HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – In this universe where there is a little general manager in all of us, none of us will agree with every decision Texans manager Rick Smith makes.
His job is to make tough choices. Ours is to second guess his every thought and move.
It takes the idea of being an armchair quarterback to whole different level.
But here lately it has been difficult to disagree with much Smith has done, including Thursday’s surprising move that locks up fifth-year left tackle Duane Brown for the next seven years. Smith along with Texans vice president of administration Chris Olsen and Brown’s agents, Andy Ross and Kenny Landophere hammered out a six-year extension worth $53.4 million with $22.08 million guaranteed.
Brown, who entering the final year of his rookie contract, has become one of the premiere left tackles in the NFL. Allowing a coveted blind-side protector to hit the open free market next winter would have been costly so the Texans wisely paid the cost now.
“Obviously, we’re pleased that we had some success in this particular negotiation and it is important particularly when you identify players that you think represent your core group of football players and guys that you want to build your team around,” Smith said. “Duane represents one of those guys and so it’s always a benefit when you can get one of those guys locked up long-term.”
The stage was being set for one of the most trying free agent periods of Smith’s tenure with quarterback Matt Schaub, outside linebacker Connor Barwin and Brown set to become unrestricted free agents in the offseason. Most were bracing themselves for another offseason of difficult decisions and gut-wrenching goodbyes.
But by securing Brown it perhaps seems more realistic than ever that team under the tight salary cap restraints the Texans are under just might be able to find the money to keep their franchise quarterback and their high-performing pass rushing linebacker. There are obviously no guarantees, but you have to feel good about their chances.
While Barwin won’t command the $100 million free agent deal Mario Williams did this past offseason, he does have a lot of ability sacking quarterbacks which is a skill coveted by NFL teams. And that translates to some team will make it awfully expensive for the Texans to keep Barwin once he hits the open market.
This past offseason, Smith decided to take care of restricted free agent running back Arian Foster which meant some hard decisions had to be made on fan favorites such as linebacker DeMeco Ryans, offensive linemen Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel and Williams.
The Texans have certainly shown us who they think is the can’t-lose free agent this time around by securing a deal with Brown first, but that doesn’t mean they have given up on retaining Schaub and Barwin.
“What I would hope that is says,” Smith said, “is we think that Duane Brown is a really good football player and that we think he is a football player that’s on the rise and that he’s got an opportunity to be one of the better ones in the league.”
Brown certainly seems well on his way to elite status after coming off his best season yet in 2011, tying for the fewest sacks allowed with just two while not committing a holding penalty this past season when he had to protect three different starting quarterbacks.
He’s come a long way since 2008 when the Texans drafted him 26th overall to the dismay of some. He’s also come a long way from that moment of disgrace in 2010 when he had to miss four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Brown, who has started 62 of 66 games since joining the team, has turned the page with hard work, the right attitude and just all around excellent play. For those reasons the Texans rewarded him and rewarded him wellwith a deal that will pay him an average of nearly $9 million per year after his current contract runs out.
“I understand that they had a lot of confidence in me, a lot of faith in me to not let me play my last year and to extend it and keep me here for a while,” said Brown, who was second-team All-Pro last season. “I’m just very grateful. I try to put in as much work as possible and do my part for this team to make it successful, and I’ll continue to do that.”
Because the Texans are sure that Brown will be the cornerstone of any success they will have in the next few years, this was an easy and smart decision for the team.
“You’re getting an accountable young man for a long time so it’s an easy situation for us as an organization and it’s a great one for him,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “I think it’s good for the players because he got rewarded. He’s handled himself the right way, done things the right way and he’s being rewarded so that’s a very positive thing.”