One moment, the rush of clinching a winning season.
The next, the reality of impending free agency.
For cornerback Kareem Jackson and linebacker Brooks Reed, two of five impact players on defense set to hit the open market, there was an extra dose of bitter in the Houston Texans 23-17 bittersweet over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
It delivered a 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s first year as head coach, after they went 2-14 in Gary Kubiak’s last.
It could also be their last game as Texans.
“Possibly,” Reed said. “Who knows.”
Such is now life for Reed, Jackson, linebacker Whitney Mercilus, safeties Kendrick Lewis and Danieal Manning and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who together helped give the Texans and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel one of the NFL’s toughest defenses — all of whose contracts will expire in March at the end of the 2014 league year.
Reed and Jackson said they want to be back, but they know that now more than ever, the NFL is a business.
“I have no clue,” Reed said.
“I love Houston, I love this team, love this city, made a lot of friends out here. I’d love to stay out here, but it’s not up to me.”
Reed, a 2011 second rounder, battled groin injuries all season, one of the biggest impediments between his breakout rookie season and everything since.
He had 38 tackles, 3.0 sacks and an interception in 15 games this season, 13 starts.
Given the uncertainty in 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney’s future following microfracture knee surgery, there could be an added urgency to re-sign Reed, a player with familiarity with the team and defensive system. The same goes for Mercilus, a 2013 first rounder who has a fifth-year option available.
One, the other, both or none could be back in 2015.
“Who knows where I’ll be this time next year, but I had the time of my life playing for this team,” Reed said.
Jackson — a first-round selection in 2010, the last year before the new rookie contract system — has played well this season, especially since his return from an MCL sprain last month.
“I’d definitely love to be back,” Jackson said. “But at the end of the day, I understand the business side of it. For me, I just have to sit back and see what happens.”
His services will be in high demand.
When throwing to Jackson, opposing quarterbacks completed only 58.2 percent of their passes for three touchdowns, three interceptions and a 73.9 quarterback rating.
He opened the season playing primarily in the slot, but has excelled on the outside, where the game’s top corners play — and its biggest contracts are earned.
“I’ve showed that I’m capable of going out and being a big-time corner, first and foremost,” Jackson said. “Being that player that they need to be a piece of the puzzle that can do their job week in and week out. And somewhat showed that I’m a leader.”
Jackson, 25, said he’s looking forward to hitting the open market for the first time in his young career.
“I view it as an opportunity,” Jackson said. “Definitely an opportunity for me. I worked so hard to get to this point in my career. From my rookie year to now, definitely a huge jump for me. But definitely a huge opportunity for me to be a Texan or (whatever).”
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