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A Look Ahead to Texan Free Agency, and Why It Won't Involve Peyton Manning

Spoiler alert: The pigs won't fly.
Spoiler alert: The pigs won't fly.
Photo illustration by Monica Fuentes

It was less than a month ago when I believed the Texans would consider making a play for quarterback Peyton Manning.

But on the verge of the NFL's free-agent signing bonanza on Tuesday, it looks as though any Texans changes will be on a smaller scale -- and rightfully so.

It seems clear the Texans are the preferred destination for Manning. That sentiment was first reported by ABC-13's Bob Allen in early February and echoed by ESPN's Chris Mortensen last Friday.

After all, Houston has such a strong running game and defense that if not for a Jacoby Jones muff, it might have been a Super Bowl team with fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback.

Add Andre Johnson to the mix, and it's the dream scenario for a veteran quarterback hoping to win championships.

If healthy, Manning could be that guy. It doesn't look as though he's willing to prove it, however. Visits to Denver and Arizona concluded without Manning throwing a single pass. For a quarterback whose future success will hinge on the regeneration of nerves in his throwing arm, it's reckless to gamble without a physical examination.

When your quarterbacks are Tim Tebow and Kevin Kolb and your team isn't a contender, it might be worth the gamble. When your quarterback is Matt Schaub and you already have a contender, it probably isn't.

Mario might remain a Texan
Mario might remain a Texan

If Manning truly wants to be a Texan, there's a way he could do it. He could hold off signing until he's able to go through a workout with general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak, proving his ability to make NFL throws on a regular basis.

If he can, he's undoubtedly an upgrade on Schaub, and Texan officials know it.

But reports say that Manning hopes to sign this week -- before putting on such a display for any team. In other words, he likes the Texans, but not enough to pull out all the stops. That's not good enough.

Any team that signs Manning will undoubtedly be forced to trade their prior starter (in this case, Schaub), making Yates the back-up plan if Manning's arm doesn't recover to an NFL level. The Texans have been there and done that. They would prefer not to try it again.

Other tidbits: 4. Don't worry about media reports of how much money the Texans may not have. The truth is that we don't know. The Houston Chronicle's John McClain reported last summer that the team was too cash-strapped to make a serious play for marquee corners Nnamdi Asomugha or Johnathan Joseph, at one point claiming Houston would have to restructure every contract on the team in order to get it done. In reality, the Texans went after both, successfully signed Joseph and also added safety Danieal Manning -- all without significant restructuring or cuts.

The Texans, like any smart organization, want to keep expectations within reason. If they were going to make a major bid on Manning, for example, they wouldn't leak interest until such a deal was signed and delivered. Likewise, while most pundits give them no shot to keep outside linebacker Mario Williams, the Texans have no incentive to counter that speculation. It's best to keep talks under the radar.

It might be true that the Texans never had any interest in Manning. It might be true that they can't afford Mario Williams, or that they're legitimately worried about losing starting center Chris Myers. However, I wouldn't believe it simply because of an anonymous source-led report from a beat reporter. Smith and Kubiak want things as quiet as possible. The Texans fooled the media last summer, and it could easily be the case this week, too. Keep an open mind.

 

3. Expect the team to sign a veteran receiver. Much of the early draft speculation for the Texans, who pick at #26 in the first round, has centered on the deep crop of wide receivers, and with good reason. After Johnson, the Texans' 2 and 3 receivers (Kevin Walter, Jones) are mediocre at best, and the depth behind those two is completely unproven. Moreover, Jones -- due $4.7 million next season -- is a probable cap casualty, given that high figure. Also complicating matters is tight end Joel Dreessen, who becomes a free agent and could leave in search of a starting gig.

If those two are gone, the Texans would have zero known pass catchers after Johnson, Walter and Owen Daniels. Combine that with Johnson's recent propensity for injury, and a Super Bowl contender shouldn't leave such an important position in the hands of unproven youth. Even if those spots are addressed in the draft, the Texans need proven production. Expect several of the receivers on this list to get a call.

2. Williams's situation should be resolved early. Top free agents in the NFL typically sign in a hurry, sometimes on the first day. That's especially the case when it's about money, which it may be for Mario.

When searches last awhile -- like Asomugha's did last July and August -- it's often because the player is weighing situations. Asomugha had played for a loser in Oakland his entire career, and was weighing offers from successful franchises including the Eagles (whom he chose), Cowboys and Jets.

For Williams, the best situation is clear. It's here in Houston. It's a franchise that's a legitimate Super Bowl contender. It's a team where he has a defined role and found a stunning amount of success under Wade Phillips, one of the best defensive coordinators in league history. It's an owner and coach who drafted him and put him in a position to succeed despite so much doubt from a national standpoint.

The Texans can make Williams a reasonable offer. If it's about football, he'll sign it. If it's about money, he might be offered more elsewhere, and his decision should take no more analysis than comparing the bottom lines. There shouldn't be a debate over which football situation is best.

The Texans should have a firm answer by the end of the week. If it's no, outside linebacker will join wide receiver as the top priority for the team to address.

1. Myers and guard Mike Brisiel will likely return. The foundation of the Texans is and has been their offensive line. Even against a stout Baltimore defense in the playoffs, Houston pushed the Ravens around and generally had their way. It's the offensive line that helps make the newly re-signed Arian Foster so special, and it's the offensive line that goes a long way to making Schaub and the bootleg offense so dangerous.

Myers was rated by most scouting services as the premier center in the NFL last season, and the Texans know it well. Foster could've played hardball to try and become highest-paid running back in football, but instead accepted a reasonable deal that should allow the Texans to keep his blockers. Myers says he wants to stay, and the Texans say they want him back. That should be enough to eventually get a deal done.

Monday's surprising release of right tackle Eric Winston could give pause to that theory, but keep in mind that the Texans have Rashad Butler already under a reasonable contract at tackle. There isn't a comparably talented backup on the roster at center or guard.

Free agents are allowed to sign with teams beginning at 3 p.m. CDT on Tuesday.


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