Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans: 5 Best and 5 Worst Contract Signings of the Rick Smith Era

Texans GM Rick Smith, in a rare meeting with the local media.
Texans GM Rick Smith, in a rare meeting with the local media. Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
Texans GM Rick Smith, in a rare meeting with the local media. - PHOTO BY AARON M. SPRECHER
Texans GM Rick Smith, in a rare meeting with the local media.
Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
The Houston Texans are sitting in a unique and somewhat dangerous spot right now this offseason.  With around $28 million in salary cap space and having been pretty inactive thus far in free agency — their only moves have been the re-signings of kicker Nick Novak, punter Shane Lechler and tight end Ryan Griffin — and it feels like this is turning into an all-or-nothing play for Tony Romo.

The math dictates that there will be a signing or two to come over the next few weeks, whether it's Romo and/or others. There are too many holes on the roster and not enough draft picks to backfill them. So as we all wait patiently for Rick Smith to pull out Bob McNair's checkbook, let's relive the magic (some of it evil, terrible magic) of Rick Smith's five best and worst contracts that he's doled out in his time as Texans general manager.

To be eligible for consideration on this list, we are talking about contracts that were either large extensions for existing Texans or contracts dished out in free agency during "prime free agency time" (March, April, or in the case of Ed Reed, May). Undrafted free agents, street guys in-season, and slotted rookie deals are off limits for purposes of our post here.

So let's go down memory lane, starting with the good...

5. Wade Smith, March 2010 (4 years, $12 million, $6.25 million guaranteed)
In need of interior offensive line help after a season-ending knee injury in 2009 to franchise original Chester Pitts, the Texans signed Smith to a  four-year deal. After bouncing around to three different cities his first six years, Smith found a home in Houston, starting all 64 games of his four seasons and making a Pro Bowl in 2012. Since then, with the Texans's issues at guard, we've gained an even greater appreciation for the steady consistency of a Wade Smith.

4. Antonio Smith, March 2009 (5 years, $35 million)
In need of defensive line help, the Texans dipped into the free agency market, ripping Smith from the defending NFC champion Cardinals on a five-year deal. Smith would go on to start in all but two games, and play in all but one (damn Richie Incognito suspension) of the 80 games during his five-year deal, and was a steady force opposite J.J. Watt in 2011, 2012 and 2013, making a Pro Bowl in 2011.

3. Johnathan Joseph, July 2011 (5 years, $48.75 million, $23.5 million guaranteed)
Coming off the work stoppage for rapid fire free agency in late July 2011, and needing to make a splash to fix a broken secondary, the Texans brought in Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning in a 24 hour period to start off free agency week. It was one of a handful of transforming decisions the team made to create a top five defense in 2011. Joseph made Pro Bowls in his first two seasons in Houston and remains a stabilizer in the secondary to this day.

2. J.J. Watt, September 2014 (6 years, $100 million, $51.8 million guaranteed)
After rumblings of contractual disgruntlement during the summer of 2014, Watt got his extension done, a six-year deal which, at the time, made him the highest paid defensive player in football. Several signees have since passed him, which makes this deal such a high ranker on this list. Watt's cap figures the next three years go as follows — $14.5 million, $15 million, $15 million. After that, there is no dead cap money. If Watt comes back as "true J.J. Watt," this is one of the great bargains in football. The only thing keeping it from the top of the list is Watt's two back surgeries in the last year.

1. Whitney Mercilus, May 2015 (4 years, $26 million, $10.5 million guaranteed)
On the cusp of decision day for his fifth year option on his rookie deal, Whitney Mercilus instead signed a somewhat surprising four-year extension, which at the time felt like a bit of an overpay on spec by the team, as Mercilus had not grown into what he is now as a player. Then 2015 happened, and Mercilus went for double digit sacks for the first time in his career. Now, he is the most reliable performer on the defense, when you factor in health, and one of the top three or four guys, in terms of impact.

And now the bad... grab a drink!

5. Jacques Reeves, March 2008 (Free agent, 4 years, $20 million, $8 million guaranteed)
Texan fans, if you ever feel down about the team in 2017, just know that there was a time where this was a sentence written during the offseason:

Former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Jacques Reeves, 25, signed a five-year deal worth $20 million Saturday and will compete for the starting job opposite Fred Bennett in training camp.
SO MUCH BAD IN THOSE 29 WORDS. Hey, how about this...

"I'm very excited," said Texans general manager Rick Smith, who worked out the deal with Reeves' agent, Brian Hamilton. "We feel Reeves is a good, young player who is on the rise. And we think he will really add to a defense that is full of good, young players."
Reeves started all 16 games his first season, was terrible, started five games the next season, and was so bad he was let go from a team that would eventually finish at historical lows against the pass in 2010. He wasn't good enough to play for THAT team.

4. Ahman Green, March 2007 (4 years, $23 million, $8 million guaranteed)
I almost feel bad putting Green on this list, because his failure as a Texan was more about off the field stuff that was out of his control and his body no longer cooperating. That said, Smith signing a running back with injury issues, who was over the age of 30 was a classic amateur general manager move. Green's Texans career was such a disaster, it's impossible to find Texans highlights of him on YouTube, so I give you those Packers highlights above.

3. Matt Schaub extension, September 2012 (4 years, $62 million, $24.75 million guaranteed)
I remember the announcement of Schlub's extension on the opening day of the 2012 season coming as a slight surprise, considering he had yet to win a playoff game as a Texan (T.J. Yates was the starter in the 2011 postseason) and he was coming off a foot injury. Was there any crime in letting Schaub play out his deal rather than extend him a year early? As it turns out, the second that the extension kicked in in 2013, Schaub turned into a "pick six" machine, and was traded to the Raiders by March 2014. His name is now synonymous with the team's 2-14 implosion in 2013. (SIDE BAR — Let's not forget, when we are all slobbering over what a nice guy Gary Kubiak is, he chose to give this contract to Schaub than give a contract to Peyton Manning that offseason.)

2. Ed Reed, May 2013 (3 years, $15 million)
Actually, check that... the name most synonymous with the 2013 failure might be Ed Reed, who was brought in by Rick Smith and Bob McNair for leadership traits he displayed in a decade in Baltimore. Instead, Reed's time in Houston will best be remembered for the following:

1. Getting hip surgery literally weeks after cashing his signing bonus.
2. Strolling around training camp with a towel around his neck acting like he built the place.
3. 14 tackles in seven games, before trashing the coaching staff after a loss to the Cardinals
4. Leaving $50,0000 in cash sitting on the front seat of his car.

The cash was stolen from Reed's car, which is ironic considering it was probably part of the $5 million Reed stole from the Texans.


1. Brock Osweiler, March 2016 (4 years, $72 million, $37 million guaranteed)
Um yeah, not much more needs to be said here. Miss. A colossal miss.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast