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.