So here we are, nearly five full days into the free agency shopping period (and the official beginning of the NFL's business year), and just one year after being among the most active teams in free agency, the Houston Texans have been watching the parade go by, with over $30 million in salary cap space to burn post-Brock trade.
If last year was a glorious Christmas morning (which, in retrospect, turned out to have a lot of presents for which the Texans needed to keep the receipts), this year there hasn't really been anything under the tree. In fact, it's been more like the Grinch coming by to pilfer the house.
Let's take the moves made so far, one by one, and assess them. Also, for the purposes of full disclosure, I will include the percentage chance I thought each free agent would return, which I posted a few weeks ago (February 17, to be exact — I am nothing, if not transparent, people!).
Here we go...
1. Cornerback A.J. Bouye signs with the Jacksonville Jaguars, becoming one of the highest paid cornerbacks in football (5 years, $67.5 million, $26 million guaranteed)
I put the Texans's odds of retaining Bouye at 50 percent a few weeks ago, largely because they had use of the franchise tag at their disposal, and the cap space to use it. Over the next week or so, it became readily apparent that the Texans were not going to use the tag (and the $14 million in cap space it would occupy) on Bouye. At the end of the day, it will be easier to assess the Bouye departure once the Texans make the rest of their moves and deploy the $13 million or so they would have spent keeping him. His contract was just the price of poker at what's always been an irrational position for spending in free agency. When healthy, cornerback is one of the deeper positions on the Texans, so it's not a five-alarm fire. But Kevin Johnson's wheel better be ready to go.
Which brings up an interesting "what if," that I first heard raised on our radio station, SportsRadio 610, by former NFL cornerback Stanford Routt — what if Bouye were the team's first round pick a few years ago, and not an undrafted free agent? There's no way they let him walk over a million and change per year, right? (Reportedly, the Texans offered upwards of $12 million annually to Bouye.) There are politics involved sometimes, and when a head coach says "We don't care where you were drafted," and O'Brien says it ALL THE TIME, that may be true for in-season depth chart purposes, but it's absolutely false when it comes time to decide on "core player"-level contracts. It just is. No team loves to tout their retention of first round picks more than the Houston Texans. It's what's kept Rick Smith employed.
2. Safety Quintin Demps signs with the Chicago Bears for 3 years $13.5 million
I had Houston's odds of retaining Demps at 40 percent, and I have to say that I'm mildly surprised that a team ponied up nearly $5 million per year for a 31-year-old safety who had a complete outlier of a season in a system that was very friendly to him. BUT... a) it's the Bears, who also gave Mike Glennon almost $15 million per year, so everything they do is up for a sketchiness debate, and b) never underestimate just how much money is out there that MUST BE SPENT, by rule. Ultimately, my overriding emotion here is happiness for Demps, who seems like a great guy. This makes safety (Jabril Peppers? Obi Melifonwu?) a bigger priority in the draft.
3. Outside linebacker John Simon signs with the Indianapolis Colts for 3 years, $13.5 million
Of the three defensive starters to leave, this was the most surprising to me, as I had Simon's return pegged at 80 percent. Simon was a solid outside linebacker, and a good enough pass rusher to hurt teams that decided to throw two bodies at J.J. Watt and/or Jadeveon Clowney. His main value to the Texans was more in being a warm body at the position, as they now have just one truly experienced outside linebacker on the roster (Whitney Mercilus). This feels like a spot they will piece together with some second- and third-tier veterans. (DeMarcus Ware would be interesting on a one-year deal, for what it's worth.)
4. Special teamer Don Jones signs a two-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers
Jones was a nice pickup for the Texans in the middle of the season, as he was one of the few consistent special teams players. I was surprised he got a two year deal elsewhere, and had him as a 90 percent chance at returning. But the 49ers have tens of millions in cap space to buy whatever they want. I'm surprised they didn't jam a hundred dollar bill in Rick Smith's pie hole after signing Jones, a la Ted DiBiase.
5. Tight end Ryan Griffin re-ups with the Texans for 3 years, $9 million
If you need a capper for just how truly off the mark my forecasts were on February 17, here you go — I had Ryan Griffin's return pegged at 35 percent, and said the following in my post:
Griffin had his best season as a pro in 2016, catching 50 passes in what was a surprisingly productive tandem with C.J. Fiedorowicz. While Griffin is still challenged as a blocker, his ability to catch and run after the catch might find him a surprisingly robust deal, à la James Casey in 2013, when he got a three-year, $14 million deal from the Eagles.
Um, yeah... or Griffin would have to watch the tight end market get depressed, probably in part to a slew of great rookies coming out who will be cheap labor, and settle for less than what Garrett Graham got THREE years ago. The lesson, as always, is that I am an idiot.
6. Texans trade QB Brock Osweiler, a 2018 2nd round pick, and a 2017 6th round pick to the Browns for a 2017 4th round pick.
There are innumerable ways to measure just how bad Brock Osweiler was in 2017, both statistically and aesthetically. The last four days avails us to one more — what does it say about Brock Osweiler that we've watched the Texans lose three key starters on defense and then give up a second round pick just to unload Brock's contract, and the offseason STILL feels like a success, like a gigantic weight has been lifted off the franchise's shoulders?
It says that any way you slice it, Brock Osweiler, who I'm sure is a gem of a human being and also a very wealthy one now, has been an awful NFL quarterback. It floored me that there were smart people thinking Osweiler could actually be back with this team next season as a backup or competing for his starting job again. Do these people see now, after the reaction of the city and (presumably) people around the team, and after what the team gave up just to unload him, how silly their take was?
Also, as I pointed out yesterday, this is three quarterbacks in the last four seasons now for the Texans that have not just been let go by the team — this is three quarterbacks that have been RUN OUT OF TOWN ON A RAIL AS PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE. It's frankly remarkable, when you think about it:
* 2013, Matt Schaub: Pick-six barrage, fans hacking him at his house, traded to the Raiders
* 2015, Brian Hoyer: Couldn't beat good teams, five turnovers in a playoff game, released (even with a reasonable salary for 2016)
* 2016, Brock Osweiler: Um... yeah... well, ya know...
Has this ever happened before? I mean, Cleveland goes through quarterbacks like they're underwear, but they don't get accosted in their driveways and have their departures celebrated like a national holiday, right? There is a "What about Rick Smith?" post to be done on this topic.
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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