In these days of free agency, financial considerations force coaches into difficult personnel decisions. As a team becomes more successful, its salary structure becomes more top-heavy. The stars must be rewarded in order to retain their services, which means there is less to spend on everyone else.
When the roster needs a bit of a tuneup, you better have enough money in the drawer to pay for the parts. According to Spotrac.com, general manager Rick Smith has around $3.7 million in petty cash to spend on his unsigned draft choices DeAndre Hopkins, D.J. Swearinger and Brennan Williams.
Antonio Smith is “open to a contract extension,” which could open up enough space to take care of the rookies. Will there be enough left over to pick up some used parts on the open market?
If the Texans have not already been in touch with the following players, they certainly must be on their radar.
The former Cincinnati Bengal is also a former Texan, having spent a season-and-a-half with the team in 2010-11. He tied for the lead in interceptions (4) with Johnathan Joseph in their first division-winning campaign.
Allen went to the Bengals via free agency in 2012, when they signed him for two years at $8.2 million (subscription required for Spotrac Premium). A variety of injuries limited him to three snaps in 2012, and he was cut in the offseason.
Houston is short on seasoned safeties, and Allen has seven years in the league playing all over the defensive backfield. If he could pass the physical, this veteran could fill the gap should injuries create an opening.
This special teams wizard may have been released by the Baltimore Ravens due to his age (36) or his willingness to speak out in support of gay marriage. The management of the Texans prefers players that do not court controversy, but it might reconsider in the case of this reserve inside linebacker.
Bryan Braman is expected to become the first outside linebacker off the bench, perhaps curtailing his work on special teams. Ayanbadejo would add some veteran moxie on kick returns, where Houston ranked near the bottom on both punts and kickoffs.
When Ray Lewis was lost for the bulk of the 2012 regular season, he did a serviceable job as a substitute inside linebacker. His 6’1”, 225-pound build is not ideal for the 3-4 defense, but it would be adequate for short stretches.
Versatility has been a hallmark of Barnett’s career. He has played linebacker inside and outside, in the 4-3 and the 3-4.
A member of the Buffalo Bills in 2012, a weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 should not have 112 tackles to his name. This indicates teams were eager to run against their trio of right defensive ends who rank among the worst in the league. The proof lies in their defensive statistics, which were the worst in the league against the rush.
Barnett has never been much of a pass-rusher, but has been money stopping the run. The Texans are prepared to have Brooks Reed pair up with Brian Cushing on passing downs. An experienced two-down linebacker would be a big help in short-yardage and goal-line scenarios.
If former Indianapolis Colt Deji Karim in a Texans uniform was a shocking sight, Dallas Clark would be downright spooky. Old No. 44 tormented Houston for what seemed like an eternity.
He was Peyton Manning’s favorite safety valve for eight seasons. His position may have been listed as tight end, but was used more like an oversized slot receiver.
The third tight end behind Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham is a mystery right now. The contenders, Phillip Supernaw, Ryan Griffin and Jake Byrne (who?) are all rookies. Their third tight end in 2012, James Casey, was good enough to earn a three-year, $12 million deal from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Clark more closely fits the profile of what Gary Kubiak is looking for as opposed to those first-timers. If he is willing to play for the league-minimum of $940,000 for a 10-year veteran, sign him up.
His time as a Kansas City Chief in 2012 did little to change his reputation. When your team goes 2-14, there is a tendency to play down to that level.
The atmosphere around Reliant Stadium could be the right tonic for a player that does not have a lot of mileage on him. With less than 600 career carries, his body has not taken a ton of abuse.
The Texans have never been enamored with power backs. Hillis might convince them otherwise if he can reclaim the promise of his breakthrough season.
Andrew Luck was sacked 41 times last season, and no one will deny Justice is part of the reason why.
His play at the start of the year was above average, but he sustained almost every injury imaginable along the way.
The Texans are down to one experienced right tackle, journeyman Ryan Harris. The pickings in the free-agent market at this position are slim. Justice would be a sufficient stopgap until Derek Newton comes back from his repaired patellar tendon.
Lynch is a little-known backup safety who has improved every year he has been in the league. His 495 snaps in 2012 were a career high, and his play followed suit.
There were two interceptions and seven passes defended on his ledger by season’s end. Pro Football Focus (subscription required for Premium Stats) gave him a completion rating of 43.9, placing him in the top 10 among safeties.
If the Texans picked him up, he would be filling the role of Quintin Demps, who just beat him out for a spot with the Chiefs. Lynch is the better player, so he should be on the roster of the better team.
This name is familiar to most Texans fans, since he had been with the team for the last five seasons. Nading was declared an unrestricted free agent after 2012, but was not re-signed.
Most of his playing time was at defensive end when Houston ran a 4-3 defense. When the team went to the 3-4 in 2011, Nading managed to stay on as an outside linebacker.
The majority of the reps went to former second-round draft choices Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin last season, of course.
His familiarity with the system would be a plus, and he certainly would not balk at playing for the minimum.
The latest news has him talking with the Ravens, probably to replace the prematurely retired Rolando McClain. Like Nick Barnett, his career has seen him play inside and out.
The only drawback is that he has no expertise in the 3-4, and he has spent the last few seasons playing left linebacker in the 4-3. A stint with the Texans would mean moving to the inside. This would not be a big change for someone who spent three seasons at middle linebacker.
The most shocking personnel move of the Gary Kubiak regime came with the outright release of Winston before the 2012 season. It was sold as a cost-cutting move, saving the team $6.5 million.
The question now becomes how badly does the former Texan want to work? Houston might bring him back for something more than the minimum, but likely not enough to soothe his pride.
You are advised to stay tuned for further developments.