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October 09, 2011; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker Mario Williams (90) prepares for a game against the Oakland Raiders at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

Houston Texans Cap Room Situation and Possible Offseason Approaches (Part 3)

We here at ToroTimes would like to apologize to readers for the lack of updates recently. As you might have known, the FanSided server had been encountering quite a few problems lately and as a result, we could not access the site in order to add new posts. Now the server is back in full force, and so are we!

In the first post since coming back, we would like to return to our current series on how the Texans, with their current cap space situation and pending free agents, should approach the upcoming offseason. In part 1, we examined the team’s projected cap expenditures in 2012, cap room, and the list of Texans’ contracts coming off the books. For part 2, we took an in-depth look at the current Texans roster, position-by-position, and determine the needs among them. Below is the summary of the two previous parts of our posts, in case you are too lazy to read all 4000 words of them:

  •      Cap Spent: $86,928,881
  •      Cap Space: $25,611,199 *
  •      Needs ( in order of importance):
  1.  Resign Arian Foster
  2.  Figure out what to do with Mario Williams
  3.  Upgrade at WR
  4.  Fill the holes at C and RG
  5.  Upgrade at CB2
  6.  Upgrade at NT
  7.  Fill the hole at K
  8.   Sign a backup TE
  9. Sign a backup passing-down LB

The setup’s done. Now without further ado, let’s get to the first offseason plan that we at ToroTimes believe the Texans should implement. We would like to call it Plan TT 1.0.

Jan 07, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (23) rushes during the fourth quarter of the 2011 AFC wild card playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

Step 1: Resign Arian Foster

As we have discussed earlier, the Texans’ main priority this season most definitely would be to make sure No.23 remain a Texan. Despite missing time dealing with hamstring problems, Foster was the focal point of the Texans offense throughout the 2011 season, silencing critics who thought of his breakout 2010 campaign as a one-year wonder. The Texans need him back. With the complexity of NFL free agency, there can be multiple scenarios in which we will see Foster in steel blue next season. So let us explore the pros and cons of each:

Scenario 1: A New Contract

This would be the best-case scenario for the Texans if they are able to sign Foster to a deal structured favorably for their cap space. Something along the lines of 4 years/$30 million, with high bonuses and back-loaded money, would be ideal. With the start of free agency looming, the Texans need to act fast. All signs, however, are pointing to Foster exploring his value on the market.

Scenario 2: The Franchise Tag

In case you don’t know, within the franchise tag, there are two different ways a team can choose to “tag” their pending free agent, exclusive (E) and non-exclusive (NE). If exclusively tagged, Foster will not be exposed to free agency and will be making an amount of money equal to either the NE-tag amount ($7.7 million for RB) or the average of the five largest salaries in contracts at the end of free agency signing for players at the same position (in Foster’s case, RB), whichever is higher. In most cases, the E-tag will cost more than the NE one, therefore teams often use the NE tag to save money. Last season, Michael Vick of the Eagles was the only player who received the exclusive tag.

Now, should the Texans apply the NE-tag on Foster, he will be paid $7.7 million, a fair amount for his talent. Other teams, however, are still able to sign him to a larger contract. If Foster agrees to sign with another team after having been franchise tagged, the Texans will receive two first-round compensatory draft picks. Despite Foster’s playmaking ability, we highly doubt any team would risk losing two first-rounders for a volatile position such as RB. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Foster, if tagged, should remain a Texan. The downside of this scenario is that the cap hit of $7.7 million is pretty significant. Furthermore, the Texans will have to face further dilemmas next offseason, when Matt Schaub and Duane Brown, among others, are set to become free agents, on where to allocate the money.

Scenario 3: The RFA Tender

With only two years of NFL service under his belt, Foster’s free agency status is restricted. The Texans will have the rights to tender him a contract, most likely the first-round tender amount of $2,611,000. If it does pan out, this scenario will not only save the Texans significant cap space but also allow them to use the franchise tag on other free agents. However, there’s a big risk involved. Other teams with holes at RB and money to spend will be able to woo Foster away with a big contract. The Patriots, for example, will be more than happy to give up their 31st overall pick for Foster’s service. The Texans can choose to match the offer and keep Foster, but with their current cap room situation, having a lot of money tied up on Foster will make it difficult for them to address other glaring needs.

Although signing Foster to a cap-friendly contract would be ideal, it is unlikely to happen. And it will be impossible to be able to keep Foster from the big spenders using the RFA Tender. Therefore, the scenario most likely to happen would be to tag Foster and take a $7.7 million cap hit.

Step 2: What to do with Mario Williams

Mario Williams is Mario Williams. He is a superstar, one of the best, if not the best, outside pass rusher in the NFL. It’s a shame that he has to hit free agency in a time when the Texans are primed to contend year in and year out. As much as we were impressed by the play of Brooks Reed last season, he’s no Mario Williams. We hope that the Texans will eventually be able to retain his services, despite the current cap room situation. Again, we will use the scenario-by-scenario approach for the 2006 first overall pick.

Scenario 1: The Franchise Tag

The Texans will have to take a whooping $22 million in cap hit if they choose to tag Williams. They can, however, tag him just to prevent him from entertaining offers from other teams and then try to work out a deal before free agency. This would be the best-case scenario for the Texans if they choose to bring Mario back. But it also carries quite a few risks. If they cannot sign him to a cap-friendly deal, $22 million in cap hit will be too much for the Texans to absorb. They will then have to cut valuable pieces on the roster or restructure contracts to get under the cap and address other needs. Furthermore, a team can only tag one player. If Williams get the tag, what will happen to Foster?

Scenario 2: Outbid other teams in free agency

Pass-rushers are always at a premium, and a player of Williams’ caliber will surely ignite a bidding war that will result in big dollars for the North Carolina State product. A 4-3 defense will not hesitate to break the bank for him. Simply said, the Texans’ chance of coming out on top in a bidding war is zero. Unless Mario agrees to give the team that drafted him first overall in 2006 a discount, we won’t see him in steel blue next season.

For the Texans front office and their fans, it is hope for the best, prepare for the worst in this situation regarding their best defensive player. If the two sides can work out a deal, great, if not, it’s time to move on. While we all love Mario and thrilled to have him back, his price tag is simply out of reach for the Texans at this point.

So after opting to use the franchise tag on Foster and most likely say goodbye to Mario, we have addressed two main areas of the upcoming offseason. Stay tuned as we at ToroTimes provide details for the remaining steps of our plan.

*Back in part 1, a reader commented that he/she saw a figure on ESPN that said the Texans only have $3 million of cap space to spend. We would like to clarify that the $25 million figure on our post was calculated based on the money from the current contracts, not counting the money freed up from player contracts coming off the books this season (e.g. Mario Williams, Arian Foster,…), while the $3 million figure still takes those contracts into account.     

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