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2020 NFL Free Agency: D.J. Reader Signs With Cincinnati Bengals

By D.J., that was our D.J.

Denver Broncos v Houston Texans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Houston Texans drafted D.J. Reader in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Coming out of Clemson, it was obvious he had some juice. From his sophomore season on, Reader anchored the nose tackle position for Houston’s 3-4 defense and was a vital member of 2018’s all-time great run defense, the one with Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt, Kareem Jackson, Benardrick McKinney, and Zach Cunningham.

This past season, in his contract year, Reader once again was an incredible run defender. He started at nose tackle and then moved to defensive end once Watt went down with a torn pectoral. Before Watt’s injury, Reader showed some skills as a pass rusher. He had his best season as a pass rusher, ending up with 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. As a ‘3’ tech on pass rush downs, with offenses having to pay attention to Watt, Reader won one-on-one matchups to get after the quarterback to start the season.

Reader’s pass rushing fizzled as the season progressed. Whether it was Watt’s absence, exhaustion, additional attention, or something else, it’s difficult to define, but what was there to start the season disappeared.

Supposedly the Texans entered contract talks with Reader this past summer, but couldn’t come to an agreement. With Reader hitting free agency, it wasn’t expected Houston would re-sign him. Again, the pass rushing disappeared. Paying a premium to stop the run isn’t ideal, and Houston had to improve its pass defense. Even if they haven’t so far, and we are all wishing for a reset button right now, extending Reader probably wouldn’t improve last season’s 26th ranked pass defense.

The bigger sin here from a ‘I love the Houston Texans perspective’ is the Texans gave Whitney Mercilus, a lesser and older player, a nearly identical contract to what Reader just got from the Bengals.

It took four years and $53 million for Reader to leave Houston and sign with the Bengals. It doesn’t sound like the Texans made a competitive offer for him. Reader will now put on his kitty-cat stripes and join Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Chris Hubbard to help a crappy Bengals defense.