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2017 Houston Texans Roster Moves: If I Was Rick Smith

I’m not Rick Smith, but you could imagine what it would be like if I was.

This is not me
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

I am a son, foodie, gamer, father, grandfather, backpacker, roommate, cat lover, Texan, reader, artist, and time waster. One thing I am not is Rick Smith. Rick Smith is the general manager of the Houston Texans. I am not the general manager of the Houston Texans. I did not play college football. I have never coached football. I did not get into the Broncos‘ front office. I don’t have incriminating photos of one Robert McNair. I am not those things, but you could imagine what it would be like if I was.

If I was Rick Smith with about $24 million in cap room to work with, the first thing I would have done is franchise tag A.J. Bouye for some scraps above $14 million. I wrote about why during the season review, which everyone has told me was the greatest season review ever put together. To summarize, A.J. Bouye was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and was Houston’s best player last season. He can play multiple coverages and positions in the secondary. He covered every type of receiver.

But he’s only done it for one season. Planets align. The sun gets in the blood. Everything becomes perfect only once in awhile. No one knows if Bouye is going to play this well moving forward. Additionally, there are a lot of teams who could use a cornerback and have oodles of oodles more cap space than Houston. So I would franchise Bouye to mitigate the risk of a long-term contract, while not having to compete with Tennessee, Indianapolis, Cleveland, New Orleans, Chicago, Jacksonville, or whoever once free agency begins. With Bouye and Kevin Johnson back, Houston has one of the best secondaries in the league. There is the potential to be an all-time great defense with the return of J.J. Watt and another year in Jadeveon Clowney’s saga.

After this signing I would have $9,760,929 left. That’s not a lot of money. Cuts will need to be made, and I am feeling like a terrible person. I would make two phone calls. One to Tony Bergstrom to save $2,875,000, and another to Brandon Weeden to save $1,625,000.

Then I would meet with Derek Newton and Brian Cushing. Derek Newton is one of my first loves. I hollered about him being underrated and thought he could develop into a good player back when everyone hated his guts in 2013. He did that. Then his knees evaporated at the sight of Von Miller. Right tackle is a position that requires mobility. That was never Newton’s strength to begin with. I don’t think he’s ever going to be reach the same level of mobility he barely had enough of to begin with. He’s not playing this season, and I really need that $3,250,000.

Look, I know Brian Cushing is very angry and has fire in his heart like a Japanroids song. He’s the vocal leader of the Texans’ defense, a real heart and soul. He was average last year, though. Benardrick McKinney had 78 run tackles last season; Cushing had 45. He doesn’t move as well anymore. He and McKinney have redundant skill sets. A linebacker that can cover running backs and chase down plays from the back end is what Houston needs. McKinney stepping up like he did diminishes the need for a second inside linebacker; Houston could survive with Jeff Tarpinian playing next to him. Cushing isn’t worth his $5,315,625 cap hit. It was sad when Houston cut DeMeco Ryans. It’s sad that Cushing will be gone too.

With those men gone, I have A.J. Bouye and $20,739,054. Now I would squeeze some additional cap space by extending Johnathan Joseph. Joseph is 32 years old. You normally don’t want players over thirty at a position that relies on quickness and acceleration. J-Jo’s game is based on reading and reacting, though. He plays off man, recognizes the route instantly, and attacks from there. He’s dependable. He should age fine. It’s really good to have lots of good cornerbacks. In this figment of life, I would flip his earnings this year with next season’s. So Joseph would sign a one-year extension, have a cap hit of $3,500,000 this season, and a cap hit of $6,500,000 the next.

Re-signing DeAndre Hopkins is a priority this offseason. He is one of the best receivers in the NFL when the ball is thrown relatively close to him. You can’t run the risk of him looking at the sky and pondering how life can be better someplace else if the quarterback position is a disaster again. For Nuk’s new deal, I would give something a little less than Antonio Brown. Hopkins is coming off a down year, and Brown is 1B to Julio Jones’s 1A in the NFL hierarchy. Brown (at age 28) got four years, $68,000,000, a $19,000,000 signing bonus, and $19,000,000 guaranteed. At age 24, I would re-sign Hopkins for four years, $58 million and a signing bonus of $13 million. This would bring his cap hit to $9,00,000 this season, preventing him from escaping to a greener pasture.

$23,060,304 is left. There are twelve impending free agents. Vince Wilfork should retire and D.J. Reader is already better than he is anyway. Everyone <3s Shane Lechler for some strange reason, even though Houston has had one of the worst punting units for the past three seasons with him kicking the ball. Antonio Smith is a window into a past when we were all happier. Nick Novak can take his baby leg somewhere else. AFC Defensive Player of the Month Quintin Demps was passable because of the players around him and was rarely tested. Akeem Dent did one thing last season—help tackle James Develin at the goal line. Devon Still played 25 snaps. I would rather see Tyler Ervin actually get to play running back, and Akeem Hunt get more carries, than see Jonathan Grimes pick up eight yards on 3rd and 12. John Simon is a garbage sacker and a terrible tackler. I don’t know who Don Jones is. Ryan Griffin blocks like a wide receiver, is only good at running into the flat for three yards, and was one of the worst tight ends in the league last season; Stephen Andersen can do the same things, but actually has some athleticism. All of these players are gone. I’m not resigning any of them. The only one that interests me a bit is Oday Aboushi since the interior run game was better with him on the field, but that says more about Jeff Allen than Aboushi.

Before free agency began, I would take care of some miscellaneous things. Kareem Jackson would be moved to safety. He is a great tackler and played the position pretty well against New England in the playoffs. He can affect the sideline from center field, breaks downhill like a cannon blast, and would be a better fit there than at corner where he was outmatched last season. Him at strong safety, Andre Hal at free safety, Bouye-Joseph-Johnson at cornerback, and then a position battle at CB4 makes me so hot!

I would also make another position switch by moving Greg Mancz to guard and start Nick Martin at center. Martin is too light to play guard. What he was good at coming out of college—pass blocking, and making reach blocks, is better suited for center. Mancz is a larger man, and I would have him compete with Xavier Su’a-Filo and Allen at either guard position.

Of course Jadeveon Clowney is getting that fifth round option on his rookie contract picked up. And I’m keeping him at defensive end on run downs and moving him around on pass downs.

Now free agency begins. My goal is to end up with a quarterback. Brock Osweiler was the worst quarterback to start the majority of the 2016 NFL season. Tom Savage is a fifth year senior who still doesn’t know the offense and has sloths for brains. The AFC South is actually going to be good next season with the emergence of Tennessee, along with the cap space and draft capital the rest of the division has. Houston is playing a tough schedule and is bound to win less close games. I don’t think they can win the division if the offense doesn’t get better.

In free agency, there is Tony Romo, Jay CUTLA, Mike Glennon, Colin Kaepernick, and maybe Tyrod Taylor. Then there is the chance to trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. All of these players are an immediate upgrade except for maybe Mike Glennon. Of these players, I like Romo the most. I know he’s old and he’s been hurt. Last year it came in the preseason when he tried to run away from Kam Chancellor. It’s going to take a change in style from Romo to flourish again. He can no longer improvise and extend plays. He’ll have to get the ball out quickly and play off play-action. These are all things he should be able to do. The concern is getting this old dog to to play within a structure. The bigger concern is the Texans’ pass blocking is mediocre and not incredible.

Don’t fret when it comes to Romo’s contract. It’s going to be a deal that has a hit in the $8 million range this season, then bumps the following years when Houston has cap space again. To help with the messiness of it, I would pay Romo big next season and use a large roster bonus the following season as insurance against his old body. With the proximity to his home in Dallas, Houston “being just a quarterback away” for three years in a row, and his desire to win a title, Romo should be easy to coax with my good looks. He would probably play for less to go to Houston.

If that doesn’t happen because some other suitor in a trench coat comes out of nowhere, I would have to settle. I just can’t go into this season with a Brock Osweiler versus Tom Savage quarterback battle. If that is the case, I might as well just punt this season away. Cutler has been just as injured as Romo without having a good season since 2012. Kaepernick is a Robert Griffin III scratch-off; I don’t think Kap’s skills would match up with what Bill O’Brien does. Tyrod Taylor throws a great deep ball, but he was so scheme specific. He played behind a great run blocking offensive line that used multiple pullers, and his ability as a runner helped make that offense. He wouldn’t be as good in a different setting. It would take an enormous scheme change to recreate that life again.

So if Romo goes somewhere else, I would offer a first and more to trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. Regardless of the Osweiler signing not working, Houston has to take chances on talent. Garoppolo has the pedigree. He was great for two games in New England’s quick passing offense. The one question about him is how he handles pressure. New England masked the flaw Jimmy had in college by throwing short passes to quick receivers and capitalizing on his arm talent, brains, ball placement and quick release. Like Taylor, I don’t think Houston has the personnel to replicate that, so it would be a lot of waiting and seeing. Yet Garoppolo’s contract his cheap for one more year, so Houston can still dip into free agency. If it works out, they can re-sign him next year with Osweiler’s contract off the books.

Other than quarterback, I dig Andre Smith at right tackle on a one-year deal with a cap hit around $3 million. I like Erik Walden to play outside linebacker with Clowney at defensive end. Maybe Kevin Minter at inside linebacker if things break right or horribly wrong, depending on how much money is left over. After one or two of these deals and the $5 million allocated for the 2017 NFL Draft, I’m capped out with about $7 million left.

No matter who the quarterback is, it doesn’t change my draft strategy. It seems like the type of draft 2013 was. Maybe only one quarterback will get taken super early. That means Houston can get someone who tumbled in round one, or they can trade back/up and get their guy in round two. Mitch Trubisky, Pat Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, or Deshone Kizer, one or two are going to be there later. I’m taking one to sit behind Romo and learn, or be ready to play if Garoppolo is more Brock Osweiler than Drew Brees.

The rest of the draft will be used to grab a tackle, an inside linebacker, and to fill in the rest of the holes left on the roster thanks to the great non-resign of 2017.

Lastly, I’m cutting Brock Osweiler after June 1st. I can’t go into the season with four quarterbacks. I’m not penalized $6 million after June 1st. We all have a fun summer with the witch vanquished and another year of quarterback uncertainty.

This is my universe as a NFL executive instead of as the ?????? that I currently am. This isn’t going to happen, of course. What will probably happen is A.J. Bouye is going to sign elsewhere. He’s going to get a longt-erm deal at around $14 million a year, which is not something Houston should or will do. They’ll make some depth signings in free agency and sign Ricky Wagner. They’ll take a corner in the first round to replace Bouye and Joseph in the future. And please, please, please, they’ll take a quarterback in the second. Then the season will start with a Brock Osweiler-Tom Savage camp battle, and it will be Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett all over again. It will all be horrific and terrible until we get to see a younger man play.

I know which reality I would rather live in.