When it comes to second contracts for players they've drafted, it's generally gone one of two ways for the Houston Texans the last few seasons.
For Pro Bowl caliber, "foundation" level players, they've generally had their second contracts done at least one season before they could hit the open market. Duane Brown, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt. The rest of the league was never allowed to get their meathooks into those players.
Then there was the perceived second tier, and for the last few seasons, that level of player has been on the express train out of town, soldiers of fortune getting paid big bucks. Mario Williams, Connor Barwin, Glover Quin, James Casey, Earl Mitchell, Mike Brisiel.
Well, on Saturday, the trend turned.
The three day "legal tampering" period began on Saturday morning, and the Texans got off to a solid start in free agency (which begins unfettered on Tuesday) by locking up two of what undoubtedly were their most sought-after-by-the-rest-of-the-league free agents, inking right tackle Derek Newton to a five year deal on Saturday early afternoon and following that up with a four year contract for cornerback Kareem Jackson early Saturday evening.
The deals were both solid values, with Newton getting $10 million guaranteed under his five year, $26 million contract, and Jackson taking a "hometown discount" of sorts, getting $20 million guaranteed over his four year, $34 million deal.
Both expressed jubilation upon completion of their deals..
Derek Newton's agent: 'I've never heard him so happy': The Houston Texans re-signed offensive tackle Derek New... http://t.co/5POF5OtbP7
— MyFoxHouston (@MyFoxHouston) March 7, 2015
Wow!!!! I can't begin to express how happy I am right now!! Definitely a great moment for me and my family right now!!!
— Kareem Jackson (@ReemBoi25) March 7, 2015
Ostensibly, the stories of Jackson and Newton couldn't be more opposite, with Jackson a decorated first round pick in 2010 from then national champion Alabama and Newton a 2011 seventh rounder from off-the-beaten-path Arkansas State, a big, raw specimen who was in the band until late in his high school life.
However, examining closer, where both can relate is that each has been the object of the Texan fan base's scorn for the early part of his career.
In 2010, Jackson was the whipping boy on a defense that was historically bad against the pass, and the rookie routinely surrendered 100 yard games to pedestrian receivers like Seyi Ajirotutu. With the help of veteran free agent Johnathan Joseph being brought in from Cincinnati in 2011, Jackson began turning the corner in his second season, and became a mainstay for the remainder of his rookie contract, peaking in 2014 with a number 11 overall ranking at cornerback on the Pro Football Focus website position rankings.
Newton's road to being an NFL regular was a bit more slow and circuitous than Jackson's. After what amounted to a redshirt year in his 2011 rookie season, Newton was forced into starting duties in 2012 after the Texans let Eric Winston go for cap purposes during the offseason. Newton shared time with veteran Ryan Harris, and struggled immensely for two years, especially in passing situations.
However, in 2014, with a vote of confidence from new head coach Bill O'Brien, Newton turned into a consistent performer, even showing off some of the versatility that O'Brien values so highly when he played several snaps at guard late in the season. Newton, by any measure, is one of Rick Smith's victories in what's been a siege of defeats in the NFL Draft in the last four years.
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The two moves provide a bit more clarity for the Texans as they decide how to deploy the 16th pick in the draft. With Newton's signing, their offensive line is intact for the upcoming season, and my guess is that right guard Brandon Brooks could be the next "foundation" player the team approaches about locking in a year early.
With Jackson's signing, along with rumors that Johnathan Joseph (and his $12.25 million cap hit) will be back for the 2015 season, cornerback is not a position of urgent need, although GM Rick Smith has said before that "you can never have too many cornerbacks," so that along with bracing for the post-Joseph Era would logically keep cornerback at least on the radar.
Attention now turns to quarterback, with Ryan Mallett officially on the market and Browns free agent QB Brian Hoyer rumored to be a target of the Texans, as well.
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