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Texans Smart To Make Arian Foster The Priority

By TERRANCE HARRIS, SportsRadio 610
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Running back Arian Foster runs for a touchdown. (credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Running back Arian Foster runs for a touchdown. (credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – There are things that makes sense and there are things that only make good sense.

Take your pick when it comes to the contract agreement the Texans came to with restricted free agent and two-time Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster on Monday. After a weekend of back-and-forth negotiations, the Texans broke off the lowest paid and most productive player in their locker room to the tune of $43.5 million over five years with $20.75 guaranteed.

There was never any doubt the Texans were going to make their best offensive weapon happy. The question was how happy were they going to make him?

Chances are the normally reserved Foster is just giddy right now after going from the NFL poorhouse at $525,000 to becoming the third-highest paid back in the league who is about to make $18 million in 2012 and pocket $30 over the next three seasons.

Texans general manager Rick Smith deserves the bulk of the credit for this one because he not only took care of a deserving player but going above and beyond to make certain his team’s MVP understood how important he is to the organization and where it wants to go.

The Texans didn’t have to be nearly as proactive because in the NFL the teams hold the upper and could have essentially kept Foster locked up for a couple more years with relatively modest money. But they proved to Foster he is their priority, even above unrestricted free agent outside linebacker Mario Williams, by getting his deal done first.

“A lot of times clubs can just sit back, knowing they have someone’s right for two or three years and not be proactive. That’s not what Houston did,” Foster’s Chicago-based agent Mike McCartney said in a telephone conversation Monday.  “Rick Smith, I give a ton of credit to. He very early on expressed how much he wanted Arian under a long-term deal, how much he appreciated the professionalism of Arian the last couple of years. Arian was the lowest paid guy the last two years and held it with as much class and dignity as possible. We never said anything publicly, privately. There was no politicking. I think the Texans truly appreciated that and ultimately rewarded not only his production on the field but I think the man who Arian is, as well.”

Rick began probing during the season to see what was most important to Foster. Those things were a commitment from the club in terms of years and guaranteed money and certainly he wanted to be paid like one of the top backs in the NFL.

“In this business I don’t know if everybody on the other side really listens,” McCartney said. “They may hear what we say but they don’t listen, but Rick did a great job of listening and trying to provide Arian with what we thought was important to him. I can’t give them enough credit. I really appreciate the communication and how they went about this.”

From the outside, it sure seemed like a much more civil negotiation than we’ve seen with the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans in trying to lock up their star backs without crippling the franchise. The tendency is usually to complain when the dollar figures aren’t on par with the numbers being up on the field.

But Foster never said anything beyond a shrug of his shoulders when asked about how the contract negotiations were going last season. He just put his head down and kept playing.

Foster could have waged a legitimate public beef with the organization for not tearing up his lousy undrafted free agent contract from 2009 after he came out of nowhere to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,616 yards in 2010.

But Foster did his negotiations with production on the football field, rushing for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games to erase any doubt that he is one of the premiere running backs in the league. In many ways, this past season was even more impressive than the previously season because Foster missed three games with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason and his playmaking ability as rusher and pass receiver lifted the Texans to their first playoff berth with a third string quarterback.

While many of us thought it was disrespectful of the Texans to not immediately reward Foster for his outstanding second season, McCartney kept it cool while banking on dividends the Texans would have to pay after a strong follow up season.

Now he only trails Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (seven years, $96 million) and the Titans Chris Johnson (six years, $55.26 million) in running back salaries.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised because we had sat down and talked it through and they were very clear that they needed to see the second time. I understood that,” McCartney said. “Ultimately, that helped Arian achieve a better contract because when you’ve only done it once there is that unknown of `We’re you a flash in the pan or one of those things where the stars aligned correctly?’

“In this case, he’s had an historic two-year run. This year to fight through an early nagging hamstring injury and then with the loss of the two quarterbacks and him putting the team on his back offensively and having that playoff run that he had, I think it gave the Texans confidence they have a special back and a special person.”

Now with Foster locked up, Rick Smith and VP for football administration Chris Olsen can turn their attention to what is surely to be much more difficult negotiations to try to keep Williams and center Chris Myers along with kicker Neil Rackers, right guard Mike Brisiel and reserve tight end Joel Dreesen.

The Texans have between now and March 13 to try to get deals done before the market opens up. Williams, a premiere pass rusher, is expected to be the most coveted defensive player on the market which makes it doubtful the Texans and their strained salary cap will be able to absorb his demands.

Contact Terrance Harris at terrancefharris@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris

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