The Texans’ offseason started two weekends ago following their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL offseason officially begins in two weeks. One of the big decisions the Texans have to make is whether they want to keep D.J. Reader for the long-term. Reader is an unrestricted free agent, an elite run defender, and a player who had some pass rushing production during the first month of the season, though this disruption disappeared as the season progressed.
How much would you be willing to pay Reader to keep him in Houston for the future? Do you think the Texans will re-sign him this offseason?
I’ve been having this feeling. There are two foundations you have to build to construct a good football team in 2020. You have to have a quarterback who’s mobile, and you have to be able to defend the pass. The Texans had the quarterback, but they didn’t have the pass defense last season.
Houston allowed 6.9 net yards an attempt (23rd), 33 passing touchdowns (27th), 4,276 passing yards (29th), and had a pass defense DVOA of 19.5% (26th). It was especially atrocious against the deep pass. By DVOA, Houston’s pass defense was better than only than Arizona, Cincinnati, Detroit, Oakland, New York (G), and Miami which, you know, make up the majority of the worst teams in the league. It was the worst pass defense Houston has had since 2017, when Mike Vrabel took over; before then, you’d have to go back to 2010, before Wade Phillips, J.J. Watt, and Rick Smith’s free agency party saved us all. No pass rush. Bad secondary. Gave up 51 points to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Last offseason, Houston went all in to fix its offensive line. This offseason, they need to go all in to fix the pass defense. Without a first round pick this year and with third round picks exchanged for Gareon Conley and Duke Johnson, it’s going to be harder to do. Even then, it usually takes two seasons for cornerbacks to really get it. Houston is going to need immediate improvement from Lonnie Johnson Jr. Conley has to be better in coverage and can’t be rescued by playing the ball. From there, they’ll have to find another cornerback and upgrade the pass rush. Most of this help will need to come in free agency.
Because of this, the Texans don’t have the luxury of paying a run-focused defender like D.J. Reader $10 million or so per year. Reader has shown pass rushing flashes, glimpses of a better world, and in that better world, he’d be a watered down version of Fletcher Cox. All of that dissipated in the second month of the season last year. Reader finished with 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. A different team may be able to get more pass rushing juice out of Reader. Houston hasn’t.
I wouldn’t re-sign Reader. He’s going to get ten figures annually from someone. He’s such a great run defender that he’s worth it for other teams that are starving for that skill. The Texans need pass rushers, though. A dominant secondary isn’t lying dormant here. Whitney Mercilus can’t create a rush on his own, J.J. Watt can only play half a season, Charles Omenihu can bull-rush on the interior every once in a while, and Jacob Martin is interesting. That’s it. That’s their pass rush. The Texans would be better off using money to sign someone like Arik Armstead, who can do both.
The Texans have beefy 3-4 bodies who can fill in and defend the run anyways. Brandon Dunn became the primary nose tackle once Watt went out, and Reader slid to defensive end. Omenihu, if he learns how to recognize run keys, could be a competent 3-4 defensive end. Watt is here until he isn’t. Additionally, Houston’s inside linebackers, Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney, have the ability to make plays and control a run game regardless of what’s happening on the first level.
Get ready for Reader to disappear to some other football sphere, like Arizona, Indianapolis, or Miami. For this team, Reader’s contract is going to be too much to digest.
I’m pretty bad at estimating contracts, but if Reader gets $50 million, I wouldn’t be surprised. The Texans’ defensive line went from great to miserable in two years.
Reader had a better season than some of the Pro Bowl defensive tackles, but a Pro Bowl takes two seasons to get if you had a great year. With J.J. on the decline, Reader is the best guy Houston has.
If the Texans are in a win-now mode, they re-sign Reader. There won’t be a better defensive tackle on the roster. There may not be a better defensive tackle free agency. Reward your own guys. Re-sign Reader.
At this point, I believe the biggest reason this is even a question is because of the incredibly stupid contract given to Whitney Mercilus. How one can justify giving a speed rusher who cannot win one-on-one match-ups a four-year deal with $28.5MM guaranteed is beyond me. Oh, and Mercilus enters his age 30 season next year, so he’s definitely not going to justify the contract.
With BOB already kinda ignoring D.J. Reader in his pressers, I think the chances he comes back are low. I mean, do we even know if Reader is a BOB kind of guy? Because that seems to be the most important part of BOB the GM’s player evaluation.
Reader ain’t gonna be back, and our defense will be worse without him. That said, it’s far more important to get to the quarterback than it is to stop the run in today’s NFL. With Reader, though, we get something that resembles a push up the middle.
Without him? Angelo Blackson? Brandon Dunn? Carlos Watkins?
Would you trade Angelo Blackson and Whitney Mercilus for Yannick Ngakoue or Bud Dupree? I would. The Texans, with those two signings, did the exact opposite.
BOB delenda est.
I like D.J. for what he brings the defense in terms of size and ability to stop the run. He isn’t much of a pass rush threat but can push the pocket occasionally. Typically, guys with his skill set aren’t breaking the bank. I think the Texans don’t have much of a choice but to re-sign him. They have to find a way to keep their talent and bring more in on the defensive side of the ball. Letting Reader go to find a cheaper option would be one step forward and two steps back.
Reader is only 25 and has played his whole career with the Texans. I’d guess they give him a four or five year deal, probably somewhere around the range of $6-8 million a year. That’d put him in the Top 15 for defensive tackles, which I believe that’s the right range for him. If Houston wants to sweeten the deal, they could backload the contract with plenty of production-associated incentives.
Bottom line is the Texans don’t have much choice. They have to do something to keep talent in the building. That being said, they will probably give Reader way too much money and he’ll probably underperform before being cut and going on to be an All-Pro for another team. That seems to be our luck.
Honestly, I have absolutely no clue what to expect from this Twilight Zone Texans front office anymore. The idea of shoving money in Jadeveon Clowney’s pockets and shipping him off to Seattle stills seems like an impossible nightmare we’re going to wake up from sooner or later.
This is the same team that let A.J. Bouye walk away. The same team that made no effort to keep Kareem Jackson despite having a desperate need for cornerbacks. The team that got rid of guys like DeMeco Ryans, Duane Brown, Owen Daniels, Glover Quin, and Eric Winston. The same team that went all-in on Ed Reed and [NAME REDACTED].
From a logic standpoint, the Texans desperately need to rebuild the defense, and Reader is a great foundational player to build on. But with the sheer zaniness of the front office, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they let him go and he ends up signing with the Titans or Colts.
All that being said, if it were up to me, I’d happily pay Reader fair market value for his position and production. I wouldn’t overpay for him, but wouldn’t let him walk over the NFL equivalent of pennies on the dollar either.
For once, like Bill O’Brien trying to call a play on 4th and short, I have absolutely no clue what’s going to happen.
Cue the Twilight Zone music...
What do you think?