Throwin' Down the Offseason Gauntlet
As if the 5-1 finish to the 2008 season didn’t bring forth
enough optimism into the new year, the Texans’ 2009
salary cap situation is as appealing as it has been in years.
Gone is the nearly all of the dead money from the Charley Casserly
era. An improving team and cap flexibility seems like the stuff
of dreams for beleaguered Texans fans, doesn’t it?
it does, but please don’t start making out your offseason
shopping lists just yet. The Texans have plenty of business to address
on the home front before they can even begin thinking about players
from other teams. So buckle up, we’ve got a long ride ahead.
to consider are the players with contracts set expire this season.
Topping that list is Dunta Robinson. With him available to play
in 2008, the Texans posted a 7-4 record, and it says here that the
team’s late season improvement defensively was due in large
part to his leadership and steadying play in the secondary.
the time of his injury, Robinson was thought by some including yours
truly to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player. His 2008 play might have
failed to reach that level, but with an entire offseason to rebuild
his speed and strength, there’s reason for hope that he will
once again achieve that level of play. The problem of course is
that the Texans need to decide how to pay him before they are able
to see him regain that potentially elite status.
like a good time then for the Texans to employ the franchise tag
on Robinson, a designation the team has yet to use in its history.
By using the “F-tag”, the Texans would pay him the average
of the top five cornerbacks for the 2009 season. While Robinson’s
play in 2008 (or in any other season for that matter) may not be
of the quality belonging to any of the five best corners in the
league, the idea is that the Texans could keep Robinson in Houston
for one more season to confirm that he is worth what would likely
be one of the biggest contracts the team has ever paid.
Robinson and the Texans might find middle ground in the next two
months on a new contract. The team will likely have to invest guaranteed
money that exceeds the F-tag salary next season, but if Robinson
is really back to his old self, then it will seem like a bargain
a year from now.
Texans have other free agents to consider from their own roster,
players such as Demarcus Faggins, C.C. Brown, and Nick Ferguson.
Most fans would probably have a hard time missing these guys if
they were gone, but it is also easy to underestimate just how hard
it is to find quality depth, too.
free agents will also have special priority this offseason, namely
Owen Daniels and David Anderson. Daniels, a Pro Bowl alternate,
has been a salary cap boon for the Texans since his rookie season.
Time to pay the bills. And while Anderson might string
dance near the bottom of the depth chart, he is now a quality
veteran with good hands (and interesting
this year’s re-signing of free agents is already a big priority,
the Texans have a long list of players with contracts expiring after
the 2009 season that deserve looks for extensions as well. The team
has done well to avoid ugly holdouts in the past, but that has a
lot to do with those past rosters employing underwhelming and underperforming
talent. Not anymore.
Ryans was rumored to be in negotiations with the front office on
an extension before the 2008 season. Maybe when the two sides come
to the table this offseason an agreement can be reached.
isn’t the only player that has outperformed his current contract.
Kevin Walter has one year remaining on his deal, and at a base salary
of just $2 million, he’ll be underpaid entering the 2009 season.
Steve Slaton set a franchise record for rushing yards in his rookie
season, and he might be the biggest bargain of all if the team keeps
paying him like a mid-round rookie for a couple more years.
Chester Pitts might not be as big of a bargain, but the Pro Bowl
alternate is also entering the final year of his contract with a
$4.38 million base salary aching to be extended. And don’t
forget the reliable kicker, Kris Brown. He is also playing out the
final year of his contract, too.
these guys is going to cost quite a lot, right? You bet. And don’t
forget that while there isn’t much dead money reflected on
the 2009 salary cap just yet, there’s still a bit more on
the way. Just as an 8-8 team has plenty of underpaid performers
and free agents, there are also a few overpaid and/or injured players
to address as well.
Weaver might be the most expensive on that list. He has two years
remaining on a contract that guaranteed him $12 million. While his
play improved down the stretch in 2008, his overall performance
has still been a disappointment since joining the team in 2006.
If he is released, then the Texans will need to absorb $5.4 million
in dead money. The upshot? Saving $3.5 million off his base salary
Green has probably limped through his last game as a Texan as well.
Cutting him will add at least another $3 million to the dead money
ledger, but the Texans wouldn’t have to pay his scheduled
$4.8 million salary if they let him go.
thing to keep in mind here is that neither Weaver nor Green can
be treated as June 1 cuts next year, the infamous rule that previously
allowed teams to defer dead money in future years to the next season’s
salary cap. With the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) set to
expire after the 2010 season without an extension (at least not
yet), 2009 has therefore become the last capped year and no dead
money deferrals will be allowed. More on this uncapped situation
in a bit.
and Green aren’t the only veterans in danger of being cut
this offseason. Morlon Greenwood has just one year left on his contract
that is set to pay him a base salary of $4.768 million in 2009.
No one should expect Greenwood to be playing in Houston next season
at that pay level. Cutting him will leave $1.4 million in dead money
year’s darling, Will Demps, might be this year’s ugly
duckling. Demps signed a two-year contract heading into the 2008
season, and it seems questionable that he will be welcomed back
at a base pay of $2.35 million. Releasing him would create another
$500,000 in dead money, but ultimately save the team sizable cap
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Matt Schuab’s contract
status. His base pay jumps another $2 million next year to $6.95
million, but even more noteworthy is a $10 million option that the
team could exercise soon enough to impact the 2009 cap. Another
productive yet injury-shortened season might give the Texans reason
to renegotiate that bonus.
to the CBA… the owners last discussed their purported financial
troubles with Gene Upshaw and the players’ union in May with
the looming expiration of the existing agreement. While the owners
have yet (to my albeit limited knowledge) produced any documentation
supporting these money woes, it is interesting to note that most
teams are spending millions below the cap limit (believed to be
on average around $6 million of unused cap space per team in 2008).
is definitely a sign that the teams have learned how to better manage
their salary caps, but it might also be an indication from smaller
market teams that they are simply no longer able to compete financially
with the big money teams. The good news for Texans fans? Most owners
consider Bob McNair to be a member of the ‘haves’, not
the ‘have nots’. Spend away, right? Well, maybe. For
all that cap room the Texans have next season, it probably puts
them somewhere in the middle of the pack, making it all the more
difficult to offer sensible contracts to highly regarded free agents.
union did a fine job dividing the owners along these economic lines
the last time the CBA was extended almost three years ago. They
should probably expect a more united front this time around with
plenty of threats of a lockout in March 2011. The owners have already
opted out of the CBA – unanimously – to begin negotiating
a new agreement, though progress has and will be excruciatingly
slow as neither side seems to be in a particular rush to get further
passed away in August, and the NFLPA isn’t expected to name
his replacement until March. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seems
willing to let the next season or two play out as previously agreed
upon, including the uncapped year in 2010, which might not sit well
with smaller market teams. Before his death, Upshaw had hoped
for a new agreement by March 2010, but he was reluctant to “sell
the players on a cap again”.
is the future of the NFL salary cap hanging in the balance? Tough
to say, but expect the uncertainty to play an increasing role this
offseason, even here in Houston, where the Texans are likely to
be focused on taking care of their own with an eye well beyond the
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