Braddock's Between the 20s

Texans off-season almanac

Photo by Edward Clarke

"Hope springs eternal" - Alexander Pope

The coming of the new year signals the beginning of the "Five Steps of Grief" for Texans fans.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

As you move through the five phases, negativity turns to optimism and for good reason. The Texans have a franchise quarterback that is only 23 years old, the best wide receiver in the game and a defense loaded with talent.

Houston is positioned to fill a lot of holes that were major issues with the 2018 team. They have an abundance of cap space as well as seven draft picks. Houston has some blockbuster names of their own that they'll have to make key decisions on in free agency.

In the 2019 version of my Houston Texans Offseason Almanac, I'll look at all of these key dates and decisions.

2019 Team Needs

  1. Left Tackle
  2. Cornerback(s)
  3. EDGE - Pass Rusher
  4. Right Tackle
  5. Running Back
  6. Wide Receiver
  7. Guard(s)
  8. Tight End
  9. Backup QB

2019 Salary Cap

Spotrac estimates that the Texans are currently under the cap by $67,986,499

OverTheCap estimates that the Texans are currently under the cap by $67,097,417

(Salary cap numbers were before the Seantrel Henderson one year extension)

The estimates given above would give the Texans the sixth most money available in free agency for the upcoming season.

Texans Free Agents

  • Jadeveon Clowney

Houston can't allow this much raw athleticism to walk. Clowney has played five NFL seasons but is still only 25 years old (turns 26 on Feb. 14). He is one of the most talented run defenders and grades out with guys who are built as more traditional 3-4 defensive ends. While he still hasn't recorded a double-digit sack season, his plays behind the line are something to behold. Clowney had nine sacks this season, compared to JJ Watt's AFC leading 16 sacks. When you look at other disruptive plays in the backfield (quarterback hits & tackles for a loss), Clowney and Watt were a lot closer.

Watt 25 QB hits & 18 TFLs last season

Clowney 21 QB hits & 16 TFLs last season

Clowney also put up 21 QB hits & 21 TFLs in 2017 to go with 17 QB hits & 16 TFLs in 2016.

Clowney still relies too heavily on athleticism, power and being schemed to a mismatch. Franchising Clowney is an option for the Texans. Houston could listen to offers if they were to have interest in a sign and trade. They can franchise him the next two years if they so choose to, as well. This would allow the team to retain their No. 1 overall pick for the first seven years of his career. This protects them from getting burned by an injury setback and keeps them from having to pay a massive guarantee on a lengthy contract extension.

  • Tyrann Mathieu

In his first season with the Texans, Mathieu put up 89 tackles, 8 pass defensed, 5 TFLs, 4 QB hits, 3 sacks, 2 INTs and 1 fumble recovery.

Mathieu has played in all 32 games over the last two seasons. He's a great fit as a vocal leader. Houston should make the move to re-sign him.

  • Kareem Jackson

Kareem is coming off a solid season in which he amassed 87 tackles, 17 pass defensed, 5 TFLs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 QB hit and 1 fumble recovery.

It makes a lot of sense for Houston to bring back Kareem Jackson and Mathieu to pair with Andre Hal and Justin Reid. That quartet gives the Texans versatility.

If the idea is to bring Kareem back and have him as the Marwin Gonzalez utility man of the secondary, then I'd rather see him walk. Jackson should see safety dollars from the Texans. If another team wants to pay veteran cornerback money to Kareem, the Texans would be wise to let him walk and take the compensatory pick the following year.

  • Ka'imi Fairbairn

The young kicker improved his made field goal percentage from 80% in 2017 to 88.1% in 2018. What's more, he added dependability inside of 40 yards. Ka'imi was 20 of 20 on field goal attempts shorter than 40 yards and 16 of 21 on field goals of 40 yards or more.

As Teddy KGB would say, "Pay him. Pay that man his money."

  • Brandon Dunn / Christian Covington / Angelo Blackson / Joel Heath

The Texans are familiar with these guys and they will not break the bank. I like the Texans defensive line with the current players on the roster and would look to bring back all four of these individuals.

  • Brian Peters / Brennan Scarlett

Brad Seely did an incredible job turning around the Texans special teams units in his first season in Houston. Peters and Scarlett are key pieces to his special teams. Houston could bring these two back to continue to pair with Peter Kalambayi on a dominant special teams force.

  • Joe Webb / Brandon Weeden

It was cute that Joe Webb could play special teams and Brandon Weeden may be the nicest backup quarterback of all time but neither should be one or two plays away from leading the offense of a playoff team.

The Colts have Jacoby Brissett as insurance for Andrew Luck. The Eagles won a Super Bowl because Nick Foles was their backup and he took them back to the playoff again this year, after beating the Texans. Even Bill O'Brien's mentor, Bill Belichick constantly drafted quarterbacks despite having Tom Brady (Ryan Mallett / Jimmy Garoppolo / Rohan Davey / Kliff Kingsbury / Matt Cassel / Kevin O'Connell / Zac Robinson / Jacoby Brissett / Danny Etling).

  • Alfred Blue / Kendall Lamm / Josh Keyes / Kayvon Webster / Shareece Wright / DeAndre Carter

Heading into the offseason, these guys shouldn't be in the Texans future plans.

NFL Unrestricted Free Agents / Restricted Free Agents / Exclusive Rights Free Agents

  • Quarterbacks

Tyrod Taylor / Teddy Bridgewater / Kevin Hogan / Robert Griffin III / Brett Hundley

None of these guys can do what Deshaun Watson does. Any quarterback that is available to be a backup quarterback is obviously going to have some warts.

All of these quarterbacks have mobility and some NFL playing time. If Deshaun Watson was to get injured, Bill O'Brien and Sean Ryan could still run the offense as it was built for Watson. I'd suggest adding two of these guys and having them compete for the backup role with the loser staying on the roster as the third string quarterback.

  • Running Backs

Le'Veon Bell / Mark Ingram / Mike Davis / Adrian Peterson / Malcolm Brown / David Fluellen

Teams have to be wise when they have an abundance of cap space. On one hand they can't just go out and overpay for everyone and put themselves in salary cap hell for the foreseeable future. Teams will have to overpay, some, though.

The Texans have to be aggressive but calculated. The will have to overspend on some top-end talent as to not miss out on the entire first wave of free agency. Waiting for the price to come down would leave Houston with tons of cap room and no one worth spending it on.

Whether the Texans re-sign Clowney and/or Mathieu or not, they will still be in position to spend on one big ticket free agent at a minimum. If they re-sign Clowney, then it's unlikely that Houston would spend big on a big name pass rusher. The only big ticket items in free agency this year are all mostly at the pass rusher position. Who will the Texans spend their cash on?

Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Todd Gurley were the top three leading rushers in the NFL this season and each of them were drafted in the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft. Out of the nine running backs to rush for 1,000 or more yards this season, seven of them were drafted in the top 50 picks of their draft. The only two not drafted in the top 50 picks were Phillip Lindsay and Chris Carson.

Hopkins and Bell both turn 27 this year with Watson turning 24. The Texans could offer Bell a three year contract, giving Houston the best trio in the NFL for Watson's third, fourth and fifth NFL seasons.

Much like James Harden created his own style at the highest level of sports, Bell did similarly with his unorthodox, patient running style. Combining Bell's patience with Watson's playmaking ability, could cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Imagine trying to stop a Deshaun Watson-led RPO (run pass option) with Bell as the back and Hopkins on a route. Do you stack the box vs Bell / Watson? If you stack the box are you leaving Hopkins 1-on-1? Are you going to leave Will Fuller alone without anyone over the top? Maybe you drop back into zone but then Watson has Keke Coutee and his young tight ends on chain movers.

At times, it's smart to zig when everyone else is zagging. No one else may want to pay for a disgruntled running back but they don't have Watson and Hopkins and $67 million in cap space.

If they decide against paying big for Bell, there are several different tiers of options that I included above. Mark Ingram or Adrian Peterson would serve a purpose on one year deals or they could go with younger guys like Brown, Davis or Fluellen.

  • Wide Receivers / Returners

Cordarrelle Patterson / JoJo Natson / Jamison Crowder / Robby Anderson / Leonte Carroo / Tommylee Lewis / ArDarius Stewart / Rashard Higgins

Cordarrelle Patterson and JoJo Natson would be welcomed additions to Brad Seely's special teams unit. Seely is familiar with Patterson from their one season together in Oakland. I believe Bill O'Brien has a special talent for developing / coaching wide receivers. I'd love to see if he could get more out of Patterson as a receiver.

Jamison Crowder is a good slot weapon, when he's healthy. He could be an option to compete with Coutee. Robby Anderson would be a solid addition to the receiving corps as well. Leonte Carroo and ArDarius Stewart haven't lived up to their potential. I'd be intrigued to see what O'Brien could get out of either of them in Houston. Tommylee Lewis is another speed threat and with Will Fuller's injury history, Houston needs a Plan B if Vyncint Smith doesn't develop.

  • Tight End

Jared Cook / Ricky Seals-Jones

Cook makes sense as the veteran to the young guys at tight end, Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas.

RSJ is a specimen. The numbers aren't there early on in his career but I believe he could develop into a weapon. He's also been hurt by the quality of quarterback play in Arizona lately. Seals-Jones turns 24 before the next NFL season. He's still young and transitioning from the receiver position in college to a tight end in the pros. A two tight end set with Jordan Thomas and Seals-Jones lined up outside of both tackles sounds enticing.

  • Offensive Tackle

Ty Nsekhe / Ja'Wuan James / George Fant

Finding quality offensive line help in free agency is becoming increasingly more difficult. The good news? There's nowhere to go but up when looking to improve at the tackle positions for the Texans. Teams will have to be comfortable with overpaying offensive lineman or they'll be left out in the cold.

Nsekhe can play multiple roles but he'd be penciled in as the starting left tackle in Houston. James and Fant are best suited for the right side of the offensive line. In a pinch, the Texans could play James at left tackle as he has the feet for it.

  • Offensive Guard

Rodger Saffold

The cupboard is bare in relation to quality guards in this year's free agency. Saffold is really the only guy that seems like a no-brainer. Adding Saffold with two of the three tackles mentioned above, should be a priority. An offensive line of:

LT - Ty Nsekhe

LG - Rodger Saffold

C - Nick Martin

RG - Martinas Rankin

RT - Ja'Wuan James

The Texans would also have quality depth in Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete and Greg Mancz. Houston would still need to draft an offensive tackle to develop behind the free agent signings as their depth would be limited to Julie'n Davenport, Seantrel Henderson and Roderick Johnson, unless they wanted to rely on Fulton and Kelemete providing depth on the outside as well as the interior.

  • Pass Rusher

Demarcus Lawrence / Shaquil Barrett / Dee Ford / Za'Darius Smith / Aaron Lynch / Anthony Barr

The key cornerstone pieces on an NFL roster are quarterback, offensive tackle and pass rusher. The Texans have a lot of money available in free agency over the next few years. Houston also benefits from having their franchise quarterback under his rookie contract. There's no offensive tackles worth breaking the bank on this year in free agency and the same could be said about the available cornerbacks this year.

Unless the Texans decide to spend big on Le'Veon Bell, they could be sitting on money with nothing worth purchasing.

If the Texans don't re-sign or franchise Clowney, then they'll need to be all-in on Lawrence. Lawrence has put up 25 sacks over his last two seasons in Dallas. I'd personally take Lawrence over Clowney. Dee Ford would be a nice fallback option for Houston, if they let Clowney go or franchised and traded him but missed out on Lawrence. The most likely outcome is Clowney staying in Houston.

Even if the Texans re-sign or use the franchise tag on Clowney, they would be wise to add a guy like Barrett, Smith, Lynch or Barr. Much like the NBA is going more towards positionless players, defenders in the NFL are now used in a multitude of ways with the lines between 4-3 and 3-4 more blurred than ever.

Teams are looking for guys that can get to the quarterback. Houston didn't see Whitney Mercilus bounce back to form in 2018 or Clowney take it to another level in a contract year. JJ Watt put up stats that we haven't seen from him in a while. This trio looks intimidating on paper but after five seasons together, they have never put it altogether as a unit due to untimely injuries to the pass rushing trio.

  • Linebacker

Jordan Hicks

The Texans have a talented young, core of linebackers in Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole. The Texans need a linebacker that can stick with tight ends.

Hicks is a luxury signing. It's unlikely to happen but if the Texans miss on top dollar targets and are left with money still to spend, they would be wise to kick around the idea of bringing in Hicks to solidify coverage.

  • Safety

Lamarcus Joyner

Depending on what happens with Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson in free agency, the Texans may find themselves in need of a safety. If that plays out, Joyner moves up the priority list.

  • Cornerback

Pierre Desir / Jason Verrett / Jason McCourty / Steven Nelson

While the pass rusher position is considered the most important on the defensive side of the ball, the cornerback position is the toughest to play, in my opinion. Houston is in desperate need of upgrades at the cornerback position. There's not a lot available but there are a few intriguing names.

Desir is a long, small-school product that just needed NFL seasoning. He played DeAndre Hopkins tough in their playoff matchup, although Hopkins was playing injured and looked to only be about 30% of his usual self. Verrett looked to be a rising-star but his young career has been sidetracked by injuries. It may be worth a roll of the dice to give Verrett a one-year deal to prove that he can stay healthy and play at a high level, similar to the one Tyrann Mathieu received from the Texans in 2018.

Potential Texans Cap Cuts

While the Texans do have plenty of salary cap space, there are still some moves that the franchise could choose to make that would free up substantial money.

  • Demaryius Thomas - IF Cut -- $0 Dead Money with $14 million in cap savings
  • Kevin Johnson - IF Cut -- $0 Dead Money with over $9 million in cap savings
  • Ryan Griffin - IF Cut -- $0 Dead Money with over $2.6 million in cap savings

Major Contracts on the books for 2020

Houston is at a luxury with a franchise quarterback who is still under the rookie contract. This is one of several factors that has set them up well in regards to the salary cap. Brian Gaine doesn't have much on the books in regards to big contracts for 2020. This free agency / draft period will dictate the Texans next five years of success or failure.

*salary cap numbers for 2020

  • JJ Watt $15.5 million cap hit - $0 - Dead Money
  • DeAndre Hopkins $14 million cap hit - $3 million - Dead Money
  • Aaron Colvin $8.75 million cap hit - $2.25 million - Dead Money
  • Benardrick McKinney $5.25 million cap hit - $2 million - Dead Money
  • Zach Fulton $7 million cap hit - $0 - Dead Money

Houston Texans 2019 Draft Selections

  • Round 1 - Pick #23
  • Round 2 - Pick #22 (54th overall) *** Duane Brown Trade ***
  • Round 2 - Pick #23 (55th overall)
  • Round 3 - Pick #22 (86th overall)
  • Round 4 - PICK TRADED *** Demaryius Thomas Trade ***
  • Round 5 - Pick #23 (150th overall)
  • Round 6 - Pick #22 (181st overall)
  • Round 7 - Pick #6 (196th overall)

Breakout Players for 2019

  • Carlos Watkins - He was always a three-year project by my pre-draft evaluation. He is going into his third year and I expect him to take a huge step forward.
  • Jordan Thomas - This young man has all of the potential of being an NFL star. The tight end position usually takes a few years for players to acclimate themselves. I expect Thomas to be a year or so ahead of the curve.
  • Duke Ejiofor - I wouldn't be surprised by 8+ sacks in his sophomore campaign.

Important Dates for 2019

Senior Bowl - January 26th
Waivers system begins - February 4th
Clubs can assign Franchise / Transition Tag - February 19th
NFL Scouting Combine - February 26th
Deadline for Franchise / Transition Tag - March 5th
Legal Tampering Period - March 11th
NFL Free Agency - March 13th
May begin Offseason Workouts - April 15th
NFL Draft - April 25th-27th
Three-Day Post-Draft Rookie Mini Camp - May 3rd-6th or 10th-13th

It's an exciting time in Texans history. Follow along all offseason as I start to ramp up for the 2019 NFL Draft and Free Agency.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

In a sharp, sudden twist to this saga, the NFL and Colin Kaepernick's attorney announced that they had reached a settlement on his case on Friday. The NFL had backed down.

Make no mistake about it; this is surrender by the NFL, as shocking as it is sudden. The league that gave no quarter to its biggest star ever in Tom Brady, the league that showed it could bully its players in court vs. Ezekiel Elliott and neutered one of the then-most powerful owners in its group in Jerry Jones, just sat in the corner, and faced the wall while wearing the "Cone of Shame" for Colin Kaepernick.

Less than 24 hours after the Alliance of American Football (which desperately wants to be bought by the NFL) decided to leak what it felt was highly negative information about Kaepernick and his refusal to play in the AAF for less than $20M (which reportedly turned out to be completely false information on the monetary demand), the NFL reached a settlement with the man most known as the face of the social justice demonstrations during the anthem. For my money, that is far too much of a coincidence to be an actual coincidence.

Just take a minute to think about the significance of this decision by the NFL. For a long time, Kaepernick has held the position that if the NFL wanted him to withdraw the case, it would require a substantial amount of money. The league has always basically maintained the idea that Kaepernick can go to hell and there's no way he could beat them in an arbitration hearing or in court because the NFL with their army of high priced lawyers and unlimited funds doesn't lose.

The NFL could have reached an agreement with Tom Brady, but they refused. Despite spending some $5M on the Wells Report only to see it be incredibly flawed and debunked by both the American Enterprise Institute and an MIT professor, insisted on suspending Brady. They went to several court cases vs. Brady, including the US District Court & US Court of Appeals. Deflategate raged on for over a year over very shoddy evidence that the balls were even deflated, let alone connected to Brady. The NFL never backed down. They could have reduced Brady's suspension but they absolutely refused to give an inch.

The NFL also sent their investigators out onto Ezekiel Elliott, after an ex-girlfriend made accusations of domestic violence against him. After a year-long investigation, the NFL's lead investigator reported that she recommended no suspension for Elliott, as the woman in question lied on multiple occasions, admitted to lying on multiple occasions, had asked others to lie on her behalf (with an electronic chain of the requests) and was found to be generally unreliable. The NFL suspended him the maximum six games anyway. Again the league went to multiple court cases with Elliott, rather than reduce his suspension and put the matter behind them because they wanted to make an example of him, and that example was so important that no lessening of Elliott's suspension could be negotiated.

Now we come to Kaepernick's collusion grievance, one that came with a very high standard to prove. The NFL had mocked Kaepernick's accusations, decried he just wasn't a very good football player and that was why he didn't have a job (and they went on to hire dozens of QBs who were absolutely terrible, or had no experience, and were clearly inferior players to Kaepernick, which caused an uproar each and every time).

The NFL tried to bully Kaepernick with the arbitrator, Stephen Burbank, when in August 2018 they requested that the case be dismissed for lack of evidence. The arbitrator disagreed and allowed the case to move forward. Owners had to give depositions and some of those depositions were startling.

According to the Wall St Journal, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones deposition showed how the owners feared the President on the protest front, saying the President told him in a phone conversation that "This is a very winning, strong issue for me" and that Jones should "tell everybody, you can't win this one. This one lifts me." Further conversations with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Patriots owner Bob Kraft further showed the league succumbed to its fear of the President in dealing with Kaepernick and the social justice demonstrations.

Owners felt emboldened by the stance of the President when it came to Kaepernick. Considering their previous actions vs Brady and Elliott, clearly the league thought it would garner a victory over Kaepernick.

Then Friday happened.

Why would a league that is so steadfast in their determination to demonstrate their power over players suddenly heel to a player who hasn't played in 2 years? Perhaps more importantly, why was the cloak of secrecy needed in relation to its agreement?

The NFL came to heel vs a player it clearly blackballed out of the league in flamboyant fashion. Why?

With the confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement, we may never know all the reasons the NFL pulled a 180 on Kaepernick's grievance, but certain things stand out as obvious identifiers.

For one, the confidentiality agreement keeps all the depositions and statements, all the evidence Kaepernick's attorney Mark Geragos has acquired in discovery and in his own investigations secret. We may never know just how grimy the league was in its dealings with Kaepernick. We may never see the 'smoking gun' Geragos claimed to have (although there have been reports of email exchanges among owners discussing blocking Kaepernick from getting a job in the NFL in evidence). The NFL clearly felt it was in their greater interest to keep all of that information private forever than to have it come out in court regardless of the arbitrator's decision on the matter. That speaks massive volumes.

Additionally, had Kaepernick been successful in his grievance, the NFL would have had another massive crisis on its hands, because a decision that the NFL had colluded vs a player would have rendered the league's current CBA null and void. It would have forced them back to the table in an environment where the players may have had an advantage at the table and in the realm of public opinion, one that could have resulted in the owners having to give concessions to the players for being found guilty of collusion. No CBA would mean a high likelihood of a work stoppage, and if the league had a lockout because it was grimy and colluded vs a player, violating the previous CBA, it would mean a lot of negativity for the league and its owners and support for players.

Clearly the league felt very threatened that it would lose the case vs Kaepernick to reach this level and fold its cards. While the settlement amount is undisclosed and part of the confidentiality agreement, reports have indicated it could be as high as $80M to Kaepernick (Thankfully the Green Bay Packers are a publically held entity and their financials have to be released, so we will see what the club had to contribute to the Kaepernick settlement and we will know the true value of it at that point if not sooner).

While the league admits to no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, the optics are very clear. If they weren't scared to death of being exposed, they would have continued the fight, just as they did vs Brady and Elliott, where they did have some losses in court before ultimately winning at the appellate level. That indicates this settlement may not have been about just winning and losing, but more about protecting the inner workings and secrecy of their actions, and the dirty laundry they've accumulated as a result.

That dirty laundry must be an incredible pile, because it's forced the league to do something it hasn't done before.

It forced the NFL to kneel down.

As much as the league wants to put this issue behind them, this moment will never be forgotten.

Patrick Creighton is heard locally in Houston as the host of "Late Hits" on ESPN Houston 97.5 weeknights 7-9p, and nationally as the host of "Straight Heat" on SB Nation Radio weekdays 9a-12p CT. Follow him on Twitter: @PCreighton1

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