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Texans have tough negotiations coming with Williams

The Sports Xchange
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What happens to outside linebacker Mario Williams in free agency will have a lot to do with what the Texans do in the draft and possibly free agency.

Owner Bob McNair, general manager Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak have said that signing Williams to a long-term contract is their top priority. Ideally, they'd like to have him signed before he hits the open market on March 13, but that's not likely to happen.

Agent Ben Dogra will encourage Williams to see what other teams have to offer. With so many teams having so much money available, there's a chance Williams could become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.

The Texans have very little room to operate under the cap. Smith and vice president of football administration Chris Olsen will continue to find ways to clear space because they have a lot of players they want to re-sign.

The Texans spent about $20 million more than the $120 million cap. At this point, they're $1 million under the cap.

The Texans won't be active in free agency as they were last season when they signed cornerback Johnathan Joseph and free safety Danieal Manning to contracts that included a combined $33 million in guarantees.

At this time last year, the Texans were desperate to improve a defense that ranked 30th, including 32nd against the pass. They hired Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, signed Joseph and Manning to start and used their first five picks in the draft on that side of the ball.

Even with Williams suffering a season-ending torn pectoral injury in the fifth game, they ranked second in defense, including fourth against the run and third against the pass. Even with Williams contributing only five sacks, they set a team record with 44.

The Texans have talent and depth on defense. They don't want to lose Williams, but they proved last season they could play great defense without him.

Williams, the top pick in the 2006 draft, has played six seasons with the Texans. His last two have ended with him being placed on injured reserve. He's made T million, including $18 million last season. His franchise designation - 120 percent of $18 million - is supposed to be around $22.9 million. The Texans can't afford to franchise him or it would paralyze them while trying to re-sign other free agents.

Williams has told just about everyone he wants to stay. They believe him. And they want him back. They're expected to make him an enticing offer before March 13, but unless he tells Dogra to get it done and gives them a hometown discount, he'll test the market.

Williams is the only defensive starter who'll be unrestricted. The Texans want to re-sign center Chris Myers, tight end Joel Dreessen, right guard Mike Brisiel and kicker Neil Rackers, among others.

They also want to sign running back Arian Foster, a restricted free agent, to a long-term extension. And if they have the cap room available, they'd like to sign players like offensive tackle Duane Brown and outside linebacker Connor Barwin to extensions before their contracts expire next year.

In the draft, the Texans will look for depth. Wide receiver is the top priority. If Williams leaves, they'll have to draft another outside linebacker, possibly in the second round.

Last year, they selected Brooks Reed in the second round even though Williams and Barwin were the starters. When Williams was injured, Barwin moved to his side and finished with 11.5 sacks. Reed replaced Barwin and had 11.5 sacks. Reed had six in regular season and three in the playoffs.

The Texans believe a defense can never have enough cornerbacks, so expect them to draft one. They also might look for depth in the defensive line and at safety.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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