When stacking Arian Foster's body of work as a Houston Texan up against the various bodies of work of the hundreds of other Texans players to come through the doors at NRG Stadium, it's fairly easy to rank. Foster is, without question, the third-greatest player in the history of the franchise, and undoubtedly one of the most improbable great players in recent league history.
Andre Johnson, possible future Hall of Famer, was the third overall pick in the 2003 draft. J.J. Watt, surefire Hall of Famer even if he walked away in the next two or three seasons, was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Arian Foster was a mystery, a body who was battered in four years of heavy work at Tennessee, and an undrafted free agent who was competing with a fellow undrafted running back named Jeremiah Johnson just to get noticed in training camp in 2009.
Over the next seven seasons, which were full of Pro Bowl moments and thousands of yards and numerous peaks to go along with a few valleys, Foster carved out a niche as one of the most prolific and interesting players in Houston football history. On Wednesday morning, as speculated by many over the past couple of months and as first reported today by ESPN.com's Adam Scheffer, the Arian Foster chapter of Houston football ended with his release from the Houston Texans:
Big move: Arian Foster has been told the Texans are releasing him, per a source close to him. After great run, Foster finished in Houston.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 3, 2016
Foster broke camp in 2009 with the Texans' practice squad and by the end of the season, he was on the 53-man roster and getting starter's type reps, gaining 97 yards and 119 yards in the final two games of the season, respectively. Still, that didn't stop the Texans from drafting running back Ben Tate with a second-round pick in the 2010 draft. But even with the selection of Tate, you could kind of tell the Texans felt they were sitting on something special with Foster. When Tate broke his leg in the first preseason game of 2010, it opened the door for the unleashing of what would become the greatest individual offensive season in franchise history.
Foster announced his presence with authority to begin the 2010 season with 231 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-24 win over Peyton Manning and the Colts, and he didn't stop running all season long, totaling a league-leading 1,616 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. He added 66 catches and two more touchdowns receiving. Beyond all that, though, he would evolve into one of the best all-around players in the NFL, a running back who could run, catch and block — a true three down back, something Foster outwardly was extremely proud of.
The 2011 year would begin somewhat inauspiciously, with Foster battling a hamstring injury during training camp, an injury that forced him to miss all or parts of the first three games of the season. We got our first real taste of the rebel in Foster when he tweeted out a picture of his hamstring MRI to his Twitter followers so they could see the medical evidence. (News flash — the Texans didn't like that.) A healthy Tate picked up the slack with Foster out, but once healthy, Foster re-established himself as one of the top backs in the league, finishing the season with 1,224 yards, 12 touchdowns and 53 catches.
The Texans made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2011, going 10-6 with Foster putting up 153 and 132 yards in their two playoff games. In those two games, games that included a J.J. Watt pick six and another Watt 2.5 sack game, Foster was the best player on the field.
In that offseason between 2011 and 2012, Arian Foster's perseverance paid off, literally, as he signed a five-year, $43 million contract extension ($20 million in guaranteed money), and in the process, had one of the great press conferences in press conference history...
If there was one player whose performance was the barometer for the team over the next few seasons, it became Foster. In 2012, the Texans had their greatest season in franchise history, going 12-4 and winning a playoff game. Foster was again stupendous, running for more than 1,400 yards and a league-leading 15 touchdowns.
However, the warning sign was the number of touches — 351 carries and 40 catches. Good things rarely happen the following season for backs who carry that kind of load, and in 2013, it got bad. It got bad for Foster and for the team.
That season, that awful hell that was 2013, the bottom fell out for the Texans on the field and for Foster physically. The team, buried under a pile of Matt Schaub pick sixes, finished 2-14 and Foster's season, which began with him already banged up in training camp, was truncated by midseason back surgery after eight games. Gary Kubiak would be fired at season's end, and in came Bill O'Brien.
While many thought that O'Brien, an apple straight off the Belichick tree, and Foster might not mesh, it was clear from the outset that there was a mutual respect between the Texans' new head coach and the star running back, and while Foster still dealt with nicks and bruises during the 2014 season, when he was on the field, he was his old self again, gaining 1,246 yards in 13 games and averaging nearly five yards a carry. With the Texans playing four quarterbacks that season, it was Foster who offensively literally carried the team to a 9-7 record.
If there was a day that was the beginning of the end for Foster's run as a Texan, it was in early August 2015, when Foster felt a pop in his groin in an early preseason practice. The injury, which was described as severe by those close to the team, would require surgery that would force Foster's return to early October. When he came back in Week 4, Foster returned to a team starting its fourth different offensive line combination of the year and with Ryan Mallett as the starting quarterback, not exactly a recipe for a running back easing his way back in from surgery.
Foster wound up playing in four largely train-wrecky games for the Texans, averaging 2.6 yards a carry behind a patchwork offensive line and a revolving door at quarterback. The final Texans game for Foster was a blowout in Miami, in which the Texans trailed 41-0 at halftime. Lined up in the slot, in the waning moments of the game, Foster came out of his break and crumbled to the ground. His right Achilles tendon was shredded. That would be Arian Foster's last play as a Texan.
The Texans now release Foster with one year remaining on his contract, and will realize a $6.6 million cap savings, and, more important, they undoubtedly have an even larger gaping hole at running back. They followed up the Foster move with tight end Garrett Graham's release a short time later. Those two cuts, when added to already existing cap space, give the Texans a total of nearly $40 million in room to maneuver under the cap.
You know a player is special when the general manager and team release a statement and Twitter graphic wishing him well. Texans general manager Rick Smith had this to say about Foster:
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So now Arian Foster begins the next chapter of his career. In 2009, his improbable feat was going from undrafted to starter to Pro Bowler the next season. Now, in 2016, he will work the other end of the age spectrum, trying to become a productive member of, presumably, a playoff-team-to-be-determined's backfield, at age 30 coming off Achilles surgery.
On the surface, it seems improbable, but Arian Foster's done "improbable" before. Some would say he did it the best.
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