I like Demeco Ryans and Mario Williams, especially their humble, talk-less-let-actions-speak attitudes. By all accounts, they were tremendous team-first players who, undoubtedly, have contributed to the Houston Texans’ newfound championship-caliber foundation. I wish both Ryans and Williams were still Texans, but not at their current salaries, especially considering that I pledge my fan loyalty to the franchise over individual players. I don’t buy tickets to the Houston Andre Johnsons. The team logo has a bull on it with the letters T-E-X-A-N-S and not, for example, the smiling mug of an oft-penalized lineman (whom I'll mention later).
I trust Texans management and I believe that they are doing what they have to do in light of a hard salary cap, while envisioning the critical importance of freeing cap space while simultaneously infusing young talent in this and coming drafts to ensure longevity upon this rock solid foundation. Chronicle Columnist Jerome Simpson ripped the Texans for trading Ryans to Philadelphia for a 4th round pick and 3rd round swap. He says he understands seeking cap relief down the road, but believes that the Texans need to push hard this season and worry about next season, well, next offseason.
My initial reaction to Ryans' release was similar to that of Simpson, but thankfully, the Texans front office is not that short-sighted, and thankfully the Texans employ a world class coaching staff and scouts who maintain pulses on every player, knowing pretty much by the percentage how much each player’s 40 yard sprint time has declined from year to year. They know which pieces to hold in place and which ones to let go of, however unpopular that may appear.
I’m willing to bet that the Texans front office didn’t simply misjudge Ryans’ capabilities, and that there certainly have been zero chemistry issues at Reliant. The truth is, the front office made the right call in trading the highly-respected and appreciated Ryans, he along with his surgically-repaired Achilles tendon and misfit skills in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, to the Eagles. Not only do the Texans get some cap relief down the road, but they also have the chance to continue doing that at which they’ve become particularly adept– masterfully mining the NFL draft, not to mention finding a player who can play in passing situations as well.
Williams is a non-issue. Even the most diehard fan of his in Houston probably would’ve felt queasy had the Texans broken the bank and relegated the franchise to long-term mediocrity by re-signing him. But murmuring happened when Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel were let go. Downright rebellion happened in some circles when the news of Ryans broke. Knowing the cutthroat nature of professional sports and sense of entitlement of some athletes, unsurprisingly some former and current Texans players tweeted their dismay. I’ll address a few comments.
One unknown player took a jab at the Texans’ “loyalty.” Don’t you love it when big people make big statements yet hide their identity? Regarding the loyalty of the world class Houston Texans organization, a few questions may rightfully speak volumes of the loyalty of the Texans front office:
-Did Ryans ever fail to receive a paycheck?
-Did Ryans ever get thrown under the bus by his coach after a game?
-Did Ryans not receive world-class medical care and facility access to rehab his surgically-repaired Achilles tendon?
-Did the Texans ever release snide press releases about Ryans not being an ideal fit in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense?
-Did the Texans publicly release that Ryans refused a fair pay cut (considering his reduced workload in Phillips’ defense) or at least a contract restructuring?
-Has Bob NcNair intruded on his coaches’ territory or said anything remotely condescending about his players?
-Did the Texans not trade Ryans to a contending team in which he will certainly be a good fit?
And in further defense of the Texans’ loyalty, I would encourage this player to consult with Andre Johnson and Arian Foster about loyalty. When Johnson’s uncle negotiated a terrible contract for him, McNair, under no obligation whatsoever, voluntarily tore it up and made Johnson one of the highest paid players in the game. And regarding Foster, the Texans could’ve franchised him and made him prove himself yet another season. After all, running backs are all expendable nowadays, right?
Instead, the Texans rewarded Foster with a five-year, $40 million contract. And if in a few years the Texans release or trade Foster, it will be because they believe it best for the franchise. This is a business, folks, and the fastest, healthiest product usually wins the most games. Players age, gain weight, tear ligaments, and that’s part of the game. Just because guys are cool in the locker room and are called “Cap(tain)” does not merit $7 million per year to play two downs of defense per series. Not in today's league, and certainly not with this cap.
No, the Texans' front office doesn't have any problems whatsoever with loyalty. Ironically, however, it seems that a few players are dealing with their own loyalty issues.
I was somewhat taken aback by Owen Daniels’ tweet in which he stated “Seriously? Meco too!?” Erin Winston tweeted back that he should watch his back. I was surprised and disappointed in Winston, someone I figured above childish media jabs. Upon his release, Winston knew he’d find a new gig and hefty payday, and the Texans knew that all along as well. Texans management didn’t exactly kick him to the welfare line! Again, when was Winton ever unpaid or publicly criticized by management for his multiple penalty games?
Now on the surface those words are harmless, yet the deeper implication is dismal. Daniels, and Winston for that matter, should learn from the classy example set by Arian Foster, who never complained about his contract last season, unlike Chris Johnson, and just recently Foster was on ESPN radio speaking about how he fully supports his team and organization, not once making a snide remark about losing free agents.
So my answer to Daniels’ surprise and evident dismay is “Yep. Are you kidding me?” And to that I further add to Daniels that its not about keeping a group of performing millionaire buddies together in the same locker room for their own good and fun. No, this is professional sports and its all about profit and winning for the fans, and trades and releases are part of the bit. Now, if players wouldn’t mind turning back the clock a couple of decades when salaries were far more manageable, then the locker room buddy clubs would possibly persevere much longer.
I’m sure that’s a point most professional athletes had no problem grasping when they were economically-challenged college students.
The great thing about the NFL, which sets it worlds apart in quality and equality from the MLB and even the NBA, is that there is this thing called parity and the hard salary cap. Its what makes cities like Green Bay and Pittsburgh the role models for consistent dominance, and not Boston, Los Angeles and New York on a rotational basis. Heck, LA doesn’t even have an NFL franchise (yet)!
Any chance the Bucks or Pirates will ever dominate the Heat or Yankees? I didn’t think so. My point is that in the NFL all teams must make sacrifices and cannot maintain dream teams. The successful teams will follow their gut instincts and coaches’ advice about who is in decline, who is coming up and what to do in the draft.
As a true Texans fan I admit that I am disappointed that Ryans, Williams, Brisiel and Winston are no longer on this team. But in reality, their salaries against the cap versus bottom line winning contributions aren’t worth their retention. To retain all of those guys would’ve meant deep cuts in other critical positions, not to mention making it virtually impossible to issue Matt Schaub a new contract after next season. Is everyone really ready for T.J. Yates to take the reigns full time?
Look, the Texans have taken a PR slam the past couple of weeks, but the unbiased, football savvy and NFL management understanding mind will realize that while, yes, it stinks losing loveable leaders like Ryans, it warrants a wait-and-see-what-happens attitude. It is entirely possible that Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak might screw up the upcoming draft and blow the picks, and its possible that Ryans’ positional heir could tear an ACL in training camp. But it’s a risk-reward league. You don’t take risks, you become like the Bengals or full of has-beens like Washington. You take risks, as the Texans are doing, you give your franchise a shot at glory.
The Texans have the core in place to contend for years to come and they’ve proven to be quite competent in filling holes through the draft and free agency. When the Texans signed Johnathan Joseph and Daniel Manning for big bucks last year, I wonder how many people would’ve ripped me had I criticized those moves for putting the extension of Demeco Ryans in jeopardy?
I believe in Mr. McNair, his staff and organization, brand and current mix of players. And I believe they know one heckuva lot more about football players’ performance potential than I nor any other beat writer or armchair quarterback ever will. I'm not holding Texans management and coaches beyond the scope of honest criticism. But considering their overall body of work the past few years and the core they have in place, I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt. We don't have to falsely jump for joy and con ourselves into believing that this offseason is going peachy and, in fact, we might scratch our heads. But the prevailing heart attitude should rightfully be "Well, we'll just have to see how this plays out." Questioning organizational loyalty and commitment to winning should be off the table.