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The Replacement Safety Dance

If at first you don't understand a move, rationalize it. Or drink heavily. Talking Glover Quin's departure from Houston.

Bob Levey

If you are a Texans fan, you likely remember that a lot of pieces had to walk last offseason. Mario Williams, Eric Winston, DeMeco Ryans (traded), Mike Brisiel, Jason Allen, Joel Dreessen, and so on. This, unfortunately, is part of the cycle that you run on when you're a competitive team. You can't keep everybody. You identify your core players, and the rest you have to let move on while you rely on the youth to come in and replace them.

This offseason was a little different, though. The cap situation wasn't quite as bad as it had been in 2011, and the players set to hit free agency were not quite as important, with one glaring exception. (Aside: the idea that this cap would stop a team from keeping a player they really felt good about is blown way out of proportion. The cap is there to keep teams from keeping players that they feel are their ninth or tenth best players.) Connor Barwin still oozes talent, but was coming off a down year. James Casey has an incredible amount of potential as a matchup weapon, but wasn't fully utilized by Houston's coaching staff. And, mostly, it was littered with guys like Alan Ball or Tim Dobbins or Justin Forsett. Nice guys to have around as backups, but not anybody irreplaceable.

However, Glover Quin was both extremely productive and played a highly important role in the Wade Phillips scheme. His agent's assertion that he left without a contract offer frightens me a little bit. I'm not saying that Quin is an "elite" safety, and I understand that if fans, analysts, or fan-analysts are likely to misjudge one type of NFL player, it's a safety. He's not going to keep Jimmy Graham on lock down. But players with Quin's skill set are rare in the NFL. A safety that has corner experience and can play as a linebacker in a dime formation is not an easy commodity to dredge up. Quin tackled above his weight, blitzed fairly well off the edge, and wasn't easy to fool on play-action.

I can understand that he wasn't a core player for Rick Smith. What I can't understand is ... why? The contract that he signed with Detroit was not excessive, and Quin has been very durable.The Texans must continually funnel money to the core of the team, and contracts will eventually be discussed for Brian Cushing (hey, speaking of injury-prone!) and J.J. Watt, but I would question any logic that didn't see Quin as a core member.

I'm trying to let the process play out before I jump too far ahead of myself. I really am. Maybe that money is to be spent on a move that we did not see coming at all. Maybe we'll find ourselves with a second receiver that we actually like -- one that isn't a rookie, even.

But look, this non-move, it troubles me. It troubles me because I am a long-time Texans fan. I know we have had a lot of new posters jump on to the site in the past couple of years, and some of them have not been Texans fans that long. What I am getting at is: the idea of being unsettled at safety scares the ever-living-bejeezus out of me.

From 2002-2010, the Texans fielded, by my logic, precisely one safety that could be deemed better than adequate -- converted cornerback Marcus Coleman. They relied on a series of stopgap measures and failed prospects. Guys like C.C. Brown and Glenn Earl. Eugene Wilson and Matt Stevens. Eric Brown. Will Demps. Just bringing these names up invokes memories of countless post routes that Peyton Manning stuck against the Texans in blowouts. In my mind, anyway.

Rick Smith was given a mandate to fix this secondary -- or else -- in the 2011 offseason. He signed a credible safety in Danieal Manning. He signed Johnathan Joseph and moved Quin to the other safety spot. You know what those moves did? They worked. It didn't lead to a perfect season or anything, but the amount of times the Texans' secondary made me want to kill myself in-game dropped from roughly 829 in 2010 to about 24 in 2011.

Now it's 2013. Manning is getting a little long in the tooth and coming off his worst season in Houston. Ed Reed is coming in for a visit today. I have nothing against Ed Reed as a player. I think there's a wide-range of probabilities on how you should expect a 34 year old safety with his pedigree to perform. Maybe there's a 10 percent chance he is more "productive" than Quin and a 25 percent chance that he is able to perform at the same level. Unfortunately, he's also tended to play hurt over the past few seasons. And, you know, he's a 34 year old safety who can lose what's remaining of his range at any minute. He's a short-term solution. He might be a better one than the Texans have ever bothered to chase, because they are better than they've ever been, but conceptually it's a move that goes back to the thinking of 2010 and before.

I'm not bothered by that potential switch from a production standpoint. I'm bothered by it because the Texans have a) shown very little interest in drafting safeties with high-round picks, b) have zero long-term safeties on the roster that have any appreciable promise, and c) just let the only player they'd ever developed who'd been good at the position walk out the door. Keep in mind that this is coming at a time when the passing game has continued to grow more and more important in the NFL. Good safety play is becoming pivotal in the face of hybrid tight ends and spread attacks. If you can play a credible safety that can also tackle solidly, you've got a schematic advantage. Teams don't line up base packages where they target your two corners exclusively very often anymore -- and they definitely will be trying to avoid that against Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Neglecting to keep good safeties around those two is a move that, to me, harkens back to the NFL of the 1990s.

And when, hypothetically, Ed Reed walks out that door in a year or two, who plays then? The Eugene Wilson of 2015? I've seen that season before. Maybe I've seen it so much that I'm hypersensitive to this particular concern, but I don't have any interest in seeing it again.

Not keeping Glover Quin is a mistake in my mind, and I am highly suspicious of the logic that led to the Texans not even offering him a contract. I hope I am wrong.