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Houston Texans Continue Trimming the Roster

On Friday Houston continued the trimming of their roster with the releases of two veterans in Center Nick Martin and Runningback Duke Johnson. The two transactions further move Houston into the positive side of available cap space, now approaching $16.1 million. These moves are not unexpected as new GM Nick Caserio works to clean up the salary cap mess left behind by Bill O’Brien.

Houston extended Nick Martin in August 2019 with an over valued 3 year extension with an APY of $11 million. This contract placed Martin in the Top 3 (at the time) paid Centers. Martin’s performance prior to the contract did not align with the contract value, and Martin’s performance continued to decline in 2019 and 2020. The release saves Houston $6.25 million in cap space and $7.5 million in cash.

Another questionable move in the 2019 offseason was the trade for Duke Johnson. Houston sent a 3rd round compensatory pick to Cleveland in exchange for the remaining three years of Johnson’s contract. Johnson is not a bell-cow type back, but should have been used as a third down back and a player that flexed out to wide receiver. Houston never utilized Johnson the way many envisioned. Totaling 1,304 total yards (rushing and receiving) over the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The release saves Houston $5.03 million in cap dollars and $5.15 million in cash.

Houston’s starting running back in David Johnson was also a topic of discussion on social media over the weekend. Reports from Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle noted Houston was looking to retain David Johnson under a revised contract for the 2021 season. Johnson has a scheduled cap charge of $8.5 million dollars with a scheduled (potential) cash earn of $9 million. Johnson does have a $2.1 million salary guarantee for 2021. If Johnson does remain in Houston, expect the cap and cash charge to come down to $3.5-$4.0 million including incentives.

These moves come on the heels of earlier releases with All Pro Defensive End J.J. Watt, veteran Guard Senio Kelmete, and Linebacker Peter Kalambayi.

Expect more roster moves for Houston in the coming days and weeks prior to free agency. The team needs to make a decision on veterans on Linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, Tight End Darren Fells, Guard/Center Zach Fulton, and Defensive Tackle Brandon Dunn.

Houston does have three remaining pending Restricted Free Agents in P.J. Hall (DI), Pharaoh Brown (TE), and A.J. Moore (DB). Reportedly Houston wants to retain all three players either on new contracts or original round tenders. Houston has already agreed to terms with Buddy Howell (RB), Dontrell Hilliard (RB), and Cornell Armstrong (DB). Those contracts are expected to be finalized this week.

Reportedly the team is expected to open negotiations with veteran inside linebacker Tyrell Adams this week. Adams is 29 coming off of a career season after filling in for McKinney, determining Adams’ value will be difficult for Caserio. And yes, Caserio is doing all the contract negotiations for Houston at this point in time.

The continued saga with Deshaun Watson continues with the latest report on Watson completing a remote meeting with new head coach David Culley. Reports from that meeting suggest Watson does not plan to report or play for Houston this year. Caserio continues his assertion that Houston does not plan to trade Watson. Expect this trend to continue up to the draft in late April. When draft night closes in, the team’s position may alter once the proposed packages become more real.

Houston Texans – Maneuvering the 2021 Salary Cap

With the 2020 regular season having come to a close for the Houston Texans (as well any 2020 game for Houston finished), all eyes now move towards the 2021 offseason. The organization is looking to hire a new General Manager and Head Coach. The new regime will be tasked with rebuilding the roster, along with repairing the team salary cap. Copious amounts of damage left behind from the short lived Bill O’Brien GM era. The team has two savings factors for any incoming front office: Deshaun Watson and quality book end offensive tackles.

For this article we will use $176 million as the league salary cap for the numbers. Unfortunately, the league will not announce the league cap until the middle of March. This generally occurs a few days prior to the start of the new league year. The 2021 league year begins at 4pm EST on March 17, 2021. The annual team adjustment is unknown at this point, expect that information to be leaked by media in the coming weeks.

2021 Cap Space

The team has recently completed the signing of future’s contracts, leaving the team with 54 number of player contracts for 2021 on the books; expectations are more future contracts are coming this week. With the 54 contracts, the team currently has approximately $202.98 million (Top 51 rule) in cap commitments for 2021. The team will roll over approximately $9.6 million of remaining 2020 cap dollars over to 2021. Absent the annual adjustment, the Texans will have approximately ($17.73) million, yes negative, in cap space to begin the offseason. While the team is currently projected over the salary cap, the need to be cap compliant is not due until March 17. There are available roster moves to get the team within compliance.

The new regime will examine the roster top to bottom for potential savings or adjustment. With any new regime, this means almost every player is available for some sort of transaction, the new front office will be not “married” to any player. At this point the only untouchable players are Deshaun Watson (QB), Laremy Tunsil (OT) and Tytus Howard (OT). As with any new General Managers it is difficult to project potential roster management without a clear history to reference.

The Texans finished the 2020 league year as the top team in cash spending on the roster, spending just over $250 million. This is a rare place for Houston as the team is generally in the bottom third of cash spending year over year. The heavy cash spending in 2020 could lead to a pull back of spending in 2021 to assist in balancing out the salary cap.

The 2021 league year will need to be a year of low cost veteran contracts and cost controlled rookies or 1/2 year experience players on minimum deals. The team has limited draft capital, and will likely sign a large undrafted class in hopes of landing 1 or 2 prospects.

Pending Free Agents

The Texans have a large group of pending free agents, however only a few players are heavy contributors for playing time. Below is the list of free agents and an opinion on how the team may proceed.

Resign (UFA)

  • Will Fuller (WR) – Fuller was well on his way to a career season before receiving a 6 game suspension from the league for performance enhancing drugs. Fuller played the 2020 season on the 5th year option of his rookie contract. Heading into a down cap year coupled with a strong wide receiver draft class, and given Fuller’s injury history; makes for a difficult projection on Fuller. The team likely would make an offer of two years at $11-13m APY and let Fuller explore the market. This value is down from initial projections of Fuller topping $14+ million APY.
  • Tyrell Adams (ILB) – Adams stepped in as the starting linebacker when Bernard McKinney was placed on season ending injured reserve. Adams has been adequate in his performance, despite his career high in snap counts. Adams played on a minimum level contract. Suspect Adams will need to accept a similar contract for 2021.
  • Roderick Johnson (OT) – The league is short on offensive linemen, but in a cost controlled cap year this will work against Johnson. Houston should bring back Johnson on a one year contract to compete with Charlie Heck as the OT3. This will be difficult for Houston with Johnson’s solid two game audition at the end of the season. Very likely he is signed elsewhere to compete for a starting job.

Let Walk (UFA)

  • Vernon Hargreaves (CB)
  • Gareon Conley (CB) – Unless new front office has change of heart.
  • Carlos Watkins (DL)
  • Jon Weeks (LS) – retirement?
  • Brennan Scarlett (Edge)
  • Phillip Gaines (CB)
  • Brent Qvale (OG)
  • Michael Thomas (S)
  • Dylan Cole (ILB)
  • A.J. McCarron (QB)
  • Kyle Emanuel (LB)

Restricted Free Agents

ROFR (right of first refusal) tentatively worth $2,133,000.

  • P.J. Hall (DT) – Attempt to resign at minimum level contract.
  • A.J. Moore (S) – ROFR tender to evaluate his continued development.
  • Pharaoh Brown (TE) – Attempt to resign at minimum level contract.
  • Buddy Howell (RB) – No resign.
  • Dontrell Hilliard (RB) – No resign.
  • Cornell Armstrong (CB/ST) – Resign at minimum level contract.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

ERFA’s are prohibited from negotiating with other teams until March 17, 2021. The team will need to sign/tender the player by this date. Expect the team to tender all ERFA’s.

  • Geno Stone (S)

Proven Performance Escalator

Justin Reid (S) and Jordan Akins (TE) received a salary increase for playing time under the proven performance escalator; Reid received the Level 2 increase and Akins received the Level 1 increase. The Texans do not have any other 2018 draft picks eligible for the PPE.

If the above player re-signings and salary adjustments are completed the team will have (x) contracts on the 2021 cap with ($x) available in cap space. Now we turn our attention to ways the team can shed cap and cash for the 2021 league year. Cap savings listed after gross savings, not net after Top 51 replacement.

Potential Releases (amounts do not reflect net savings under Top 51 rule)

  • Benardrick McKinney (ILB) – McKinney still has plenty of talent, this release would be characterized as cap casualty. The team extended Zach Cunningham in 2020, making it difficult to keep McKinney on the roster at his current rate. The team could explore resigning McKinney at a lower rate. Release saves $7.0 million in cap and $7.75 million in cash.
  • David Johnson (RB) – Johnson has $2.1 million in salary guarantees for 2021. With a release the team would gain a cap credit in 2022 on that money if Johnson earns cash from another team in the 2021 league year. Release saves $6.9 million in cap and cash.
  • Zach Fulton (OG) – Fulton had another down year in performance in 2020 after taking a pay cut in the 2020 offseason. Release saves $3.0 million in cap and cash.
  • Duke Johnson (RB) – The team never utilized Johnson correctly after sending a 3rd round pick to Cleveland in 2019. Release saves $5.15 million in cap and cash.
  • Brandon Dunn (DL) – This contract was another Bill O’Brien special, over valuing Dunn at $4 million APY in February 2020. Dunn’s performance has not lived up to the contract. Release saves $3.25 million in cap & $3.75 million in cash.

The team could also look at veterans Senio Kelemete (OG) and Darren Fells (TE) for potential release. However both contracts have minimal savings when compared to replacement cost.

Potential Trades

  • J.J. Watt (DE) – The elephant in the room. The new front office will have a critical decision on their hands with one of the faces of the franchise. Watt is due $17.5 million in 2021 with no guarantees remaining. Watt will likely be looking for a contract extension regardless of which team he is on in 2021. 2020 will be Watt’s second full season of work in 5 years, and is 31 years of age. Dealing Watt for a draft pick would likely bring back a mid/late 2nd round pick. If the team plans to retain Watt, then an extension is needed to lower Watt’s $17.5 million cap charge for 2021. Trade saves $17.5 million in cap and cash.

Potential Extensions & Restructures

The team does not have any potential contract extension players beyond Justin Reid and Jordan Akins. The new general manager will likely expect both players to finish out their rookie contracts as the team builds their plans for 2022.

  • Brandin Cooks (WR) – As part of the 2020 trade for Cooks, Houston inherited the remaining years of Cooks’ contract. Cooks has zero dead money in his contract (currently), and is under contract through 2023. Houston could convert $9.0 million of his $12.0 million base salary to a signing bonus, creating $6.0 million in cap saving for 2020. However this move would increase Cooks’ 2022 and 2023 cap charges by $3.0 million each year respectively. The move would also create $6.0 million in dead money for 2022. This move likely would ensure Cooks is on the roster for 2021 and 2022.

Difficult Contracts

  • Whitney Mercilus (Edge) – Mercilus signed a large extension with Houston at the end of the 2019 season. The contract included an early vesting schedule for his 2021 salary, which is now fully guaranteed worth $10.5 million. Absent a retirement by Mercilus, the team would have to keep Mercilus on the roster for the 2021 season. Any kind of trade would need to include draft assets with it. Mercilus would quickly say no to any salary adjustment. This is an unfortunate contract left behind from the Bill O’Brien era, that the new front office will have to manage until 2022.
  • Nick Martin (C) – The Martin extension in 2018 was another over value by O’Brien. Martin is currently the 5th highest paid center in the league, based on APY. Martin grades out in the top 10 on pass blocking with PFF, however is near the bottom in run blocking. Martin does not have any guaranteed money remaining in his contract. The team could approach him about a salary adjustment, but when the team does that they need to be prepared to release the player if they quickly say no. A release of Martin just creates another hole on the roster that the team will need to fill with a free agent. Martin has been the center for all of Watson’s career. Release saves $6.25 million in cap and $7.5 million in cash.

What Does it All Mean?

If the above transactions are completed the team could realize a net cap savings of $29.74 million, placing the team near $12 million under the cap. This does not include any potential transaction with Nick Martin.

PlayerTransactionCap Created (mil)Cap Saved (mil)
W. FullerSign$11.00m
T. AdamsSign$0.95m
R. JohnsonSign$2.50m
P. HallSign$0.85m
A. MooreTender$2.13m
P. BrownSign$0.85m
G. StoneTender$0.78m
Total Created$19.06m
B. McKinneyRelease$7.00m
D. JohnsonRelease$6.90m
Z. FultonRelease$3.00m
Du. JohnsonRelease$5.15m
B. DunnRelease$3.25m
B. CooksRestructure$6.00m
J. WattTrade$17.50m
Total Saved$48.80
Net Savings$29.74
Houston Texans Potential Cap Savings

The the organization will need to manage the 2021 league year with low cost contracts via veteran minimums and rookie/low experience players as they rebuild the salary cap and roster for 2022. Absent the players listed above the core of the roster is well defined. Certain contracts are what they are, and will have to continue to utilize those players as best as can be done until they become moveable. This pertains to Whitney Mercilus, Randall Cobb, and Eric Murray.


Grover Stewart – Three Year Extension

Over the weekend news broke in Indianapolis with an extension between the team and interior defender Grover Stewart. Initial reports were courtesy of Jim Ayello of the Indy Star.

Stewart is playing the 2020 season on the Proven Performance Escalator in the final year of his rookie contract after being drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 draft by Indianapolis. The 2017 NFL Draft was the first for newly installed General Manager Chris Ballard.

The base contract value of $10.25 million per year slots Stewart inline with defensive lineman of his performance and work. Stewart does not stay on the field for all three downs; coming off the field for certain passing situations. The extension will add to an already expensive defensive line that employs DeForest Buckner

The extension slots Stewart in below last year’s interior defensive linemen free agent group headlined by DJ Reader and Javon Hargrove, both who topped $13 million APY. Stewart’s contract will place him among Eddie Goldman ($10.5 million), Jordan Phillips, and Malik Jackson (both at $10.0 million) APY.

Stewart was facing a 2021 free agency marred by a down salary cap year plus teams fighting ways to cut back cash spending. In a normal free agency period, Stewart would have commanded money upwards of $12.5 million APY on an open free market.

Indianapolis varies in their contract structure throughout the season. Sometimes they deploy a cash model structure with no signing bonus and guaranteed salary plus roster bonuses.

With Stewart’s contract, the team went with a hybrid structure. Small signing bonus of $5 million (which a large portion is deferred to 2021 installments) as the primary guarantee at signing. Stewart has a rolling 5th day league year vesting schedule for 2021 and 2022.

What this means is Stewart’s full guarantee protections will not vest until the 5th day of the 2021 league year, and the same for 2022 league year. The salaries are guaranteed for injury at signing.

Stewart’s contract is very team friendly. Surprised the agent was not able to secure any kind of full guarantee on the 2021 money. At a minimum the 2021 roster bonus should have been guaranteed at signing. If things went sideways quickly (barring an injury) Indianapolis can get out of this contract before March 21, 2021 with very little dead money.

Will Fuller & Bradley Roby Suspension

News broke yesterday afternoon and evening on two player suspensions within the Houston Texans organization, with WR Will Fuller and CB Bradley Roby receiving 6 game suspensions. Both players took to social media to post the news along with their explanations. The suspensions have yet to be formally announced by the league.

The player suspensions of 6 games means both players tested positive for anabolics (per the CBA mandated suspension protocols). With 5 games left in the regular season, both players will miss the remainder of the 2020 season and the opening game of the 2021 season.

Will Fuller was on pace for the best season of his career with 879 receiving yards on 53 receptions through 11 games. Fuller is playing out the last year of his rookie contract, playing on the 5th year option. Fuller will now forfeit $2,988,824 for 2020, and one game check in 2021 (amount unknown). Fuller is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. It is possible this suspension, on top of his injury history, could affect potential earnings on the open market. Fuller may have to travel the one year contract in hopes of playing a full season to reset his value in 2022.

Bradley Roby is undoubtedly Houston’s most talented cornerback in a very thin roster group. Roby’s performance for 2020 has been on-par based on his performance history. Roby signed a 3 year, $31.5 million contract this past offseason with Houston as an unrestricted free agent. The contract contained $19 million in total guarantees at signing. The remainder of those guarantees (potentially) can now be voided by Houston. Roby’s suspension will cost him $1,511,029 in cash from lost salary and per game roster bonuses in 2020; and $590,074 in cash in 2021.

Roby is scheduled to earn a base salary of $9.5 million in 2021. Of that amount, $8 million was fully guaranteed at signing of his contract in 2020. The suspension should now void that guarantee. Expectation is Roby will remain with the team in 2021; however if the new front office has other plans, the removal of the guarantee does offer flexibility to the team salary cap situation in 2021.

Roby and Fuller missing the first game of the 2021 regular season will also potential void any termination pay guarantees on their contract for the 2021 league year.

Houston will receive immediate cap credits in 2020 and 2021 (for Roby) for the forfeited salary amounts of about $4.5 million.

AFC South Positional Spending

The quiet season of the NFL league year is approaching as teams across the league are winding down or have completed their organized team activities (OTA’s).  Teams will complete their mandatory mini-camps in the coming weeks; giving the players and staff a short break before training camp begins in July.  The 90 man rosters are in place at this point of the league year.  There may be some back end roster churning prior to training camp but for the most part things are set.  How does each team compare in cap spending at the different position groups?

During the offseason NFL teams are allowed to maintain an active roster of 90 players, versus the 53 man roster count during the season.  Players on reserve do not count towards the 90 man roster count (ex. Jeff Allen with Houston).

Roster Building

This will serve as an examination of the team cap spending per position group.  There should be a big difference in the positional spending with two teams with quarterbacks on rookie contracts and the other two quarterbacks already on their second contract.  How does each team build their roster?  Have they invested in the trenches on the offensive and defensive line?  Does the team prefer to spend their cap dollars on the skill positions?  The difference in the type of contract at the quarterback will play a role in where the rest of the money is spent.  Two of the AFC South teams have new or relatively new General Managers; both of which are still retooling their roster to fit their specific vision.

Total Team Cap Spending

This is an high level view of the cap and cash commitments for the AFC South teams.

TeamCap SpendingCash SpendingCash to Cap Ratio
Houston Texans$156,343,474$164,665,9230.967
Indianapolis Colts$140,862,540$158,656,8730.988
Jacksonville Jaguars$190,680,879$226,544,8381.096
Tennessee Titans$172,584,724$184,547,2260.975

*Cash to cap ratio is a projection based on Top 53 calculation used during the regular season.  Cap spending is based on offseason Top 51 calculation.

Teams will generally attempt to match the cash spending to cap spending; trying to limit their prorated spending stemming from signing bonuses paid out.  Houston and Indianapolis have been transitioning to a strong cash or hybrid contract structure, moving their ratio closer to 1.00.  Jacksonville has a huge cash spend allocation for 2018 (and 2019) well beyond their actual cap spending which is why the number is well over 1.00.  For the 2018 league year Jacksonville is projected as the highest cash to cap ratio among all 32 teams.

As you can see the Jaguars are clearly the heavy spenders at this point of the league year.  Blake Bortles is on his second contract but only accounts for 5.6% of the teams salary cap spending.  Jacksonville has invested heavily in skill positions and in the trenches both in cash and draft assets.  This heavy spending has put the team in an interesting position for 2019 as the team is currently projected ~$11 million over the cap in 2019.  The team will be faced with difficult decisions in 2019 and 2020 on their high value veteran contracts.

On the other end of the spectrum is Indianapolis and second year GM Chris Ballard.  Ballard has brought in his cash model contract structure; and has quietly been rebuilding the roster.  It is very odd to see cap spending this low when the team has a player, Andrew Luck, accounting for 13.8% of the team salary cap spending for 2018.  The Colts were able to trade back in this year’s draft amassing a ton of draft picks inside of the Top 100 selections.  This is one factor contributing to the Colts low cap and cash spending.

Houston has a first year GM in Brian Gaine and came into a team cap situation is a healthy amount of cap space for 2018.  Houston did not have a first or second round draft selection for 2018 and has a large number of players on the roster that are on lower level contracts or came from the undrafted ranks.  Deshaun Watson is in year two of his rookie contract counting only 1.8% of the team salary cap spending.  Houston does have two players in line for big contract extensions with Jadaveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney.  Expect Houston to front load these two contracts similar to the DeAndre Hopkins contract.

Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson has quietly built a very solid roster.  Marcus Mariota is in year four of his rookie contract only counting 4.3% of the 2018 cap spending.  Tennessee has signed free agents the past two years to shore up the defensive back field with Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler to go along with two outstanding young players in Adoree Jackson and Kevin Byard.  Tennessee does have some players due for large contract extensions including Mariota, Taylor Lewan, and Rishard Matthews.

Offensive Cap Spending

Below is a table of the cap spending dollars per position group between the four teams.

Houston Texans$73,418,533$5,143,746$10,535,263$22,291,951$6,020,399$29,427,174
Indianapolis Colts$103,130,124$26,195,076$4,233,859$24,357,042$14,592,083$33,752,064
Jacksonville Jaguars$79,780,502$11,273,484$12,001,311$19,738,998$8,187,000$28,942,709
Tennessee Titans$82,740,702$10,221,654$7,378,990$17,663,757$12,166,739$35,309,562

Here you can see the stark difference it makes having a quarterback on a rookie contract for Houston and Tennessee; which allows a team to spend additional cap dollars on other positions group for a 3-4 year window with the quarterback premium position under market value.  Houston and Tennessee are ranked 30th and 27th, respectively, on cap spending at the quarterback position among the league.  Both teams make up for the difference on the defense.  Tennessee does have a large investment in their offensive line.  After Taylor Lewan signs an extension, which is expected to happen this summer, the Titans will have 4 starters from the offensive line on 2nd or veteran contracts.  This will bump up their rank into the Top 10 on offensive line spending.

Jacksonville is ranked 3rd in the league on runningback cap spending.  Leonard Fournette was the #4 overall draft in 2017; and that draft slot puts him as the 6th highest (based on APY) paid runningback despite being on a rookie contract.  Fournette’s APY at $6.79 million per year is just a spot of ahead of Houston’s veteran running back Lamar Miller and his $6.5 million per year contract.  Tennessee and Indianapolis runningback groups consist of players on lower level rookie contracts.

Indianapolis has the largest cap spending allocation at wide receiver among the four teams.  Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is the main contributing factor.  Houston is right behind at $22.3 million with the bulk of that spending on DeAndre Hopkins.  However when you compare these two teams against the rest of the league, Indianapolis and Houston rank 13th and 16th respectively in wide reciever spending.

Due to the lack of draft selections in 2018 NFL draft Houston brought in three free agents to help fill in the holes along on the offensive line.  Houston is looking at having four new starters along the offensive line; after ranking last in many statistical categories for OL play in 2017.  Indianapolis and Tennessee have invested draft assets and free agent assets in their offensive line the past few years.

Defensive Cap Spending

Quick review of this table clearly shows the dramatic difference in cap spending on defense between the teams, specifically Indianapolis and Jacksonville.  Jacksonville was a top overall graded defense in 2017 per Profootball Focus.

Houston Texans$93,712,886$22,603,191$26,642,045$13,454,914$31,012,736
Indianapolis Colts$51,822,429$19,058,597$18,450,040$7,066,329$7,247,463
Jacksonville Jaguars$122,757,899$60,309,276$14,837,451$18,392,633$29,218,539
Tennessee Titans$98,444,946$29,070,243$34,581,368$12,099,663$22,693,672

Jacksonville is heavily invested in their defensive line group, safeties and cornerbacks.  With veteran contracts on Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson on the defensive line; and A.J. Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church on the back end represents the majority of their defensive spending.  With the team projected over the team cap in 2019; difficult decisions will need to be made in these position groups.  The defensive line will command some serious decisions, Jacksonville in #1 in spending in the league on this specific position group.

Tennessee has a similar approach on the defensive side of the ball with 8 of their starters playing under a 2nd or veteran contract.  The team has continually added one or two high quality free agents through free agency over the past couple of years with players Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Brian Orakpo, and Johnathan Cyprien.  Tennessee is third in the league in cap spending on the linebacker position group (both edge and inside).

Houston spent many years, prior to 2017, of investing draft assets on the defensive side of the ball.  Jadaveon Clowney was the #1 overall selection in 2014, J.J. Watt, Kareem Jackson, and Whitney Mercilus were all first round selections.  Brian Gaine is the new General Manager in Houston; the roster turnover is still on-going as he and Bill O’Brien work to “align” their philosophies on the roster building aspect of the organization.  Houston is #1 in the league in cap spending on the cornerback position group, after bringing in free agent Aaron Colvin and making him the highest paid nickel back in the league.  The biggest change this year, versus years past, is the spending on the safety group.  Under former GM Rick Smith the safety group was routinely near the bottom of the league when compared to other teams in terms of spending.  With the addition of Tyrann Mathieu the Texans are now 11th in the league in safety spending.

Final Thoughts

It is interesting to see the cap spending between each roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball with Indianapolis being last in the league by quite a bit.  Indy will roll over a large amount of cap dollars in 2019 allowing GM Chris Ballard to spend heavily on a few free agents to shore up the defensive group.  Jacksonville is the only team spending to their maximum giving the impression of “win now” mode.  Houston and Tennessee are sitting on a large amount of available cap dollars that they will attempt to rollover in 2019; which is surprising with having their franchise quarterback on a rookie contract.  The two teams should be leveraging that as much as possible during the 4 year window of having a quarterback accounting for less than 5% of the team cap.  As mentioned earlier Jacksonville will have to make some decisions on their veterans in 2019 to get back under the projected cap.

*Note each team still has a few rookies left to sign their contract which will affect the numbers slightly but not enough to change the overall outlook for the team cap spending for 2018.


Texans Could Have Some Contract Problems

The Houston Texans could be entering a tricky situation in the next two years on the defensive side of the field regarding player contracts.  The three players in question are JaDaveon Clowney, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus.  JaDaveon Clowney is entering year 4 of his 2014 rookie contract and is scheduled to earn $17,303,227 through the 2018 season.  This offseason the Texans exercised the 5th year option in Clowney’s contract worth almost $14 million for the 2018 league year.  Current reports indicate the Texans intend to monitor Clowney’s progression and health in 2017 before starting contract extension negotiations in the 2018 offseason when Clowney has one year remaining on his contract.

Clowney had a very productive 2016 campaign.  The stat line may not support that assessment but the game tape does not lie.  With the return of J.J. Watt on the other side of the defensive line, this could provide Clowney more “one on one” opportunities to pad his stat line, increasing his market value heading into the 2018 offseason.  If Clowney’s progression continues on the current trajectory he could be in line for a large contract extension; possibly a contract worth more than multiple all-pro J.J. Watt.

Watt will have 4 years remaining on his player contract heading into the 2018 offseason; 4 years of non-guaranteed salary totaling $57 million dollars.  Considering that Watt potentially lines up both on the interior portion and on the end of the defensive line, it is difficult to classify his market value based solely on 3-4 defensive end players.  $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years with zero guarantee liability puts the Houston Texans in a favorable position with Watt.  This assumes Watt returns to previous form after multiple back surgeries.  If Watt does continue to provide production similar to his past seasons, his camp could push for a new contract based on the edge rusher market, and depending on the size of contract Clowney receives.  This could be another Duane Brown situation for the Houston Texans as Watt may want seek out new guaranteed money if his production returns.

Another player that could be affected by a Clowney extension is outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.  Currently Mercilus has 3 years remaining on his 2015 contract extension totaling $16.5 million.  This contract is one of the most favorable veteran contracts currently in the NFL when comparing production versus cash paid to the player.  One could argue that Mercilus is already out performing this contract based on his production.  Mercilus is in a similar position as Watt as he is entering the non-guaranteed salary portion of his player contract.  This is another example where the Texans have a productive player under contract for multiple years with low salary liability.

Watt & Mercilus will be watching two specific situations and how they play out over the next 12 months; the Duane Brown situation and the JaDaveon Clowney situation.  Brown is attempting to get a new contract extension with two years of non-guaranteed salary remaining; and Clowney is in position to receive a contract extension that could be valued higher than Watt’s contract extension.