The NFL offseason is in full swing now that we are seeing teams making their big player releases. Not surprisingly the Texans have not made any transactions as of yet. History shows the Texans generally wait until a day or two before the new league year (March 9th) before making any player releases. The legal tampering period is set to begin at 3PM CST on March 7th for pending unrestricted free agents; so we can expect any players released by the Texans will be released before this period. The NFL Combine is scheduled to start next week (February 22nd) and teams will be in dual mode all week as they scout potential draft prospects and speak to agents about possible contract extensions for the team’s pending free agents. The busy offseason has just begun and it is about to hit full throttle very quickly. What will the Texans do? Below I explain what I think the Texans will do; not to be confused with what I think they should do.
Team Cap Situation Before Any Moves
Cap Space: $30,400,677 available
*Projection based on a $155 million team cap.*
There are five players that I feel the Texans will release pretty quickly:
2016 Cap Charge: $4,068,750
2016 Dead Money: $2,000,000
2016 Savings: $2,068,750
The free agent signing from last offseason that most everyone was excited about was basically a complete failure. Moore was benched after Week 7 and was a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season. Moore was active for 7 games and played in 444 defensive snaps (42.49%). Second year player Andre Hal took over the free safety position and never looked back. The Texans’ were smart with this contract giving themselves a way to get out from the three year contract after only one season.
2016 Cap Charge: $3,875,000
2016 Dead Money: $750,000
2016 Savings: $3,125,000
Graham had the opportunity to take over the tight end position when Ryan Griffin was placed on injured reserve after Week 1 of the season. During the 8 weeks that Graham was active he accumulated 4 receptions for 30 yards and 1 touchdown. Once Griffin was activated off the IR in Week 10, Graham was a healthy scratch the remainder of the season. The Texans continued to go with two active tight ends each week leaving Graham inactive. The Texans have high hopes for Anthony Denham coming off season ending IR to be Graham’s replacement as the #2 or #3 tight end.
2016 Cap Charge: $5,015,625
2016 Dead Money: $0
2016 Savings: $5,015,625
Brian Hoyer will be released and the main reason will be based on his playoff performance. The Texans cannot sell the idea of Hoyer, in any capacity, being on the 2016 roster to the fan base. Yes he is knowledgeable in O’Brien’s system, yes he was a decent game manager most of the season, yes he would be a very capable back-up in 2016…but the fan base will not have any of it. The Texans have other options for the quarterback back up role. I am thinking the Texans will go with Tom Savage, resign Brandon Weeden, and draft another quarterback in the upcoming draft. I also believe this is Tom Savage’s job to lose this year.
2016 Cap Charge: $2,562,500
2016 Dead Money: $375,000
2016 Savings: $2,187,500
My suspicion is that Dent’s injury history coupled with the emergence of Brian Peters on special teams and Bernardrick McKinney on defense will make Dent expendable. Dent was active for 12 games playing 118 (11.29%) snaps on defense; the majority of Dent’s time was spent on the special teams units. The team will look to get younger and faster at this position.
2016 Cap Charge: $3,421,875
2016 Dead Money: $500,000
2016 Savings: $2,921,875
My belief is the Texans are just not happy with Shorts’ performance and his injury history. The team wants to get faster at the WR position and moving on from Shorts will be one of the moves towards that goal.
Total Cap Savings: $15,318,750
Updated Available Cap Space: $45,719,427
You may be asking yourself, why not Arian Foster? I have been on the fence about Foster. I’ve heard rumblings from both sides that the team wants to move on from his contract and the team wants to retain him despite his large cap charge ($8,925,000). I am thinking the team will keep Foster here for the last year of his deal, while drafting his replacement in the upcoming draft. The Texans are in a position to take the high dollar risk on Foster; and the team will hope to get 8-10 games out of Foster. Vince Wilfork will also be retained for the final year of his contract.
The Texans have 11 unrestricted free agents, 6 restricted free agents, and 2 exclusive rights free agents. There are a few candidates for extension out of this group.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $600,000
James is an exclusive rights free agent. The team will submit a 1 year tender for $600,000 to James to sign or not play football this year.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $600,000
Adams is an exclusive rights free agent. The team will submit a 1 year tender for $600,000 to Adams to sign or not play football this year.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $2,000,000
Simon is scheduled to be a Restricted Free Agent yet has turned into a solid #3 outside linebacker for the Houston Texans. He is able to fill in for both Whitney Mercilus & JaDaveon Clowney when they need to come off the field for a breather. I see the Texans giving Simon a 3 year contract worth $12,000,000 averaging $4,000,000 per year. The contract would fit the model that the team has shown the last two years; in that it would have a small amount of guaranteed money with the ability to move on after one season. For Simon’s new contract I project a $2 million dollar signing bonus with zero guaranteed salary.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $4,250,000
Jones is, in my opinion, the number 1 priority free agent this offseason to sign to an extension. From my understanding the QB makes all the protection calls in O’Brien’s system. But Jones is now a veteran of this system, and his presence & knowledge will be needed with a young quarterback under center whether that is Tom Savage or a new rookie. Fortunately for the Texans Jones will not command a high dollar contract. My expectation is for the Texans to retain Jones with a 4 year contract worth $18,000,000 averaging $4,500,000 per year. This would essentially be a two year deal as the first year salary would be guaranteed, and the deal would include a modest signing bonus.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $680,000
Weeden will likely be retained to be the back up quarterback as the team continues to develop Tom Savage and whichever rookie is drafted. The contract will be a one year deal worth the veteran minimum of $760,000 and will include a $80,000 signing bonus. Weeden will essentially be guaranteed a spot on the final 53 man roster before training camp even starts.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $1,385,000
Clark was a solid swing tackle in 2016 and can play on both ends of the offensive line. Duane Brown should make it back for training camp and Derek Newton is not going anywhere. Clark is a veteran presence that will allow the young tackles (Kendall Lamm & Jeff Adams) to continue progressing. I anticipate the Texans giving Clark a two year contract worth $3,385,000 that will include $500,000 roster bonus in 2016. The contract will essentially be a 1 year contract with a zero dead money charge in 2017 if the team needed to move on.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $750,000
Grimes will receive a camp invite that will include $75,000 signing bonus. Grimes is not a lock to make the final roster, and that will mostly depend on Foster’s health going into the season. Grimes’ contract should be a one year deal with a salary of $675,000 and the aforementioned signing bonus.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $1,000,000
Bouye should be retained as the back up outside boundary cornerback for the Texans. As we know the Texans (most notably Rick Smith) believes in keeping cornerbacks. The Texans signed Bouye as an undrafted rookie, they have developed him, and they will keep him around another two years. Bouye should receive a two year contract worth $1,825,000 which includes a $325,000 signing bonus, averaging $912,500 per year.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $680,000
Demps came into training camp and took over the strong safety position in about 10 minutes and never looked back. Demps was active for 14 games, played 764 (73.11%) defensive snaps for the Texans. Demps should be brought back in a one year veteran minimum deal that should include the maximum $80,000 signing bonus. Demps salary for the season would be $870,000.
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $5,462,677 ($3,000,000 increase)
Hopkins will be inline for a big pay day. The Texans will continue their streak of signing their first round players after year 3 of their contract, as they did with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Hopkins will receive a 5 year contract worth $72,000,000 averaging $14,400,000 per year. The kicker will be how much they add to Hopkins’ 2016 salary cap charge as part of the new deal. Before this extension Hopkins was scheduled to count $2,462,677 against the 2016 salary cap. With the extension, expect this number to rise up to about $5,462,677 assuming a $15,000,000 signing bonus.
The most notable name missing from this list is RG Brandon Brooks. Despite the guard market being somewhat saturated this offseason I just don’t think the Texans will value Brooks as much as the market will. Before the start of the 2015 season I projected Brooks to receive a contract extension that averaged $6,250,000 per year. While Brooks’ value has not risen that much based on his 2015 performance I think another team will swoop in and give Brooks a contract offer that the Texans will not match. I can see Brooks receiving a contract landing him $8,500,000 per year despite his illness history. If the market does not bear this number, then the Texans would definitely want to bring Brooks back to the team on a contract averaging no more than $7 million per year. The Texans can find a “bridge” right guard for a lower price in the free agency market that will have similar production to what Brooks provides.
2016 Contract Spending: $14,407,677
2016 Available Cap Space: $27,311,750
2016 Draft Class Spending: $5,267,468
The draft class spending amount equals the cap space it would take to sign all the drafted players and keep them on the final 53 man roster.
2016 Available Cap Space: $22,044,282
Reminder that the team will need approximately ~$7,000,000 for Injured Reserve candidates and in-season transactions.
2016 Contracts: 68
2016 Available Cap Space For Free Agency: $15,044,282
Wow for awhile there it looked like the Texans were going to have a lot of money to spend in free agency…? The Texans have filled most of their depth positions on the defensive side of the ball and their offensive line depth. The team has extended their star wide receiver as well as retaining their starting Center. Last offseason the Texans’ cap space before the opening of free agency was $19,500,00 as they retained players and brought in 4 middle tier free agents.
It is difficult to determine exactly which players the Texans might target. I do think the positions that they will go after in free agency: Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, and Defensive Line. Please note that I am only able to work with available free agents as of today (February 19th). They will be more free agents available in the coming weeks. Below are examples of players the Texans could target.
With the release of Shorts and the team not bringing back Nate Washington, the wide receiver group is very young and inexperienced behind DeAndre Hopkins. I am confident that Jaelen Strong will be a solid #2 wide receiver, the Texans will look to bolster the slot receiver position with a true speedster. The team will also look to bring in another veteran to back up Hopkins and Strong on the outside.
Travis Benjamin – 68 receptions/966 yards/5 touchdowns/16 games
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $5,500,000
Benjamin can play both the inside and the outside, but primary can be that burner on the inside that Houston really needs to free up Hopkins. Benjamin’s late emergence in his rookie deal will allow him to land a sizable contract that will average $6,500,000 – $7,000,000 per year.
Richard Matthews – 43 receptions/662 yards/4 touchdowns/11 games
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $2,500,000
Matthews is 6’0 and could be the strong #3 outside wide receiver the the Texans need. Matthews will command a 3 year contract that will average $4,000,000 – $4,500,000 per year.
Rueben Randle – 57 receptions/797 yards/8 touchdowns/16 games
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $2,000,000
Randle is even taller, at 6’2, and was the #3 wide receiver in New York the last 4 seasons. Randle has remained healthy playing in all 16 games the last 3 seasons. Randle will command a 2 or 3 year contract averaging $2,750,000 – $3,500,000.
The list for available free agent right guards is very short as of today, but that will likely change once other teams make more releases. The Texans could look to address this position in the draft on the second day. I do believe they could look for a veteran and bring him in on a low cost one year deal; if they are unable to retain Brandon Brooks.
Mackenzie Bernadeau – 16 games
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $1,000,000
Bernadeau manned the right guard position for the Cowboys until a first round draft pick was used for Zach Martin. The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL and Bernadeau slid down the depth chart because of this. He is 30 years old and has missed one game in his 7 season career. Bernadeau can play both guard positions as well as Center if needed. I don’t think the Texans could get Bernadeau in on a veteran minimum deal, but the team could land him on a 1 year deal with a low salary around $1,000,000.
The Texans need to find another strong pass rusher to work with Watt, Mercilus, and Clowney. Jared Crick manned the defensive end position opposite of Watt, and while Crick is a solid player, the Texans need to upgrade here.
Malik Jackson – 16 games/34 tackles/5.5 sacks
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $7,000,000
This would be a huge upgrade if the Texans were to go spend big on the position and go after a player like Malik Jackson. I don’t think the Texans will want to pay the amount of money that Jackson is going to command but he still should be targeted by the team. Jackson is going to command a similar contract to his former teammate Derek Wolfe. Jackson will probably land a 4 year contract worth $38-$40 million with an average of $9,500,000 per year.
Billy Winn – 16 games/19 tackles/1 sack
2016 Projected Cap Charge: $2,250,000
Winn is coming off the final year of his rookie contract with the Colts. Winn would likely be a replacement (not upgrade) for Jared Crick. Winn is solid in stopping the run game, but does not push the pocket very much when rushing the passer. I would expect Winn to command a 3 year deal worth $10,000,000.
What do you think the Texans will do? What do you think they should do? Leave a comment below on your thoughts on possible moves by the Texans this offseason.