It’s just past July 15, and just as Albert Breer predicted some time ago it looks as if there will be a resolution to the labor unrest. With the cessation of the owner installed lockout, free agency will be right around the corner. Teams will have some time to re-sign their unrestricted free agents, and then it will be open season.
Fans of the Houston Texans have been waiting the free-agency period anxiously. Wade Phillips influenced the draft enough to infuse the defense with a lot of good young talent, but more is needed if the defense is able to improve to the desired level this season.
As the negotiations towards a new collective bargaining agreement draw near though, some of the details have been slipping out to the media as to what the agreement will look like. One of the details that has slipped out is that the salary cap will likely be $120 million.
This is a problem for the Texans. They have stated they will be aggressive in acquiring talent to help the team, specifically the defense. The biggest glaring need is certainly corner back, and no slouch will do. The Texans have a lot of youth, but they need an established veteran to be the No. 1 guy.
The problem is that starting-caliber corner backs don’t come cheap. It’s not that the Texans may not have a willingness to spend money, but now the NFL will mandate how much teams can spend. According to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN, the Texans' cap number for 2011 as of now is $118.4 million.
On first glance, that doesn’t leave a lot of room to make a splash in free agency, but it could be a little better. Supposedly there will be the ability to adjust $3 million from cap cash to player benefits, which will make the cap feel like $123 million. Still, more room likely needs to be made.
There are two players on the roster that may not be around to have their 2011 salaries count against the Texans cap in order to make the necessary room. Either through trade or getting cut, both Amobi Okoye and Steve Slaton will probably be gone before Week 1.
In the case of Slaton, he would likely be sent packing regardless of whether cap room was needed or not. After a brilliant borderline-Rookie of the Year season in 2008, an abysmal sophomore campaign that featured a loss of burst, a fumbling problem and possibly related neck injury opened the door for Arian Foster.
Not only did Foster claim the job with vigor, but Slaton even lost the change-of-pace job to free-agent signee Derrick Ward. Now that the Texans will get 2010 second-round draft pick Ben Tate back from the injured reserve, where he sat for the entire season after a dislocated ankle, Slaton simply isn’t needed.
For Okoye, he may be more a casualty to the salary cap itself. Apologists cite youth and lack of talent next to him at nose tackle, but the fact is that the former 10th overall pick never panned out as a three-technique.
Now newly hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is in the process of instituting his version of the 3-4 defense. If the Texans had more cap space or less of a need to sign free agents, Okoye would likely be given the chance to redeem himself as a five-technique or even nose tackle as some have suggested.
Okoye was drafted to be a penetrating under tackle and enjoyed some early success his rookie season with 5.5 sacks. Since then however, he only managed that many sacks in three seasons. He was not drafted and has not shown a talent though, for holding the point of attack.
For $2.95 million, which is Okoye’s 2011 salary, it is likely that he will never get that chance. Additionally, he apparently underwent knee surgery sometime this winter. Even though he claims that he will be a full participant in camp except on artificially turf, a possible lingering injury is just one more reason to part ways.
Both could possibly be traded, but neither would fetch a high price. Slaton needs to get back down to the weight he played at his rookie year before he added muscle to be an every-down back. Okoye would likely garner the most interest from a 4-3 team who think he could succeed in their scheme better than he did in Houston.
If trades cannot be arranged, both would likely but cut. The cumulative $4.15 million isn’t a huge sum of money, but if the Texans truly are within a few million of the $123 million limit, every little bit will help for a team that once to make some valuable additions in free agency.
Do you disagree that Slaton or Okoye should be jettisoned for cap space? Do you think any other players should be removed as well? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@JakeBRB).