Soliai, guaranteeing him about $12.5 million in 2011. Why did the team step out like that on a player who most fans aren't even aware of? My sources tell me the Dolphins surveyed the free agent field and believed there were no other nose tackles close to Soliai in ability. Given the number of teams playing a 3-4 defense, the Dolphins feared Soliai would be the subject of a bidding war. In fact, there were rumblings that the Redskins and Texans coveted him."
So this begs the question--are there any other potential free agent nose tackles that could be targets of the Texans, or was I right in my original theory?
My first thought when reading the quote above is that getting into a "bidding war" with Dan Snyder and the Redskins is one of the classic blunders in life, only surpassed by getting into a land war in Asia. If Soliai was actually that coveted and was allowed to test the market, the Texans probably would not have landed him. But was Shaun Cody the immediate backup plan? No matter whether you agree that Cody is a good fit for the 3-4, I think all would agree that he would not be a high priority free agent for anyone outside of Houston. Remember, Cody was picked up when he was released by Detroit, and I've never read anything to suggest that he was pursued by any other team.
My gut tells me that when Wade took over he decided that he liked what he saw in Earl Mitchell and was going to try and mold him into the lighter, penetrating nose tackle that he had in Dallas with Jay Ratliff. I think after making that call, he decided to sign a free agent like Soliai for the immediate time-frame, and he decided to draft a nose tackle to develop behind Mitchell. I could see Wade targeting another Ratliff-esque player to draft, a bigger body classic nose tackle, or maybe a hybrid type like Marcell Dareus.
The Dolphins probably didn't want to spend $12.5 million on Soliai, so the fact that they were willing to tells you not only that they were serious about the lack of free agent nose tackle talent, but also what it might cost to get a comparable talent. They're decision to tag Soliai probably reinforced the same point to the Texans. I believe Cody wasn't next on their nose tackle list, but when faced with the prospect of spending valuable free agent dollars and even more valuable cap space in a year they need to fill a lot of holes, they decided to lock up Cody to fulfill the veteran presence for that position.
The Texans need immediate improvement on the defense because another dreadful performance might cost everyone their jobs as the Texans could begin yet another complete rebuilding effort. Signing someone like Soliai would ensure that the talent at the position would immediately improve. Mitchell would provide possible impact for 2011, but more likely is a project for the future. Now that Cody has been retained, I could see the Texans making nose tackle more of a priority for the draft. As opposed to drafting a mid-round prospect to develop behind Mitchell, I think they might target someone in the first couple of rounds. The reason being that Cody is not a game changer, so either Mitchell or the rookie needs to have an instant impact in 2011.
If the Texans did in fact shift gears from acquiring a good to very good free agent nose tackle to re-singing Cody and putting more of an emphasis on drafting a game changer at nose tackle, I would actually wholeheartedly approve of the strategy. Rather than over-spending for someone like Aubrayo Franklin, I would much rather see them pursue veterans for the secondary, where there is certainly more value to be had in free agency. This could certainly be wishful thinking, but the early Texans offseason moves such as letting go of players because they can't cover (Eugene Wilson and Bernard Pollard) and not forcing someone into a position just because he was a high draft pick (Amobi Okoye) make me think that Wade has injected a healthy amount of common sense into the defensive talent evaluation.
That's my theory. What are your thoughts on the matter?