During offseason workouts, two important things happened. First, it’s looking more and more like Tom Savage is going to be the opening week starter, and just as importantly, Duane Brown sat out while the rest of the team participated in Houston’s mandatory mini-camp.
Brown is a veteran. His absence during mini-camp isn’t catastrophic. He knows how to be ready for the season. He has played a lot of snaps next to left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo already. Him missing something that seeps cliches out of coach’s mouths in June will mean nothing at all if he’s back out there playing by the time the season starts.
But what if he does hold out beyond mini-camp? What if the Texans don’t renegotiate his contract? It would have an enormous impact on the Texans’ offense. Last season, Brown was the Texans’ best offensive player. He was his usual pass blocking machine, and he had some of the best run blocking I’ve seen from him in years. Pro Football Focus credited him with only one sack allowed, tying him with Donald Penn as the only left tackles playing a minimum of 400 snaps to do so. If you are into their grades, PFF had Brown as the 14th-best offensive tackle. In the run game, a facet that had a DVOA of -19.6%, the Texans averaged 4.16 adjusted line yards to the left edge (14th) and 4.51 over left tackle (5th). Brown was far and away Houston’s best offensive lineman.
Without Duane Brown, the Texans’ options are either to move Chris Clark to left tackle and start Breno Giacomini or David Quessenberry at right tackle, or see if Julie’n Davenport can bound from the Patriot League to the National Football League in one summer. All of these options are horrifying. Clark was a negative run blocker last year and was barely even playable at right tackle already . Giacomini is big and strong but very bad. No one knows anything at all about what to expect from Quessenberry. And Davenport, who I like as a future starting tackle in the league, needs to learn how to play lower and get his brain used to the difference in speed he’ll be facing in the pros. These four players fighting for one spot is something a team can stomach, but losing your best offensive lineman and having both tackle spots filled by these options is a claw on the chalkboard. It’s even more so when you take in account Tom Savage’s love of holding onto the football.
Duane Brown not playing football probably isn’t going to happen. It’s a horrifying thought, but it’s an example of a player with all the leverage trying to maximize his earnings at the end of his career. Brown will be making $9,650,000.00 this season with a $100,000.00 raise next year, albeit without any guaranteed money. He’ll be the ninth-highest paid left tackle this season.
This past offseason, Brown looked at his contract and saw the tackle market lose its mind, thanks to a weak draft class at the tackle position and teams better understanding the importance of the right tackle position. He watched his colleagues at left tackle, Riley Reiff, Russell Okung, and Matt Kalil, all players he’s better than, sign long-term deals with higher approximate average values than his.
Additionally, Houston has the cap space to pay Brown more than he’s currently making. Thanks to the [Name Redacted] trade, Houston has $29,784,350 available this season, and before all that time passes, they have $56,312,021 after this season. I’m sure the Texans are looking to use the cap space they have now to grab up some late cuts, re-sign DeAndre Hopkins, and maybe even Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans could then spend aggressively to upgrade the roster next season since they don’t have their first two draft picks. Regardless of their future plans, Houston has the space right now to pay and extend Brown.
Duane Brown has all the leverage. He’s the Texans’ best offensive lineman at a premium position. He’s still playing great at age 31. The Texans have the space to re-sign him. The contract Andrew Whitworth just signed is a perfect example of the type of deal Brown could end up taking. Whitworth’s deal was for three years and $33,750,000.00 with $15,000,000.00 guaranteed at signing. Houston could easily pay Brown that.
One of the risks involved is Brown’s age. Aside from a torn quad at the end of the 2015 season that caused him to miss some time early in 2016, Brown hasn’t missed a game since the early 2013 season. He’s already come back from a scary injury and proved he can play at a high level. The problem with signing Brown is opportunity cost. If Houston bumped his cap hit by a few million this year, it removes an imaginary player from the roster and gives Houston even less breathing room to make midseason signings after a potential DeAndre Hopkins extension we are all waiting for.
This is what’s on the table. Based on all these circumstances, there’s no question that Brown should get paid. I think Brown ends up in training camp and plays under his current contract this season, with the expectation that he will sign a three-year Whitworthian contract in the offseason. It would give him that sweet guaranteed money again, raise his base salary, and could end up making him a Texan for life.