Today we start the best and worst contract series by looking at the Houston Texans.
Best Contract: Andre Johnson
The constant restructuring of Johnson’s contract make his deal hard to fathom as a good one (he has a $15.6 million cap hit in 2014), but there is no reason to move him from this spot this year. I’ve written about Johnson extensively on the site and it’s one of the most team friendly series of contracts for a superstar player in the history of the NFL.
This all started in 2007 when the Texans convinced Johnson to sign a 6 year extension for pennies on the dollar that would keep him in Houston until 2014. By 2010 Johnson realized how bad a contract this was as his salary was being jumped by far less talented players and tried to hold out, which resulted in a small raise and bigger incentives in exchange for two more contract years that would essentially block him from ever becoming an unrestricted free agent as he made the turn deeper into his 30’s as long as he remained a very productive player.
Since that initial contract Johnson has been named to five Pro Bowls, two All Pro teams and produced at least 1,400 yards in four of the last six seasons, many of which were spent catching passes from quarterbacks who were not exactly top of the NFL caliber players. He’s done all of this while playing somewhere in the ballpark of $6 million less a season than Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, who has never approached the top end statistical seasons that Johnson has.
Not surprisingly, Johnson is threatening a hold out this year as he is locked into a bad deal that may see him get stuck on a bad team in 2014. Unfortunately for Johnson the holdout will cost him at least $1 million as the Texans wisely put safeguards in the contract in 2010 to strip him of a big roster bonus if he tried to hold out again and missed team activities. That was yet another concession Johnson made for that 2010 raise and it clearly looks to have been a big one.
While the Texans were never able to capitalize on Johnson’s contract to shuffle enough resources elsewhere to get to a Super Bowl, they did get themselves an absolute steal at one of the highest paid positions in the NFL.
Worst Contract: Arian Foster
Foster is a fine player whose agents negotiated an incredible deal despite not having much leverage at the time of signing. Foster is one of the great undrafted success stories, coming out of nowhere to become one of the most productive running backs in the NFL, but it’s a position a decreasing importance and one where teams are very hesitant to invest big money due the steep decline often seen by players. Foster went into the 2012 offseason as a Restricted Free Agent, meaning the Texans controlled his rights for pennies. Often teams use that to their advantage to negotiate favorable terms with a player, but that was not the case here.
Seemingly using the framework of the DeAngelo Williams contract in Carolina, Foster received a whopping $20.75 million in fully guaranteed salary and $30 million in cash over the first three years of his contract. Foster received a huge $12.5 million signing bonus which virtually assured him of earning his money in the third season of the contract since his release would cost the team $7.5 million against the salary cap. It was a well crafted deal to ensure protection for Foster.
Foster did not have to give up much to get what was the best contract at the position for a player not named Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson as the team tied just $500,000 per year into per game active roster bonuses. While that is not a small amount, for a high usage player like Foster, who had hamstring issues in 2011 and had no leverage in the contract talks, they perhaps should have tried for more.
Foster would go on to have a very good 2012 season in which he ran for 1,400 yards but on his lowest yards per carry (4.1) number of his career and his yards from scrimmage declined for the second straight season. The Texans ran him into the ground with 351 carries, a bright move if the player was a RFA you had no interest in keeping but not the brightest move for a team that just committed $30 million over the next three years. Foster broke down in 2013 with a bad back and missed half the season.
Foster is said to be healthy and new head coach Bill O’Brien has stated that they have a lot of things they plan to do with him. The Texans better hope that the back is solid and he can return to being what he was in 2011, otherwise they are going to have spent a good deal of money on a player that they didn’t need to take such a big risk on when they signed him to this contract.
2013’s Best and Worst Texans Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Andre Johnson (Still on team hoping for a trade to a contending team)
2013 Worst Contract: Matt Schuab (Benched in 2013 and traded for a late round pick to Oakland)
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.