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July 11, 2009
The CBA's Lost Generation

by Keith Weiland

Mo’ money, mo’ problems. Dunta Robinson still isn’t getting paid. Steve Slaton just fired one agent for another. Owen Daniels only wants what’s fair. DeMeco Ryans wants to be locked up.

What happened to our little expansion team that couldn’t? Well, turns out when you think you can, you can think of B.I.G. buXXX, that’s what happened.

So while all these guys are looking to shake down the man for a few extra dollars, they are all in the process of learning that they have more problems than they first realized.

Yes, I’m rapping about the Notorious C.B.A.

Without an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement by the end of the 2009 league year, the promise land of an uncapped year will be little more than a mirage on the way to a lockout season in 2011.

While there has been mounting evidence that the NFL’s version of Armageddon is on its way, one doesn’t need to look much beyond Reliant Park and the troubles of the four star players here, what with their sad eyes and upward palms, to know that the Texans who wear suits instead of jerseys think a lockout is imminent.

Because if you had these inclinations as the Texans’ front office surely must, then why in the world would they would have much motivation to dish out phat contracts to this, the CBA’s lost generation?

Robinson, plagued by a franchise tag defined by the CBA that would pay him almost $10 million this fall, isn’t going anywhere in 2010 so long as the Texans see fit to tag him again. Daniels, recipient of the highest restricted free agent tender, will still be restricted for another year without an extension. A similar fate awaits Ryans upon the expiration of his rookie contract after this season. And try as he might to someday invoke a contract renegotiation (and he might be trying really hard sometime soon), Slaton is still property of the Texans for the next two more seasons.

Yet if a lockout can be avoided, league owners are certainly looking for Gene Upshaw's leash positioning themselves to gain a better share of the revenue. So while the salary cap has annually grown at roughly a seven percent clip in recent years, the owners are justifiably leery of entering into long-term deals with their star players on what may soon be an antiquated benchmark.

Even with the specter of doomsday lurking less than two years away, it is still likely that a new CBA will be hammered out at some point. But when it does, it won’t be as if the Texans will be tweeting the account number and password to some magically bottomless piggy bank.

No, this won’t be as easy as Safe Crackers I’m afraid. Our lost generation will be lining up for a new game called Multi-Year Contract Musical Chairs, a sort of Russian Roulette where the Texans might have to choose which part of their team they can do best without.

Taking just the four players mentioned above – Robinson, Daniels, Ryans, and Slaton, who combined are probably seeking roughly $70 million guaranteed – which one goes home empty handed? Fans seem ready to riot against Robinson for whining about his franchise tag and for skipping workouts. And some fans might feel as though Daniels would be the most easily replaced of the bunch. But if the 2006 NFL Draft has taught Texans fans anything, it’s that they aren’t the ones calling the shots.

So let’s play. Cue the music and pretend you’re Gary Kubiak, a disciple of the 1995-2005 Broncos. With a tag-worthy cornerback, a defensive leader at middle linebacker, a prolific tight end, and a potential stud at running back, what tells us his South Denver Texans would save a chair for the running back?

Actually... not much. Kubiak has had an amazing nonchalance to the position. He shocked most observers when he eschewed a super-hyped runner in Reggie Bush to select Mario Williams three years ago. Before picking Slaton in the third round last year, he had tried late round picks and re-treads to the fill position. And since joining the Broncos staff 1995, he has never been a part of a team that picked a running back in the first round.

Kubiak has proven to be a faithful believer in his offensive system, one that regularly unearthed little-known backs during his time in Denver, an organization that traded a then 22-year old Clinton Portis (just two seasons into his career) for a 26-year old cornerback named Champ Bailey.

This is neither suggesting that Portis is Slaton (age 23) nor Bailey is Robinson (27) – not to mention there are some differences between the 2004 Broncos and the 2009 Texans - but the trade does show some precedent for what the Texans front office might be thinking as they mull their options. So unless Kubiak thinks Slaton might be the second coming of Terrell Davis, the young running back might be these last of four to see a new multi-year contract, if at all.

Ironically, it might be memories of Davis that could have Kubiak and the Texans thinking twice about signing Slaton to a new long-term contract for mega-millions. Kubiak’s Broncos renegotiated Davis’ contract in 1998 to become a nine-year, $56.1 million deal. Davis had just one productive season left in him before injuries took their toll.

So before the music stops next year, Slaton better keep an eye out for a seat if he and his new agent see one. And for the rest of the Texans’ lost generation, they might be wise to do the same.

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