Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
I live in Houston and listen to sports radio so it is impossible to ignore all the talk about A.J. Bouye. I knew his breakout season had the potential to create this amount of talk. I think he showed this year that he has great potential on the field and could blossom into the kind of cornerback any team would love to have. The biggest problem is his timing. Having shown next to nothing before this season doesn’t give him the resume his play suggests he should have. That creates the free agency quandary the Texans now face. I am of the opinion that the contract he may demand is too much for the Texans to consider. I am a huge proponent of draft and develop systems and not taking huge risks in free agency. Bouye falls into the category of potentially being one of those risks.
Keeping a healthy salary cap has to be a priority for any team in the NFL that wants to build sustained success. Part of keeping the cap healthy is not spending too much on big money contracts for players that are unproven, injury prone, or inconsistent. I know that Bouye has been with the Texans for several years and the coaches know his upside, but you can’t overpay for upside. That’s exactly what the Texans would be doing. A long term contract for him should be a salary somewhere in the $7-10 million/year range with a signing bonus of $10-15 million for about 4 years. What he showed in only one year of serious playing time makes him worthy of good but not great starting cornerback money and general managers and agents know how to write these contracts to give him options to renegotiate if he performs at a high level for another two years.
If I was the Texans GM that is what I would offer him and I would stand firm. When you’re in that position you have to look at your overall salary cap and understand that if a player commands more money on the open market than the value you have assigned to him then it’s best to let another team assume that risk. If he does find a large contract and plays well then you can take solace in the compensatory pick you receive in next year’s draft. That extra pick could wind up being more valuable than the player lost if he winds up being exactly what you thought he was. Teams have to evaluate players not just on their play, but the cap number they represent. I can’t see A.J. Bouye being worth the cap number he will probably cost his team next year. However, if he gets a top tier contract and isn’t a total bust then he might be worth a third round pick. That’s a nice thing to have in your pocket on draft day.
The Texans have enough depth at cornerback that the loss of Bouye wouldn’t hurt them too much. A prominent GM was speaking about the draft and was quoted as saying, “Because you never know what you’re going to need, we feel we should just take the best football player available.” This approach applies to free agency in that if a team is firm in their philosophy about drafting the best available player regardless of need; then they understand they can develop younger players found in the later rounds and undrafted free agency. I’m not saying the Texans have a great track record developing players, but letting an expensive unproven player go provides opportunities for late round picks and undrafted free agents to get reps and develop. Bouye was an undrafted player and getting one good year out of him proved to be well worth the contract he was playing under. Also, let’s not forget that Kevin Johnson is still on the roster and having Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson in the mix with Bouye is going to hinder someone’s development.
The last thing I will talk about is the loss that signing Bouye to a large contract might create. Every offseason, teams are looking to get better. Even the best teams look to improve year after year. With the money the Texans have tied up in players like Brock Osweiler, J.J. Watt, and Lamar Miller and the need to resign DeAndre Hopkins, who is a proven receiver and will command a top tier contract; signing Bouye now when it carries a that much risk may affect their ability to handle the cap numbers of these core players in the future. The fans would go crazy if the Texans had to let Watt, Miller or Hopkins go because of Bouye’s contract. What if they had to absorb a large amount of dead money releasing Bouye because he didn’t live up to the contract so that they can resign one of their better players? The Texans have to keep the future in mind when considering what to do with Bouye and I believe they should let him move on to the team willing to pay him the big contract.
No one really knows what will happen when free agency begins next week. Everything speculated about Bouye’s future contract may not manifest and the Texans might have a chance to keep him at a reasonable price. My point is that if he does find a large contract elsewhere the Texans should not even attempt to match it. They have enough depth at the position and plenty of opportunity to find more of it that his value might not match his play. A smart team will recognize that and let someone else take the cap hit. He may turn out to be a formidable player that they don’t want to face, but with the cap room they have they can find other players to keep them in the hunt. It’s all about keeping a healthy salary cap and making smart decisions in free agency.