Houston Texans 2012: 10 Most Overpaid & Underpaid Players
What are the standards for determining if an NFL player is overpaid or underpaid? Is the best comparison salary vs. statistics, teammate vs. teammate or peer vs. peer?
When talking peer vs. peer, it makes sense to compare Arian Foster against Maurice Jones-Drew, or Calvin Johnson against Larry Fitzgerald. These athletes are among the best in the business.
Teammate vs. teammate can get a little murkier. Matt Schaub makes almost 14 times what T.J. Yates takes home. Does that mean he must be 14 times better to prove his worth?
If all goes well this year, Schaub will get virtually every snap and Yates will handle a clipboard for 16 games. In the end, no valid comparison may be possible.
Salary vs. stats creates a somewhat clearer picture. Adrian Peterson had a cap figure of $12.775 million in 2011 and gained 920 yards in an injury-shortened season.
Chris Johnson garnered $10.7 million in 2011, gained 1047 yards and played all 16 games. But his average was a pedestrian 4.0 per carry. Hands down, is one obviously superior to the other?
Each comparison has its place, depending on the player and situation. The following evaluation will use all three in the hope that some objective assessment will emerge.
Salary cap figures were used because they have the most effect on the overall financial picture for player personnel. Spotrac.com was the sole source for the cap hit numbers quoted for each Texan.
Overpaid: Arian Foster, RB
Cap hit: $8 million.
But he has a little more than two seasons of production under his belt, and Ben Tate (cap hit $490,000) did a superb job as his backup. The shelf life of ball carriers is notoriously short, and there is a clear trend away from using them in the workhorse role.
It will require a few more years of the same to validate his value. Consider those ahead of him on the cap hit chart and how many years in their career they gained 1,000+ yards:
- Adrian Peterson: 4 of 5
- Chris Johnson: 4 of 4
- Steven Jackson: 7 of 8
- Frank Gore: 5 of 7
He may have re-signed with the Texans at a discount. Particularly when compared to Chris Johnson, the last big name running back to ink a new pact with his team ($10 million in 2012.)
Now all he has to do is prove his value on the field. For Houston to get to where it wants to go, around 1,500 yards rushing plus 500 yards receiving with 15 total TDs is what it will take.
Overpaid: Antonio Smith, DE
Cap hit: $8 million.
Excellent pass rusher that is indifferent against the run and prone to unnecessary penalties. He may offer some intangibles in the locker room, but he needs to keep his head screwed on straight to justify his paycheck.
Consider these 3-4 DEs who are as least as talented and their annual stipend:
- Calais Campbell: $5 million
- Randy Starks: $4.875 million
- Brett Keisel: $4.5 million
- Ray McDonald: $4.05 million
- J.J. Watt: $2.554 million
His teammate Watt is already a more well-rounded performer at less than one-third the cost. The eight-year pro played through a bad right shoulder in 2011, but the mileage may be starting to show.
With multiple veterans to resign in the offseason, Smith may be asked to restructure his deal if he wants to stick around.
Overpaid: Matt Schaub, QB
Cap hit: $7.15 million.
The expectations for the Texans for the upcoming season can only be achieved if No. 8 stays healthy and available. The field general of the Texans missed 8 games in 2011, one of which cost them an appearance in the AFC Championship game.
Favre-like durability should not be expected from any other QB born of this world. From 2008 to 2011, compare Schaub’s Texans career to his quarterback cap neighbors for time on the field.
Ben Roethilsberger (cap hit No. 13) has missed six games, Joe Flacco (cap hit No.14) has played every game, and Tom Brady (cap hit No. 16) missed 15 games in a single season (2008).Since then Mr. Bündchen has played every game.
At some point in his career, Schaub must answer the call and win a truly meaningful game. Beating the Patriots in Week 17 of 2009 for the first winning record in franchise history is all he has at this point.
T.J. Yates may one day become an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, but he’s not there yet. It’s Schaub or bust for the Texans in 2012.
Overpaid: Danieal Manning, FS
Cap hit: $4,916,667
How does one separate the overall improvement of Houston’s defense from its 2011 additions? Wade Phillips and Johnathon Joseph get most of the credit, so where does Manning fit in?
His prompt return four weeks after a broken leg in Week 7 last year should get the former Chicago Bear some consideration. However, Pro Football Focus ranks him as strictly middle of the pack last year, and well behind a host of lower paid safeties such as Donte Whitner, Ryan Clark and LaRon Landry.
He had his ups and downs with the Bears before breaking out in his contract year. Maybe it was the lack of OTAs with the Texans, going from a 4-3 to 3-4 scheme, or realizing he might have to sell his home in Illinois at a huge loss.
With Jacoby Jones gone and rookie Keyshawn Martin an unknown going into training camp, Manning may still be asked to return kickoffs. Double duty may be the best way to demonstrate his value.
Overpaid: Kevin Walter, WR
Cap hit: $3 million.
Here in Houston there is more certainty on what to do with the crumbling Astrodome than who is the best choice for the Texans No. 2 receiver.
His blocking, familiarity with the system and good guy persona may qualify him as a great teammate. Never one to stretch the field, he is now nothing more than a possession receiver with a declining production trend.
Over his Texans career starting in 2007, each succeeding season has shown decreasing reception totals: 65-60-53-51-39. Now Lestar Jean, an unsigned free agent, and two draft picks are poised to jump ahead of him on the depth chart.
His experience may be the only factor that will keep him on the roster for 2012.
Owen Daniels, TE
Cap hit: $3.5 million.
His comeback from an ACL tear in 2009 seemed to be complete in 2011. He split time with Joel Dreesen at the position and shared the load on those two TE sets Gary Kubiak loves.
In the end, Dreesen had twice the TDs (3 vs. 6) on around half the receptions (28 vs. 54). And Daniels totaled just one more reception than Arian Foster, who missed three games.
With RG Mike Brisiel and RT Eric Winston gone, this side of the offensive line has been handed over to Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler.
Neither has ever started a full season in his career. With barely average blocking skills, Daniels may now have to lend a hand of passing downs.
Often referred to as the real No.2 receiver on this squad, his cap figure in 2011 was $6.5 million. When the tab is $10 million over two years, you should total more than 92 receptions over that time.
Daniels may need to make his second Pro Bowl to remain a Texan in 2013.
Overpaid: Kareem Jackson, CB
Cap hit: $2 million.
Why did Kareem Jackson stop wearing sunscreen? Because he gets burned whether he is indoors or out.
Just one of many jokes coined to cope with the learning curve of the first round pick from 2010. Like other Alabama cornerbacks, all he ever seemed to play was press coverage in college.
That’s why he never learned to turn his head to see the ball. If the defender is unable to make a play for the rock, the receiver will eat you alive, because he knows where the ball is coming from and can adjust to the throw, particularly downfield.
He has slowly adapted to keeping track of both his man and the ball. Still, Pro Football Focus placed him in the bottom half of all NFL cornerbacks.
His Crimson Tide compatriot Javier Arenas of the Kansas City Chiefs ranked in the top half, and for second round money at that.
Jackson’s contract will continue to escalate for the next three seasons. The Texans hope his learning curve moves in the opposite direction.
Overpaid: Shaun Cody, NT
Cap hit : $2 million.
Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips likes to rotate his nose tackles, particularly when they are undersized like Cody (6'4", 292 lbs.). So he splits snaps with Earl Mitchell, who doesn’t remind anyone of Vince Wilfork either.
While OK at handling the run and keeping his man occupied, he offers little penetration. Not really his job in this scheme, and not everyone can do what Jay Ratliff did for Wade in Dallas.
Rumor has it Mitchell has bulked up and could push for Cody’s starting position. Given his contract less than half of his fellow NT, he could be the better bargain going forward.
With Cody’s salary off the books, resigning some big names like Schaub, Barwin, and Duane Brown for 2013 could be easier. Just to keep the pressure on, GM Rick Smith brought in Hebron Fangupo (6'1", 323 lbs.) as a UFA from BYU.
Sleep well, Shaun!
Overpaid: Donnie Jones, P
Cap hit: $890,000
Bringing in Jones became a necessity after Brett Hartmann was injured. Insurance is typically expensive, but when the bill starts heading towards seven figures for a backup punter, it is downright painful.
Chances are Jones does not make the roster, but Hartmann’s injury was to his left leg. His recovering ACL supports his plant foot, which is just as critical as his kicking leg.
This video shows the amount of torque Brett generates on every kickoff. The recovery from this type of injury typically takes over a year. Just ask Owen Daniels for confirmation.
Hartmann ranked 18th in punting average and 24th in net yards in 2011. Jones was worse in both categories for the Rams last season. But Donnie also punted more than anyone else in the league.
So maybe he was just tired. Further proof he is not worth the tab.
Overpaid: Randy Bullock, K
Cap hit: $434,527
How can a rookie, who has never played a game and is getting just above the minimum, be overpaid? Especially when he eats up a draft pick that could have been used for a football player and not a specialist.
In the last ten drafts, 21 kickers have been taken. Of those picks, three never made an NFL roster, five are out of the league, two were rookies last season and the remaining 11 are still kicking.
That means most teams in 2011 relied on undrafted kickers. Over that ten-year period, there were likely scores of other kickers who came off the street and contributed.
You do not waste draft picks, even a fifth rounder, on someone that can be brought in for the price of an airline ticket and a night at Motel 6!
Of course, a veteran like Shayne Graham is required to provide the inevitable “competition” in training camp. And in the end, if Bullock is cut the team only ends up paying for a single kicker for around the same price.
But the Texans leadership could have selected a TE, or packaged the pick for a shot a better WR prospect than twice suspended Devier Posey, or grabbed some defensive backfield help.
Instead they chose a foot with limited range, connected to a guy who looks like he could stand to skip a snack here and there.
Underpaid: Andre Johnson,WR
Cap hit : $4,848,571
His teams hovered between futility and mediocrity until last season. His production over his career has not, averaging 5.8 receptions and 79.1 yards per game.
Players with greater cap impact and their per game figures:
- Vincent Jackson: 3.0 rec, 52.2 yards
- Santonio Holmes: 3.8 rec, 59.5 yards
- Sidney Rice: 3.1 rec, 45.8 yards
- Roddy White: 4.7 rec, 65.8 yards
- Greg Jennings: 4.4 rec, 70.1 yards
Considering A.J. spent four of his nine years as a Texan trying to help David Carr live up to his top pick status, his statistics are even more remarkable.
Underpaid: Duane Brown, LT
Cap Hit: $2,661,500
When it comes to escaping the rush or running the ball on a broken play, Matt Schaub will never be confused for Michael Vick or Cam Newton. So the man assigned to protect his blind side has the single most critical role on the offensive line.
Brown allowed only 2.5 sacks and helped anchor an offensive line that ranked 2nd in rushing yards and 3rd in rushing touchdowns. After Schaub went down in Week 10, he kept the pressure off T.J. Yates so well the rookie only threw three interceptions for the rest of the regular season.
The upcoming season is his contract year, so don’t expect to see him on this list moving forward. Resigning him will be one of the top offseason priorities for Texans’ management.
Underpaid: J.J. Watt, DE
Cap hit: $2,554,000
When Aldon Smith was taken by San Francisco with the seventh pick in the 2011 draft, the Texans were forced to settle for the defensive end from Wisconsin. B/Rs own Ben Lorimer sensed Watt’s potential going into the selection process.
While Smith validated his draft position with 14.5 sacks, Watt improved every week in the regular season. Come the playoffs, he shifted into hyperdrive.
His 29-yard interception return against the Bengals broke a second quarter tie that completely turned the game in Houston’s favor. As a result, Cincinnati went scoreless in the second half.
The Milkman then found another gear versus the Ravens the following week. With 2.5 sacks and as many tackles (9) as Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, and Ed Reed combined, he threatened to take over the game. Houston beat Baltimore in most every statistical category except turnovers and the final score.
Given more time to work on his moves and get familiarized with Wade Phillips’ system, he could be Pro Bowl bound this year and for the foreseeable future. And a bargain until his rookie deal is up for renegotiation.
Underpaid: Brian Cushing, ILB
Cap hit: $2,359,000
The Texans’ favorite overtrained athlete could have just faded away after a PED suspension in 2010 led to a revote for his Defensive Rookie Of The Year award. Even before he stepped on an NFL field, many were convinced steroids were the key to his freakish combination of speed and strength.
When your stat line reads 114 tackles and more QB pressures than any other ILB in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, it is clear something more than chemical enhancement is responsible.
The concerns that moving him to the inside would reduce his quickness advantage were misplaced. His sideline-to-sideline intensity and ability to elude blockers are unmatched by no one on his team and few in the league.
His contributions exceeded those of other ILB’s earning $7 million and up such as Paul Posluszny, Brian Urlacher and Karlos Dansby.
Clearly, Cushing is overqualified for the underpaid list.
Underpaid: Brice McCain, CB
Cap hit: $1,333,437
In his role as nickel back, McCain takes almost as many snaps as Kareem Jackson in the pass happy NFL of today. His coverage skills are also measurably better than those possessed by Jackson.
But a lack of size (5'9", 185 lbs.) does work against him when playing the run. Still he makes life miserable for most slot receivers and is the default backup if either starting cornerback goes down.
On a depth chart that is noticeably shallow in the defensive backfield, Brice is more dependable than the alternatives.
When that includes two cornerbacks with zero NFL starts (Brandon Harris, Sherrick McManis), and a practice squad resident from 2011 (Roc Carmichael) his value and importance skyrockets.
Underpaid: Brooks Reed, OLB
Cap hit: $1,069,000
When Mario Williams went down in 2011, the former Arizona DE had to learn how to play in the NFL from a two-point stance. Replacing the highest draft choice in Texans history could have spooked a lesser talent.
Instead, Reed performed at such a high level when Buffalo offered Super Mario $100 million, the front office in Houston refused to panic. They bid their former No.1 pick goodbye, confident the position was in good hands for the equivalent of William’s chump change.
Possibly the strongest player on the team, the race for team sack leader in the upcoming season looks like a Brooks vs. Barwin battle. Texans watchers would not be shocked if Reed comes up the winner this time.
Underpaid: Connor Barwin, OLB
Cap hit: $917,500
Lead the AFC South champs to a club record in sacks with 11.5 of your own takedowns, and you are likely to be noticed. Do it for less than seven figures in compensation, and you are likely to be called a philanthropist.
One of the few former college basketball players not to end up at TE, he got used to playing with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 DE his rookie year.
Coach Phillips then used him last season as a 3-4 rusher at OLB. Comfortable in both stances, the opposition can’t be sure just where he’s coming from.
When Barwin and his agent hammer out a new contract at the end this season, you will likely call him a multi-millionaire. But only if he shows the ability to put up similar numbers again.
Underpaid: Bradie James, ILB
Cap hit: $890,000
This former Cowboy experienced some very productive years for Wade Phillips in Dallas. Miscast as a middle linebacker for a 4-3 defense after Phillips departure, he was more than happy to rejoin his former coach downstate.
He will compete with Daryl Sharpton for the inside spot next to Brian Cushing. Sharpton is in the process of recovering from a torn quadriceps tendon.
So the presence of a veteran with a low price tag and familiarity with the defensive system is reassuring. Should James recapture some of the 3-4 mojo from earlier in his career, the trade of DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles and his $9 million dollar buyout will become just an afterthought.
As a backup or starter, this guy is a steal for his current paycheck.
Underpaid: James Casey, FB/TE
Cap hit: $661,250
Thrust into the starting fullback role due to the release of Lawrence Vickers and his million dollar deal, this multi-talented Texan will now have to adapt to being the lead blocker for Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Against the Saints in 2011, his nine catches for 126 yards gave fans a glimpse of his pass catching skills. Yet after this breakout game, he only caught nine more balls the rest of the season.
Through no fault of his own, Casey has been unable to put his entire skill set on display. Going into the most anticipated campaign in team history, Gary Kubiak may have finally decided to fully exploit the capabilities of the former Rice graduate.
Now that his contract year has arrived, the man with the best hands on the team will show everyone what he can do at discount rates. With a nickname like Thor, expect him to put the hammer down on a breakout year.
Underpaid: T.J. Yates, QB
Cap hit: $511,842
Selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Yates was expected to be nothing more than a backup to the real backup, Matt Leinart. When the former Heisman winner failed to last a half in his first start as a Texan, Yates had to grow up in a hurry.
He may have guided the eventual AFC South champs to a rocky 3-3 record down the stretch. But T.J. was more than OK in the first playoff win in team history against the Bengals.
His inexperience was exposed by the Ravens defense the following week. Houston outplayed Baltimore in almost every aspect of the game. But three actual interceptions combined with three near picks sent the Texans home while Ray Lewis and company advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
His overall effectiveness convinced the coaching staff to release Leinart and award him the backup role. Few teams in the quarterback starved NFL have any confidence in their No. 2 signal caller.
Consider the Texans fortunate they are not part of that group, and for fifth-round money at that.