“I would have to tell you that there was a lot of stuff happening yesterday. It was absolutely, personally for me, it was the busiest day and the most rewarding day, I mean this is a big deal, obviously. " — Texans GM Rick Smith, Thursday afternoon
Not since 2011 have the Houston Texans been as active in free agency as they've been over the past 24 hours, and not since 2007 have they made such a franchise direction-setting decision as they did when they bestowed a four-year, $72 million contract on quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Time will tell whether the move for Osweiler, along with moves for RB Lamar Miller and a couple of offensive linemen, were the right ones. They were certainly expensive moves, but despite the salary cap equity shelled out on Thursday, the prevailing feeling is that the Texans won the day. Now, they need to win the season.
For some perspective, let's go back and look at the best and worst single moves or decisions made by the Texans in each offseason on Rick Smith's watch. Most of these decisions are either directly or partially attributable to Smith himself. There may be a couple, such as the worst moves in 2009 and 2013, that were Gary Kubiak or Bob McNair. But for our frame of reference, we will use the footprint of the general manager, who, remarkably, is entering his second decade as the team's GM. (For the record, that would mean a ratio of one playoff victory for each decade. Now, drink.)
Let's relive the magic (good AND evil) of the Rick Smith Era...
BEST MOVE: Traded two second-round picks for QB Matt Schaub
People will laugh, considering how the Schaub era ended, but overall, the Texans got their money and draft equity's worth from Schaub. His first two seasons were marked by durability issues, but after that, he started 16 games three of the next four seasons, and led the NFL in passing yards in 2009. Ironically, the one season in those four when he was injured (2011), it was a season ender that might have cost the Texans a shot at a Super Bowl.
WORST MOVE: Signing RB Ahman Green to a four-year, $23 million deal
The last time the Texans made a move for a quarterback and running back in the same offseason, the QB worked out fine. The RB? Not so much. The Texans, with former Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman as their OC, settled on Sherman's former workhorse as their primary back, and it was a disaster. Green started six games and rushed for 554 yards in two seasons for his guaranteed $6.5 million.
BEST MOVE: Traded a sixth-round pick for C Chris Myers
In trying to put together the optimal offensive line to run Alex Gibbs's zone blocking scheme, Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith settled on a familiar face, trading for Myers, whom both knew from Denver. Myers would go on to start every game for the Texans over the next seven seasons before retiring after the 2014 season, having made two Pro Bowls and becoming, easily, the best center in Texans history.
WORST MOVE: Signing free agent CB Jacques Reeves to a five-year contract
With cornerback Dunta Robinson coming off of a debilitating leg injury the season before, the Texans need some depth at cornerback and gave a five-year, $20 million contract to Reeves, who had one career interception in four seasons with the Cowboys prior to that deal. Reeves lasted two injury-filled (and Jacques Reeves joke-filled) seasons as a Texan.
BEST MOVE: Signing an undrafted free agent RB named Arian Foster
The best overall season under Smith's direction might be 2009, with a draft that included Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, Glover Quin and James Casey. However, the best move was the signing of undrafted Arian Foster, who would go on to become the third-greatest player in franchise history and rush for more than 6,000 yards in six seasons, including a rushing title in 2010.
WORST MOVE: Promoting Frank Bush to defensive coordinator
This was the nadir of the glorified "buddy system" that infested the Texans offices under Kubiak and Smith, where it seemed like the Texans became a landing spot for everyone with a Broncos logo on his résumé. Bush was promoted to defensive coordinator with no coordinator experience, and the Texans, in two seasons, went from average to one of the worst defenses in recent league history. Bush was fired after the 2010 season and replaced by Wade Phillips.
BEST MOVE: Signing G Wade Smith in free agency
After Chester Pitts's 2009 season (and Texans career) ended with a serious knee injury, the Texans needed someone to man the left guard spot vacated by Pitts. In came Smith, who held down that spot in some of the Texans' most productive offenses in team history. Smith would make one Pro Bowl in a four-year run with the team.
WORST MOVE: Trotting out starting CBs with one combined year of experience
Many Texans fans have tried to block this out, but there was a time when Kareem Jackson wasn't the capable cornerback that he's become in his six seasons in the league. His rookie year was rough. Real rough. It wasn't much better for second-year CB Glover Quin, who spent his pre-safety years getting peppered with downfield bombs as the Texans mustered nearly zero pass rush. How bad did things get in 2010? The Texans signed former first round washout Jason Allen halfway through the season, and it felt like a godsend...and make no mistake, Allen was also terrible.
BEST MOVE: Drafted J.J. Watt
That's too easy. Let's add another one...
NEXT BEST MOVE: Signing CB Johnathan Joseph and S Danieal Manning in free agency
If you recall, the big thing during the 2011 free agency period, which was the football version of speed dating because it happened in July after the lockout, was Nnamdi Watch — the name given to the tense wait for CB Nnamdi Asomugha to choose a team. The Texans, as you just read one paragraph ago, were in dire need of secondary help. Smith scored a huge coup when he decided to stop waiting around for Asomugha and signed Joseph and Manning for the same amount. That move paid immediate dividends, helping catapult the Texans into the top five defenses in the league.
WORST MOVE: Trading up into the second round to select CB Brandon Harris
Unfortunately, not all their moves to upgrade cornerback worked out so well. "No Fly Zone" was actually more like the "Friendly Skies."
BEST MOVE: Letting Mario Williams walk in free agency
After a crazy 2011 offseason, 2012 was marked by a lot of standing pat. Arian Foster signed a long-term deal, which was more of a solid move than anything else. Resisting the temptation to pay Williams, who would become the highest-paid defensive player in football, a non-move by definition, was the team's best decision. They let Buffalo pay $96 million for all those meaningless sacks.
WORST MOVE: Extending Matt Schlub's contract for four more years
Of course, unlike with Williams, the Texans couldn't leave well enough alone with Schaub, signing him to a four-year extension with a year still left on his deal. The deal was announced after a season-opening win over Miami. The contract looked like a decent move when the Texans got off to an 11-1 start in 2012, but Schaub would lose his mojo precipitously in December, and by 2013, he was throwing pick sixes literally every week and getting Gary Kubiak fired by season's end. The Texans would trade him (see below) and eat $10 million in dead money shortly after hiring Bill O'Brien in 2014.
BEST MOVE: Drafting DeAndre Hopkins 27th overall
In a draft that saw a MAC left tackle drafted first overall, and no franchise quarterbacks surfacing up to this point, the Texans managed to pluck one of the top five WRs in football with the 27th pick. If you go back and redo the 2013 draft, Hopkins might be the first overall pick.
WORST MOVE: Letting Glover Quin go and backfilling safety spot with Ed Reed
Quin, who wanted to remain a Texan, was allowed to leave for Detroit, and for the same money, the Texans signed a run-down Reed for his "leadership skills," which for the Texans included getting hip surgery right before reporting to camp and submarining the coaching staff with criticism over his use...when he was available to be used. Reed was a disaster. (NOTE: The entire 2013 draft class not named "Hopkins" can collectively be added under "WORST MOVE" as well.)
BEST MOVE: Trading QB Matt Schaub for a sixth-round pick
Amazingly, the Texans were able to dupe another NFL team (well, actually, the Raiders, so it may not really count) into trading for Schaub. The Raiders sent the Texans a sixth-round pick that they used to pick Alfred Blue, who's rushed for 1,226 yards in his first two seasons in the league. It also gave us this press conference...
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WORST MOVE: Passing on Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr
The Texans' ability at jettisoning quarterbacks was far better than their ability at finding one, as they used the No. 1 overall pick on Jadeveon Clowney, and with the 33rd overall pick, they took guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, when Bridgewater and Carr went 32nd and 35th, respectively.
BEST MOVE: Signing OLB Whitney Mercilus to a four-year, $26 million extension
In a move that was mildly surprising, the Texans extended Mercilus with a year remaining (and a potential team option year) remaining on his rookie deal. As it turned out, the Texans may have gotten a bargain, as Mercilus had his best season as a pro in 2015, with a career-high 12 sacks.
WORST MOVE: Signing S Rahim Moore to a three-year, $12 million deal
Moore was a disaster from the very first preseason game, when he allowed a rugby player from the 49ers named Jarryd Hayne to embarrass him in the open field. From there, it was several weeks of bad angles and non-plays, until finally he was mercifully benched after seven weeks of the regular season. He was cut a week ago, never to be heard from again as a Texan.
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