Sean Pendergast

The Five Best and Five Worst Contracts of the Rick Smith Era

Brock Osweiler was Rick Smith's worst contract as Texans general manager.
Brock Osweiler was Rick Smith's worst contract as Texans general manager. Photo by Marco Torres
It was not my intention for this space this week to turn into a de facto instruction manual on what the Houston Texans' next general should and should not do once he takes over the team's personnel decisions, but that's kind of how this thing has evolved over the last two days.

On Tuesday, I issued the Public Service Announcement on just how shaky this roster is. On Wednesday, we revisited Rick Smith's history in the draft, which was a celebration of first round prosperity wrapped in a cautionary tale of second through seventh round (mostly) futility.

Now today, we close things out with free agency, and a little trip down memory lane to recount Smith's biggest hits and worst misses in shelling out Bob McNair's money. Please note that the contracts outlined here are deals doled out either in true free agency to a newcomer or in retaining one of the Texans' own free agents. There are no rookie contracts included in here, since those are all slotted with a predetermined value and require little to no negotiations.

Without further ado, here we go....


5. Shane Lechler's annual retainer fee
Since 2013, the Texans' punting role has been handled by the future Hall of Famer and native Texan, Shane Lechler. Since he can pretty much handle this role until he's about 75 years old, the Texans basically just bring Lechler back each season on the football equivalent of a retainer. Last year, the cost was $2 million. When you consider how abysmal the Texans' special teams have been, can you imagine how bad they'd be if they didn't have Lechler punting the football?

4. DeAndre Hopkins' 2017 extension (5 years, $81 million, $49 million guaranteed)
Back in the summer of 2016, Hopkins held out of training camp a grand total of one day in trying to get a new deal. Owner Bob McNair, Smith, and head coach Bill O'Brien all encouraged Hopkins to be patient and that he would get a new deal all in due time. Hopkins survived the 2016 Brock Osweiler debacle (and the statistical dip that entailed) to get his new deal before the 2017 season started, a deal which made him the highest paid receiver in football. He earned that deal in 2017, leading the league in receiving touchdowns (13) and hauling in 96 passes for nearly 1,400 yards. Even better, the Texans were able to front load the deal with a huge roster bonus in 2017 so the biggest annual cap hit ($18 million) is already in the rear view mirror.

3. Duane Brown's 2012 extension (6 years, $53.4 million, $22 million guaranteed)
Just before the 2012 season, the Texans signed Brown, who was in the middle of his best run of seasons recognition-wise, to a below market extension for a franchise left tackle. Brown happily signed it, and stated his excitement to be a Houston Texan. However, six years is a long time, and as Brown watched the tackle salary market escalate in 2015 and 2016, it turned out that maybe the Texans signed him to TOO GOOD of a deal. With the 2018 and 2019 seasons still remaining, Brown held out the first six games last year looking for more money, played one game for the Texans in Seattle, and then was traded to the Seahawks a week later for draft picks. It was fun while it lasted, though!

2. Signing Johnathan Joseph in 2011 (5 years, $48.75 million, $23.5 million guaranteed)
Back in 2011, the Texans committed to undergoing a major overhaul on defense. They needed to do that after giving up absurd numbers in the passing game in 2010. Wade Phillips was brought in as the defensive coordinator, J.J. Watt was drafted, and Joseph was signed (along with safety Danieal Manning) in free agency. That offseason, the big free agency name was Oakland CB Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed with the Eagles. Meanwhile, Smith landed Joseph and Manning combined for the price the Eagles paid Asomugha. Today, Asomugha's Wikipedia bio says he is "an American actor, producer, and former American football cornerback." He lasted just two years in Philly. Joseph just wrapped up his seventh season in Houston.

1. Whitney Mercilus' 2015 extension (4 years, $26 million, $10.7 million guaranteed)
After a 2014 season in which he showed flashes but was still struggling to live up to his first round billing, Whitney Mercilus was awaiting word on whether or not the Texans would pick up his fifth year option on his rookie deal. As it turns out, the Texans went a different route, signing Mercilus to a somewhat surprising four-year extension. Fortunately for the Texans, Mercilus made a huge leap forward in his quality of play in 2015, and that deal is now one of the best bargains for a player not on his rookie contract in the NFL.


5. Signing Ahman Green in 2007 (4 years, $23 million, $7 million guaranteed)
This was Rick Smith's first splashy free agent signing. Here are his quotes following the two sides agreeing to a deal:

"We're excited to get this deal done because Ahman's been a successful running back in this league for a long time," Texans general manager Rick Smith said. "We're going to hitch our wagon to him. We're not worried about his age because he takes great care of himself and is in great condition. One of the many things we like about him is his versatility. Not only can he run the ball, but he's an excellent receiver, too. We think he's an ideal fit for our system."
Green started six games in two years because of injuries.

4. Signing CB Jacques Reeves in 2008 (5 years, $20 million)
This was Rick Smith's second splashy free agent signing. Here are his quotes following the two sides agreeing to a deal:

"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."
Perhaps the most frightening sentence in the article announcing the signing, though, was this:

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.
Not compete for a starting job WITH Fred Bennett... compete for the starting job OPPOSITE Fred Bennett, as in Fred Bennett already has his spot locked up. Not fun.

3. Signing S Rahim Moore in 2015 (3 years, $12 million)
Of course, Moore makes Reeves look like Deion Sanders, by comparison. Searching for safety help prior to 2015, the Texans honed in on Moore, who at the time was best known for getting burned by Jacoby Jones late in a playoff game in 2012. AS it turns out, the Moore we saw on that Jones play was the Moore the Texans got. He couldn't cover, he couldn't tackle, he couldn't take proper angles to stop runners in the open field. Moore was a disaster, and after he was personally responsible for at least two scores in a four touchdown loss to Miami in Week 7 of his first season here, the Texans shut him down and never played him again. He was cut after the season.

2. Matt Schaub's 2012 extension (4 years, $62 million, $24.75 million guaranteed)
For some reason, prior to the 2012 season and heading into the last year of his original contact signed with the Texans, the team felt the need to get an extension done with Schaub, even though he had yet to win a playoff game as the starter in five seasons. The deal got done, Schaub got near franchise QB money, and within a year, he was tossing pick sixes to the opposing defenses like they were Mardi Gras beads. Schaub was the biggest reason for the Texans' 2-14 record in 2013. After that season, he was traded to the Raiders for a sixth round pick.

1. Signing QB Brock Osweiler in 2016 (4 years, $72 million, $37 million guaranteed)
So we really need to cover this again? Can't we just go back and watch videos?

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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