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Jermaine Every: A look at some potential bargain free agents for the Texans

Texans GM Brian Gaine has an important off-season ahead. Houstontexans.com

Last week, I told you guys the moves I felt the Texans need to make this offseason. This week, I want to follow up on that same thought with a more detailed look into some free agent signings I feel they should make.

In an ideal world, they would sign the best guys at every position of need and voila! No more holes! In the real world, that’s not exactly how it works. Free agents would have to want to come play for your team, sign for the money you’re offering, and be happy with the role he’s being given. The money paid has to be the going rate for a top five guy at his position whether he deserves it or not (see Jimmy Garoppolo).

Going into free agency, the Texans have approximately $52 million dollars in cap space. More space should be coming as guys are either cut, traded, or retire. With that being said, here are some free agents that can not only fill some holes, but fit as bargains in positions of need:

Guard Senio Kelemete (27 years old)

Kelemete filled in admirably in spot duty for one of the league’s most prolific offenses last year in New Orleans. He’s never been a full-time starter, but has improved year after year and really showed what he can do last year playing in all 16 games, starting 7 of them, for a total of 639 total plays last year. He’s coming off a two-year/$2.7 million dollar deal with $300,000 dollars guaranteed. I suspect he won’t be commanding much more than a slight bump on his next deal. Four years, averaging $2.5-3.5 million per and around half of the deal guaranteed should do.

Wide Receiver Bruce Ellington (26 years old)

Bringing back Ellington would be a wise decision. He’s not in a position to command top dollar, and played very well in this system last year. Listed at 5’9, 200 pounds, Ellington’s size won’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. However, his speed is underestimated, as well as his toughness. Look for a deal averaging around $1.5 million dollars to lure him back considering that’ll be double what he made last year.

Quarterback Chase Daniel (31 years old)

Being a backup quarterback takes a special guy. He has to know his role involves staying ready in case the starter can’t go, which could be at any given moment. Daniel has played that role since he came into the league. He’s backed up Drew Brees and Alex Smith in his career. He’s a veteran who still has some athleticism, so running a similar offense to Deshaun Watson shouldn’t be that difficult. Besides, he ran a spread style offense in high school and at University of Missouri. Knowing Taysom Hill is Sean Payton’s new favorite backup for Brees may make Daniel look elsewhere for clipboard duty. A deal averaging $1-3 million dollars per should be enough to lure him away from New Orleans.

Cornerback E.J. Gaines (25 years old)

Gaines’ one interception last year isn’t the sexy stat most want to see when looking into free agent corners. However, the fact that he’s 25 years old, would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-30 million dollars less overall than Malcolm Butler will (or what A.J. Buoye would have last year), certainly makes him more attractive. Gaines is a solid starter who performed admirably on a Bills defense that traded away Ronald Darby (arguably their best corner) to the Philadelphia Eagles and brought Gaines in when they traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams. Total contract value in the neighborhood of $30-40 million dollars over about four years would do just fine here.

Safety Tre Boston (25 years old)

Sure, Boston is coming off a career year in a contract year with five interceptions. But the woes at safety have been well-documented for the Texans and it’s time to put an end to it. Boston made plays last year on a team that had a great pass rush. If guys like Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt come back somewhat healthy, the Texans will have a good pass rush as well. Boston will cost in the neighborhood of $7-9 million per year on average, but should pay off nicely given what could potentially be playing in front of him.

Offensive Tackle Cameron Fleming (25 years old)

Here’s another ex-New England Patriot to bring to town to help make the Texans “Patriots South.” Fleming played in 12 games last year, starting 6 of them for a team that could’ve won the Super Bowl. He won’t command top tackle dollar, so a middling deal averaging around $5-7 million per year should be enough to get him to sign. The Texans have done things in the past to make them “Patriots South,” why not bring in a decent young offensive tackle from the team they so desperately want to emulate?

Notice a trend much? All these guys, with the exception of Chase Daniel, are under 30 years old. All of them would be relative bargains compared to what top guys at their position would command. Boston may be the one guy here who might command near top dollar for his position, but reference back to the Seattle Seahawks or Patriots games last year if you need convincing. Just because the team has an estimated $52 million dollars to spend doesn’t mean they should blow it all in one offseason. Structuring contracts will be one of general manager’s Brian Gaines’ toughest jobs. Maintaining a competitive roster while keeping a decent amount of cap space is more of a magic trick than a balancing act, but it can be done. Offseasons like the one facing the Texans now are why drafting is so important. It creates depth and can help your cap space for three to four years if you get a starter in the middle to late rounds on a cheap rookie deal. Let’s see what the Gaine/Bill O’Brien partnership can bring this team now that the general manager and coach are “philosophically aligned.”

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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