Texans Offensive Lineman Duane Brown Skips OTAs Over Contract Dispute

Duane Brown (right) has been one of the Texans' leaders for the past several years.
Duane Brown (right) has been one of the Texans' leaders for the past several years.
Max Burkhalter

The Houston Texans took to the field on Tuesday morning, sans pads, for the first session of organized team activities (OTAs) in front of assembled reporters. Overall, there was a lot to like — J.J. Watt was fully healthy and cleared for all activities, as was center Nick Martin, while rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson looked as comfortable as he could in an OTA-level pocket with an OTA-level pass rush.

More than anything else, it was nice just to have some form of football back. However, not everything was puppy dogs and ice cream across the street from NRG Stadium yesterday. While there was near perfect attendance at the voluntary session, the one big name absent from the festivities was the Texans' best offensive lineman, left tackle Duane Brown.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle , Brown is unhappy with his contractual situation, and skipping the voluntary workout is his way of sending the team that message. Let's examine the particulars of this situation.

What is Brown's current contractual situation?
After the first four years of his original five-year rookie deal signed in 2008, Brown signed a six-year, $53.4 million extension in August of 2012 that would take him through the 2018 season. The extension included guaranteed money of more than $22 million, which is still one of the highest guarantees ever for an offensive lineman. So there are two years remaining, neither guaranteed, at $9.65 million for 2017 and $9.75 million for 2018.

Here is the spotrac.com overview of Brown's deal:

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What exactly is Brown seeking?
Well, Brown hasn't spoken publicly, but it doesn't take an agent or an accountant to figure out what he is likely seeking. As a player who will be 32 years old when the season starts, and coming off a season where he recovered from a traumatic 2015 quad injury to regain near Pro Bowl form, Brown likely wants some or all of the remaining $19.4 million on his contract guaranteed. Currently, none of it is guaranteed.

Additionally, the average annual salary of the top left tackles in the game right now is hovering in the $13 million range. Brown's deal averages $9.7 million over the final two seasons, so it's logical to think he'd like a bump up to his annual salary as well. (Who wouldn't want that?) If I had to guess, the guaranteed money is the biggest hangup, since much of any additional overall money in NFL contracts becomes "funny money," especially for players in their thirties (as Brown is finding out, to some extent).

Why is Brown doing this?
Again, I am guessing here, but looking at the situation from a micro and macro perspective, first specific to Brown, he is probably looking for some security (injuries like Brown's in 2015 can scare guys) and some recognition of what he's accomplished on the field and off the field (rehabbing from the injury, stature with the franchise, etc.).

From a broader perspective, Brown may look around and see a locker room with other guys who are about to get PAID, specifically wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and think "O better get mine now." Also, while J.J. Watt still has several years remaining on his deal, he will likely always be in front of everyone in line when it comes to any reworking of a veteran's contract. Brown may think, "It's now or never to strike one last time."

Who has the leverage here?
In the short term, unfortunately for Brown, the team always has the leverage when there's a contract in place. Brown only gets the $9.65 million for this season if he plays, so if the team digs in and does nothing, he will need to come to grips with that at some point. That overrides everything.

Now, if Brown does have any leverage here, all he needs to do is have someone point out who the best available tackle was at OTAs yesterday, with Brown and Derek Newton unavailable. Who was it? Kendall Lamm? Breno Giacomini? Dear God, NOT Chris Clark! In other words, Brown is far and away the Texans' best lineman. At what point does his absence disrupt the installation of the offense with either a relatively inexperienced starter (Tom Savage) or a rookie (Deshaun Watson) at quarterback? And do you really want one of the aforementioned names protecting Watson's blind side, even in a preseason game?

The last Texans player to make a statement like this was Hopkins, who held out of training camp for one day last summer. Will Brown dig in, or even speak publicly about his stance? At this point, he isn't breaking any rules. These workouts are voluntary. If he is still out when the practices are involuntary, then it gets juicy.

Prediction: The Texans and Brown rip up the last two years of this contract and eventually agree to a new three-year deal that makes Brown a Texan for the rest of his career, something like three years, $33 million with $13-$15 million guaranteed. Brown gets some security and a slight bump in pay and the Texans have left tackle tied down for the next three seasons.

Boom, make me the general manager.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.


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