Houston Texans Release Veterans Whitney Mercilus & Andre Roberts

Houston Texans’ General Manager has resumed his shuffling of the poorly built Houston Texans roster with the reported releases of veterans Whitney Mericilus (DE) and Andre Roberts (WR), as reported by Aaron Wilson. Head Coach David Culley did not mince words in this morning’s press meeting raising concerns about player discipline and attitude on and off the field. The release of Mercilus and Roberts was the first clear signal that no player’s roster spot is safe.

Mercilus’ contract is one of the major contract blunders of the Bill O’Brien era when the team gave Mercilus a 4 year extension worth $54 million with a stout $28.5 million guaranteed ($18 million guaranteed at signing). The team went away from their model by giving Mercilus an year early vesting on his 2021 salary. Mercilus’ performance was already starting to decline before this extension was signed. And that decline carried over into 2020 on into 2021.

New GM Nick Caserio adjusted Mercilus’s contract to gain cap space for 2021, by shifting money to the 2022 salary cap. In March, $6 million of Mercilus’ scheduled $10.5 million base salary was converted to signing bonus for salary cap purposes. This move saved the team $2.9 million in 2021 cap dollars at the time. However this shifted dead money to 2022. The team also added a void clause to the contract for the 2022 league year. The team was and is still scheduled to have a $7 million dead money charge in 2022 (originally would have been $3 million).

The Texans will take on a $8 million dead money charge for 2021, along with the aforementioned $7 million in 2022. The only savings is a $617k roster bonus that Mercilus would have earned for being active for 17 games. The $4.5 million guaranteed salary for 2021 is subject to offset. Houston will gain a cap credit, in 2022, on any cash Mercilus earns with another team in 2021.

The late evening player release is likely Houston’s way of trying to sniff out a late day 3 trade compensation for Mercilus’ contract. The transaction will not become official until 3pm tomorrow (Oct 19). If a team were to trade for Mercilus, that would free up $3.176 million from Houston’s salary cap, and would also represent the amount of salary the receiving team would be on the hook for. Unlikely at this point another team picks up the contract via trade.

Houston also reportedly released Andre Roberts WR/KR. Roberts was a member of the historically large free agent class of 2021. Roberts was signed to a 2 year $5.5 million contract with $2.5 million guaranteed. Injuries, fumbles, and poor performance appears to be the main driver for this release. The release will leave a $2 million dead money charge in 2021 and $500,000 dead money charge in 2022. The release will provide the Texans with a $570k cap savings in 2021.

Expect Houston to remain busy the next two weeks leading up to the November 2 trade deadline as the team does have a few potential trade assets as Caserio continues to remake this roster in his vision for the future.

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.

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.

2016 Cap Analytics: Houston Texans

The Texans possess a solid degree of long-term cap flexibility (18th in Commitment Index) for a playoff team, which is a good thing considering that this placement does not include a large QB contract.  The contracts the team has signed its core players to over the past several years seem likely to age well under the quickly rising salary cap, and the team is in a position to add talent to the roster while only making a few expected subtractions for cap-related reasons.  This separates the Texans from other teams in the 7-9 win range that possess less long-term cap flexibility, more expected contract terminations, and greater numbers of free agents.

Continue reading 2016 Cap Analytics: Houston Texans »

Initial Thoughts on JJ Watt’s $100 Million Contract

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle JJ Watt has signed a six year contract extension worth $100 million that will make him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. The contract would contain $51 million in guaranteed money.

The first thing that jumps out to me  are the numbers in the contract and the similarity to Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills. Williams had signed a six year contract worth $96 million with the Bills a few years ago that had been considered an outlier for a number of reasons. The maximum value of that contract was $100 million and the total guarantee on that contract right around $50 milion (the real guarantee was $24.9 million).

So my assumption here is that they matched the contract of Williams except the incentives are a part of the base contract value. Williams’ cash flows over the first three contract years were $25 million, $15 million, and $13 million. I would imagine that those will be the baseline numbers used for Watt.

Because Watt has two remaining years under contract, techincially the new extension money does not start until 2016. When we calculate his year one cash total what we need to do is add up all his salary from 2014 through 2016 and subtract his original 2014 and 2015 salaries from the contract. Per McClain Watt will earn $20,876,385 in 2014 and 2015. That means his new money in that period is $12 million. Id anticipate his 2016 cash salary will be $13 million or slightly higher.

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I’ll be very interested to see the cash flows and guarantee structure of the full contract. If the only bonus in his contract is the $10 million signing bonus that leaves very little salary cap protection for Watt. Williams received $25 million in prorated money. The fact that this is a 8 year contract for cap purposes it makes the last three years of the contract completely “pay as you go” and essentially worthless years unless there is some unique structure involved. Houston usually has per game active roster bonuses in their contracts so Id imagine this is a major part of the contract as well.

When I had looked at Watt a few weeks ago I thought he would have opted for a shorter term contract with less money, but strong cash flows up front to improve his odds of a second go around with free agency. This contract now ties him up until 2021 if he continues to perform well.

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Regardless, this contract now sets the market for the young pass rusher in the NFL. There is no question that this is a valid contract, unlike the Williams one, and this represents about a 26% increase over the annual value of Clay Matthews’ contract. For Robert Quinn, Muhammad Wilkerson, Greg Hardy, etc…this contract is great news because their pay was going to hinge on what Watt could negotiate with the Texans.

From Houston’s end the timing was right if they were to sign a mega deal. At the moment they have no big name or money QB on the horizon. The team is clearly transitioning away from Andre Johnson as the face of the franchise and it was important to lock Watt up as the new face. From their perspective they could have had Watt for the next three years for around $23 million and dealt with three years of questions about commiting to him long term and potential holdouts. They will likely spend an extra $11-$13 million over the three year period for peace of mind and favorable salary cap terms.

When I get the full contract details I’ll update his page accordingly and try to do a side by side with Williams’ contract.

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Projecting a Contract for JJ Watt

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The other day there was some discussion on Twitter about Texans’ Defensive End JJ Watt receiving a contract extension worth in the ballpark of $23 million a season. That number seems crazy, so I figured I may as well jump in and take a look at Watt and where he might stand in the market and the type of contract I think he could receive.

The Player

Watt is a unique talent in part because of the position he plays on the field. In general most defenses that employ a 34 front do not have defensive ends that generate a great deal of pressure on passing downs. For the most part the 34 DE is responsible for occupying blockers, eating up space and allowing the linebackers make plays on the football. Much like defensive tackles, the 34 defensive end is not a position that gets noticed that often as their contributions go well beyond the stat sheets.

But Watt is different. He has the prototypical size of the defensive end in the 34 front, but he gets to the QB, and he gets there often. He is very disruptive and makes plays in the running game behind the line of scrimmage.  His ability to bat down passes is actually a topic of conversation among coaches and the media alike. He would seem to be a one of a kind defensive player.

The Stats

When we look at where Watt ranks I think there are a few categories we need to examine, because all are relevant to his eventual contract. The first thing I think that is worth looking at is his performance among 34 defensive ends.

Let use some of the numbers provided by Pro Football Focus for players with over 50% snaps.  Over the last three seasons the average 34 DE converts 1.2% of his rush attempts to a sack and 8.2% to a pressure. Here are the top 10 seasons over that time frame in terms of pressure conversion.

PlayerYearSacks/RushPress/Rush
J.J. Watt20132.1%16.4%
Cameron Jordan20132.7%14.5%
J.J. Watt20123.7%13.2%
Kyle Williams20132.4%12.9%
Justin Smith20131.5%12.1%
Mike Daniels20132.1%11.7%
Justin Smith20111.2%11.7%
Antonio Smith20131.9%11.2%
Calais Campbell20131.8%11.1%
Antonio Smith20111.5%10.9%

There are a few interesting takeaways from this. One is that Watt has been the most consistent player and is about two times as productive as the average player at the position. But as we look more at this list two things jump out at me. One is that his teammate, Antonio Smith, has two of the top seasons as well on this list. Smith is a very good player, but it may indicate that Watt is being given opportunities in the Texans defense to attack the passer that is not common to other teams. The other thing I notice is that out of these top 10 seasons, 7 came in 2013.

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In general we are now getting a greater number of players who are playing over 50% of the snaps and maybe more of these players are getting the green light to “go get the QB”.  Maybe we should call this the “Watt effect” as the Texans defense has shown an ability to be more aggressive up front from the end position. Looking further at the group of data for the last three years, the position has grown from just 13 qualifiers in 2011 to 21 in 2013. 62% of the 2013 players produced a better than average season compared to 47% and 38% the year before. The position is getting more productive and efficient at rushing the passer. That is something that may make Watt less unique than he was in 2012.

If we expand our list to include all pass rushers from the outside (34 outside linebackers and 43 defensive ends), the numbers change. The average pressure now jumps to 10.6%. The average sack rate is 1.8%. What is our top 10 when we expand the field?

PlayerYearSacks/RushPress/Rush
Jerry Hughes20133.6%19.3%
Elvis Dumervil20133.1%19.1%
Robert Quinn20134.0%19.1%
Aldon Smith20114.5%19.0%
Trent Cole20113.1%18.9%
Cameron Wake20132.5%17.9%
Justin Houston20133.0%17.8%
Chris Long20112.7%17.2%
Michael Bennett20132.4%17.2%
James Harrison20113.4%17.0%

There is no JJ Watt in this group. His best season ranks 13th. His second best season ranks 44th. That does not mean we can not use this positional group as comparison points, especially when we start looking at consistency, but it makes it more difficult to value Watt as a once in a generation player, which is something most seem to be doing.

Of course there is another aspect to the NFL and that is run defense. PFF tracks a stat called stops, in which they determine a tackle that constitutes a loss for the offense. Here are the top 10 seasons in that category since 2011.

PlayerYearStops/Run
J.J. Watt201217.1%
J.J. Watt201313.7%
Cedric Thornton201312.4%
Justin Smith201211.8%
Akiem Hicks201311.4%
Muhammad Wilkerson201210.9%
Tyson Jackson201110.6%
Calais Campbell201210.4%
J.J. Watt201110.2%
Kenyon Coleman201110.1%

This is a dominant showing by Watt, holding not just the top two spots, but three of the top 10 seasons outright. The only other players to appear on both lists are Calais Campbell and Justin Smith, neither of whom did it when their pass rushing was also top 10 in the same year. The average 34DE generates a stop on 7.2% of his snaps, so again he is probably close to double the average. This is once in a generation type of performance.

If we expand this list to the overall rusher market, Watt is still going to rank on top. This is essentially a dominant category for 34DE’s. The only non 34 ends in that top 10 are Anthony Spencer in 2012 (11.7%), Frostee Rucker in 2011 (11.6%), and Terrell Suggs in 2013 (11.3%).

There are some other stats that people can point to, but in general I don’t believe they would drive the price that much. His batted passes was pretty crazy in 2012 (PFF credited him with 15), but he’s had 10 total in his other two seasons, so I wouldn’t put that much stock in it.

Setting the Market

The gold standard for defensive players is Mario Williams’ $16 million per year bloated contract with the Buffalo Bills. Williams is a player that most very good players can match up with statistically, but this is one of those contracts that most consider an outlier. The contract itself is a byproduct of the Bills lack of success, desperation to be relevant, and general unappealing location. Still that will be the high end mark of probably any contract.

Here are the list of the relevant multi year contracts to the discussion on Watts as well as the two year average performance leading up to the new contract.

PlayerYear SignedAPYFull GuaranteeSack %Pressure %Stop %
Mario Williams2012$16,000,000$24,900,0003.3%16.1%2.6%
Clay Matthews2013$13,200,000$13,200,0002.6%14.2%6.7%
Charles Johnson2011$12,666,667$32,000,0002.3%14.8%7.0%
Trent Cole2012$12,131,250$14,500,0002.6%14.5%8.8%
Chris Long2012$12,050,000$23,550,0002.1%15.6%3.5%
Tamba Hali2011$11,500,000$11,500,0002.7%12.9%3.9%
Calais Campbell2012$11,000,000$17,000,0001.6%8.4%8.7%
Michael Johnson2014$8,750,000$16,000,0001.8%11.0%7.0%
Everson Griffen2014$8,500,000$19,800,0001.7%11.6%6.8%
Cameron Wake2012$8,300,000$17,000,0002.7%15.6%6.7%
Paul Kruger2013$8,100,000$13,000,0002.7%13.1%5.7%
JJ Watt???2.9%14.8%15.4%

Setting the Price

There are a few reasonable comparisons here. In terms of pass rush productivity, Watt ranks similar to Charles Johnson and Trent Cole, while being slightly less productive than Cameron Wake and Chris Long. Those names should immediately give us our minimum values for Watt. Wake, who was a bit older than some of the others, signed a lower contract in Miami and is the only player with high level production who failed to break the $12 million mark, which is clearly our low end of the marketplace for Watt.

From there Watt is going to have to point to a few factors to try to drive the price up. One is that his sack conversion rate is very high. A sack is always going to be more valuable than a pressure and teams put a premium on that. That said his 2012 season is the major factor in his ranking and each year that he produces in the 10-12 sack category will makes teams less likely to put the premium on the sack. In that respect he needs a strong sack year in 2014 if he can not reach an extension now.

Secondly it is clear how important he is to the run game. The 15.4% really stands out among this group, but again 34DE’s are expected to do well in this regard (he’s still a phenom) and run defense is not really a big barometer of salary. You can find a number of very good run defenders who were basically brought in to play on the veteran’s minimum. Others known more for run than pass play are pretty much earning in the ballpark of $5 million a season.

Another factor is that Watt is a proven full game player. Some of these other players were not. Watt more or less plays every snap of the game such that no salary is needed for a backup. He’s like Jared Allen in that regard in that he never takes a play off. Players who, when healthy, were top snap guys that are on the above list were Williams, Hali, Campbell, and M.  Johnson. Most of the others played often but more along the lines of 80-85% rather than in the 90’s.

The most recent relevant example that Watt should point to is Matthews. Matthews’ contract is very recent to the market and represents the worth of a cornerstone defender to his franchise. Matthews was also under contract at the time of signing and the Packers had similar leverage with the franchise tag that the Texans will have with Watt. Watt compares favorably to Matthews as a pass rusher, and using these numbers, in the realm of 4-11% better. If we split the range it brings us to around $14.2 million a season.  That’s probably a fair number to work from.

Going from there it’s really justifying additional money for being a pure full time player and an exceptional run defender. It might be realistic to get a team to throw you an additional $1-2 million for that aspect of the game, though many teams may just consider it a waste of resources since the NFL is a passing league. My feeling is a team would max out around $15.5 million unless they threw some backend money on the contract to equal the Williams annual value.

Negotiating with the Texans

Watt will likely have to take a discount if he signs an extension this season. Right now the Texans essentially control Watt’s rights for the next three seasons at a price tag somewhere around $23 million, depending on the cost of the franchise tag in 2016. The 2016 figure is not protected for injury, so at this point the guarantee is just $8.87 million.

If we value Watt’s extension at $15 million a year and assume a virtually guaranteed total of $40 million, that means he is essentially absorbing a minimum of a $54 million injury risk(the cost of the 16 franchise tag plus $40 million protected in the extension) by playing the next two seasons. If he has to play year 3 on the tag then it’s a $40 million risk. For Houston to absorb the risk they need to receive something in return.

Besides the injury risk, Watt also takes on a skill risk. As we discussed earlier the team was proving to be a good pass rushing team from non-traditional spots under their old coaching staff. Does that continue with the new staff?  How well does Jadeveon Clowney play in the defense?  His emergence could make Watt expendable if the cost gets too high, the way others made Williams expendable in Houston.

Another important aspect to signing now is opening up the path to future earnings. If Watt were to sign an extension this year it would likely be a 4 year deal, running through 2019. That would leave him open to a new contract at 30/31, an age where he could still be very productive.  If he is forced to play out the next three seasons he would probably have to sign a pure five year deal, leaving him 33 years old when he hits free agency again. He won’t get much at that age.

What I would do to come up with a fair price for the Texans is to estimate the likelihood of serious injury or skill declines to discount the amount that the team is guaranteeing Watt by extending him now. A study last season by Jenny Vrentas of MMQB indicated that there is around a 3% ACL tear rate in the NFL, which is usually regarded as the worst possible injury. Beyond that we could probably assume a 1%-2% probability that he suffers a different type of serious injury or would see his skills materially decline at the age of 25/26 as he completes his contract.

If we discount that $40 million guarantee at a 4% rate back from the 2016 season into the 2014 season, we would reduce his salary by about $3 million.  This type of guarantee is usually equal to the new money in the first two years of the contract. The remaining seasons would not be changed due to signing early as there was never any protection in those years to begin with. That would bring the fair contract value, in 2014, down to about $14.4 million a season. Each year that Watt survives the season without injury and performs well will increase the cost of his contract since he has less to gain by signing early.  There are a few ways to play with the numbers based on franchise tags, cap inflation, positional value inflation, etc…, but $14.4 million seems like a pretty reasonable baseline number.

In terms of cash flows I would look at the structure of the Matthews and Williams contract as a guideline. Both are reasonable expectations unlike Johnsons which is very top heavy and Long’s which is an even spread. I’d try to push for the four year extension rather than a five year extension. If the Texans insisted on five years then I think the final season should be tied to the franchise tag that year. There is so much uncertainty in the NFL that you would not want to commit to 2020 without seeing what the 2015 salary cap is. It would give the team a benefit they should not receive. That being said, the four year contract is one most likely only available in the 2014 season and that in 2015 the length will be five years.

Here is what I would think is a reasonable set up for the contract:

BonusP5PG RosterCashCap Dead
2014$15,000,000$1,907,385$0$16,907,385$6,576,197$27,795,197
2015$0$9,219,000$0$9,219,000$12,219,000$21,219,000
2016$0$6,400,000$500,000$6,900,000$9,900,000$9,000,000
2017$0$10,500,000$500,000$11,000,000$14,000,000$6,000,000
2018$0$10,200,000$500,000$10,700,000$13,700,000$3,000,000
2019$0$11,250,000$500,000$11,750,000$11,750,000$0

This works out to a four year contract worth $57.6 million. The first year new money take is $24,150,000 and the full guarantee about $26.12 million with another $6.4 million protected for injury. He’ll receive a $15 million signing bonus, which is pretty much the maximum that the team can add to the salary cap without removing Andre Johnson from the roster. While his cap charge is high in 2015, the Texans salary cap is in much better health. If you went to a five year contract I’d expect the guarantee to be higher  (around the $40 million discussed above) and cash numbers slightly higher on the front end as well.

Of course it will be interesting to see what happens in reality with Watt, but this is the ballpark I would think we would be looking at right now. I think his value could both rise or fall depending on how the year plays out. The closer he gets to free agency the closer he can get to the $16 million Williams number, especially if the salary cap keeps increasing at a rapid pace.

I would think both sides should consider a deal this season. Houston is going through a remake of the roster and I think this move would ensure Watt is the face of the franchise and be good for PR in the event things with Johnson continue to get ugly. The cost itself is relatively reasonable and the team will have the ability to walk away via trade or release if they want to move on as early as 2017.

Watt will earn around $10 million more than if he was forced to play the franchise tag game and at least have some added security. Houston has been known to restructure contracts for cap relief and all he needs is a restructure in 2017, which we have kind of made a decision year based on his cap charge, to more or less lock in his cash for 2018.  Plus he gets free agency in 2020 with this deal rather than 2021. So I think its relatively fair for both sides and within the market as constructed and Watt’s contributions and performance thus far in his career.

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Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Houston Texans

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Today we start the best and worst contract series by looking at the Houston Texans.

Best Contract: Andre Johnson

Andre JohnsonThe 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

Arian FosterFoster 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)

Click Here to Check out OTC’s other Best and Worst Contracts from around the NFL!

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