So What Else is New?

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March 7, 2005
So What Else is New?

by Keith Weiland

Not long after word broke that the Texans had pursued and ultimately signed a guy named, well nicknamed, “Ultimate”, I laughed at the irony. You see, the term "ultimate" is often used to mean the conclusion or the final point in a series or progression.

Instead, the free agent signing of inside linebacker Morlon Greenwood triggered another reaction in the offseason process for the Texans, one where they told starting linebackers Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman to start looking for a new team if they didn’t rework their existing contracts.

Ultimate? Try ultimatum.

Ever since he first strapped on a Texans helmet, Sharper has been the rock of the Houston defense. He has led the league in tackles and been the guy teammates and coaches could count on to lockdown the middle of the field.

But Sharper has two things working against him: money and age. Due almost $5 million in 2005, Sharper is entering the final year of a contract he originally signed with the Ravens. He will be the highest paid player on the team not named David Carr. Perhaps even more damning for Sharper is that he is already 30 years old, an albatross of a number for any potential free agent in the eyes of Texans general manager Charley Casserly.

Out with the old, right? So what else is new in the NFL?

Still, to hang one of your best defenders out to dry is a ballsy move by the Texans. Trading him now says this team is still a year away from seriously contending. Maybe that’s not newsworthy, but as a charter PSL holder, I find it disappointing I can’t have the same timeline for paying off the balance on my 2005 season tickets.

Try as I might though to get worked up over the possibility of losing Sharper, I just can’t. If he won’t extend his contract according to the Texans’ terms, it does make sense to float his name and test the waters. Making a trade before he has the chance to leave for another team at least gives the Texans something – anything – in return.

The question is whether I would rather the Texans rush to do all they can for that one year of brilliance, or build slowly through the draft for a multi-year period of brilliance? As fans, we are not obligated to be patient since we still pay full price of admission, but rationally, if the team drafts well – and it has thus far – this is the right way to build for long-term success.

Greenwood is here because the Texans have failed to find an inside linebacker in the team’s first three drafts. A third round pick in 2001, Greenwood will make up for that lost time quickly. He will be the the team’s answer to stopping the opposition’s tight end. He is fast, and he can cover. He may not prove to be a playmaker, but he instantly upgrades the overall speed of the defense.

Greenwood’s presence may be enough to push Sharper and Foreman out the door, but it probably won’t be enough to keep the team from selecting another inside linebacker in next month’s draft. Between Greenwood, Sharper, Foreman, Kailee Wong, DaShon Polk, Troy Evans, Shantee Orr, and possibly Tim Cheatwood, there are only two inside linebackers under contract in 2006 (Greenwood and Cheatwood, assuming the latter even makes the team). Something’s gotta give.

Taking another inside linebacker in either round 2 or 3 makes a whole lot of sense. I’m trying to let go of the dream of drafting Longhorn Derrick Johnson since he could be long gone by the time the Texans are on the clock, but executing a trade to move up from #13 in the draft to get Johnson is starting to make a lot sense, too.

It’s called a “flight to quality” in the financial world, a tendency for investors to move toward safer assets in times of uncertainty. In the context of this year’s draft, one that is loaded with depressed and uncertain values, going after the sure thing would be a smart financial move for the Texans, too. Johnson is one of only a few sure things in the draft this year.

And better yet, trading up ought to be cheaper this year than it has been in awhile. Several teams, particularly those sitting with a top ten pick, might be anxiously willing to trade down. When the time is right, Casserly has proven willing to move up in the first round, too. He did so a year ago when he had the team’s top-rated linebacker, Jason Babin, within reach.

As for this year? Maybe what once was old might yet be new once again.

Keith Weiland’s pre-draft articles are the ultimate rite of spring.

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