2nd Annual: The Way I See It

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February 17, 2006
2nd Annual: The Way I See It

by Keith Weiland

And so begins a new era of Texans football. Unfortunately for the new guy, head coach Gary Kubiak, he doesn’t start with a clean slate. His 2-14 team of a year ago is too young to be disbanded completely, but this offseason (and probably next) will resemble an extreme makeover that would make even Ty Pennington well up with tears of joy.

As the article’s headline suggests, this is the second year in which I am undertaking the offseason management of the Texans roster. I am not going to predict what I think will happen over these next 1,496 paragraphs; instead this installment will detail what I would like to do if Bob McNair had actually canned general manager Charley Casserly, come to his senses, and hired me to run the show alongside Kubiak. Self-serving? Maybe, but based on my attempt of a year ago, at least I would have fielded a better team last season than the other guy.

Some ground rules in case anyone else wants to play along with me. First, the real Texans work within the rules of a salary cap, and so will I, to the best of my knowledge, much of it noted on our unofficial 2006 salary cap page. I’ll also keep from covering all the weird new scenarios should a collective bargaining agreement not be reached before the deadline, but know that the cap will be messier to understand if that’s the case.

As it stands, the Texans have some landmines on their cap, but they still have plenty of room to maneuver this offseason. Also, even though I will speculate quite a bit in this article, I will not try to predict any trades. Yes, they will happen, this year especially, but predicting them is a distraction.

So let’s kick this off with free agency. The Texans ought to tender minimum offers to all of their exclusive and restricted free agents, just don’t expect all of them to make the team. I say to only tender the minimums this year because I don’t think any of the team’s RFAs are worth more than the compensation they might return if another team signs one to an offer sheet.

Need an RFA refresher? Recall that if another team signs one of these RFAs and the Texans fail to match, then the Texans will be due a draft pick commensurate with the round in which that player was selected. So, for example, if some team wants to sign either Antwan Peek, Seth Wand, or Dave Ragone to an offer sheet, I am willing to take a third round pick as compensation to let that player walk. If no one makes any of the RFAs an offer, then I will welcome each back to the roster with open arms.

The remaining free agents are unrestricted, so it is imperative that I pick and choose the right players to bring back to the team. My top two priorities are wide receiver Jabar Gaffney and running back Jonathan Wells. Gaffney’s free agency bid is coming in a year with several other top receivers hitting the market. Good news for the Texans.

I like Gaffney’s hands (remember when he caught ten passes in Andre Johnson’s absence against the Seahawks last season?), so I offer him a three-year contract with a $2 million bonus. Gaffney might want more, and with Drew Rosenhaus for an agent, who knows what to expect here, but I think this might be enough. If Gaffney wants just a one-year deal to play for a bigger contract in 2007, I’m good for that, too.

Wells is going to be a tougher player to sign. Assuming the Texans draft Reggie Bush with their top pick, the backfield is getting really crowded. But Wells has far outlived his rookie campaign, proving to be an adequate backup and nice special teams player. I fear he might draw a bigger bonus from another team, but I want to bring him back for a couple more years and can offer a million bucks in his bonus check. Please sign, Jonny.

The real Texans just re-sgined offensive lineman Fred Weary, a move I endorse. I want Weary to compete at center, and Kubiak’s Bronco-like line philosophy better suits Weary’s game than the mashing, bruising one that was previously on display at Reliant Stadium. I’m also re-signing linebackers DaShon Polk and Troy Evans, but don’t be surprised if Polk garners a little interest from elsewhere, too. Evans can play inside, but I have him on my roster for his special teams play. Tight end Marcellus Rivers also earned another one-year contract, so long as his off-field escapades remain clean.

I’ll wave my goodbyes to guard Milford Brown (too slow for this new scheme) and receiver Corey Bradford (thanks for the memories… from four years ago). To save a little cap room, I’m going to cut linemen Zach Wiegert and Todd Washington, tight end Mark Bruener, quarterback Tony Banks, running back Tony Hollings, and safety Marcus Coleman. Defensive tackle Junior Ioane and safety Jason Simmons also count for dead money once they fail to make my roster out of camp.

Guard Steve McKinney caves when he can’t leave his hometown and a chance to play for a couple Aggies in Kubiak and assistant head coach Mike Sherman. McKinney takes $3 million off his 2006 base salary as a bonus, which I’ll spread over the next three seasons on the cap.

All told, I’m left with about $4.5 million in dead money. I know it’s enticing to want to lop off the weighty salaries of a couple other players (cough Todd Wade and Gary Walker cough), but I favor the cap room this year over the dead money to add a few free agents from other teams. Wade and Walker will just have to get cut next year.

Speaking of those free agents from other teams, the Texans have a huge need at defensive end as they transition to a 4-3 defensive front. Peek can maybe fill that role, but I’m not sold. Same goes for Jason Babin, who played end in college. I wonder though if another 3-4 team might be asking for Babin in a trade offer at some point. As for Walker, with a logjam at defensive tackle, he might actually play a little end on the strongside. If the Saints’ Darren Howard listens to my offer though, he would be a great addition at defensive end.

Yes, Howard comes at a great price, too, maybe around a $12 million bonus over a long-term deal. Risky, but less risky than pursuing the other big name free agent at the position, John Abraham, who might get another franchise tag from the Jets anyway. Howard, 29, is coming off a rough year like the rest of the Saints, but he is capable of posting double-digit sack totals, even in Houston.

I won’t sign any other big money unrestricted free agents (Howard would be plenty), but a few restricted free agents on other team’s rosters have caught my eye. Cornerback Ike Taylor of the Steelers started for the Super Bowl champs last season, and he is still getting better. He won’t come cheap though. Taylor might get close to $10 million to sign long-term, but the Steelers might be hard-pressed to match. It’s tough giving up a fourth round draft pick to Pittsburgh as compensation, but Taylor is a big corner (6’1") who figures to complement Dunta Robinson nicely.

And I haven’t forgotten the offensive line. The Saints’ LeCharles Bentley might be a nice target, but with all that money I’ve thrown at his teammate already, I need to find a diamond in the rough. Bucs guard Sean Mahan is one such diamond. He won’t draw too much attention from other teams because he’s a bit undersized at 300 pounds. Mahan’s got some agility and quick feet though. Sound like a Bronco lineman? Yep, sure does, and a $2 million bonus might be enough to get him. After the Bucs fail to match the offer sheet, I’ll lose a fifth round pick to them, but a good veteran right guard to replace Wiegert will be worth it.

Enough of free agency. Yeah, there might be some other lesser-known guys signed to compete for a spot this summer, but that’s the bulk of them. Let’s move on to the draft. It’s still way early (this article is written pre-Combine), so projecting where players will go more than two months from now is tough.

Round Pick Position Player 1 1 RB Reggie Bush 2 33 LB D’Qwell Jackson 3 65 TE Dominique Byrd 3 66 LT Joe Toledo 6 161 OG Chris Kuper 7 193 FS Marcus Hudson

As I said in the ground rules, no trading, though the chance to move down a few spots and select N.C. State defensive end Mario Williams (and avoiding giving up big bucks to Howard) is appealing to me if I receive the right offer. No looking back though. Reggie Bush is the spark this offense needs. He will make everyone else more dangerous, even Domanick Davis.

With D’Qwell Jackson at the top of the second round, I finally get the Texans to draft a legit linebacker. FINALLY! Jackson is a bit undersized (6’0" 230), but he plays hard and tackles well. I also strike gold when tight end Dominique Byrd is available with my first pick of the third round. His physique isn’t what you’ll see in higher-rated players like Vernon Davis, but Byrd is the big target David Carr needs in the middle of the field.

Using the other third round pick, Washington’s Joe Toledo is something of a left tackle project that might even make Casserly blush. After playing four years of tight end in college, Toldeo shifted over to left tackle and looked great for a Kubiak lineman. At a rangy 6’6" and 305 pounds, Toledo won’t start immediately for my Texans since Chester Pitts is doing just fine over there, but his ceiling is still very high.

On the second day of the draft, I’ll go back to filling out the offensive line with guard Chris Kuper. A Division-II player from North Dakota, Kuper (6’4" 305) played both tackle and guard, excelling at both. He’s a brute fellow, but he plays with good quickness. Mark him down as a potential starter at left guard once McKinney is ready to retire. Then with the last pick, I’m taking Marcus Hudson. He’s not only big (6’2" 190), but he also had a pretty decent week of work at the Senior Bowl last month, too.

Once the draft is over, I’m working the phones to sign a couple undrafted free agents that caught my eye. Auburn’s Travis Williams is going to slip by other teams because he’s too small (6’0" 220) to be counted on as a linebacker. Fine, he can play special teams. I’m also giving Texas State quarterback Barrick Nealy an offer to play emergency quarterback in his home state.

So that’s all of my offseaon moves. To make the final analysis a bit easier to digest, here is a position-by-position breakdown of what I’ve done this offseason once Coach Kubiak makes his final cuts in August. I’ve also included an estimated cap hit by position as well. Keep in mind only the top 51 salaries impact the cap, so a couple of these guys are freebies.

Quarterbacks: David Carr, Dave Ragone, and Barrick Nealy.
2006 Cap: $7.96 million
I’ll admit it. I’m a big Ragone fan. Maybe the new coaching staff will grant new life to the former NFL Europe MVP, enough to finally send Banks away to some other team.

Running backs/Fullbacks: Reggie Bush, Domanick Davis, Jonathan Wells, Vernand Morency, and Moran Norris.
2006 Cap: $9.28 million
This position just got expensive, but Bush will be worth it. Kubiak better show us both Bush and Davis in a two-back set this season. Also, Morency becomes major trade bait, especially if Wells is retained.

Wide receivers: Andre Johnson, Jabar Gaffney, Jerome Mathis, Derick Armstrong, and Kendrick Starling.
2006 Cap: $10.04 million
I’m contending that the Texans had a decent mix of players here last season, but that they just didn’t have an offensive system to make them look more effective. I have a feeling Bush and TE Byrd will help this group look a little better, too.

Tight ends: Dominique Byrd, Marcellus Rivers, and Bennie Joppru
2006 Cap: $2.03 million
Byrd starts from the first practice if he keeps his head on straight. And yes, Gimpy still makes the roster in his final contract year.

Offensive linemen: Chester Pitts, Steve McKinney, Drew Hodgdon, Sean Mahan, Todd Wade, Seth Wand, Fred Weary, Joe Toledo, and Chris Kuper.
2006 Cap: $14.36 million
The battle here is at right tackle this season. Wade might get new life with Kubiak’s staff, but so too might Wand. Once Toledo is ready, he might be the left tackle of the future, moving Pitts down to right tackle, but don’t count on that happening until 2007.

Defensive linemen: Robaire Smith, Travis Johnson, Darren Howard, Gary Walker, Seth Payne, Jason Babin, Antwan Peek, and Jerry Deloach.
2006 Cap: $22.22 million
Yeah, I know that’s expensive. Too many defensive tackles. This is what happens when you change defensive philosphies though, so settle in for a two-year transition. Even Deloach is more expensive than you might think. Consider Payne trade bait. Heck, any one of them could be traded if another team is interested.

Linebackers: Kailee Wong, Morlon Greenwood, D’Qwell Jackson, Shantee Orr, DaShon Polk, Charlie Anderson, Troy Evans, and Travis Williams
2006 Cap: $10.16 million
Another work in progress. I’ll have Jackson in the middle, Greenwood on the weakside, and Wong on the strong side. I’m still intrigued by Orr, even in a 4-3. While weakside depth is an issue, I like Anderson, Evans, and Williams on my special teams units.

Defensive backs: Dunta Robinson, Ike Taylor, Glenn Earl, C.C. Brown, Demarcus Faggins, Phillip Buchanon, Chris McKenzie, Lewis Sanders, and Marcus Hudson.
2006 Cap: $8.81 million
This position is surprisingly affordable thanks to its youthfulness. With Taylor signed, Buchanon is officially put on notice in a contract year. Even with Sanders slipping inside, depth at safety is a major concern, but one that will just have to wait to be addressed until next year.

Special teams: Kris Brown, Chad Stanley, and Bryan Pittman
2006 Cap: $3.10 million
Aye, long snappers. Still can’t live with them. Still can’t live without ‘em.

Including the dead money, this collection of players will have a cap total of $92.5 million. That will be about $2 million shy of a conservative cap limit of $94 million (already extended by a cap credit of $2 million thanks to an unrealized incentive target). More aggressive cap estimates (at press time) put that limit up by another $3 million, meaning the Texans could still have $5 million or more left over. Wheeeeee!!!

So with the books clean, my 2006 Texans take the field. What about your 2006 Texans?

Keith Weiland’s fingers hurt from all this typing.

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