As if the regular season wasn't enough of a downer, the offseason for the Houston Texans isn't supposed to be a lot of fun either.
You wouldn't know it, but the Texans have some serious calculations to make where money is concerned between now and June.
There's actually a lot of green up for grabs in Houston, and the difference between signing some free agents and actually adding to the roster might depend on how well the Texans finance themselves with so many big payouts due.
In a division where the Jacksonville Jaguars look to be in the best salary-cap position, there's a lot of work to be done in six months—and at some pretty key positions, too.
But if general manager Rick Smith has his way, he'll enter next season with a brand new quarterback and a handful of unsigned free agents along with it. Not to mention a few less familiar faces, after cutting season begins.
For the league, there's estimated to be between a $125 and $128 million salary cap this offseason.
With that in mind, the Texans are looking at around $8.5 million worth of cap room before the usual contract restructures and releases that occur after the start of June. With so many key players looking for more cash, that's a pretty good number to start with heading toward preseason.
The problem the Texans have though, unlike a few other teams, is cutting players to make room. The salary cap won't entirely be about signing free agents for Rick Smith but moreso about cutting 2013's losses and releasing players that aren't useful.
If the Texans want to save coin, cutting Matt Schaub is the first port of call.
There's two options when it comes to Schaub: Either fork out $7.25 million of his base salary this year, or cut him before June 1 and be left with $14 million to pay off over the next two seasons.
It's probably lose-lose here for the Texans: The first option leaves them paying a quarterback that will likely never start a game again, while the second costs the team a little more cash, but leaves Houston with one less contract to deal with.
Freeing up as much money possible to sign a new rookie quarterback for the long haul is priority No. 1. The Texans did save $4 million on Schaub's five-year extension last year, so the option to cut him might be the best choice.
There's also just no roster room for all of these passers. A rookie, T.J. Yates and probably Case Keenum is all the team has room for, meaning Schaub's days are pretty much numbered.
All signs point to Ben Tate leaving this offseason if Arian Foster is still the guy.
Tate is one of the biggest free-agent names set to hit the market soon, and with Foster nursing a back injury, it's unlikely the Texans change their mind and sign Tate to a long-term deal.
It's a tough pill to swallow, but Foster's five-year, $43.5 million deal in 2012 might have been a little ambitious. Foster has produced, but the past two seasons he's seen a lot of the bench, and the Texans could sure do with saving some money at this position.
Still, if Tate signs elsewhere, money will obviously be saved. Then again, if Foster was cut before the June 1 deadline, Houston would pick up a handy $1.25 million. Just something to think about.
The Texans won't save money at wide receiver this offseason, unless something unbelievable happens with Andre Johnson.
At 32, Johnson will make $42.9 million over the next three years, so as far as trades go, no team will be willing to pick up that kind of contract for an aging receiver.
Down the list, Keshawn Martin still has two years left on his $2.5 million contract he signed in 2012. Rookie DeAndre Hopkins is worth a lot more at over $7 million, but he isn't going anywhere.
With DeVier Posey in the mix, the Texans would be dumb to mess with a wide receiver corps this good. Unlike most other positions on the team, all of these guys are worth what they are paid.
The Texans have a problem at tight end, but it's a good one to have.
With Owen Daniels hurt, Garrett Graham provided Houston with another receiver threat in 2013. The problem, though, comes in the form of Graham's contract, as he's a free agent this offseason.
The Texans paid Graham $630,000 in base salary last year, while he also earned a $120,025 signing bonus. His cap number stands at $750,025, but after averaging 11.1 yards a season ago, Graham definitely needs to be on Rick Smith's list of "must keeps."
There is some money to be saved on the Texans offensive line, but there is also some to be spent, too.
Wade Smith is a free agent who needs to be re-signed urgently. He signed a $12 million contract in 2010, but he is probably worth a bit more after emerging as one of the few strong points from the Texans offensive line that allowed 42 sacks last year.
Then, there is a tie to be cut with Derek Newton, who started in all 16 games but struggled at right tackle in each of them. This year, he is due a cap number of $660,000, but he's probably one of the first guys the Texans will look to wave goodbye to in the coming months.
There's still plenty of fallout from Ed Reed's short stay, with him earning a casual sum of $2.6 million in dead money while he plays with the Jets.
Next is Danieal Manning, who has a cap hit of $6 million heading his way if the Texans see fit. At the age of 31 though, a season of coverage drama and too many yards allowed probably doesn't have the Texans thrilled about keeping him around.
Finally, there's the starters. D.J. Swearinger had his rough moments last season, but he will probably be given a second chance as a starter in his second year. Shiloh Keo, on the other hand, was the silver lining of the Reed cloud, earning 63 tackles and a pick last season.
Both players aren't taking a huge chunk out of the Texans' salary to begin with. Unfortunately, it's the dead money Reed is owed that the Texans wish they could waive.
Here's where some big bucks could be cut.
Kareem Jackson's base salary of $1.66 million isn't a lot, but since he's only signed through 2014, another below-average year next season will probably pack his bags.
The Texans could choose to cut ties right now. They would owe him some money of course, but it would save $250,000 and leave room for another rookie to come in and take over, which is desperately needed.
Brice McCain could also be on his way out. Sixteen games of blown coverages should see him released well before June, saving a handy $900,000. With the Texans rebuilding, there's no room for players that consistently struggled throughout last season.
The Texans want to force more turnovers in 2014, but it would be hard to say goodbye to any linebackers just a year after Connor Barwin departed for Philadelphia.
Defensive end Antonio Smith is an unrestricted free agent this year, one the Texans would like to keep. He had the third-most sacks on the team last season. If the Texans are serious about rebuilding, keeping a 10-year veteran like him on the team is a must.
Further down the depth chart, outside linebacker Bryan Braman is also a name that should be kept around. He made no impact on defense, but he made big plays on the Texans' special teams—an area that needs all the help it can get.
If the Texans want to save money, losing players that are inept in the secondary is a good start. If they want to force more turnovers next season, finding some extra cash for guys like Smith is a good incentive.