The Houston Texans currently have about $24 million in cap space, which is 23rd in the NFL. They need a right tackle, could have holes at cornerback and safety once free agency starts, and they could use an upgrade at right guard, quarterback, and outside linebacker/defensive end, depending on where Jadeveon Clowney ends up.
What moves would you make for Houston to free up cap space so they can improve the roster? Are there any free agents you would like to see them target? Several BRB staffers gave their answers to those questions.
There are two obvious cuts. Getting rid of Tony Bergstrom saves $2,875,000. Getting rid of Brandon Weeden saves $1,625,000. That puts Houston at around $28 million.
Then from there things are a bit tricky. Derek Newton counts $5,500,000 against the cap and probably won’t play this season. As a player who was never very quick to begin with, at a position that depends on mobility, it’s likely Newston will never play as well as he did after both of his knees exploded. Cutting Newton would save the Texans $3,250,000, and people are awful.
If signing A.J. Bouye is a priority, the Texans have to compete with teams with two or three times as much cap space. They could cut Johnathan Joseph to save $6,406,250, or Kareem Jackson to save $4,468,750. Both are things I am against doing. It’s always good to have lots of good cornerbacks and a Kareem Jackson move to safety can fix that hole internally. The Texans really should have franchised Bouye.
With the emergence of Benardrick McKinney, the second inside linebacker isn’t as important, and getting one who can cover well is a higher priority then another between the tackles run stopper. So Brian Cushing could be expendable as well, saving $5,315,625. This is something I can support before cutting Joseph or Jackson.
The Texans could also maneuver some bonus money around by restructuring Cushing’s contract and by re-signing Joseph to an extension. Cushing is set to have $2,797,500 of his prorated bonus count against the cap this season, $1,200,00 next season, and $0 the year after. Houston can push this money down next season or the year after to wiggle some more, but would increase the dead money penalty if they were to cut Cushing in those years. Joseph is 32, but is still really good, thanks to the red wine tips he purchased from Terrance Newman’s vineyard. Houston would be worse off without J-Jo on the roster. The Texans could sign Joseph to an extension and drop his cap hit this season to maybe around the $4 million range. These are just two more cute little moves they can make.
Although Houston has $24 million in cap space right now, they could get to around $32 million this offseason. That leaves money to try and resign Bouye, extend DeAndre Hopkins, or upgrade the quarterback position. As of right now, in this environment, I wouldn’t resign Bouye. He was one of the best corners in the league for one year, and he’s going to sign for something ludicrous on the open market. I wouldn’t compete with New Orleans, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Chicago or any of the other teams with more cap space that need cornerback help. Again, the Texans really should have franchised Bouye.
$7,915,000 is how much DeAndre Hopkins is owed this season. I would absolutely re-sign him this year. Franchise tagged wide receivers made $15,682 million this year. If Houston has another awful quarterback performance in 2017, it’s possible Hopkins may want to see how beautiful life can be somewhere else. Of course, the Texans can stop this from happening with the tag, but to prevent that from even becoming a possibility, they should re-sign him. If they did that, Hopkins’ cap hit would probably be around $11 million this season.
The only thing I really believe this offseason is that Houston needs to get better quarterback play or they won’t make the playoffs next season. The Texans’ record in 2016 didn’t match their performance. The AFC South is going to be tougher than it was last season. Houston is going to have a tough schedule again, thanks to being the AFC South Champion. If the offense is LA Ramsish again, they are probably going to be a sub .500 team. The key again this offseason, like last offseason, like it should have been the offseason before last, and the offseason before that, is getting better at quarterback. Whether it’s Tyrod Taylor, Jay CUTLA, Colin Kaepernick, Tony Romo, or whoever, the Texans should sign a quarterback and draft one in the first round this year. The position needs to be fixed or they will forever be doomed to get their teeth kicked in against good teams while beating bad ones. If they go into this season with a Tom Savage v. Brock Osweiler v. third round pick quarterback battle, I’m done.
With whatever money is left over, the Texans are going to have to do some haggling to fill in whatever they can through free agency. As far as free agents I like Andre Smith to replace Derek Newton; Smith was underrated in Cincinnati. Depending on where Jadeveon Clowney plays, Erik Walden is a garbage sacker and average edge setter who could play outside linebacker for cheap. Jabaal Sheard would be an immediate upgrade at defensive end. In the secondary, I dig Prince Amukamara and D.J. Hayden, but there ain’t a safety I like on the upcoming market.
The Texans should sign the best right tackle they possibly can, which is looking like Ricky Wagner out of Baltimore. Once they get that out of the way, they can use their draft resources on positions that actually have a lot of talent in this year's class, like safety or cornerback.
Try to restructure Cushing, Joseph and J.J. Watt to open some room. See if Brock Osweiler is willing to restructure as well.
Grab a solid right tackle (see Brett's recommendation). Then re-sign Bouye to a deal that makes sense before hunting for a new QB and filling the remaining holes through the draft.
I think Cushing would be the best bet to reduce the total amount of his contract simply because he's underperformed for several years and the market for his services is not likely to be enough to allow him to refuse. Osweiler should also be a candidate for a pay cut since he's awful.
What to do with the money? Fix the QB problem! I still applaud the effort last year to roll the dice and bring in Brock. The cost of that mistake carries into this year, but then it will be gone. They tried and it failed, but the Texans can't just take a deep breath in 2017 waiting for Brock's cap hit to expire. This Houston defense is far too talented to waste an entire season of their short window of dominance.
Here's what I would do as GM of the Houston Texans:
1. Release Brock as a designated June 1st cut. That equates to no change to the $19 million cap hit for 2017, then there's a $6 million hit in 2018, and then he's completely off the books.
2. Exercise the 5th year option for Jadeveon Clowney.
3. Restructure the remaining three years on Brian Cushing's contract to reduce the $9.3 million cap hit for 2017. All of his guaranteed money has been paid as of last season, so he would likely agree to a restructuring that provides a signing bonus (guaranteed money) that is also team-friendly with respect to future dead money and cap implications. I think that move could free up at least $7 million for 2017. The other option is to waive Cushing, but you'd still have $4.2 million in dead money (cap hit) for 2017, with another $1.2 million in 2018 to get him off the books completely. Either of these options would help to increase the available cap space in 2017 from a range of $5.1 million (cut/waived) to $7 million (restructure). That would provide total cap space for Houston in the range of $29 million to $31 million. Let's call it $30 million for this exercise.
4. Extend Johnathan Joseph. He's entering the last year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $6.9 million and no remaining guaranteed money. Turn that into a two-year deal with a $6 million signing bonus. That would free up almost $4 million in cap space for 2017. If J-Jo is waived, there's no cap hit or dead money, which saves the team the full $6.9 million. Either of these options would help to increase the available cap space in 2017 from a range of $4 million (restructured) to $6.9 million (cut/waived).
Now Houston has $34 million to $37 million in available cap space; let's call it $35 million to be conservative. The rookie budget will consume $5 million, which leaves the team with $30 million to work with.
5. While I could see an argument to trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, I just think it may cost too much in draft stock to get it done, and there isn’t enough evidence to support whether he’ll actually be the long-term answer for Houston. I just don’t trust Bill Belichick, and for good reason.
There really isn’t any “sure thing” QB in this draft, but the Texans should grab who they feel they can develop since Tom Savage is entering his final season of his rookie contract.
So what does Houston do to get a QB who can improve the team in 2017? I can't believe I'm typing this, but sign Tony Romo once he's waived by Dallas. "TexansCap" outlined how that could work for Houston in THIS article.
Here is a summary:
4 year contract worth $53,000,000 and up to $57,000,000 with $9 million guaranteed at signing and an additional $10 million in vesting guarantees. The $9 million initial guarantee would be made up of $8 million signing bonus and a fully guaranteed $1 million salary for 2017. A $10 million salary in 2018 would become guaranteed for injury only 5 days after the Super Bowl in 2018. Each season would include $1 million in roster bonus, which would be paid $62,500 per week when Romo is on the 46 man game day roster, to provide some protection for the team. The contract would also include $2 million dollars in performance incentives in 2017 & 2018 as follows: $1 million dollars for reaching the AFC Championship and $1 million dollars for reaching the Super Bowl.
If the Texans were to reach the Super Bowl in the 2017 season, Romo would earn $12 million which comes close to what he was set to earn on his previous contract. Two year cash flow could reach $25 million and the three year cash flow could reach a total of $38 million.
With that plan, you could get Romo on the Houston roster at a cost of $3 million in cap hit for 2017 ($1 million in salary and $2 million for prorated signing bonus).
6. Re-sign A.J. Bouye to a 4-year contract worth $42 million with a $12 million signing bonus and $21 million guaranteed. Set his 2017 salary at $2 million so the cap hit is only $5 million ($2 million salary and $3 million prorated signing bonus).
For those keeping score at home, Houston still has $23 million in cap space AFTER re-signing Bouye and acquiring Romo in this scenario.
7. Extend DeAndre Hopkins to a 5-year contract worth $62 million with $15 million signing bonus and $22 million guaranteed (note that is $2 million more than Antonio Brown has guaranteed). Set Nuk’s 2017 salary at $2 million so the cap hit is only $5 million ($2 million salary and $3 million prorated signing bonus).
Now the Texans would still have $17 million in available cap space AFTER signing all rookies, Romo, Bouye, and Hopkins.
With this budget, I'd go after these players in this order until the cap space for 2017 is consumed:
8. Sign safety Tony Jefferson (free agent from Cardinals). This guy is the unsung hero of that defense while everyone hypes Tyrann Mathieu.
9. Sign offensive tackle Riley Reiff (free agent from Lions). This is the OT Houston needs now, and I’d still make drafting one this year a high priority.
10. Sign tight end Martellus Bennett (free agent from Patriots). He may want too much after winning a Super Bowl, but take a shot at him anyway. Otherwise, acquire one of the TE studs in this year’s NFL Draft.
11. Sign offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (free agent from Bengals). Losing Brandon Brooks to free agency stung in a big way on the right side of the Texans’ offensive line. Zeitler can instantly solve the run blocking and pass protection issues upon arrival. Unfortunately, he may also set the market for guards this year and be out of reach for Houston.
12 (OPTIONAL). Sign linebacker Dont'a Hightower (free agent from Patriots) if Cushing is waived and/or you can't get the other four players. Again, a player winning a Super Bowl can make the price too high for a team with limited resources in cap space; it’s still worth looking into. On the other hand, I’d be completely fine with the Texans grabbing T.J. Watt in the 2017 NFL Draft as their next big linebacker acquisition. I trust good DNA and work ethic!