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Houston Texans taking conservative approach in free agency

Houston Texans
Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Houston Texans have approached 2019 NFL free agency conservatively. While they haven’t done much so far this offseason, they have a clear strategy.

Free agency in the National Football League is a double-edged sword. You never want to give out a loaded contract to a player who then under-performs. A flop in free agency can set your team back financially and constrict flexibility filling out the rest of the roster. This is something to keep in mind especially when your franchise quarterback is due a new contract in coming years. I am of course referring to the Houston Texans.

Heading into free agency, many wondered how new general manager Brian Gaine would play it. Gaine succeeds Rick Smith, who served as GM for most of the team’s history. As it played out, Gaine brought a similar approach to free agency as Smith. The Texans didn’t make the splash that some fans may have hoped for and came out with an underwhelming crop of players. However, I gathered some takeaways and feel that there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the team.

Band-aid solutions in areas of need

First, let’s talk about what was done over the past month or so. Of course, the offensive line has remained the top need of this franchise for a few years now. Matt Kalil was brought in on a one-year deal but he’ll have to earn a starting spot. Only 30% of his deal is guaranteed. Unless he impresses in the preseason, it’s hard to imagine the Texans paying over seven million for a player who couldn’t crack the starting lineup. We’ve seen some talented linemen hit the market in the past couple free agency periods and the Texans have settled with Kalil, Zach Fulton, and Senio Kelemete.

Next, let’s look at the secondary. The Texans lost Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu in 2019 NFL free agency. They re-tooled with the signings of Bradley Roby and Tashaun Gipson. While Roby is a talented corner and bolsters that unit, there is no guarantee that he returns next season. As for Gipson, he’s the only player they signed to a multi-year deal but he’s a downgrade from Mathieu. Speaking of Mathieu, he too was signed to a one-year deal.

It’s rare to see the Texans seek out a long-term investment through free agency, but that’s something I expect to change as early as next offseason. While it’s not always feasible to find viable starters on the free agent market, there have been missed opportunities on the Texans part. Rather than playing the market and pursuing potential long-term contributors, they’ve mostly settled for one year stop gaps.

Set a competitive edge in the market

As a whole, the Texans have done a good job of extending their key contributors. However, they seem to go dormant when it comes to extending depth players. For example, Christian Covington departed for Dallas at just 750K guaranteed. Covington was just a rotational piece, but why not bring him back on such a cheap deal? If the Texans weren’t thin at the position, I could understand parting ways and not thinking twice. In addition, they lost the core of their secondary and enter the draft with a depleted secondary.

The one who really got away was A.J. Bouye from 2017. This one may have been out of Houston’s control as Bouye displayed the desire to play in Jacksonville. However, it’s a bad look when a division rival is active in the market and you’re at a standstill. The Texans then brought in Aaron Colvin the following year at $18M guaranteed. This marked the most guaranteed money they handed out to a free agent since Brock Osweiler. Looking back, signing Colvin was the biggest signing they’ve made in free agency over the past three years. Essentially, he was a replacement to Bouye but a decent downgrade.

The Texans simply need to be more aggressive on the market. When tough divisional opponents such as Jacksonville and Indianapolis are reaping the rewards of free agency, you have to be able to match them.

Taking advantage of Deshaun Watson‘s rookie contract

With the lack of moves we’ve seen from Houston in free agency, you have to keep one important factor in mind. The future of this franchise rests on Deshaun Watson. Watson has three years left on his rookie contract, including the fifth year option. Rather than making a free agency splash at the beginning of his contract, it looks like they’re opting to wait until the latter years.

A common trend in today’s NFL revolves around teams building around their franchise QB. While you still have your signal caller on a team friendly contract, you want to utilize the remaining cap on other valuable pieces to maximize that optimal Super Bowl window. We haven’t seen that quite yet with the Texans since they drafted Watson. However, they’ll still have two years on Watson’s deal following this upcoming season. With a more than comfortable cap situation, the Texans are primed to go “all in” in the coming years.

Gaine needs to bring a breath of fresh air

Nothing Gaine did this free agency was spectacular but there are reasons to remain optimistic. When you inherit a winning team, the expectations are going to be high right off the bat. Rick Smith established job security, but that’s something Gaine will have to earn. It was an underwhelming debut for Gaine with this free agency period. However, you have to consider he was hired in mid-January, leaving little time to prep for this free agency. Gaine is sitting on the second most cap space in the league (as of 4/7). With a full year to prep, at this time next year, we could see a revamped Texans team primed to make a legitimate push at the Lombardi Trophy.

Gaine will be faced with the pressure of not only sustaining team success but also keeping up with the savvy front offices of division rivals. He inherits a talented team with financial flexibility in a peak Super Bowl window. The pressure is on and it’s his opportunity to seize. The Texans have been on the outside spectating the poker game. It’s now time for them to make a wager.

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