Kicking off our look around the AFC South with the Texans…
Best: JJ Watt, 6 years, $100 million, $20.9M guaranteed
The Texans have a few good deals on their team, but the way they handled JJ Watt’s negotiation makes it very hard to select any other player. I don’t think there was any question that Watt, when he signed his new contract, was the best defensive player in the NFL. The only question, which seems silly in hindsight, is what kind of value could you give a 34 defensive end which had not been a high priced position at that time.
Watt’s contract was handled perfectly in 2014. The Texans made sure to pick up his 5th year option to lock in a salary of just under $7 million in 2015 and then went to extend him in short order. Not only did that lock in another low salary but it pushed his contract years with the Texans even further. 2014 was a pivotal year for many teams when it came to contracts because it was the first year in which there was significant cap growth since the 2009 NFL season. That allowed teams to still argue that the cap growth was uncertain and they couldn’t spend too much because of those considerations. It also got a contract in before the pending free agency of Ndamukong Suh which everyone knew for two years was likely going to get ridiculous. It also, for the Texans, meant getting in ahead of a number of 34 defensive ends who were going to sign new deals in 2015.
When it was all said and done Watt essentially agreed to a contract that would pay him similar to the overvalued Mario Williams but without the nonsensical signing and option bonuses. Even after a roster bonus conversion in 2015, Watt has just $20 million in bonus proration to consider, giving the Texans all the leverage late in the contract.. Somehow the Texans convinced him to take a 6 year extension, likely because they exploited his need to be a “$100 million” player, which plants him firmly in the new CBA when its time for an extension and because of certain cap rules limits his ability to grab a great extension before hand if the NFL and NFLPA drag their feet on a new agreement.
Essentially Watt gave up the prime of his career on a contract that was surpassed in short order not just by Suh but by Justin Houston, Fletcher Cox, and Olivier Vernon. Those players don’t hold a candle to Watt. As things stand for the majority of his contract he’ll never have a cap hit much above $15 million. This was highway robbery by the Texans.
Worst: Brock Osweiler, 4 years, $72 million, $37 million guaranteed
The Texans I think have a few reaches on the team and historically they have sometimes been a bit blinded by a name, but I don’t think I can justify going anywhere else but Osweiler even if he has never taken a snap for the team as I write this. Maybe this is simply a byproduct of the way the NFL treats the position but historically these are the type of players you want to be cautious with. The Eagles signed Sam Bradford to what was essentially a one year deal. The Redskins used the tag on Kirk Cousins. The Jets won’t sign Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yet somehow the Texans saw fit to guarantee $37 million, the 10th highest guarantee at signing for quarterbacks, for Osweiler.
The Texans handling of their quarterback situation has been nothing short of awful. They traded away the best quarterback on the team because of the perception and then took on two failures to replace him. When those players not surprisingly failed in Houston they were then forced to go to Osweiler for help.
Osweiler was benched last year for a player who couldn’t throw the ball as well as some college quarterbacks. The Broncos, one of the better front offices in the NFL, wanted nothing to do with him at this price and turned instead to Mark Sanchez to lead the team. $37 million guaranteed to a player who was replaced by a broken down Peyton Manning and Sanchez. Im not sure how that makes any sense whatsoever. Maybe Osweiler will be great and this selection will look terrible but at the least if you are willing to make this financial commitment you should get a fifth contract year. On a per year basis for his guarantee package he got either a superstar or first round pick concession and he is neither. A desperation contract.