Last night, the Houston Texans joined the 2011 NFL free-agency foray by re-signing wide receiver Jacoby Jones and swing tackle Rashad Butler according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Both signings were far from certain and came with varying degrees of surprise from Texans fans.
The Texans do not have a very good reputation for dealings in free agency, especially among Houston fans. In fact, the natural reaction to any free-agent transaction by general manager Rick Smith is usually met with skepticism and knee-jerk negativity.
What should be made of the signings last night? Both are related in their timing, yet unrelated in their importance and popularity. I think the Butler signing will be met with unilateral approval by most everyone that follows the Texans, while the Jones signing will be far more controversial among fans.
First, there is a reason that re-signing Butler will be met with rousing approval. Butler was considered to be gone because he had showed potential in fill-in duty for Duane Brown while Brown sat out four games for a suspension. Butler then let it be known that he would like to pursue free agency.
He must have not had the allure on the open market that he expected, because he agreed to a deal that would pay him $3.8 million over two years. What is surprising is that he came to this conclusion so quickly, as the 2011 free-agency period was not even a full day old when he agreed to this deal.
Whatever the reason Butler signed so early, it is a great result for the Texans. Whether he is a starter or not, he is one of the best swing tackles in the league. It is a phenomenal safety net to know that, if Brown or Eric Winston goes down, they will have Butler waiting in the wings.
Jacoby’s re-signing is far more divisive. Jones has flashed immense ability at times during his four-year career, but also maddening inconsistency as well. Jones has the physical tools to be a dynamic player in the league, but drops and lack of focus have kept him from taking the next step.
Some fans might be frustrated that he was given $10.5 million with $3.5 guaranteed, while others might be upset that he was brought back, no matter the price. I don’t see the negative aspect of the deal for several reasons.
As I noted before, Owen Daniels is the true No. 2 receiving option on the Texans when he’s healthy. The money given to Jones is very comparable to deals given to No. 3 receivers throughout the league, which is what Jones will likely be this year and through the rest of his deal.
Kevin Walter was re-signed last season to a new deal, which was front-loaded with guaranteed money. As part of his deal, his entire 2011 base salary of $3 million is guaranteed, but he likely could be cut after this year as it will not affect the salary cap for 2012.
Jones will probably be given the chance to start more often this season with Walter playing in the slot, where he is better suited. Jones will be able to stretch the field with his speed and should see a yards-per-catch average closer to his 2009 season (16.2) than his 2010 (11). Daniels' return to claim the possession receiver role should ensure that.
The true benefit of locking up Jacoby Jones now is that it checks the need off the Texans list. A receiver needed to be signed at some point during the free-agency period, so why not sign someone that already knows the system? Also, I know Texans fans are sick of hearing about Jones’ potential, but what other receiver could you sign for that money with Jacoby’s upside?
The biggest take from both of these signings is that the offensive acquisitions of need are complete. GM Rick Smith can now turn his full attention to the positions that will make or break the team this season, and he knows that he has plenty of cap space to work with.
Some have contended that the Texans are limited in cap space, so these signings have made that situation worse...they are misinformed. NFL teams do not have to be under the salary cap, which will feel like $126 million, until August 4th. They’ll worry about whether they can land a premier free agent first, and if they do they’ll deal with restructuring contracts and cutting players to make room.
These deals do not hurt that salary cap issue. Butler’s deal was peanuts for the peace of mind he provides, and I would bet that Jones’ deal is structured so that most of his money hits the cap in 2012 and 2013, rather than this year.
What is your opinion of these signings? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@JakeBRB).