We are now in Week 3 of our local football front office crisis — I'm joking, I'm not nearly as concerned as some others are that the Texans haven't hired a general manager yet — in which Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, EVP of Team Development Jack Easterby, and Senior VP of Football Administration Chris Olsen are playing a three-way combo GM role.
Fortunately, this is one of the deadest times of the football calendar year, as pretty much everyone with a football-related role in the organization is on vacation for the next few weeks. Still, once they return, there are some action items that require attention. In a recent installment of his Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI.com, Albert Breer listed some interesting names as contract extension possibilities for the Texans:
"We mentioned earlier Monday in the MMQB that the likelihood now would be the Texans sticking with the status quo, and having director of player personnel Matt Bazirgan running the pro scouting side and college scouting director James Liipfert continue to run the college side, with both reporting to coach Bill O’Brien. In the here and now, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with a handful of players going into contract years. I’d expect Jadeveon Clowney to play on the franchise tag. But the team was planning to explore deals with DT D.J. Reader, OLB Whitney Mercilus, CB Johnathan Joseph and C Nick Martin, with OLB Brennan Scarlett, WR Will Fuller and RB Lamar Miller also going into contract years. (Fuller has an option for 2020.) How will the team proceed? Does negotiator Chris Olsen, the temporary replacement for Brian Gaine, continue on the same path? The Texans have $40.3 million in cap space, and this is what they were saving for."
Administratively, these contract extensions are probably among the easier items to check off without an actual general manager, as, chances are, there have already been conversations about the contractual worth of the guys on this list. The Texans have always had an internal deadline of the start of the regular season to get any contract extensions done, so these should be action items that Olsen and Easterby, with the rubber stamp from O'Brien on whether he wants each guy long term, can close out.
Here are my predictions on each guy mentioned by Breer above:
JADEVEON CLOWNEY, OLB/DE
OK, let's get this one out of the way quickly — it would be a massive shock (and a sure sign that maybe there were big decisions that ultimately poisoned the Brian Gaine relationship with everyone else) to see a deal get done with Clowney.
CLOWNEY PREDICTION: Plays the 2019 season on the franchise tag, traded before the 2020 draft
D.J. READER, DT
It appears as though Reader and Martin are the "year left on their rookie contract" priorities for the 2016 class, like Bernardrick McKinney last season. In looking at the defensive tackle contract market, the average annual salary for defensive tackles in the 15th to 20th overall range is in the $8 million per year range, and Reader is a player that (a) the Texans really like, and (b) still has some room to grow. His AV rating on Pro Football Reference has increased from 4 to 6 to 8 in each of his first three seasons.
READER PREDICTION: Signs extension for 4 years, $31 million ($17 million guaranteed) before the 2019 season
NICK MARTIN, C
Martin has not really lived up to his second round draft slot, but in a very interdependent position group, he hasn't exactly been surrounded by a bunch of world beaters on the offensive line. O'Brien gave his most prominent tell that Martin is in line for a deal when the head coach was asked about the group a couple weeks ago and he singled out Martin for his leadership.
MARTIN PREDICTION: Signs extension for 4 years, $24 million ($16 million guaranteed) before the 2019 season
WHITNEY MERCILUS, OLB
This is a big training camp for Mercilus, who should get a ton of reps with Clowney holding out and Duke Ejiofor on the injured reserve list. That would be a far cry from last year, when Mercilus missed nearly all of training camp with a hamstring injury. A contract extension for Mercilus, even a modest one, could be a major sign that the team will be moving on from Clowney (or at least listening to offers for him) after the season.
MERCILUS PREDICTION: Texans guarantee Mercilus $5.75 million salary in 2019, and add on two more years for $13 million, with the first year ($6 million) fully guaranteed
JOHNATHAN JOSEPH, CB
Breer's column is the first place that I've heard Joseph's name brought up as a possible extension candidate. At his current rate (about $5 million per year), I'd welcome Joseph back for another season at age 36. I just hear too much from good sources that think he will be done after this season.
JOSEPH PREDICTION: Retires following 2019 season and stays with Texans in some capacity
BRENNAN SCARLETT, OLB
Scarlett is set to play the 2019 season on a one-year, $2.025 million deal that he signed as a restricted free agent. I could see the Texans inking Scarlett, a valuable backup at inside and outside linebacker and a special teams demon, to a modest extension like they did with backup offensive lineman Greg Mancz before the 2018 season.
SCRALETT PREDICTION: Signs new three-year, $8 million deal ($6 million guaranteed) before the 2019 season
WILL FULLER, WR
Fuller needs to make it through a full season healthy before he gets any sort of long term deal. That the Texans exercised his fifth year option, despite his missing a third of the games the Texans have played in his three seasons, says a lot about how they view Fuller. He would make $10.1 million in 2020 on that option. If Fuller gets any type of long term extension, it will come next summer.
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FULLER PREDICTION: Plays a nearly fully healthy 2019, signs $12 million per year extension in 2020 offseason
LAMAR MILLER, RB
Miller is a solid running back heading into the last year of his deal. He's will have made around $6 million per year over the course of his deal. I highly doubt he gets an extension this off-season, given his position and the chance that D'Onta Foreman could surpass him as the lead back. I could see him coming back to Houston on a modest deal following 2019, but we need to see how 2019 goes first.
MILLER PREDICTION: Plays his contract out with the Texans in 2019, moves onto the next stop