HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Texans owner Bob McNair believes his franchise is headed in the direction of big things – maybe even with a final stop at the Super Bowl.
McNair’s belief is so strong that this week he confirmed he is ready to gamble and offer both general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak contract extensions perhaps a tad bit prematurely. But McNair obviously wasn’t willing to go overboard by paying top dollar to keep a few high-priced free agents this offseason.
Without naming names, McNair defended allowing All-Pro outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams, right guard Mike Brisiel and backup tight end Joel Dreessen move on in free agency big money. Williams, of course, signed the record deal with the Buffalo Bills worth $96,000,000 over six years. The Oakland Raiders picked up Brisiel for $20 million over five years and Dreessen received $8.5 million to be one of Peyton Manning’s targets in Denver.
Most of us believe the Texans will sorely miss each one of those three along with salary cap casualty moves that saw right tackle Eric Winston and fullback Lawrence Vickers released and linebacker DeMeco Ryans traded to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. McNair simply chalks the free agent losses as a casualty of having success on the football field.
“When you win, everybody views your players as being better than they really are, and so they’re willing to pay them more than what the market is and you can’t go out and pay over market,” McNair said this week. “You just have to be disciplined and make sure you’ve got plenty of good young players coming in behind them.”
The Texans believe they are replacing those players lost with talented young players at every spot. But it is hard to imagine it will be that easy especially at both critical positions on the right side of the offensive line and at fullback where there is no clear cut replacement there or available to pick up the void left by Vickers’ departure.
But that hasn’t stopped the hype machine that is predicting even bigger things for the 10-year-old franchise, even naming the Texans as a legitimate Super Bowl contender this upcoming season. The Texans are coming off a magical 10-6 campaign in which they made the playoffs for first time and even won their first round game despite missing starting quarterback Matt Schaub and star receiver Andre Johnson not being himself after missing most of the regular season with various hamstring injuries.
The team was built to contend for the Super Bowl in 2011, but this could be Texans year.
“I think that’s great,” McNair said in response to questions about the Texans being one of the top AFC contenders this upcoming season. “As far as I was concerned, we were a Super Bowl contender last year. But we aren’t in this to contend, we’re in it to win, so that’s our goal and that’s what we work towards.”
McNair wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s Super Bowl or bust. In fact he is wise not to considering there are some major unknowns this season and as we saw last season, injuries can quickly change the outlook as we saw last season. The Texans broke through into the playoffs in the final month of the season with their third-string quarterback, but you can’t help but to wonder just how far they might have gone had Williams and Schaub been available and Johnson had been 100 percent.
It’s hard to say at this point — even with a healthy team — how far the Texans can really go this season with so many new unknowns.
“The key is how hard we play and how well we play,” McNair said. “If we play hard, we play the way we’re capable of playing, good things are going to happen. We saw that last year in spite of the injuries.
“Hopefully, we won’t have similar-type injuries this year and we’ll be able to take it even further. But you know what our goal is: It’s not to be in the Super Bowl, it’s to win the Super Bowl.”
Should the Texans make it there, they will have done so against a much tougher slate than last season. They will also do under the national glare this time with five primetime football games, which includes two Sunday night games on NBC and the Thanksgiving Day showdown against Detroit.
The only downside to the primetime spotlight is just one of those games will be played at Reliant Stadium.
“We have such an exciting event at our stadium,” McNair said. “We really put on a good show – there’s no doubt about it, and we’d like for that to be on national TV. But we’re happy to be on national TV, get our players more exposure. I think that excites them and excites all of us.”
And only adds to what is shaping up to be the most anticipated football season in this city in a while. McNair is certainly looking forward to seeing what his franchise has in store in 2012.
“I haven’t been more excited. We’ve got a very good team, and we just have to keep building and improving and getting better. I think that’s what we’ve done in the offseason, so I’m excited and looking forward to the season.”