It’s Showtime at the Apollo City

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April 21, 2005
It’s Showtime at the Apollo City

by Keith Weiland

The Texans may not have signed many big name players this offseason, but they have at least acquired two nicknamed ones. After dropping millions at the feet of a guy with a self-given stage name of "Ultimate", the Texans dealt two draft picks on Wednesday to the Raiders for the chance to obtain another guy with yet another self-annointed title, "Showtime".

And here I thought the XFL was dead. "He Hate Me", your legacy endures.

Buchanon’s self-loving nom de guerre aside for a moment, one has to admire his proven ability to make the big play, whether it be as a cornerback or as a punt returner. The young man has, in just three years since being selected seventeenth overall in the 2002 draft, scored seven touchdowns during his brief career.

Seven touchdowns! Impressed? Well, if you’re wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, you might be. He’s only crossed the goalline five times (shoulda been six, JG) in that same span, and he even plays offense.

"Ah, but," Buchanon’s detractors might interject at this point in the conversation, "what about all those touchdowns he gave up while going for the big play?"

Yes, Buchanon has the athletic talents and coverage ability to strive in the rigors of man-on-man combat in the NFL, but he has a gambler’s itch when it comes time to put those skills to the test. Buchanon knows he has 4.3 speed and an innate ability to make something happen with the football once it is in his grasp, so he does all he can – including some things he shouldn’t – to encourage a confluence of those events, oftentimes to the detriment of his team.

Enter Texans defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn. One is the teacher, the other is the role model. The duo has helped another pair of young cornerbacks – Dunta Robinson and Demarcus Faggins – develop into quality players, en route to maximizing their talents under their collective tutelages. A few days in D-hall for Buchanon may curb that addict’s insatiable appetite for destruction, yet retain his god-given ability and harness that passion for playmaking.

So the decision to pay the price to obtain a wildchild such as Buchanon must have been an easy one for the Texans braintrust. Aside from his natural football instincts and athleticism, Buchanon is a three-year veteran that has yet to complete his twenty-fifth year of life. Think, when the Cowboys selected cornerback Terrence Newman in the first round two years ago, he was actually older then than Buchanon is today.

That combination of youth and experience is appealing to a team like the Texans, eager to develop young talent, but in an increasingly desperate environment to compile a roster of players to produce more victories on the field. What this means is there is still promise for Buchanon, as he is no old dog being pressed into acquiring new tricks, something which the Texans hope will lead to improved play from their defense.

And better still, the monetary consideration for the right to watch Buchanon either succeed or fail as a Texan is a relative bargain. Entering the fourth season of his five-year contract he signed as a rookie, Buchanon’s remaining unamortized albatross of a $4 million signing bonus is not a concern of the Texans. He left that part near San Francisco with the Raiders by virtue of the salary cap rules affecting trades.

Instead, the Texans are left to pay Buchanon roughly $1.5 million for the next two seasons. That figure compares favorably to the sum of $1.485 million the team just agreed to pay Lewis Sanders, another young defensive back expected to contribute at most in dimeback situations, over that same period.

So with age and salary of little concern, the only remaining opportunity costs part and parcel to this trade are the two draft picks relinquished to the Raiders, a second round selection and the second of two third rounders. While predicting exactly whom the Texans would have selected with each of those picks is speculation, each would have still brought with them unbridled optimism for their potential to succeed.

Hyperbole is the elixir of choice this weekend, but the stark reality is that projecting the success of college players is still an inexact science. General manager Charley Casserly, a padawan of front office master Bobby Beathard while with the Redskins earlier in his career, has learned to assuage that risk by trading draft picks for established values in the form of veteran players.

Buchanon is a known commodity, albeit an unfinished one, but he is easier to estimate as a professional than anyone the Texans might have selected in either the second or third round on Saturday. By opting for Buchanon, Casserly has since been able to say with conviction that the cornerback position is no longer a draft need for his team. Pairing Buchanon with Robinson, Casserly likely believes he has his cornerback duo of the future.

So where does this leave Glenn? The elder statesman of the defensive backfield turns 33 this summer, though he is still a quality starter in the league. His best playing days are behind him, but with pass-happy teams in the AFC South division, his services will still be in demand this season.

If Buchanon, however, delivers on the potential he had yet to fulfill in Oakland, it may force the Texans to release Glenn in 2006 to avoid paying his $4.25 million salary that fall. Doing so would mean that the team would not only be willing to say goodbye to a defensive leader, but also be willing to absorb the roughly $2.33 million in dead money on the cap.

As "Ultimate" may one day tell "Showtime", it would not be an unprecedented move by his new team. What is unprecented for this young franchise is whether such bold moves will pay dividends on the field. The itch to trade for Buchanon should be one gamble worth scratching.

Keith "Cinemax" Weiland encourages you to get your nicknames quick before all the good ones are gone.

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