It's been quite an odyssey for Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels these last few years. The highlight of his Texans career thus far has probably been his trip to the Pro Bowl at the end of the 2008 season.
Since then, to say O.D.'s journey has been star-crossed is an understatement. To recap:
-- Daniels sat out organized team activities (OTA's, to you and me) during the spring of 2009 in an unsuccessful attempt to get a long-term deal inked.
-- He proceeded to respond to the snub with a first eight games that put him on pace for over 1,000 yards in 2009, before tearing up his knee on November 1, 2009, against Buffalo.
-- He suffered a stress fracture in the knee during the spring of 2010, struggled coming back during the 2010 season, and wound up as an "inactive" for a slew of games in late 2010 because of a hamstring injury (including the San Diego game where the Tailgate Times probably forfeited any chance it had for a Pulitzer by having Daniels' being "Back and Better Than Ever" as its cover story. Oops!)
-- He finished the season with 22 catches for 271 yards in the final four games (again a 1,000-yard pace).
Today, Owen Daniels finally got the deal he sought in 2009 (or some reasonable facsimile of that deal) when he inked a four-year, $22 million contract ($6 million guaranteed) one day after being tendered as a restricted free agent (which no longer matters) and on the eve of the owners likely locking out the players for what could be a long and ugly work stoppage (which will ultimately matter more and more as the months roll on).
Those who are not fans of the Daniels deal will point to two things:
1. The Texans have made a point of stockpiling tight ends over the last two years to the point where we half expect to see an episode of Hoarders with Gary Kubiak being consoled by relatives as he sobs into the camera that he just can't get rid of his vintage Mark Bruener carcass. They have Dreessen, Casey, Graham, Hill, plus the inevitable tight end that gets drafted this year, so why so much money for O.D.? (The annual drafting of a tight end is the closest thing the team has to a "tradition"...that and winning the meaningless final home game each season -- 5-0 under Kubiak!)
2. With Tracy McGrady's entire body no longer in Houston, Daniels's knees are now firmly entrenched in second place behind Yao Ming's feet for the title of "least reliable body part" among current Houston athletes. (For the record, other candidates include Brian Cushing's glands, Carlos Lee's intestines and Calvin Murphy's loins, with Jason Castro's knees in the "Future Stars" category.)
My response to both of these contentions -- whatever.
Nobody is a bigger Joel Dreessen fan than I am. He was one of the few Texans (and by "few" I mean "you can count on one hand") that exceeded expectations in 2010. If Joel Dreessen is your starting tight end, you needn't apologize to anyone. But when Daniels is healthy, he is very clearly the best offensive weapon that the Texans have at tight end, and is capable of doing things that only a small handful of tight ends in the league can do. A healthy Joel Dreessen is a player, a healthy Owen Daniels is a star.
As for the injury fears, the guaranteed commitment is only $6 million, which is a safe play when you consider the upside that a healthy Daniels brings to the table. And if he's not healthy, then this is why you have Dreessen...and Casey....and Graham....and Hill.
In the end, from an "on the field" standpoint, this comes down to a simple belief that the final four games of the 2011 season were essentially the first four games of the next healthy phase of Owen Daniels's star-crossed NFL career, that the knee injury (and any other peripheral "overcompensating for the knee" injuries like the hamstring) is in the rear-view mirror.
Eighty-eight catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns -- that's what those final four games of 2010 extrapolate out to over a 16-game schedule, an even more productive pace than the first eight games of the 2009 season prior to the knee injury.
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From an "in the locker room" standpoint, Daniels is the next in a line of respected leaders in the Texans locker room to get a long-term deal hammered out, following DeMeco Ryans last spring and Andre Johnson prior to the 2010 season.
If you're Rick Smith, today you got a big piece of the house in order at a very reasonable price.
Now if Owen Daniels could just play defense....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.