A solution or a mirage? - Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE
There's a Shaun Cody-sized hole to fill in the middle of the defensive line. How should general manager Rick Smith and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips handle this?
Shaun Cody, Travis Johnson, Amobi Okoye, Anthony Maddox, and Steve Martin.
Those five illustrious men have all had multiple starts at defensive tackle or nose tackle for your Houston Texans, which is why we've excluded Frank Okam and the like from this conversation. Those five men are all reasons why there is such rabid nose tackle lust among the fan base. Those five men are all why Texans fans wondered what Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans could have done if there was someone collapsing the pocket and eating double teams and wondering how good J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing could be with an impactful nose tackle right by them.
You have to go back to the days of Gary Walker and Seth Payne to find a time when Texans fans actually considered the interior defensive line a strength. Neither Walker or Payne were Wilforkian mountains of men, but they were quick off the snap and strong enough to clog lanes and keep opponents off the linebackers. It was no coincidence that Jay Foreman and Jamie Sharper had their best seasons behind Walker and Payne.
Walker and Payne were also the only two men, out of this group of seven, who weren't rookies or reserves prior to their time in Houston. Granted, they came via the 2002 Expansion Draft, but both veterans were consistent NFL starters. Given the lack of success identifying and developing interior talent, perhaps general manager Rick Smith should apply the same approach to the spot vacated by free agent Shaun Cody.
For the record, Cody just came off of a two-year, $5.75 million contract, as well as back surgery. This was after his initial Houston deal of two years for $4M. It's not the heftiest deal, but that's still $2-3M per year. Keeping this sort of price range would, obviously, preclude Houston from taking a run at Terrance Knighton, Ricky Jean-Francois, or Randy Starks. The price tag would fit the bill of a veteran looking to make one last run at glory and championships, though.
Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin fit the bill. Both will be 32 and 33, respectively, at the start of the 2013 NFL season and both are veteran starters in 3-4 defenses. They're also both traditional nose tackles who can clog the lanes and keep bodies off their inside linebackers; ask Patrick Willis about either of them. Franklin's a free agent coming from a mediocre San Diego team while Sopoaga is expendable in San Francisco due to draft picks and Jean-Francois.
You can also use Wade Phillips' unique one-gap 3-4 defense to widen the search to include former two-time All-Pro Richard Seymour. Seymour's able to generate a strong interior pass rush, as evidenced by his 57.5 career sacks in 163 games. He's also been mostly durable, only missing significant time in two seasons. Seymour was also released recently by Oakland. At 33 and having just made north of $40 million over the past few years, money shouldn't be too much of an issue with Seymour. If it is, he's probably not what you'd want in the locker room.
You should be able to appeal to all three of their egos by saying they're the missing piece from a championship team. With a strong appeal, maybe one of them would go for an incentive-laden one or two year deal to help strengthen Houston's defense and make a run at a championship while they're still able to contribute.
Of course, the veteran is only part of the solution. I do believe the Texans should pair him with a drafted rookie to groom and platoon with. Pairing the veteran with a rookie would be beneficial to both men. It should help keep the veteran's body fresher while giving the rookie someone talented to learn the ropes from. As for Earl Mitchell, he could be moved into the rotation at defensive end, where I think he could shine given his skill set; plus, the Texans could retain Mitchell as a reserve option in case there were injuries to either nose tackle.
As we have discussed ad nauseum, an impactful nose tackle can make life much easier for the ends and inside linebackers while making a world of difference to the entire defense. After seeing Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have a clean pocket to step into, the nose tackle lust has only grown in Houston. If the Texans expect any impact from the middle of their defensive line, they should actually invest more resources than a former rotational player or overvalued rookie in the position. Given the names at the beginning, it's time to make a proper investment at nose tackle.