As a football fan, its never much fun seeing a few big named players who have contributed mightily over a few years released or traded, especially on the cusp of a franchise’s first ever division title and playoff victory. Yet that is exactly what Texans fans have witnessed early into the free agency period. Most of us realized that Mario Williams would walk as some desperate team with monstrous cap space would guarantee him $50 million, so that came as little surprise. But then came the release of the likeable and solid lineman Eric Winston, and could we really expect the Texans to be able to maintain the luxury of two very good tight ends? Bye bye, Joel Dreessen, and thank you for your service! But the cake was iced when beloved locker room leader Demeco Ryans was shipped to Philadelphia for a fourth round pick and third round swap. I think at that point the bandwagon lost about 500 tons of weight.
Now that I’ve got the respectable preliminaries out of the way, I’d like to say that I’m actually okay with all of the above. When I look at the core players of the Houston Texans, I see the nucleus of a championship-contending foundation. True, any nucleus must have cohesive parts, which play their roles effectively, but the Texans have proved adept at mining the draft and adding low cost veteran free agents to continue to work their championship puzzle. On offense the Texans boast Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Chris Meyers. On defense they feature Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt, Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning and Connor Barwin. That, friends, is a rock solid core upon which to build.
But let’s not be naive here. No NFL dream teams truly can exist in today’s salary cap system. Just ask Philadelphia. Teams must keep a few very good or great players and organically work around them, realizing that loveable players will come and go. Teams like New England constantly lose free agents because they are consistently winning as a franchise. A guy gets drafted, does a decent job for a few years and suddenly a downtrodden franchise waves lottery pick money at him. He leaves, but the wise front office inevitably finds a replacement player. The Houston Texans appear to have developed this keen ability.
First and foremost, there are players you simply do not let walk. The Texans were brilliant in upping Foster for five years, not only because he is a premier performer, but he is a very likeable, marketable player whose jersey will be proudly worn by casual NFL fans in New York or LA. That brings attention to the Texans brand, and that is a good thing. Also, the Texans realized that some players, like Meyers, simply must be retained, and they have done that. Probably foreseeing the difficulty in keeping players like Ryans at their present, pre-injury salary, the Texans nonetheless signed Joseph and Manning last offseason, when none of us were looking beyond last season.
So while it is a bummer to see players we love move on, the franchise’s loyalty and competence should not be questioned at this point. Last I checked, Winston, Ryans and Williams were very well paid and comfortable in their new digs, and not exactly shipped off to Siberia. And as far as the players still donning the deep steel blue, battle red and liberty white, I’m sure guys like Johnson, Foster, Schaub, Joseph and Meyers are not questioning the loyalty and direction of the club.
The draft is upon us and the smoke is beginning to clear. Give me what I expect to be another solid draft, a full offseason of workouts, particularly for the defense under Wade Phillips’ schemes, and considering that Peyton Manning did not sign with Tennessee, I see the Texans as the strong favorite to repeat as division champs and at least match last season’s playoff performance.
Folks, we are in the consistency business and hope that the Texans can become like the Steelers and Patriots, true models of consistency, which leads to excellence. While its unrealistic to expect Super Bowl titles year in and year out under today’s NFL economics, a consistent winning product is all we fans can ask for. I think that Bob McNair and his employees have laid that foundation very well.