Ben Tate is at the center of the Houston Texans football world, whether he is ready or not.
Arian Foster and Mario Williams both have expired contracts, and the Texans don't have a lot of cap room to play with. Foster is one of the premier running backs in all of football and will be expecting compensation that says the same. The problem is Mario Williams will be expecting the Texans, to paraphrase Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) in the movie Jerry McGuire, to show him the money, as Williams is one if the most physically intimidating defensive players in the NFL.
With little to almost no cap room the Texans now have to look at Ben Tate and evaluate his talents not only for the short-term but for the long-term as well. Tate showed flashes of brilliance this season and did a more-than-admirable job filling in as the starter when Foster was injured. This is where the issues come to the forefront. In the NFL, you can't win if you have a bad defense and/or no running game.
This is where the team must decide if Tate is ready to be the go-to guy or not? Tate has nice size for an NFL back at 5'11" and 220 lbs and has shown big-play capability. Tate ran for over 900 yards last season and had four scores on the ground, which is very good for a spell/second-string running back. If Tate is able to post stats like that in the role he has now, what will happen if he gets an increased role?
Is Tate good enough to make the Texans forget about Foster and keep Williams, or will the Texans keep both Foster and Tate and let Williams walk?
I have no clue what the Texans will do, but I do know what I would do if I was Rick Smith, Texans general manager: I would let Williams walk. It is a difficult decision to make and either way you look at it the Texans will have one less Pro Bowl-caliber player on the roster. The NFL has seen what happens to pass-happy teams with no running game come playoff time; just think of the Green Bay Packers this year for an example from very recent history.
Williams was the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft and has had a solid career to this point, but the run game and the value of good to better-than-good running backs is too important to let slip away. The combination of Foster and Tate is amongst the best in the league and an insurance policy like Tate in your back pocket puts you in a better position offensively than most teams.
Also to consider is the Texans could address the void created by the departure of Williams in the draft. The Texans have the 26th pick in the draft this year and could use that pick on a player to play right outside linebacker (ROLB). At this part of the first round the Texans could be in the position to select Vinny Curry from Marshall, Chandler Jones from Syracuse or maybe, if he falls a little in the draft, Courtney Upshaw from Alabama.
All these options offer the Texans to get a pass-rush specialist off the edge, with Upshaw being the most complete player of the three. Jones and Curry are not as complete players as Upshaw but offer tremendous upside and top-notch pass-rush abilities. If I were the Texans I would be focusing in on Curry because he will be there come the 26th pick. He has excellent size for an edge-rusher and his athletic abilities are his strength. Curry has a complete repertoire of moves, a quick burst and ability to get off, can drop in pass coverage and has a knack for forcing fumbles.
The questions about Curry are how will he do against elite tackles and how much will he struggle in the run game as he has issues with his point of attack in the run game. Curry offers an athletic replacement to Williams and allows the team to keep one of the best running back tandems in the league together.