HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — The Houston Texans are faced with having to make some tough decisions with NFL free agency set to start at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
In a surprise move, the Texans released right tackle Eric Winston on Monday but they are going deeper with the release of starting fullback Lawrence Vickers and backup quarterback Matt Leinart. Vickers release is a mild surprise because he had emerged as the Texans top blocking back last season and now James Casey is the only fullback on the roster.
Those moves and the reported restructuring of receiver Andre Johnson’s contract were done to help free up money and to get the team under the salary the salary cap as it heads into free agency. The Texans are hopeful to be able to make offers to re-sign their free agents like defensive end Mario Williams, center Chris Myers and right guard Mike Brisiel.
In some cost cutting moves, cutting ties with Winston save the Texans $2.4 million and then the Texans get another $1.8 million from Leinart’s deal and then Johnson structured his contract where he now just counts $4.7 million instead of $6.5 after agreeing to take just $700,000 in base salary with $4 million coming in bonuses.
Keeping Williams seems to be key, but that could prove difficult because his premiere passing rushing abilities are coveted on the open market.
Whether or not the Texans can re-sign Williams or either of the two offensive linemen, they still had to make some tough decisions on current players to even be in position.
Cutting Leinart was an anticipated move after the way last year’s fifth round draft pick T.J. Yates played when thrown in once both starter Matt Schaub and Leinart suffered season-ending injuries in back to back games last season. Yates led the Texans to the playoffs and a first-round playoff win, all which proved he is ready to be the No.2 quarterback and that the former Heisman Trophy winner was an unnecessary luxury.
Winston, however, is one that no one saw coming after the former third round draft pick had started the last 87 consecutive games for the Texans. Winston could not be reached for comment but he confirmed his release on his Twitter page on Monday.
“Unfortunately I have bad news. The Texans have decided to release me today. Although it is a surprise, I have nothing but positive memories,” Winston wrote. “Let me say thank you to Mr. McNair and the whole Texan organization. They have had big role in the player and person I have become.”
Leinart wasn’t nearly kind on his Twitter page, taking the opportunity to blast his detractors for applauding his release. Leinart played only one meaningful half of football in his two seasons with the Texans.
“It’s very funny to me how people can be so ignorant and opinionated on topics they know nothing about,” he wrote. “I love my fans and am thankful for you all… To the others.”
But it’s likely Leinart saw the writing on the wall once he went down with a shoulder injury after a half of football against Jacksonville and then Yates stepped in having never played a down of NFL football and led the team to big victories. Leinart, the former first round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, likely revived his career after the way he conducted himself here the last two years which means he will draw interest from teams seeking a veteran backup this offseason.
“I appreciate and thank Mr McNair and the Texans organization for giving me the opportunity to play,” Leinart wrote. “I will miss the Texans fans and most importantly my teammates. I have no time to get down, focus is on getting healthy and being ready to go again! #believe”