One axiom of building teams in the NFL is to build through the draft, and fill your holes in free agency. Over the course of history, and especially with the current CBA, the draft is a cost-controlled way to bring in young talent to lay a team’s foundation. When you’re on the cusp and need to bring in some reinforcements, only then should a team stray into the free agency waters.
The Texans were in such a position in the 2011 offseason. They had an offense ready to win, emerging talent in the front seven on defense, but a minefield in the secondary. GM Rick Smith aggressively shored up that back end by signing CB Johnathan Joseph and S Danieal Manning. That July 28th night has proven to be one of the masterstrokes in the history of this franchise.
Generally speaking, you’d like to break-even in free agency. Given that Joseph and Manning were valued commodities, Houston had to pay a lot of guaranteed money to secure their services. Pay good money, get good performance. The Texans have paid good money, and have received very good performance.
Joseph was always a good corner in Cincinnati, but he’s emerged as arguably a top-5 CB with the Texans. Manning was considered a solid player in Chicago, but not necessarily a really above-average player. In Houston, he’s become one of the linchpins of an elite defense.
Manning set the tone for Sunday’s 13-6 win against the Bears by forcing a fumble on Chicago’s first play from scrimmage. He picked off Jay Cutler in the first half, and was part of a secondary that largely blanketed the Bears’ weapons all night long.
Having a good safety combination gives defensive coordinators the kind of comfort a child gets from a blanket. Wade Phillips constantly raves about Manning and Glover Quin; he talks about Manning as one of the best safeties in the NFL.
Manning’s brilliant performance on Sunday night got everyone’s attention, and he was one of the players interviewed by NBC’s Michele Tafoya after the game. Usually, his play is not quite that impactful, but still extremely valuable. Manning, like Quin, is a converted corner that can perform well against both the run and the pass.
After next Sunday’s game against Blaine Gabbert, the Texans will face a variety of quarterbacks who are extremely dangerous: Matt Stafford, Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck (twice). The combination of Manning and Quin will be critical in trying to get wins against those explosive offenses.