Despite an 11-5 record, an AFC South title, and a franchise record nine game winning streak in 2018, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned if you're a Houston Texans fan as the 2019 season approaches. The offensive line rebuild looms, the 2019 schedule is a son of a bitch, and Will Fuller's ACL — the most important injured body part in town! — is a few months from clearance.
And then there's the Indianapolis Colts, maybe the biggest problem for the Houston Texans, now and for the foreseeable future. You see, Andrew Luck is all the way back. His shoulder is healed, and he's back to "40+ TD pass per year" form. They also now have a head coach and general manager who know what they're doing, and they have extra draft picks and more than $100 million in cap space to spend next week, when free agency begins.
It's that last part, the massive amount of salary cap space ($106.6 million, to be exact) with which the Colts can fill holes on their roster, that I want to talk about here. The Texans are actually in pretty decent shape to go spend in free agency, with $68.3 million of their own cap space, after giving Jadeveon Clowney the franchise tag and releasing Kevin Johnson.
Still, that's a good chunk of change, especially for a team that expects to be just "selectively aggressive" (Brian Gaine's own words, as opposed to "drunken sailor aggressive") in free agency. However, what if the market develops in a way where the Texans feel like they need some more cash to spend. Can they approach the Colts' nine figure cap space number through some simple moves?
The answer is "Yes," the follow-up question is "Will they?" That varies from move to move, and releasing Johnson was a start, but here are the three contracts that offer the best combination of cap impact and expendability, along with what I feel the likely outcome is for each.
LAMAR MILLER ($7.203 million cap figure, $1.0 million dead money, $6.203 million in potential cap savings, SPOTRAC)
BRIAN GAINE on Miller: “Lamar Miller was our starting back last year, was a borderline 1,000-yard rusher. Unfortunately, he missed a game or two. He probably would’ve gotten 1,000 yards on the season – three-down back. Unfortunately, (D’Onta) Foreman had his injury last year. He came back at the end of the season. We’re optimistic about a very positive return in his contributions. We saw glimpses of that the previous season. Also impressed us in the passing game, so we’re optimistic that those guys will be back and intact. We like the composition of the current depth chart. Then, we’re going to evaluate the draft here coming up. Ideally, we’d love to have a committee backfield and have contributions from various players, but Lamar was a three-down back last year and we’re optimistic that Foreman will return to full health.”
Despite being largely misused by O'Brien in the three seasons Miller has been here, the running back is one of the more well-liked players among the head coach and his staff. Last season was Miller's best as a Texan, and I think the only way he isn't with the team in 2019, barring injury, is if they were to sign Le'Veon Bell. So, basically, he isn't going anywhere.
LIKELY OUTCOME: 95 percent Miller is back to finish out the last year of his deal
RYAN GRIFFIN ($2.6875 million cap figure, $0 dead money, $2.6875 million in potential cap savings, SPOTRAC)
BILL O'BRIEN on the non-Griffin tight ends: “Jordan Thomas had a little bit of an up-and-down rookie year. I think he’s got a really bright future. Big, tough, good hands. The more comfortable he gets with our system, the better he is going to get. Jordan Akins made a lot of plays for us in the passing game down the stretch. I think he’s got good ability in the passing game. He’s a smart player, very athletic guy. Really, really excited about both of those guys.”
Griffin is one of those guys that's managed to hang around while not really being better than average at any one particular thing. I suppose he is a smooth catcher of accurately thrown balls, but that's like a mechanic being a solid operator of a lug wrench. It's expected. Griffin's blocking is subpar, and he doesn't make any plays where you say "DAMN, RYAN GRIFFIN!" Still, his cap hit is fairly meager, and I'd expect him to at least be in training camp. How Akins and Thomas progress will dictate if Griffin becomes a pricey third stringer or not.
LIKELY OUTCOME: 90 percent Griffin is with the team in training camp, 20 percent chance he doesn't make the team
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WHITNEY MERCILUS ($7.3 million cap figure, $1.05 million in dead money, $6.25 million in potential cap savings, SPOTRAC)
This is the trickiest one out of all the players listed here. Mercilus still has plenty left in the tank, but was used in such a bizarre way last season, that I would have a hard time justifying spending an extra $6.25 million in cap space to use him the way the Texans did, dropping in coverage and playing space, as opposed to setting the edge in the run defense and rushing the passer. I think a team might duke a third round pick to the Texans for Mercilus, and if they would, I'd strongly consider that deal.
LIKELY OUTCOME: 85 percent chance he plays out the last year of his contract, 15 percent chance Mercilus is traded