Who knew crow was best served with a pair of defensive backs and a side of grits? That's what I discovered this past weekend as I celebrated the Houston Texans' free agency fortunes in the 2011 NFL Free-Agency-palooza. I didn't expect it and somehow that made the celebration even sweeter. Last month I told you on this very blog how foolhardy it would be to expect the Texans to sign both a veteran corner back AND a veteran safety in free agency. Heck, I even told you to be sensible and not expect more than a Gerald Sensabaugh signing. Yet, Friday morning's headlines jubilantly proclaimed: "Houston, we have a CB AND a safety!"
Most experts considered former Cincinnati corner back Johnathan Joseph the second best CB in free agency, but he was cheaper than the one rated ahead of him and allowed the Texans to also sign a safety... a real safety that is not only an upgrade from Eugene Wilson, but is even better than Sensabaugh. Joseph is only 27 and some scouts say he has a more complete skill set (that encompasses zone as well as man coverage) than that higher priced CB. Also, new safety, Danieal Manning averaged 27 yards per kickoff return for Chicago over the last three seasons. Nnamdi Asomu-who?Even before the Houston Texans landed those two big free agent fish, they had already re-signed critical free agents from their own roster: OT Rashad Butler, who is key to the Texans' offensive line depth; WR Jacoby Jones, who is necessary for fan scapegoating; and QB Matt Leinart, who we hope isn't needed (but I'm glad he's back). Not bad at all for a FO that I thought would be overwhelmed by this compressed free agency period.
I know a lot of people are upset about losing FB Vonta Leach, but the Texans couldn't afford to match Baltimore's offer. Congratulations and good luck, Coke Machine. Thanks for all the pummelling and enjoy the big bucks. Losing Leach was the only negative I've seen since the lockout ended, and the Texans have already signed his replacement in former Cleveland FB Lawrence Vickers. SB Nation Houston's David Coleman points out that Vickers had pretty good stats in Cleveland and our resident Yao Ming defender, Mike Kerns, made a strong case that Vickers is a Leach-like clone who is a lot more cost-effective. Some fans might complain about the Texans releasing WR David Anderson (who signed with Denver this week.) He was a decent backup, but I'm guessing he cost too much under the current circumstances. He only had 11 catches last year and he should be easily replaced by one of the WRs in training camp.
The rest of the losses were mostly addition by subtraction. I'm sure QB Dan Orlovsky is a nice guy, but I think Leinart will be a better backup... in spite of my Matt-bashing previously. I'm glad Matt's old coach signed away Minnesota's QB, Tavaris Jackson, because that apparently caused Leinart to reject Seattle's offer and re-sign with the Texans. Apparently, Matt didn't like his chances to win the starting job since Jackson played under Seattle's new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, for the last five years in Minnesota. I guess Matt would rather be a backup in Houston and continue his rehab with Gary the QB Whisperer than a backup under his old college coach. Speaking of rehab, wouldn't it be great if the Texans face Dan O when they play the Colts? Mostly because that would mean we're not being eviscerated by Peyton Manning, but I might die laughing if we could run Dan O out of his own end zone...or hide his helmet.
Speaking of uncontrollable laughter, Jacksonville relieved the Texans of punter, Matt Turk. The Glitter Kitties must have a lot of confidence in their defense to forgo the ability to pin their opponents inside the 20, or even the 35 for that matter. I expect the Texans training camp battle between the veteran from Chicago, Brad Maynard, and the undrafted rookie from Central Michigan University, Brett Hartmann, to yield an upgrade over Turk either way. Maynard is a veteran who should be able to place the ball better than Turk, while Hartmann has a strong leg and is also a kickoff specialist.
I'm guessing defensive coordinator Wade Phillips didn't like what he saw of DT Amobi Okoye (who can blame him) and didn't think he would fit in his new defense or within the Texans' new salary cap structure. I was glad to see that Okoye has already landed a second chance in Chicago after the Texans released him. While he's not the teenager we drafted, he is still young and I think there is a chance for him to develop into a decent 4-3 DT. Good luck, Amobi. I'm still trying to wrap my head around St. Louis signing away LB Zac Diles, but maybe it's better to not look a gift horse (or should I say Ram?) in the mouth.
In addition to maximizing gains and minimizing losses in free agency, the Texans' FO was ready to sign undrafted college free agents as soon as the lockout ended (that kid from LSU, WR Terrence Toliver, is looking damn promising) and they've already signed all of their draft picks (like most teams in the NFL, which is now operating under a new rookie pay scale, but you still have to give Rick credit for no holdouts.) Losing Leach hurt a little, but overall the Texans' front office did an amazing job of retaining key players, signing free agents and shedding dead weight in this frenetic free agency period.
Speaking of dead, that's how wrong I was about this front office's ability to fill the Texans needs this off-season, especially when I panned Rick Smith. I accused Smith of being less than a genuine NFL GM, but I come to you now a humbled (and happy) Texans fan. Now I know the true power of the Rick...partly because he laid it out for me in Sports Illustrated when he took Peter King's job for a day (if Rick has the time, SI should consider making that a permanent change. In all seriousness I was quite impressed with our young GM's SI outing.) Their performance in this free agency has convinced me that this Texans FO is capable and willing. Who cares who is doing what, so long as it keeps getting the job done like this?
I'm sure some of you have wondered where I've been the past month, or at least missed my hit pieces on backup QBs and defenseless front office personnel (or is that backup front office personnel and defenseless QBs?). The night after I posted the aforementioned piece questioning Smithiak's free agency abilities, I was abducted while I slept. Continue to read my harrowing tale at your own risk, since parts or all of it may be considered "classified information" by certain, unnamed government agencies. I can neither confirm nor deny the following facts due to some of those same agencies and pending book deals, but I can tell you that I believe in the Texans' UFO.
I awoke to blinding lights as I lie on an exam table and heard an ominous voice, "So you're the blogger who thinks Rick Smith isn't a real GM? Don't you know it's better to put wind in the sails than walk the plank?"
I expected to see an alien or maybe even a pirate as I strained to make out the face hovering over me. I was relieved when I saw Texans head trainer, Geoff Kaplan, instead. Any relief I felt by seeing a human, non-pirate face quickly evaporated when he transformed before my very eyes into a 15-foot tall, clay-white behemoth.
"You're a Titan!" I exclaimed.
"Shut up or I'll eat you!" he bellowed.
Knowing Titans are only capable of killing and eating babies (and getting caught holding the "blunt") I tried to confuse the monster, "But I'm not a baby!"
The giant looked dumbfounded. "Oh, yeah...well, get up and follow me. The Great and All Powerful Smithilliak, commands your audience."
After attempting to verify that there had been no probing, I got off the exam table and followed the Titan down a long corridor that looked like something out of Space Center Houston. "Why do you follow Smithiak?" I asked.
"SMITHILLIAK!" the Titan corrected me.
"Whatever... but aren't you a Titan?" I asked. "Why aren't you working for Tennessee's team?"
The Titan stopped and gave me a cold stare before answering. His eyes swirled with black vortexes filled with a thousand, wailing souls trapped forever in his memory. "Have you ever worked for Bud Adams?" he asked ominously.
"Uh, no..." I stammered.
"Then shut up. Or I'll eat you," the Titan said as he continued down the hallway.
"Did I mention I'm not a baby?"
If the Titan responded, I didn't hear it. As we rounded a corner, we entered an enormous rotunda lined with huge displays broadcasting all manner of football-related media. It sounded like a giant beehive of sports bees buzzing about free agents, salary caps, team needs, scouting reports, acting aspirations and tax codes. It was maddening. Rotating in the center of the room was a 50-foot tall, Battle Red, holographic head with the three faces of Rick Smith, Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips.
"Wow, that's huge!" I blurted out.
"Yea, it gained a lot of mass when Wade Phillips was assimilated. But now it understands NFL defenses and can evaluate defensive talent, so it was worth the renovations and new cafeteria," explained the Titan.
The Smithilliak spoke in an ominous, three-part harmony that reverberated in my brain, "Still Blue, you have been summoned to the great Smithilliak for your recent blog entries on Battle Red Blog."
I thought about setting this overgrown Tron-head straight about my First Amendment rights. "My sincerest apologies if I offended your magnificence with my blog drivel...hey, you read BRB? That's pretty cool..."
Smith and Kubiak cut me off, "How dare you question the wisdom of a front office with a 55-89 record!"
"But I write nice things about you guys too!" I pleaded.
"It's true, guys. I like what he writes..." said Phillips.
Smithiak interrupted him, "We don't care about his Phillips fanboy posts or his explanations of your defensive schemes. He's asking too many questions about how we work and who does what. He threatens Operation Free Agent and must be destroyed!"
"Oh, let's be nice to him," Wade said.
"Shut up, Wade!" yelled Smithiak.
They went on like that for several minutes before deciding to keep me prisoner in their football hive until the lockout was lifted and Operation Free Agency completed. I was allowed to watch all the ESPN and NFLN I could stand in Smith's office (unfortunately, those were the only channels that worked on his TV.) For some strange reason the cafeteria only served pancakes, but it was all-you-can-eat. I spent most of my time trying to spy on the great Smithilliak. I noticed that Kubiak and Phillips spent much of their time watching video and ranking talent, while Smith seemed obsessed over numbers and checking with McNair and Son as much as possible.
It was obvious when the lockout was lifted, because Smithilliak began to spin faster and faster as it launched into a flurry of activity. Key restricted free agents were resigned while the media buzzed about the Nnamdi sweepstakes. I couldn't tell who was doing what, but they were getting it done. Smithilliak was unshaken by the hype and posturing and deftly agreed to terms with Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning. Once they got Manning, Wade started singing the old Houston Oilers fight song and Kubiak popped the champagne. Smith was irritated because he was still crunching numbers and trying to write contracts, but Phillips and Kubiak were playing beer pong with the Titan and hitting the chorus: "Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers #1!"
I waited for them to get sufficiently intoxicated so I could escape. As I snuck out of the rotunda, I noticed a curtained area near the exit. I peeked inside and saw Andre Johnson sitting at a sprawling control panel, coolly controlling Smithilliak like it was Cortland Innegan on a string.
I dropped the curtain and took off. As I rounded the next corner, I slammed into John "Pancakes" McClain and hit the ground like Kareem Jackson dropping into coverage.
"What's your hurry, Still Blue?" Pancakes asked as he reached down to help me up. He was smartly dressed in a black suit and was sporting Wayfarers.
"Uh, I need to get home." I said meekly.
Pancakes smiled as he said, "Well, I can help you with that."
"Sure, that's part of my job serving the Great and All Powerful Smithilliak. We just need to take care of one little thing before we send you back," he said as he removed a silver rod from his jacket. "I just need you to look at this light..."
"Wait" I pleaded, "is there any way we can skip the memory wipe? I really want to remember what I saw so I can remain a loyal blogger to the greatness that is Smithilliak!"
"Hmm, perhaps..." Pancakes said as he put away the memory eraser. After pledging fealty to the Smithilliak and promising to follow his tweets, Pancakes took me to a teleportation room and sent me home. I arrived just in time for breakfast and those glorious Friday morning headlines. Did I mention crow tastes great with grits?