Everything to Gaine
Joel Blank: Texans, new GM will have to make smart decisions in free agency
"You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
For new Texans general manager Brian Gaine, nothing could be more true. The new GM is faced with the task of erasing some of the bad memories left by his one-time boss Rick Smith. In fitting Rick Smith fashion, he left Gaine without a first or second round pick in this year's draft, all in an effort to rid himself of Brock Osweiler and that albatross of a contract. With all that being said, free agency is the first step in trying to improve the roster while overcoming the challenges left by Smith. Making a splash in free agency without overspending is easier said than done, but if he is able to pull it off, it will go a long way with his team and his fan base.
Today is the first official day that teams and free agents can meet and talk to discuss the future. The Texans are in a better position than most as they have found their franchise quarterback, but now the challenge becomes protecting him and avoiding another season-ending injury. Houston currently has around $66 million to spend as they enter free agency and the draft. To put it another way, they have the 6th-highest salary cap space in the league, with the Jets leading the way at around $92 million and the 49ers 5th, with $70 million. In between those two teams are the Browns at $76 million, the Colts at $74 million and the Buccaneers at $73 million. Though there is not a surplus of quality tackles available in free agency this year there is one, Nate Solder, who has protected arguably the greatest quarterback ever in Tom Brady. He would be a serious upgrade for the Texans, who have struggled trying to protect Deshaun Watson. There are a few quality guards on the open market, but it will be a challenge to avoid overpaying when trying to upgrade the line. Since the two biggest needs for this franchise are to improve the offensive line and the secondary, the back end and outside of the defense might be the best way to allocate free agency dollars. Unlike the offensive lineman on the market, there seems to be an abundance of above-average corners and safeties out there. Even with Richard Sherman agreeing to sign in San Francisco, there are still quality players like Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro, Michael Thomas, Eric Reid, and Tre Boston. Of that class of players, Vacarro attended the University of Texas and Thomas is from Aldine, so both might be open to returning home and helping the Texans. Depending on what they do or do not spend in the early stages of free agency, tight end could also be a position of need. With the status of C.J. Fiedorowicz up in the air for to concussions, and with the tight end such a valuable and necessary position in Bill O'Brien's offense, Gaine could consider several available options. The key to free agency is to spend wisely and intelligently, without overspending and handcuffing your future cap flexibility.
After wrapping up free agency, the draft is the next step towards forming and formulating a quality roster for the upcoming season. With the NFL combine behind us and free agency upon us, the other way that Gaine can fill holes on his roster is to add quality college talent with the draft picks that he has at his disposal. As previously mentioned, Smith traded away the first and second round picks for the team this year. That leaves eight total picks starting in round three and ending in round seven. The first three picks the team has are in the third round and the Texans can make a splash immediately with the players they select on the second day of the draft. Chances are there will still be some quality offensive linemen on the board, as well as some above average defensive backs, linebackers, and possibly even a receiver or tight end. Who the team takes with these three selections in Round 3 could say a lot in terms of what grade Gaine gets when we look back on this draft. Getting a few talented players that step right in and help the team is essential when you are without a selection in either of the first two rounds. The new general manager can make a huge splash by drafting quality players that can contribute both immediately and for years to come, as one of the biggest knocks on Rick Smith was always his inability to draft after the first round and get talented players that could add depth, push starters and contribute on special teams. The mark of Smith's middle round draft picks were that more ended up being released without making an impact on the Texans, and the majority of them didn't impact any other roster once their days in Houston ended.
So the table is set for what should be an exciting few weeks for football fans in Houston. Between free agency and the draft, the players Brian Gaine brings in will go a long way towards shaping the team's roster next year and for seasons to come. In the process it will also write the first chapter in the career of the team's new GM and allow the fans and critics alike the opportunity to pass or fail the moves made. Regardless of the outcome, as Tupac said, all eyes on you, Brian Gaine.