HOUSTON — Despite the offseason conversation surrounding the Houston Texans mostly centered on quarterback Deshaun Watson, there are other big decisions that new general manager Nick Caserio has in front of him.
Last week, the NFL announced the 2021 salary cap will be no lower than $180 million, which is a drop from the $198.2 million cap in 2020. After granting J.J. Watt’s request to be released — and freeing up $17.5 million — the Texans’ total cap liabilities are close to $190 million.
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Watt’s release was the first domino to fall this offseason for the Texans, but what other challenges does Caserio face going into his first free agency in Houston?
Will the Texans re-sign wide receiver Will Fuller V?
Through 11 games in 2020, it looked like Fuller was well on his way to proving he could not only stay healthy for a full season, but keep up his production and chemistry with Watson while doing so.
And then in November, Fuller was suspended six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, meaning those questions about his durability are still unanswered. Fuller will also miss the first game of the 2021 season under the suspension.
In the 11 games he did play in, Fuller had 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns.
While Fuller was in line to sign a new deal averaging around $15 million a season, it seems more likely the receiver will sign a one-year, prove-it deal, especially in a season where the salary cap will decrease.
The Texans could also choose to use the franchise tag on Fuller, which would cost $16.4 million for the 2021 season if the sides do not agree to a long-term deal. While the team is still over the $180 million cap minimum, there are moves Caserio could make to fit Fuller’s salary.
Watson made it clear — even after Fuller’s suspension — that it was “very important” to him that the team re-signs Fuller. Now that Watson has requested a trade, could bringing Fuller back be a step toward mending the team’s relationship with the quarterback? Perhaps, but given the reasons Watson is upset, it’s hard to see that roster move being enough — at least on its own — to convince Watson to change his mind.
Will Houston do anything with wide receiver Brandin Cooks‘ contract?
Cooks was a bright spot for the Texans in 2020 after trading for him in April. Despite playing for his fourth team in five seasons, Cooks had 81 catches for 1,105 yards — the fifth time in his seven-year career he has surpassed 1,000 yards in a season.
If the Texans do not re-sign Fuller, Cooks gives Houston a solid No. 1 receiver. Cooks said in January that he wants to keep playing with Watson and isn’t “going to accept any more trades.” But if Watson is traded, will Cooks still want to be in Houston?
Cooks has three years left on his contract, but none of it is guaranteed. He is owed $12 million in 2021, but Houston could lower his cap hit either by signing him to an extension that guarantees his salary or restructuring his current contract to move the money to a signing bonus and freeing up cap space that way.
Will the Texans cut running back David Johnson?
Johnson currently has a cap hit of nearly $9 million in 2021, but just $2.1 million of it is guaranteed.
Bill O’Brien traded for Johnson as part of the deal that sent receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, but the former general manager and head coach was fired just four games into the season. Johnson ran for 691 yards and six touchdowns and the Texans’ rushing offense ranked last in Football Outsiders’ Rush DVOA.
It would be hard to see the Texans keeping Johnson on his current contract, but if they don’t want to move on, they could try to restructure his deal to match his salary with his production. Houston does have backup running back Duke Johnson under contract in 2021, but with a cap hit of more than $5 million, the team could move on from him as well.
Any other moves?
Although Watt was the most logical candidate to release on the defensive side of the ball, there is another player who may make sense to move on from: inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney.
McKinney signed a five-year, $50 million contract in 2018 and his base salary isn’t guaranteed. If Houston moved on from him, it would save more than $6 million with just $1.5 million of dead money. Last offseason, the Texans signed inside linebacker Zach Cunningham to a four-year, $58 million contract that makes the pair combine for more than 10.5% of the Texans’ total cap in 2021.
McKinney played in only four games last season before needing shoulder surgery and in that short sample size, he had a Pro Football Focus grade of 53.4, lower than his 67.7 grade in 2019.
Tom Brady rookie card sells for record $1.32 million
A Tom Brady rookie card sold for a record $1.32 million on Thursday on PWCC Marketplace, an online auction house and repository for cards.
The autographed 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket card was graded an eight with a 10 grading on the signature. It was purchased by James Park, a known card collector and noted Brady fan.
“I lived in Boston for 10 years and so am a huge fan of Brady,” Park said in comments posted to PWCC Marketplace’s Instagram account. “I’ve also had a love of collecting cards since I was a kid. Given Brady’s uncontested status as GOAT in football, this card is an important piece of sports history and of any collection.”
The $1.32 million price tag is believed to be the highest price paid for a football card, eclipsing the previous record by nearly $500,000. As the card marketplace continues to rise in interest and value, this sale soared past a recent Patrick Mahomes card that sold for $861,000 in the beginning of February.
The 2017 National Treasures autographed Mahomes card was graded a nine and was one of only five of that specific card. That sale broke the previous record, which was held by another Brady card that sold for $555,988 in January.
This most recent record might be short-lived given the way the industry is headed, and considering there is already a similar card being sold at Lelands auction house. The same Brady card is up for auction, but it’s graded an 8.5 with the signature graded a nine.
The card at Lelands currently has a bid at $707,565 with 29 days still remaining in the lot.
Another Brady rookie card from the 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket collection, graded a Mint 9 with a 10 grading on the autograph, sold for $400,100 just two years ago. At the time, it was the highest auction price in history for a football card.
Kansas City Chiefs FB Anthony Sherman retires after 10 NFL seasons
“Kansas City, thanks for all the memories,” Sherman said in a video he posted to Twitter. “It’s been a great run: eight years, Super Bowls. But it’s on to the next chapter.”
— Anthony Sherman (@Shermanator_42) March 4, 2021
Sherman, 32, played eight seasons for the Chiefs, mostly on special teams. Occasionally, the Chiefs would get him the ball, and he often delivered. He rushed for 73 yards, caught 53 passes and scored five touchdowns.
Sherman was selected in 2018 to play in the Pro Bowl.
He joined the Chiefs in 2013 in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, for whom he played two seasons.
GM George Paton says Denver Broncos want Von Miller back in 2021, pending legal issues, contract
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With a decision about Von Miller‘s future looming, Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said Thursday that the team wants the linebacker back for 2021 but is waiting to hear more on potential legal issues Miller may have and did not rule out a discussion about a pay cut for him to return.
“We’re still working through it with Von, his agent, and in regards to the legal process, we’re just going to let the legal process play out,” Paton said. “But obviously it’s a serious situation, but we want to let it play out before we comment on that.”
Miller, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and the Super Bowl 50 MVP, has an option clause in his contract that if the Broncos pick it up would guarantee $7 million of Miller’s $17.5 million base salary and engage the final year of a six-year, $114.5 million deal he signed in 2016.
The Broncos, as well as Miller, are still waiting on a decision from the district attorney in the 18th Judicial District in suburban Denver to determine whether Miller will be charged in the wake of an investigation by the Parker, Colorado, police department. Neither the police nor the district attorney’s office has released details of what specific charges Miller could face.
Miller has not responded to requests for comment. If charges are filed, Miller could face the prospect of league discipline as well.
Asked whether Miller’s return could also hinge on a salary cut, Paton said:
“We want to bring Von back; we’re still working through that, I don’t want to get into everything, but we want to bring him back. Obviously the legal process, what he’s going through, it’s a serious situation, obviously, and I don’t know all the details, but we respect what’s going on. We do want Von back.”
Miller missed all of the 2020 season after an ankle injury just days before the season opener. At the time, coach Vic Fangio said he had expected Miller to have “a hell of a year.”
Miller’s eight sacks in 2019 were his lowest total since 2013, when he finished with five sacks after serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and then suffering a torn ACL in December of that year.
Miller leads all active players who were on NFL rosters last season with 106 sacks.
Miller is the longest-tenured Broncos player and was John Elway’s first draft pick as the team’s top football executive. Elway stepped away from the general manager’s role earlier this year before Paton was hired in January.
Other topics Paton and Fangio addressed Thursday:
“[I] did a deep dive with Drew … very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on, but I’ve spoken with Drew … he really wants to be great,” Paton said. “We’re always going to bring in competition at every position, quarterback as well, but I like the track Drew’s on … He does have all the traits you look for in a quarterback.”
“We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to be in every deal, doesn’t mean we’re going to make that deal, but we’re going to look into everything, whether it’s a quarterback or a defensive lineman, anything to help our football team, we’re going to pursue it.”
Paton also said that he would not publicly discuss any quarterback on another team’s roster, such as Deshaun Watson, and that the Broncos would consider using the No. 9 pick in the draft on a quarterback “if it’s the best player on the board, we’re going to take him.”
On re-signing safety Justin Simmons, who played on the franchise player tag last season and is poised to be an unrestricted free agent, Paton said: “Justin is one of our core guys, and our goal since I got here was to sign him to a long-term deal. We’ve had good discussions with his agent. I don’t know if we’ll get a deal done or not, but that’s our goal. He’s the type of guy we’d want to extend.”
The return of right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who opted out this past season over concerns with COVID-19.
Both Paton and Fangio said that they had spoken with James and that James was set to return to Denver area in the coming weeks to train.
Paton added that he was already trying to re-sign defensive end Shelby Harris, who will be an unrestricted free agent, and that he has talked to safety Kareem Jackson‘s representatives. Jackson has an option year in his contract for 2021 that the Broncos have to decide to exercise by the start of the new league year.
“We’ve got to work through some things; we’d like Kareem back,” Paton said. ” … We’ll see if we can do that.”
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