6 Veterans the Houston Texans Must Part with Before 2015 Season
For the Houston Texans, the parting of the ways started in the week leading up to the commencement of free agency. Just a glance at the cap hits of Andre Johnson and Chris Myers indicated exit visas for the two veterans were in the cards.
Outside linebacker Brooks Reed does not appear to have received an offer from general manager Rick Smith. He subsequently signed with the Atlanta Falcons on March 10, representing the only other major loss from the 2014 roster.
Ryan Mallett has accepted the Texans' offer to remain with the organization, as everyone hoped he would. There was no other option currently on board with the potential to develop into a franchise-leading quarterback.
Smith has reacted to the start of this free-agency period as he does almost every year: He re-signs a few of his own players, sets his sights on the odd pickup and then waits to sweep up some leftovers after the big names have been snapped up. The primary exception was 2011, when Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning were acquired to retool an atrocious secondary.
The odd pickup this time around is Brian Hoyer. The only compelling reason for any interest is the New England Patriots connection. Hoyer was the backup to Tom Brady from 2009-11 while Bill O’Brien was working his way up to offensive coordinator.
If the decision-makers of the Texans are toying with the idea of a quarterback competition between Ryan Mallett and Hoyer, then 2015 is clearly not the breakthrough year fans had hoped it would be.
This move makes Ryan Fitzpatrick expendable, along with some other disposable targets. They range from the obvious to the unexpected. Have a look and see if you agree.
There has been no inkling of Johnathan Joseph being asked to restructure the $12.25 million remaining on the final year of his contract. Kareem Jackson was retained without J-Jo having to defer one penny from his millstone of a contract.
From a strategic standpoint, it does not stand up. The forecast for this season does not have the Texans competing for a Super Bowl berth. If they manage to build a playoff contender off the unexpected success of 2015, the payoff will not come any earlier than 2016.
Should management like to have Joseph back next season, it will not be for another eight-figure chunk of cheddar. He has the fourth-highest cap hit for his position in 2015, ahead of Richard Sherman, Vontae Davis, Joe Haden and other arguably better cornerbacks. Now would be the time to spread out his cap impact with a one- or two-year extension.
If that option is a non-starter for negotiations, then eat his $3.75 million worth of dead money and cut him loose. Then put A.J. Bouye, Darryl Morris or Jumal Rolle in his place and see how much of a falloff occurs. Or draft Jalen Collins, Kevin Johnson or P.J. Williams and move on.
A cornerback who will soon turn 31 with injury issues in each of the last three seasons should not be the second-highest-paid player on the roster. Get his pay in line with his real value to this team or send him packing.
Somewhere along the line, the Texans’ starter at quarterback for most of 2014 must have asked himself, “Was my performance in the Eagles game really that bad?”
The one interception he threw was fumbled by DeMeco Ryans and recovered by Houston. He did not miss the 39-yard field goal that would have tied the game at 17-all in the third quarter. When the team was down by 10 with less than four minutes to go, his three consecutive keepers for 28 yards set up the offense at the Houston 45.
“Fitz-tragic” should recall this selective version of his play leaves out the three successive incompletions led to the field-goal attempt—and the incompletions on the Texans’ final three plays of the game, which ended any chance of a comeback. His second-half stat line of 7-of-16 for 99 yards and one touchdown was not enough to raise their record over break-even for the first time since Week 5.
Fitzpatrick made one more start against an inept Tennessee Titans defense and threw for six touchdowns. The record-setting day was apparently not enough to erase the memory of his erratic season. The failure to reverse the momentum of 24-point runs by both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 6-7 certainly did not help his standing with the coaching staff, either.
The defeat by the Eagles led to Ryan Mallett being elevated to the starting role and Fitzpatrick heading to the inactive list. Had Mallett not been placed on injured reserve after Week 12, Fitzpatrick would never have returned to the lineup.
By the time you read this, Brian Hoyer may have already inked the two-year pact with the Texans Doug Farrar previously reported on SI.com. Does this definitely mean Hoyer and Mallett are the only quarterbacks O’Brien will have active on game day?
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk was just one many NFL beat writers who covered the NFL Competition Committee meeting in which increasing rosters to 55 players was discussed. This is not likely to happen this year, and the Texans would be equally unlikely to carry three active quarterbacks if the expansion took place.
Thus, the continuing travels of Fitzpatrick will take him to that place where journeyman quarterbacks go—holding the clipboard on the sidelines with a team that is one damaged passer away from putting him back in action.
The production of Graham in the 2013 offense was significant, tying Andre Johnson for the team lead with five receiving touchdowns. He was an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and re-signed with the Texans in March of 2014. Bill O’Brien had already been on the job for a couple of months, so the contract must have been offered with his blessing.
During his first season as head coach, O’Brien did not find a way to involve Graham or the other tight ends in the offense on a regular basis. Along with C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin, this trio had 48 combined targets, the lowest total of any team in the league.
When Mallett took over at quarterback after the Week 10 bye, the tight ends received half their targets for the season over the final seven games. This is largely circumstantial evidence, and thin at that. But the lack of involvement for what was supposed to be an integral part of the offense begs for some justification.
An explanation out of left field might offer some insight into the rather peculiar interest in Brian Hoyer. Ryan Fitzpatrick might have left the tight ends out of his progressions too often to suit O’Brien’s liking. The familiarity Hoyer has with the Patriots system could return this position group back to prominence.
Until it does, paying Graham the $3,921,875 due him in 2015 is a poor financial decision. The dead money remaining is $1.5 million, creating a surplus of nearly $2.5 million upon his release.
Free agent James Casey could be enticed to return to Houston for such a sum. If general manager Rick Smith can bring Danieal Manning back for the league-minimum of $855,000, almost three times that amount should be enough to interest the multi-talented muscleman known as “Thor” to his fans.
The man for the slot he is not.
Martin was projected to be a speed merchant with multiple skills when he was drafted in 2012. He registered a 4.45 40-yard time at the combine and led all wide receivers in the 60-yard shuttle. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com summed up his prospects with this draft analysis:
Martin is a scrappy pass-catcher with underrated return skills. He has a knack for turning short passes into big gains, and gives the Texans a potential solution to their return-game woes.
In three seasons, his pass-catching has been scrappy with the “s” removed. A total of 38 receptions for three touchdowns over that time says it all. The Texans punt return game remains woeful, with his average dropping from 12.1 in his rookie year to 6.2 in 2014.
Street free-agent Damaris Johnson almost equaled Martin’s career total with 31 receptions in 2014 as the so-called slot receiver. Pro Football Focus gave him 23 slot targets, while DeAndre Hopkins actually led Houston with 33. Martin had three for the entire year.
Johnson was re-signed for $1 million, but only $100,000 was guaranteed. This minor commitment keeps the Texans’ options open in case any cap casualties with a higher upside become available.
At the present time, there are two certainties regarding this position. Wes Welker should follow Patrick Willis into retirement and consideration for the Hall of Fame. Martin should follow Jake Locker into retirement and consideration of his next career.
Marc Sessler of NFL.com reported the acquisition of Clabo with all the fanfare of a livestock purchase:
The Houston Texans have added a body along the offensive line.
Backup tackle Andrew Gardner was lost to free agency in the 2014 offseason. Brennan Williams, a third-round draft choice from 2013, had not sufficiently recovered from microfracture surgery and was released.
The reaction was to sign a bunch of rookies and veterans of varying experience. Matt Feiler, Anthony Dima and Bryan Witzmann came from the college ranks, and Mike Farrell, Will Yeatman and Clabo were the pros.
Clabo was 32 and had a down-and-up season with the Miami Dolphins in 2013. Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus laid out the specifics.
Tyson Clabo's 2013 season: First 6 games: 8 sacks allowed, -14.5 @PFF grade. Last 9 games: 3 sacks allowed, +9.0 grade— Pete Damilatis (@PFF_Pete) July 23, 2014
Due to the excellent health of Duane Brown and Derek Newton, Clabo did not spend much time on the O-line. Football Outsiders credited him with 99 offensive snaps. If he had, the Texans would have given up far more than the 26 sacks they surrendered.
The image above shows Elvis Dumervil of the Baltimore Ravens scooting right by Clabo using nothing more than a basic speed rush. Lawrence Guy, Timmy Jernigan, Courtney Upshaw and Haloti Ngata all took turns making him look old and slow.
Clabo is on the books for $1.32 million with $200,000 guaranteed. Yeatman has just over $1 million against the cap and is 26 years old. This feels like the kind of season where Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien are building their foundation for the future.
Yeatman is not suddenly going to supplant Brown or Newton. He could represent some quality depth going forward.
Clabo is not getting any younger and looks as if the tread on his tires is gone. He came into the league undrafted and had a productive nine-year run. Now the run is done, and it is time to head home to Flowery Branch for good.
Who let the dog out?
D.J. Swag did, and he could not handle it any better than a tight end on a deep cross to the open half of the field.
Letting your pit bull plunge his canines into the right arm of the NFL’s top overall draft choice who is in the midst of a difficult rehab is bad enough. It is not sufficient reason to cut the cord with a young player on the cusp of his third season.
The fact that Swearinger is a man without a position is why defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel must be wondering, “Should I keep this guy around?”
There is no place in the NFL for 5’10” linebackers who cannot form tackle—especially when his assigned position is strong safety.
He may have gotten by in college with just laying a shoulder into a guy in the open field. In the pros, he must wrap up and take them down. Watch a replay of the Philadelphia Eagles game in which the defense gave up 190 yards on the ground for reference.
Swearinger made it into the second round by being tough enough to fight off blocks and get a bead on the runner. Taking the right angle is more important than brute force at this level because NFL linemen are all bigger and quicker than those in the SEC.
Also, when playing strong safety, one of his jobs is covering the tight end. Yes, the ever-increasing size differential is hard to handle for anyone not named Kam Chancellor. But if he takes his eyes off his man to spy in the backfield, he gives up the cheap touchdown. Check the image above to see how easily Dwayne Allen scored.
Maybe it is too soon to give up on a player who played a lot of Cover 1 his rookie year, then had to mix it in with Cover 2 the next season. The vast majority of safeties have some deep cover responsibilities. If he cannot cope with that, his future may lie playing strictly in sub-packages.
In the meantime, get your dog some training before he puts the bite on someone who is not 6’5” and 265 pounds.