An offseason that's seen four starters depart and one Dallas Cowboys reject arrive may have shaken the faith of some Houston Texans' fans. But general manager Rick Smith remains unbowed — and extremely confident.
Smith vows that the Texans will be better next season than the group that advanced to the second round of the playoffs, scaring the Baltimore Ravens to near death and capturing the attention of the New York national media in the process.
"We are poised to be a better football team when we line up in the fall than the one that walked off the field in Baltimore last year," Smith said Tuesday, hours before kicker Neil Rackers became the latest Texans departure (signing with the Washington Redskins). "Our expectation is we’ll be better."
"I’m just the opposite," Texans GM Rick Smith said. "I think we’ve had a productive offseason."
Doubt? You can stuff that into a garbage can as far as the man charged with building a championship team in Houston is concerned. Smith doesn't relish the losses the Texans suffered this offseason, but for him it's all part of keeping to the bigger plan.
“No, not at all," Smith said when asked if he felt forced into making some of the moves the Texans did (cutting Eric Winston, trading DeMeco Ryans) due to financial or salary cap reasons. "I’m just the opposite. I think we’ve had a productive offseason.
"We have a plan, and unfortunately a function of being successful and having a good football team is you’re going to lose good players. That’s just a part of it. We’ve been working hard to become a good football team. And in the salary cap era, you can’t keep them all, you can’t pay them all.
"What we’ve had to do is decide who our core group of players are and make sure we keep those guys under contract and realize and understand that we’re going to have to lose some good players."
All-Pro tailback Arian Foster (the NFL's emerging superstar) is obviously one of those core players. Smith locked Foster up for five years at $43.5 million — arguably a bargain considering what other elite running backs make. Center Chris Myers is another potential foundation player (albeit not on the same level as Foster). Smith re-signed Myers this offseason too. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph is a core player who was added in free agency last offseason. Dominant defensive rookie J.J. Watt is already without question a Core Man.
One would have to think that left tackle Duane Brown, quarterback Matt Schaub (if he's as healthy as the Texans' front office expects in 2012) and potentially linebacker Connor Barwin are must-resign core players next offseason.
"What you try to do is you try to set yourself up so that you don’t lose great players," Smith said. "And that’s just a function of planning."
The theory is that if you keep the true stars, you can fill in around them. Smith isn't trying to pretend that Buffalo-jumping linebacker Mario Williams wasn't a potential star. But $100 million — the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history — was something Houston could not compete with.
"If you look at our team, Mario would have been considered a core player," Smith said. "We’ve talked often about Mario’s contract and it was a set of circumstances that made it very difficult to bring him back. Whether you’re talk about the fact that you had the buyback a few years ago, then the lockout, then the injury, there’s number of reasons why you look at that deal and say, ‘Wow, we let a good one get away.’
"He would absolutely have been a core member of the team. That’s why I say you have to look out and plan not just for the next year, but for multiple years to make sure that you keep that group together.”
It's a group that the general manager expects even bigger things from next season. Powered by The Core.