If you're a longtime Houston Texans fan, I would ask you to mentally rewind and go back to 2008 for a moment. Think back to the secondary that season, and recall the feeling of dread in your stomach (hopefully muted somewhat by lots of alcohol) every time the opposing quarterback launched a pass downfield.
Petey Faggins, Jacques Reeves, Fred Bennett, Dunta Robinson (with a freshly rehabbed hamstring that was torn from the bone the previous season). These were the options at cornerback. These were the men patrolling the secondary attempting to slow opposing passing attacks. The Texans might as well have had an army of scarecrows back there, as they'd have cost far less under the salary cap and only been slightly less effective.
The 2009 season wasn't much better, and 2010 was a disaster. Two thousand eleven brought us Johnathan Joseph and a glimpse of what real cornerback play should look like. Over the next few seasons, with Joseph and the maturation of Kareem Jackson, cornerback (at least the starters) became a team strength for the Texans.
Thursday afternoon, just a few months after re-signing Jackson to a four-year, $34 million deal, the Texans inked Joseph to a two-year contract extension. The current-day message became clear — the Texans don't ever want to relive 2008.
Joseph's deal takes his contract through the 2017 season, so it is essentially a redo of his 2015 contract with two additional seasons tacked on. The deal is worth $22 million over the next three seasons with $11.5 million guaranteed. Joseph was set to make $8.75 million in 2015, and under this new deal he will have a base salary of $7 million and a cap figure of $11.75 million. Under his old deal, his 2015 cap figure would've been $12.25 million. The deal calls for base salaries of $6.5 million in 2016 and 2017 and $500,000 per season worth of game bonuses for each week that he is on the active 46-man roster.
Joseph signed with the Texans shortly after the 2011 lockout ended in July of that year. Along with safety Danieal Manning, who signed within the same 24-hour period as Joseph back in 2011, the two had a transformative effect on the entire defense, and along with a rookie by the last name of Watt, led a historic turnaround from one of the three worst defenses in 2010 to one of the five best in 2011. As it has turned out, Joseph's first season as a Texan has been his best season as a Texan, but when healthy, he has been a consistent performer for most of his time in Houston.
When the Texans used their 2015 first-round pick on cornerback Kevin Johnson several weeks ago, conventional wisdom said that Johnson would apprentice under Jackson and Joseph, and then take over for Joseph as the starter after the latter's contract expired after the upcoming season. Obviously, that's not the Texans' plan. Instead, they will operate with cornerback as the ultimate position of strength, assuming Johnson lives up to his first-round billing.
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If nothing else, the Texans' strategy of investing so heavily at cornerback — $20 million guaranteed to Jackson, $11.5 million guaranteed to Joseph, and a first-round pick on Johnson — is an indicator of the direction the league is going, with defenses in nickel and dime coverage a vast majority of the time. Indeed, there will be no shortage of plays when all three of the Texans' top cornerbacks will be on the field at the same time.
When Bill O'Brien and his staff arrived in Houston in 2014, the list of "foundation player" second contracts he inherited looked like this — Andre Johnson, Joseph, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Duane Brown. (J.J. Watt joined them before the 2014 regular season, but he's almost graded in a separate category from regular humans.) Thus far, Johnson and the Texans tolerated each other for one more season before he was cut. Now, Joseph receives an extension.
With Foster, Cushing and Brown all having multiple years remaining on their deals, it will be very interesting to see if the team approaches them with any sort of amendment — player-friendly or team-friendly — to their deals upon the conclusion of the 2015 season. For now, the Texans have secured the cornerback position for the next few seasons.
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