2013 NFL Free Agency: Rick Smith's Greatest Hits And Whiffs

Spoiler Alert: Jacques Reeves (35) does not prevent this touchdown pass. - Bob Levey

The NFL free agent frenzy that began two weeks ago has died down to careful nibbles and bites. Your Houston Texans have hauled in two big fish for the 2013 season, but where will they rank amongst general manager Rick Smith's illustrious list of free agents?

History has shown that free agency is a tricky business. For every Reggie White signing that leads to a Super Bowl, there are three Albert Haynesworth signings that lead to years of salary cap hell. Where will newly signed players like Ed Reed and Shane Lechler fit in that scale? Only time will tell, of course. Mere eye contact with Joe Marciano might snap Lechler's femur in half for all we know. For now, let's just take a look at Rick Smith's free agent track record. All contract numbers are sourced from Spotrac.

The Good

Johnathan Joseph - CB

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. CAP HIT DEAD
2011 5,500,000 2,500,000 - 8,000,000 -
2012 2,250,000 2,500,000 1,250,000 6,000,000 -
2013 7,500,000 2,500,000 1,250,000 11,250,000 11,250,000
2014 7,500,000 2,500,000 1,250,000 11,250,000 -
2015 8,500,000 2,500,000 1,250,000 12,250,000 -

After the abysmal performance of the 2010 Houston Texans defense, Rick Smith snatched up former Bengal Johnathan Joseph with a five year, $48.75 million dollar contract. The deal includes $23.5 million in guarantees. While most teams were waiting for free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to make a decision on where to sign, Smith and the Texans went forward with Joseph. Asomugha would go on to sign with Philadelphia for a much larger contract but was recently cut and has yet to sign with a new team (making Smith look like a genius).

Joseph paid immediate dividends for the Texans in 2011. With Joseph's help, what was once the laughingstock of NFL defenses became a top 5 ranked team in nearly every defensive category. Although he had a down year in 2012 due to nagging injuries, he will continue to be deployed as the number one, shutdown-type of player he has been through most of his career.

Joseph's cap number balloons in 2013 because of a contract restructure before the 2012 season. This extra money paved the way for Matt Schaub's contract extension. If Joseph's quality of play drops precipitously over the next few years, we might look back on this signing a little more negatively, but there's no doubt in my mind that it was absolutely a move Rick Smith had to make.

***

Chris Myers - C


YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. BONUS CAP HIT
2008 850,000 750,000 - 1,600,000
2009 2,000,000 750,000 - 2,750,000
2010 2,400,000 750,000 - 3,150,000
2011 2,750,000 750,000 -

3,500,000

Gary Kubiak's final year with the Denver Broncos was Chris Myers' first. After Myers started the entire 2007 season for them, the Broncos agreed to trade him to Houston for a sixth round pick. Though he was not acquired by free agency, general manager Rick Smith negotiated a four year, $11 million contract with Myers (via the Broncos) before the trade became official.

Myers would go on to be regarded as one of the better centers in the league while anchoring the offensive line of the Texans. His smart line calls, consistency, and familiarity with the zone blocking system make him invaluable to the team.

Chris Myers II: The Revenge

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. CAP HIT DEAD
2012 2,500,000 2,000,000 - 4,500,000 -
2013 3,500,000 2,000,000 - 5,500,000 9,500,000
2014 5,000,000 2,000,000 - 7,000,000 -
2015 6,000,000 2,000,000 - 8,000,000 -

In 2012, Smith kept his poker face and let Myers test open free agency before re-signing him to another four year contract, this time worth $25 million with $14 million guaranteed. Not re-signing Myers before free agency was a brave move on Smith's part. The Texans had absolutely no one on the roster to replace him if he had left. With the departures of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel, the Texans would have lost 60% of their offensive line in one offseason had Myers signed elsewhere.

Smith spoke glowingly of Myers after the signing:

"Chris really is the beginning of everything that we do up front with respect to making line calls, to making sure that everybody’s coordinated, and so this is a very important piece to what we do. And obviously, [with] Arian’s ability to make plays with the football in his hand, it was important for us to get that deal done. I can’t speak more highly of how he has handled himself, and obviously the production that he has on the football field and what he means to our team. So to have both of those pieces in back place right now feels real good for us as we continue to move forward and go reach our goals."

Looking ahead, Myers' cap number will grow a bit, but he's shown no signs of making the team regret keeping him.

***

Arian Foster - HB

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. CAP HIT DEAD
2012 5,000,000 2,500,000 500,000 8,000,000 -
2013 5,250,000 2,500,000 500,000 8,250,000 13,250,000
2014 5,750,000 2,500,000 500,000 8,750,000 -
2015 6,000,000 2,500,000 500,000 9,000,000 -
2016 6,500,000 2,500,000 500,000 9,500,000 -

Mark the Houston Texans down as one of the few teams that still values the running back position. After exploding on to the scene as an undrafted nobody in 2010, and then earning a small raise in 2011, Smith and the Texans gave Arian Foster a five year, $43 million contract that includes almost $21 million in guaranteed cash. This is a hefty sum for a running back in today's passing-oriented NFL, but it compares favorably to the contracts of Chris Johnson (six years, $55 million) and Adrian Peterson (ahem… seven years, $96 million).

As cold as the business side of the NFL can be, I'm happy to see a player like Arian get his due. Despite playing so well and getting paid so little, he never complained or threatened to hold out. Foster's agent had nothing but good things to say after the contract was signed:

"We had excellent dialogue throughout the negotiation. I have great respect for the way the Texans handled this. It's great to see them reward a guy who does it the right way. Arian's done everything the right way, throughout this whole process."

~ Mike McCartney

Looking ahead, his contract does not swell to unmanageable numbers in the coming years. As talented as he is, however, his numbers in 2012 speak clearly to the need of having a well-tuned offensive line.

***

The Not Bad

Danieal Manning - S

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. CAP HIT DEAD
2011 2,000,000 1,500,000 - 3,500,000 -
2012 3,500,000 1,500,000 - 5,000,000 -
2013 4,000,000 1,500,000 - 5,500,000 3,000,000
2014 4,500,000 1,500,000 - 6,000,000 -

Paired alongside the signing of Johnathan Joseph was Danieal Manning and his four year, $20 million contract. The 2010 Texans were so horrid against the pass, Smith thought it necessary to double down in the secondary. Manning's versatility and speed proved useful in Wade Phillips' new 3-4 defense.

Manning's salary cap hit in 2013 ranks 12th among all other safeties in the league making his contract very team friendly moving forward.

***

Joel Dreessen - TE

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. BONUS CAP HIT
2009 600,000 315,000 - 915,000
2010 760,000 315,000 - 1,075,000
2011 910,000 315,000 - 1,225,000

Dreessen came to the NFL via a sixth round pick by the New York Jets in 2005. He was cut by the team during training camp in 2006 and was picked up a year later by Smith. For two years, he played for pennies on special teams and reserve tight end duty. In 2009, Dreessen became an unrestricted free agent, and Smith saw enough in him to offer a three year, $3.6 million contract.

While backing up tight end Owen Daniels, Dreessen caught 90 passes for 1,191 yards and 11 touchdowns over the course of his contract. He was also a key contributor on special teams and a tenacious blocker in the running game for the Texans. Dreessen would go on to get a big raise as the backup TE for the Broncos when he hit free agency in 2012.

Vonta Leach - FB

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. BONUS CAP HIT
2007 650,000 400,000 - 1,050,000
2009 1,000,000 400,000 - 1,400,000
2009 1,200,000 400,000 - 1,600,000
2010 1,450,000 400,000 - 1,850,000

After Leach bounced around from the Packers to the Saints, Smith picked up Leach in 2006, which saw him play in 11 games. In 2007, The New York Giants offered Leach, a restricted free agent, a four year, $8 million contract. Smith and the Texans smartly matched the offer and retained Leach's services.

Leach helped clear holes for washed up Ahman Green (more on him later), flashes in the pan like Steve Slaton, and studs like Arian Foster. His ferocity in lead blocking eventually earned Leach Pro Bowl honors, and, later, a big raise from the Ravens that the Texans could not match, sadly.

***

The Ugh...

Eugene Wilson - S

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. BONUS CAP HIT
2009 3,770,000 - - -
2010 3,770,000 - - -
2011 3,770,000 - - -

Wilson spent five years in New England and helped them win two Super Bowls before finding himself in Houston. He played for pennies in 2008 but, in 2009, Smith re-signed him to a three year, $11.3 million contract with nearly $4 million guaranteed.

Of course, we all remember how terrible Wilson was for the Texans, but with Frank Bush earning a promotion to Defensive Coordinator in 2009, it is hard for me to judge him too harshly. Okay, no it's not. To Smith's credit, Wilson was cut after the 2010 season with a minimal salary cap hit, if any.

I took a look at available free agents from 2009 here (kffl.com), and the biggest one that stood out to me was Darren Sharper. He signed a 1 year contract for the paltry sum of $1.2 million with the New Orleans Saints. For the season, Sharper nabbed nine interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns en route to a Super Bowl victory over Indianapolis.

Naturally, hindsight is always 20/20, and there are 31 other teams kicking themselves for not picking up Sharper for that cheap, but this makes the Wilson contract look even worse in comparison. Of course, there's no telling how ineptly Sharper would have been used under Bush.

***

Jacques Reeves - CB

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. BONUS CAP HIT
2008 1,000,000 800,000 2,000,000 3,800,000
2009 2,500,000 800,000 - 3,300,000
2010 3,000,000 800,000 - 3,800,000
2011 3,500,000 800,000 - 4,300,000
2012 4,000,000 800,000 - 4,800,000

The 2007 Texans finished the season ranking amongst the worst passing defenses in the league. The poor performance, coupled with the season ending knee injury to starter Dunta Robinson, left the 2008 Texans desperate for cornerback help. Much to the chagrin of a certain Battle Red Blogger named Tim, the Texans looked to former Cowboys cornerback Jacques Reeves. Smith signed him to a 5 year / $20 million contract with $8 million in guaranteed money. Asante Samuel's $60 million contract with the Eagles likely inflated the cost of cornerbacks around the league that year.

So how did Reeves turn out? I'll let Tim's crusade against Reeves do the talking:

Throughout the season, we've seen how bad Jacques Reeves is at his job. Again, he can usually stay stride-for-stride with any WR in the NFL. Yet as a general rule, Reeves still refuses to get his hands up and/or turn his head. Typically, it looks as if he has no idea where the ball is.

By 2010, Reeves was cut from the team, costing them $1.6 million in dead salary cap space the following year. If signing him was a bad idea, cutting him might have been a worse idea. The Texans would go on to field one of the worst passing defenses in league history with rookie Kareem Jackson and one-year vets Glover Quin and Brice McCain as the top three starters.

***

André Davis - WR

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. BONUS CAP HIT
2008 3,100,000 - - -
2009 2,100,000 - - -
2010 2,550,000 - - -
2011 4,700,000 - - -

In 2007, your Houston Texans made another trip to the scrap heap and picked up wide receiver André Davis to back up Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. When Johnson went down with injury, Davis stepped up admirably and finished the season with 583 yards and three touchdowns. He also added three more scores on kickoff returns. The next year, Smith rewarded Davis' efforts with a four year / $16 million contract with $8 million guaranteed.

From then on, Davis couldn't find much playing time behind Johnson, Walter, and Jacoby Jones. Davis was relegated to being an expensive kick returner, and his effectiveness quickly diminished. He was cut in 2011 after missing all of 2010 on injured reserve.

***

Ahman Green - RB

YEAR BASE S. BONUS MISC. BONUS CAP HIT

2008

3,800,000


- -
2009 4,800,000 - - -
2010 4,300,000 - - -

Rick Smith was named general manager of the Houston Texans in the summer of 2006, so his first chance to land a major free agent came in 2007. Looking to help fix the team's 21st ranked running attack, Smith and the coaches immediately targeted Ahman Green, who had just finished a somewhat resurgent year in Green Bay after missing most of 2005 due to injury. Smith offered the 30 year-old a four year, $23 million contract with about $6 million in guarantees. Said Smith, "We're going to hitch our wagon to him. We're not worried about his age because he takes great care of himself and is in great condition."

Green would go on to play only 14 games over two injury-plagued years where he amassed a pitiful 554 yards and five touchdowns. His penchant for staying off the field led to this awkward accusation from Smith according to Green:

"Rick Smith called me into his office . . . and he didn’t know how to start the conversation so he just went right out and said it: ‘Ahman are you faking your injury?’ And I kind of took a step back. . . . It was like a wow. This was probably the biggest eye-opening thing I ever experienced in my professional career."

And that was just after year one!

***

Rick Smith's seven year tenure as general manager of the Houston Texans certainly started a bit rocky but has smoothed out considerably of late. As fans, we've seen him grow from wild-eyed and reckless to shrewd and calculating, and we can't wait for more. His smart dealings in free agency and the NFL Draft have given us a real contender to cheer for. Durga willing, Smith will take the next step from good GM, to join few great ones that build dynasties.

What do you think, readers? Anyone I missed? Sound off in the comments.

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