The big issue the Texans have this off-season is what they are going to do with they're free agents. There has already been a ton of articles about Mario William's situation, since it is the most complex of the major free agents. However, none of these analyses have taken into account Connor Barwin's impending free agency.Connor Barwin had a major breakout year, finishing the season tied for ninth in sacks with 11.5. I don't know how he did in run defense or pass coverage, but any player who rushes the passer that well is extremely valuable. People have largely been using his performance (along with Reed's) as an argument against re-signing Mario. The problem with this argument is that Connor Barwin is a free agent himself after the 2012 season.
Just how much money will Barwin get? Well, if his 2012 season is anywhere near his 2011, he will get truckloads. Connor Barwin's 11.5 sacks put him in the top 10 in sacks this year. The comparison that jumped out at me was Charles Johnson of the Panthers. Johnson was stuck behind Julius Peppers for three years, then had a breakout season when Peppers left and got 11.5 sacks. That offseason he was a free agent but stayed with the Panthers and got a 6 year, $76 million contract ($32 million guaranteed) at 26 years old (Barwin will also be 26 when he hits free agency). We can't know how well Barwin will do next year, but with a similar season he could earn an even bigger contract than Johnson's, since he would prove he's not a fluke.
This is a significant factor in figuring out what the Texans should do with Mario. If they let Mario walk, next offseason there is another big decision to make. Unless they want to spend a high draft pick on an OLB or Braman makes huge strides, they would have to re-sign him to not have a huge hole in that linebacker spot. If they do re-sign Mario this offseason, it would seem almost impossible to also sign Barwin considering that Duane Brown, Matt Schaub, and Glover Quin, among others, become free agents after 2012. This point is further enhanced by the fact that re-signing both of them would mean Reed would sit on the bench for the next three years.
Basically, it probably comes down to a choice between Barwin and Williams. It's certainly possible to have two very expensive pass rushers on the same team (ala Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) but it is rare and certainly could handicap you in other decisions. Thus, the front office has a decision to make. Instead of debating whether they should re-sign Mario and have a deep OLB group, what I think they are doing is debating the merits of Mario and Barwin and figuring out which one they want to keep for the long term.