Normally, at this time of year, I would be focused on the NFL Draft on a nearly exclusive level. Actually, I would have been thinking about the draft around November and really begun focusing on absorbing information like a sponge. When you have a good team, the draft takes a backseat until February, and when your team is young, then it can even wait until after the exclusive negotiating period between players and teams.
Your Houston Texans will be entering their first off-season as a good, contending team. With a lot of quality and youth on the roster, the more pressing need is to retain their own free agents, and maybe add one or two other veterans to the roster.
Let’s take a look, below the jump, to see whose contracts are up in Houston and what the team will likely do with each of them.
OLB Mario Williams
He’s the biggest unrestricted free agent and only defensive starter on the list. Williams is not easily replaceable in the least, so expect the Texans to make the effort to re-sign him. The ideal situation would be a contract in the Terrell Suggs and DeMarcus Ware endbacker neighborhood.
C Chris Myers
Another big talent for the Texans who they will make an effort to re-sign. Ideally, his contract won’t be too much more than what it was before, with just a jump in guaranteed dollars.
SS Dominique Barber
The coaches seem to like him. The former Golden Gopher should be back at a low price to continue to provide safety depth unless Shiloh Keo has progressed that much in practice.
G Kasey Studdard
Like Barber, Studdard’s a staff favorite and should be retained as cheap depth.
QB Jake Delhomme and QB Jeff Garcia
Both of the quarterbacks were only in Houston due to injuries. Their contracts should come off and stay off the books.
WR Bryant Johnson
Another body brought onto the team by injury. I don’t expect him back when you can find a younger player with more potential who's willing to play on special teams for far cheaper than the veteran minimum.
P Matt Turk
Brett Hartmann should return to full health, so there’s no need for the elder statesman. To his credit, Turk did perform decently in his return to Houston – especially in the Wild Card game against Cincinnati.
RB Derrick Ward
Like Johnson, he’s buried on the depth chart and long in the tooth. Unlike Johnson, Ward has some value since he has actually been productive in Houston. Still, you can find a cheaper, fresher body for special teams in the draft process.
CB Jason Allen
Allen won’t play for peanuts and has to be tired of splitting time. I expect him to go elsewhere and compete for a starting gig. Still, it will be interesting to see if Houston re-signs him or some other veteran to push Kareem Jackson.
TE Joel Dreessen
Often underrated, Dreessen has been a nice cog in the Texans’ machine for a few years. If he were younger, I could see another team attempt to pry him away, but he’s not and teams will likely draft younger, athletic tight ends. I expect the soon-to-be 29 year old to stay in Houston.
G Mike Brisiel
A key cog in the line and a good guard to boot, the feisty veteran should get attention. However, Brisiel’s been plagued with injuries. Hopefully, that’ll keep interest and cost low, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Brisiel ended up elsewhere.
K Neil Rackers
It has been nice to have a reliable kicker in Houston, and Rackers has taken well to the Texans. They should maintain their relationship moving forward.
DE Tim Bulman
He’s a solid defensive line talent that should be re-signed on the cheap.
LB Tim Dobbins
A depth player who played well on special teams and even made a big defensive stop against Baltimore. With Darryl Sharpton returning, there’s not a pressing need for Dobbins to return. He could possibly re-sign on the cheap, but perhaps the team will invest a draft pick on a younger, cheaper ILB.
RB Arian Foster (RFA)
Either Arian’s signing a big tender, a new contract, or a team will have to part with quality draft picks to get him. In all cases, the Texans get something positive in return. I imagine they’ll look to craft a new deal with Foster. If the Texans are lucky, it’ll be in the same mold as Jamaal Charles’ deal.
S Quintin Demps (RFA)
It’s possible Demps could be brought back, but it’s not a necessity due to Danieal Manning, Troy Nolan, Glover Quin, Shiloh Keo, and, presumably, Dominique Barber on the roster.
DS Jon Weeks (ERFA)
So long as he’s tendered, Weeks will be back due to his exclusive rights free agency.
For those squeamish about the cap, not only are all these numbers off the books, but you haven’t even factored in any players who could be cut or restructured (Matt Leinart, Jacoby Jones, Kevin Walter, or DeMeco Ryans, to name a few). Heck, Matt Schaub and Antonio Smith could also sign long-term deals to spread their cap hits out, as their contracts are nearing expiration. There are plenty of solutions around for Rick Smith to take advantage of, so don’t get squeamish yet – trust in the plan.
More immediately, Houston will be afforded a rare luxury to draft best available talent as long as the Texans take care of their own. The immediate holes to fill would be fewer and further between. Who knew this 'being good and on the verge of something special' thing actually had some real off-season benefits?