by Paul Wanecski
Any time a team can go from having the first overall selection and improve their record as quickly as the Houston Texans, one would think they were on the verge of a breakthrough. Alas, they are much further from the playoffs than their record indicates. They also on have a projected $8.9 million in salary cap space to work with.
After a carousel of quarterbacks, Houston was able to win more games than they deserved built off the strength of a strong and consistent defense, lead by the animal (and former 11th overall selection) JJ Watt. Moving into Bill O'Brien's offensive system will lead into the first official phasing out of older players.
The easiest way to save money is to look at the cap figure for JJ Watt, set to account for over $21 million. While this number is staggering, Houston will want to delay having to restructure his deal as the remainder of his contract is actually pretty reasonable given the size of his deal.
CB Jonathan Joseph has a $12.5 million cap hit for 2015 and is on the last year of his deal. He is solid, however, getting his salary down to $6-8 million this season, that would put his contract in line with his scale of production.
C Chris Myers will become a hot target for a zone blocking scheme offense, something he excelled at during his time with new Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak. His release will free them from his $8 million.
T Tyson Clabo being released will free $1.2 million.
The draft and start of free agency will dictate QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's future. If the team can find an affordable option capable of starting, they will save $3.25 million.
While WR Andre Johnson still has some trade value, the team really needs to look at moving on. They should be able to secure a mid-round selection for the wideout, who has been vocal about his displeasure with the organization for some time.
QB Ryan Mallett becomes offensive target number 1. His salary should fall in the $4-5 million range. Even though he has only two career starts, O'Brien's experience with him while in New England proved that Mallett's acquisition last season was more of a test drive.
CB Kareem Jackson, given the weak secondary free agent market, will most likely be too expensive to retain. The team could Transition Tag him but it most likely won't materialize.
LB Brooks Reed will not be back.
T Derek Newton will be a big name, so expect Houston to have to backload a lengthy deal that allows for a low early entry salary.
Watch out for the Texans to handcuff what they are able to acquire in free agency with mid to late round selections. They will look to take advantage of this deep wide receiver class. Kevin White (West Virginia), Amari Cooper (Alabama) will be off the board, but plenty of talent will be around in the first and second round.
Given the depth, they may grab a cornerback early or address offensive line needs. The free agency market is stronger at guard and tackle than it is for cornerback, which means the team will have to be very calculated with its approach.
With QB Tom Savage on the roster, a late round quarterback selection seems unlikely.
RB Arian Foster is a ticking timebomb. The free agent running back market is so saturated, finding a solid #2 option will not be a challenge. As always, Texans fans will have to be like Foster in this respect...wait day-to-day.
Lacking a true slot receiver, Houston may take a flyer on a player who battled injury history or previous lack of production.
They will need more options on the offensive line. Changing schemes in the last two seasons has phased out most of the players who didn't fit the new direction but they are still light in several areas.
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