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Red Zone Play: The Earl Thomas Effect

Why Houston should go all in on Earl Thomas.

NFL: Pro Bowl Experience Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the sad and unfortunate news of Houston Texans starting free safety Andre Hal’s sudden lymphoma diagnosis, that awesome young man has a long road ahead of him. However, with Houston having the best cancer treatment facilities in the world and Hal having a guy like David Quessenberry by his side, odds are he’ll make it through and get back to normal life within the next few years.

In the meantime, the Texans are left with a gaping hole in the free safety spot on the depth chart. While they have a few guys already on the roster that could make due in a pinch, and there are a few other options still out there in free agency who could also plug the gap, an argument can be made for pushing all the chips to the center of the table on this one and landing Earl Thomas in some form of trade with the Seattle Seahawks.

For those who missed out, Thomas is in a holdout of sorts with Seattle, as he’s demanding a new contract. With Seattle in rebuilding mode, the Seahawks’ best bet is to get some draft capital for the future Hall of Famer while they still can.

From Houston’s point of view, the window of opportunity to win and win big with the current defensive core is closing rapidly. The days of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus terrorizing opposing offenses are finite, with people already dishing out articles and opinions that Houston has wasted the best years of the greatest defender to play in the NFL this century by not truly capitalizing on Watt’s career.

With Deshaun Watson returning, DeAndre Hopkins widely recognized as one of the best receivers in the game. and Will Fuller V finally appearing to get healthy, the offensive weaponry is there for Houston to put up some points. But the offensive line is shaky, so any help the defense can give their offensive teammates is more than welcome.

Houston’s new general manager, Brian Gaine, arguably made the best move in free agency when he landed Tyrann Mathieu on a one-year deal earlier this offseason. Pairing him with Earl Thomas and letting them back up Watt and the rest of the front seven should immediately push this defense into “Dream Team” conversations as long as everyone stays healthy.

Thomas is no stranger to the Lone Star State, having been raised in Orange and playing college ball for the Texas Longhorns before getting drafted in the first round by Seattle in 2010. At 29 years old, his career stats are amazing: 642 combined tackles, 10 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, and 25 interceptions. Houston hasn’t fielded a safety of that caliber since, well, Ken Houston left town in 1972. And, while Ed Reed is one of the all-time greats, he was clearly past his expiration date when he landed in H-Town. Thomas still has many years in the tank.

In order to make this happen, Houston would once again need to deplete their draft pick account. I’d wager they could wrest Thomas away from the Seahawks with a second round pick in 2019 and perhaps a fourth rounder in 2020. Then the Texans could re-work Thomas’ contract by extending it to the range of three years and $40 million or four years for $50 million with a little signing bonus magic to make Thomas immediately feel valued and welcome.

While many in the fanbase might howl at the notion of losing yet another high round draft pick, would it be worth it if this was the player that could finally push Houston past the Patriots? With Clowney, Watt, Mercilus and crew hammering a 41-year old Tom Brady, the odds of Brady firing off an errant pass that lands in the hands of Thomas or Mathieu goes up exponentially.

Another upside to bringing Thomas to town is what he and Mathieu can impart to newly-drafted safety Justin Reid. Just as J.J. Watt and Mike Vrabel were able to help Jadeveon Clowney improve his technique and effectiveness, learning from Thomas and Mathieu would do wonders for Reid if he’s an eager student.

While he big “con” to acquiring Thomas is giving up a draft pick or two and committing big money to a position Houston has seemingly never truly valued, the “pros” far outweigh that and send a message that Houston’s defense is playing for keeps. Although there are some questions marks, there’s a greater guarantee on return on investment with Thomas than there would be with whomever the Texans might draft next year in the second round. For every Benardrick McKinney drafted in the second round, there’s a Xavier Su’a-Filo to balance it out.

The very idea of watching Thomas and Mathieu shut down the back end of the football field is exciting in and of itself. It’d likely add more wins to the record. It’d continue to increase the Texans’ growth into a top tier NFL franchise. It’d greatly enhance the odds of wining a Super Bowl soon while also selling more tickets and merchandise. Giving up a draft pick and some cap space to make it happen is just smart business.

What do you think? Have a valid reason this shouldn’t happen? Excited for the chance that it might? Share your thoughts below.