After the merciful end of the labor stoppage last week, free agency began with a fury on Monday. Fans of the Houston Texans expected the long awaited answer to the question they had been asking during the entire offseason: What would the front office do to improve the woeful secondary?
The biggest position of need for the Texans was obviously corner back. 2010 first rounder Kareem Jackson had been thrust into the starting lineup, and the end result was one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history. For months, Texans supporters asked who would be brought in to solve the problem.
After a couple of days of watching a slew of free agents agree in principle with other teams while the Texans only re-signed role players on offense, skeptical fans started to believe that the team was reverting back to their passive practices in free agency.
On Thursday night, news of the Texans acting finally emerged. Former Cincinnati Bengals corner back Johnathan Joseph was signed to a five-year, $48.75 million contract that included $23.5 million guaranteed.
Joseph was regarded by many as the second best corner in free agency this year behind the infamous Nnamdi Asomugha. There were numerous reports that the Texans were pursuing Asomugha with Joseph as the consolation prize, but without a definitive answer from Nnamdi, the Texans pulled the trigger on Joseph.
With so much attention paid to Asomugha after his contract was voided last winter, little attention was paid to Joseph. In any other year in which an All Pro was not available, however, Joseph would likely be the top corner back available on the open market.
Joseph was drafted 24th overall in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft. He took over a starting role in halfway through his rookie year. Although he didn’t have an interception that season, he immediately impacted the defense by tallying 20 defended passes.
Since that time, Joseph showed his ball skills by intercepting 14 passes, of which he returned two for touchdowns and scored another on a fumble return. He also is an aggressive and willing tackler, as shown by his 220 career tackles over five seasons.
There are a few negatives, though. Joseph has a history of ankle injuries that have kept him out of a total of 10 games over his career, including a trip to the injured reserve to end his 2008 season. Also, he missed one game in 2007 after he was arrested for possession of marijuana.
The other problem for Joseph has been inconsistency, most notably last season in his contract year. 2010 was by far his worst season statistically besides his 2008 half season, with only eight defended passes and three interceptions.
The nagging ankle injury was the main culprit for Joseph’s decreased play last season, but he played through the injury to finish the year. Joseph also suffered from the dip that the entire Bengals defense incurred during their abysmal season last year.
Joseph has been regarded as a very good teammate despite playing in the circus atmosphere that is Cincinnati. He is also very respected among football analysts that are known for their intelligence and savvy with X’s and O’s.
Take NFL Films’ Greg Cosell, for example. Cosell is regarded as one of the best film watching analysts and one of the best Twitter follows out there (@gregcosell). He has addressed Joseph several times over the offseason, usually in light of his free agent corner peers Asomugha, Ike Taylor and Antonio Cromartie.
He had these different things to say:
July 15: Asomugha primarily press man CB; Taylor press man (not as good as Nnamdi), zone, slot; Joseph primarily off coverage but can play press man.
July 15: DC Phillips a lot of man coverage. Asomugha best press man CB, but Taylor and Joseph have skill set to do it. Driven by finances.
July 28: (before Joseph signed) – Asomugha now the wild card. Joseph complete skill set, can play press plus off coverage, man and zone. Cromartie must use hand better in press.
Cosell also does a weekly radio spot on the Morning Kickoff with Ross Tucker on Sirius/XM NFL radio. During one show, he spoke highly of Joseph and made it clear that he was the second best corner on the board. He also specifically stated that he would be great for Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system because of his man coverage skills and versatility.
One thing is clear: Joseph is not of Asomugha’s caliber…yet. He very well may never be to the level of the 30-year-old former Raiders defensive back, but at 27, Joseph is just starting to peak. Now Joseph has the coaching staff and the opportunity to develop into one of the best corners in the game.
The beauty of this signing is its price. While most would not consider nearly $10 million per year cheap, it certainly is considering that Asomugha was offered $12 to 14 million per season by general manager Rick Smith. These savings likely mean that the Texans aren’t done spending in free agency.
Without knowing the specifics of the contract, I would bet willing to be that it is structured so that the guaranteed money and base salaries are designed to be cheap in the first year. His signing bonus of $12.5 million, for example, will be prorated over five years so only $2.5 will count against the cap this year. My guess is that his base for 2011 is relatively small to keep his cap number low.
Some fans preferred Joseph to Nnamdi all along because of this ability to sign a marquis safety. Others wanted Nnamdi because of his proven ability as an All Pro caliber defender. All Texans fans should realize, however, that regardless of their preference the fact is that the team filled a major need with a quality player. It’s hard to ask for more than that.
Feel differently about the Johnathan Joseph signing or have additional thoughts? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@JakeBRB).