With the Texans signing former Dallas inside linebacker Bradie James, Houston reveals a lot about how they plan to save their defense from its high-visibility losses. In doing so, they may help James revive his career as well.
James posted over 100 combined tackles each year from 2006-2010. Last year, however, he only finished with 44 tackles—a notable decline, especially given the departure of Wade Phillips. Partly responsible for James’ declining numbers was the implementation of Rob Ryan’s complex defensive scheme—one that Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee appears much better suited for.
For the Texans, it all comes down to ensuring the success of Phillips’ 3-4 defense over replacing the prominent individual talent of DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. Phillips only needs to enhance an already working defensive scheme, and despite Ryans’ ability to perform, he didn’t exactly work well with Phillips’ style of defense. While James won’t replace the individual talent of Ryans, the good news is he doesn’t need to.
"It’s a lot of high-motor guys that’s on this defense, and you can tell they’re very self-motivated. The cohesion is here, and these guys get after it. Just watching film and being in Texas, we got a chance to keep up with each other. Having that 3-4 experience, you just keep up with other [teams] who’s playing the 3-4 and see if we can steal something, because it’s a copy-cat league. They just stuck out all the time."
Still, the addition of James will have little immediate impact on the team’s defense other than providing good depth. There's potential, however, for James to become solid support for Brian Cushing. This depends on Darryl Sharpton’s performance in the place left open by Ryans’ departure.
Sharpton has not been guaranteed the spot as replacement, though, and the recent signing of James proves the Texans are still seriously considering how to solidly maintain that position.
Sharpton has always been praised as a complete linebacker who provided solid depth at the position. Nevertheless, his short career has been plagued with injuries, and a quad injury left him sidelined for most of the 2011 season. James, on the other hand, brings veteran experience as a player and as a part of Phillips’ defense.
Beyond the abilities of James as a player, he provides the Texans a perfect opportunity to use the draft more effectively. While obtaining a strong outside linebacker still remains a priority, last season’s performance of Bryan Braman might allow the Texans to wait until later rounds to add depth at that position. This leaves more room going into the draft to focus on developing their offense.
On a more practical note, the Texans will also clear up some cap space with the signing of James. According to the Houston Chronicle’s Ultimate Texans blog, the team will pay James a base salary of $825,000. This will leave the Texans some room to clean up some cap space, which is already $4.7 million over.
This price buys the Texans a good presence, and James’ veteran status and personality are likely to match well with the Texans’ defensive vision. Given the quick success of that vision and James’ understanding of the scheme that proved so effective, this signing will prove more favorable than any one set of statistics can show.