After winning the BCS national title this season, Nick Saban was asked how long he is able to enjoy the taste of winning before moving on to the next season. Saban, in his typical understated, serial killer tone, said that he basically takes one day and then it's on to the next season.
Well, if you're one of the teams that didn't win it all, in college or in the NFL, you get even less time than that to digest the season. The process of getting better begins now, and for the Houston Texans it means further evaluating potential draft picks and beginning to shop for free agents.
Free agency, however, begins at home. Which free agents to be on the Texans' roster are a priority for Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak to bring back next season.
Let's look at the list, in order of priority:
GLOVER QUIN, safety (unrestricted) Comment: Easily the best and most important of the Texans' free agents this offseason. Quin had, in my opinion, a borderline Pro Bowl season with game-changing plays in several games during the Texans' 11-1 start. His versatility as a run stopper, cover guy, blitzer off the edge, and safety makes him extremely valuable. It will be interesting to see (a) what the open market for Quin is, and (b) who the Texans will have to restructure to make a Quin deal work. Priority: 9.8 Likelihood of return: 6.7
CONNOR BARWIN, outside linebacker (unrestricted) Comment: Depending on who you believe, Connor Barwin was either still a disruptive force in at least getting to the quarterback, if not sacking him (the Texans' public view, despite just three sacks) or a virtual zero whose game plummeted in 2012 (the view of many sets of human eyes in the Houston area). If the former is true, some team will overpay for Barwin and make it hard for the Texans to re-sign him. If the latter is true, do you really want to re-sign him unless it's at a bargain price? Priority: 5.8 Likelihood of return: 3.5
JAMES CASEY, fullback/tight end (unrestricted) Comment: The early drop against the Patriots on the first drive (a killer early in that game) notwithstanding, Casey proved to be a valuable weapon for the Texans and an improved blocker in the backfield. I still get the sense Kubiak isn't totally deploying Casey as he could, but Casey is a Houston guy, so I'm guessing they arrive at a reasonable number for both sides. The wild card is teams' copy-catting the Patriots' multiple tight end approach and seeing Casey as a "buy low" proposition. Priority: 5.7 Likelihood of return: 5.6
BRICE McCAIN, cornerback (unrestricted) Comment: If this conversation were taking place this time a year ago, on the heels of McCain's breakout 2011 season, the tone would be decidedly different. A year ago, McCain was seen as a key role player for one of the top defenses. However, injuries and a slide back in productivity have probably muted some of the enthusiasm that would have existed around the league for McCain if he were a free agent last year. Priority: 5.1 Likelihood of return: 6.6
TIM DOBBINS, inside linebacker (unrestricted) Comment: Dobbins is a special teams captain and a guy who has a knack for making big plays and creating havoc in short yardage situations. I would expect him to be back on the relative cheap next season. Priority: 4.7 Likelihood of return: 8.1
SHAUN CODY, nose tackle (unrestricted) Comment: Cody's been a fixture as a starter along the defensive line the last couple years, but is really just a guy. If the coaching staff sees Earl Mitchell as ready for a bigger workload, you can probably fill the nose tackle with a combination of Mitchell and a draft pick or cheap free agent. Priority: 4.6 Likelihood of return: 5.0
DONNIE JONES, punter (unrestricted) Comment: Jones was initially brought in to punt for the first three games while Brett Hartman sat out his suspension for PED's. However, between Hartman's injury being a career ender and Jones's performing pretty well, Jones nailed down the job and for most of the season was a bright spot on an otherwise dismal special teams unit. Priority: 4.3 Likelihood of return: 8.9
JUSTIN FORSETT, running back (unrestricted) Comment: I am a Forsett fan. More importantly, the Texans coaches seem to be. I thought he'd see some more meaningful snaps throughout the season as a third down back to take some wear and tear off of Arian Foster, but that wasn't the case. Priority: 4.1 Likelihood of return: 7.8
ANDREW GARDNER, offensive tackle (restricted) Comment: I'm guessing this is one where the Texans quietly offer him a seventh round tender or whatever it is, Gardner signs it, and we move along. Priority: 4.0 Likelihood of return: 7.5
ALAN BALL, cornerback (unrestricted) Comment: Ball was a special teams demon, but a mediocre cover guy. He's a "Phillips guy" so you got to factor that in. Priority: 3.5 Likelihood of return: 4.1
JESSE NADING, outside linebacker (unrestricted) Comment: I'm starting to get the feeling that Nading will just be a Texan forever and transition from linebacker to a coaching spot in like four years, kind of like those WWE guys who wind up as road agents after a 30-year in-ring career. (So which WWE road agent does that make Nading? I'm going to say Rene Goulet -- a feisty jobber to the stars with a unisexual first name.) Priority: 3.1 Likelihood of return: 5.2
ANTOINE CALDWELL, guard (unrestricted) Comment: Caldwell began the year as a starter and finished the year behind two rookies (one playing out of position, center Ben Jones) on the depth chart and was inactive pretty much every week. Priority: 2.4 Likelihood of return: 1.1
SHAYNE GRAHAM, kicker (unrestricted) Comment: Originally brought in to push rookie Randy Bullock, Graham wound up winning the job when
he kicked much more consistently than Bullock in the preseasonBullock went down with a fake groin injury and was put on IR. Graham struggled from distance for most of the season, his 55 yarder before the half against New England notwithstanding. Priority: 1.9 Likelihood of return: 2.6
RASHAD BUTLER, offensive tackle (unrestricted) Comment: Injured again this preseason (torn triceps), that makes two years in a row that Butler never saw the field. I'm guessing the Texans won't hang on to see if he makes it three. Priority: 1.6 Likelihood of return: 2.4
QUINTIN DEMPS, safety (unrestricted) Comment: A guy who was considered a "big play" guy since being pulled off the street last season, eventually Demps's true colors shown through. He was an unmitigated disaster in the second half of the season, paving the way for Shiloh Keo to see snaps on defense for this team. When you get swapped out for Keo, it's time to find a new home. Priority: 1.1 Likelihood of return: 1.7
BARRETT RUUD, inside linebacker (unrestricted) Comment: Street free agent who played well in spots for the Texans. He didn't do anything that you couldn't draft or sign a younger guy to do. Priority: 1.0 Likelihood of return: 3.3
BRADIE JAMES, inside linebacker (unrestricted) Comment: A Wade Phillips guy who was brought in as a backup to Cushing and Sharpton, but when those two went down James became a fixture on defense. Not good. His aforementioned "Phillips guy" status is the only reason that his "Likelihood" rating is above a 1.0. Priority: 0.8 Likelihood of return: 2.6
RYAN HARRIS, offensive tackle (unrestricted) Comment: A stop-gap body when injuries hit the tackle position, Harris probably wound up getting way too much playing time if you have any desire to be an elite offense. Priority: 0.5 Likelihood of return: 0.9
STANFORD ROUTT, cornerback (unrestricted) Comment: Signed when McCain went down with his season-ending injury, Routt was largely inactive. I say "largely" because a picture does exist of him in uniform at Reliant before a game, so he was active for at least one game, I guess. Priority: 0.2 Likelihood of return: 0.5
KEYARON FOX, inside linebacker (unrestricted) Comment: They apparently had Fox in camp this summer and he was injured and placed on injured reserve sometime in July. I must've missed that. Priority: 0.1 Likelihood of return: 0.1
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