Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $8.6M ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 60
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 9(5 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 16
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
I think that it’s a given the Texans will do what they can to re-sign tackle Derek Newton. They have worked hard to develop him and it seemed to come together last season for him. At some point, perhaps this season, there will be a young QB on the roster and you don’t give these players up when that is the case. Mid tier money at the position is around $4 million…I don’t think Ryan Mallett will cost much to keep and he is at least worth exploring over camp and the preseason as a starting option. They were ready to give him the opportunity last season so it would make sense to do the same here. Brian Hoyer signed for less than $2 million with Cleveland when he was hoping for a job and I think this would not be much more expensive than that….Kendrick Lewis had a strong 2014 season and looks to be a mainstay of the secondary from this point forward. He should earn mid tier money which is around $5 million a season, a reasonable figure for what he can bring.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Kareem Jackson had a good season, but given some of the salaries that went into the position last year and lack of available talent he’ll be overpriced. If they believe he will continue to improve and want to move more veteran money around to sign him then they can do it but they are probably better off turning the position over…I think both Brooks Reed and the Texans would benefit from a mutual parting of the ways. Reed never developed into a pass rusher and while he is versatile I believe they can find a better player by using his money elsewhere.
Contracts to Modify
This is the final year of Jonathan Joseph’s contract and he carries with it a $12.25M cap hit. Clearly that figure is never going to happen. This is the time to attempt to bring him down to the $6M salary range on an extension…Depending on what the team plans in free agency it is obvious that reworking JJ Watts contract will be discussed. He has a $21.969M cap hit this year which can easily be lowered, but if Houston can get through this season with him at that number they will have one of the great bargains in the NFL for the next four or five years…
Players to Consider Releasing
Andre Johnson wasn’t happy with the Texans last season and his production began decline. He’ll be 34 years old and the team frees up nearly $9 million in cap room by moving on. Johnson should still have some trade value provided he is willing to rework his contract, but if not it is probably best to release him and move on rather than overpaying him for the final two years of his career…Chris Myers has had a nice career, but with a $8 million cap charge there is no justification for keeping him. He is better suited to a different offensive scheme and the team saves $6 million when they release him. They could wait until after the draft to make the cut just to ensure they have another lineman…The Texans were prepared to stop using Ryan Fitzpatrick last season and they can save $3.25M by moving on. His job was to get them through a season which he did. They can explore trades with a team like the Jets but I would expect Houston to try one of the younger guys this season…Releasing Tyson Clabo saves $1.22 million.
The Texans had a nice season last year, but between playing in an easy division and having the new coach honeymoon year they shouldn’t stray from slowly turning the roster over with new talent because they finished better than expected. Though on paper they don’t have a great deal of cap room they have great flexibility in the contracts on their team at this stage and can certainly create it to bring in certain players that they may like.
Obviously the biggest need for the team is to find a quarterback that can be a long term solution. That probably means the draft though they could always take a chance on one of the disappointing young players like Jake Locker to see if they can get anything out of the player. Either way I think it is important for them to have young bodies competing for the position rather than having Fitzpatrick or a similar veteran taking snaps.
The offensive line is solid and if they can get Arian Foster to play 12 games next season they have the running game in place to take the pressure off the QB. That should prevent them from a total collapse if they can’t find a QB that is as productive as Fitzpatrick. Foster played so well last season that you have to hope his body can hold up for one more year even though they continue to work him into the ground.
Houston will hope they get something out of Jadeveon Clowney, who was hurt most of the year and not very impressive when he did play. If Clowney works out they can have an absolutely devastating pass rush, but if he struggles they have to hope he can at least stay heathy so they can explore a trade next season. At this stage their spending on defense is likely a barrier to any real activity in free agency on that side of the ball.
In free agency I would expect the Texans to look at a running back to take some of the load off of Foster as well as a Tight End to pair with Garrett Graham. Wide receiver is a need but I feel as if that is a better draft target than going in free agency, though there will no shortage of free agent targets available. They need to come out of this offseason with more explosiveness on offense to be ready for the future. But the Texans should mainly be improving through the draft where they should be able to find more help in the secondary and at the offesnive skill positions to keep climbing forward.
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.