It was late July in 2011, and the NFL's labor standoff had just ended a few days earlier. Now, with the 2011 preseason days away, it was up to Texans General Manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak to find new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips some pieces to help rebuild a defense that had just finished an ultra-disappointing 2010 season ranked 30th in the league, 32nd against the pass.
The Texans had drafted some Watt kid in the first round, but they needed more. The secondary was in shambles the year before, in particular 2010 rookie first rounder Kareem Jackson, who routinely spent his first NFL season allowing nondescript secondary receivers their biggest career receiving days (Seyi Ajirotutu, anyone?). The help came swiftly in free agency in that final week of July in 2011, as within 24 hours of each other, cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning decided to leave the Bengals and Bears, respectively, to sign with the Texans.
In retrospect, it would turn out to be one of the biggest turning points in the franchise's short history, with Joseph and Manning becoming key cogs in a historic defensive turnaround, with the 2011 unit ranking among the top five in the league. That Texans team would win the franchise's first division title and follow it up with another the next season. It was the team's only period of sustained, consecutive season success in franchise history.
To that end, you could argue that Manning, despite playing only four seasons in a Texans uniform, because of his leadership and knack for big plays in 2011 and 2012, is one of the most important figures in team history. On Tuesday afternoon, Manning, 32, announced that he would be hanging up the cleats, retiring after nine NFL seasons.
Manning made the announcement with Marc Vandermeer and Deepi Sidhu on the Texans All Access radio show on SportsRadio 610 live from the Texans Grille, and cited a desire to finish up work on his degree as a primary focal point of his post-playing career.
“It’s time,” Manning said. “There wasn’t a particular reason other than I wanted to go back to school and earn my degree so I can start coaching.”
As a rookie second-round pick in 2006 out of Abilene Christian, Manning played in a Super Bowl for the Bears his first season in the league, starting 14 games at safety. Manning played five seasons for the Bears, and ironically, the one season in which he wasn't a regular starter at safety (2008) was his only season in which Manning made the Pro Bowl, doing so as a return specialist. That season, he led the NFL in kickoff return average (29.7 yards per return).
Manning came over to the Texans prior to the 2011 season and made an immediate impact on defense and returning kicks. That season, Manning would break a leg in Week 7 and amazingly only miss three games, returning for the 11th game of the season against Jacksonville, coincidentally the same week that T.J. Yates was forced to take the reins as the number one quarterback after injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.
In both 2011 and 2012, the Texans would go on to win the AFC South division and beat Cincinnati in a home playoff game, before losing a road divisional round playoff game, in 2011 to Baltimore and 2012 to New England, a game whose first play from scrimmage was this Manning return:
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Manning's 2013 season would be cut short by injury, and the new coaching staff would cut Manning in early April 2014. Manning signed on with Cincinnati, but was let go in the Bengals' final cutdown before 2014, opening the door for the Texans to bring him back for one more season. Manning spent most of the 2014 season as the third safety behind Kendrick Lewis and D.J. Swearinger, but did start five games and ranked among the top safeties in the league, according to Pro Football Focus' scoring system.
“I’m thrilled about my four years with the Texans,” he said. “When the Texans gave me a chance to return to my home state and play for them, I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ State pride is what I call it. A lot of my friends around the country didn’t understand why I would want to sign with the Texans, but I couldn’t wait to get here.”
Now, for the first time since 2010, there will be no more Danieal Manning in the Texans' secondary.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.