When the Houston Texans started pursuing Ed Reed in free agency . . . you know back when even Kentucky still had an NCAA Tournament shot . . . it seemed to signal a welcome shift in the organization's approach.
The franchise that always talks about working its plan was finally making a win-now play. That's what signing a 34-year-old, nine-time Pro Bowler would signify. You don't spend big on a guy who is older than Andre Johnson if you're on the slow build plan.
With Reed, the Texans would be making a bold statement about their intentions — to everyone in their locker room, to everyone in the stands.
It turns out Ed Reed is just as deliberate and calculating as Rick Smith though. And that's no small crimp in the plan.
These Texans of Bob McNair and Rick Smith often talk as if a future where Houston dominates the NFL for a long stretch is preordained. That as the draft picks of Smith build up and more players develop, there will be no stopping a Texans dynasty.
It's not a completely farfetched argument. Smith's draft record is excellent and he's locked up several core game changers (see Arian Foster, Duane Brown and yes, Matt Schaub). But professional sports are littered with the carcasses of would-be dynasties that never even win one title.
Remember those 13-3 Tennessee Titans of 2008 who'd emerged as the future of the NFL with Chris Johnson's darting, near-Barry Sanders scampers? The Titans haven't finished more than a game over .500 in any season since then.
Heck, the Arizona Cardinals thought they'd discovered the secret in the desert and would be back for much more after that so-close 2009 Super Bowl loss. How's that worked out?
Also see the Sacramento Kings of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby and the Phoenix Suns of Steve Nash for further reference.
Reed marks a chance to break free of this type of thinking. Signing him would jolt everyone from J.J. Watt (who better to teach the Texans budding superstar how to be a leader than Reed?) to the ticket takers.
Only McNair's private jet is long gone and Reed hasn't signed yet. And now a justifiably cocky Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is getting on the NFL Network and telling the world that he thinks his franchise has Reed.
It's a high-stakes game of free agent chicken with the Texans offering $4 million per season and Reed reaching for something closer to $6 or $7 million. Maybe Rick Smith still wins Reed in the end by staying strong, by sticking to that plan, but this is one instance where the Texans would be rise to reach and deviate from the script.
Not getting Ed Reed at this point will be a loss that Michael Huff cannot begin to fill. This isn't as much about the free agents the Texans have already lost (Glover Quin was the only really questionable move there) as much as it's about what could be gained. Get Ed Reed and you're playing a whole different type of game. And all your players know it.
NFL Free Agent Vision
It's ridiculous to call Ed Reed an upgrade over Glover Quin and Connor Barwin, but Smith cannot be done yet. His track record — and other moves he's already made this free agency period — speak to a larger plan.
An unmistakably encouraging sign? The unceremonious cutting of the long overpaid, underperforming Kevin Walter. In the last two offseasons, Smith severed ties to two Gary Kubiak favored receivers — Jacoby Jones and Walter — who never got all that much better.
Connor Barwin is arguably a bigger loss for the indie music scene than the football scene in Houston. Who will promote Summer Fest now?
The big upgrade never materialized among all those young receivers last season, but Smith is clearly reaching for it. He recognizes the problem and you have to think a first-round solution is coming in the draft.
It's easy to undervalue wide receiver in today's NFL, until you realize you don't have nearly enough playmakers. You have to think Smith reached that point after watching Matt Schaub struggle to find someone capable of both getting open and holding onto the ball late last season.
This brings us to James Casey and the idea the Eagles stole away some great, underutilized threat when they signed the former Rice Owl. Please. Remember how Joel Dreessen was going to dominate and turn into the touchdown machine he never could be with the Texans once Peyton Manning started throwing him the football?
Casey will be another repeat.
People love to talk about Casey supposedly having the "best hands" on the Texans. Then when Houston absolutely needs Casey to make a catch and Schaub puts a touchdown right in his hands, he drops it on the first series of that playoff game in New England.
Sometimes underrated players become overrated, overpaid players much quicker than you imagine.
Dreessen and Casey both fit this category and Smith was smart to pass. And Connor Barwin is close.
Not getting Ed Reed at this point will be a loss that Michael Huff cannot begin to fill.
Barwin is arguably a bigger loss for the indie music scene than the football scene in Houston. Who will promote Summer Fest now?
Barwin may be the most insightful, intelligent and enlightened player in the NFL. He's the type of guy you'd love to have as a neighbor.
His drop off in production from 2011 to 2012 is one of the baffling truths that kept the Texans from ever really coming close to reaching their Super Bowl visions though. Barwin put pressure on quarterbacks — Wade Phillips' schemes kept getting him free — but he couldn't finish (the Sunday nighter against Green Bay is a prime example).
It's funny how much credit Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey gets in the national media for his analytical approach and precise valuing of assets when you consider that Smith is doing much of the same thing in the same town with much more on-field success. This Texans GM only pays top dollar for the stars he's deemed "core players." He's not going to overpay in a panic, get caught up in public perception that free agency is passing the Texans by.
It turns out Ed Reed is just as deliberate and calculating as Smith though. And that's no small crimp in the plan. Sometimes blinking first doesn't signal defeat — and it leads to much larger wins.