Since Austin has no National Football Team of its own, many Austinites look to either the Dallas Cowboys or Houston Texans as their favorite team. Both of these teams have made major changes over the course of the offseason as they acquired and lost a number of players.
By Jacob Murphy
Most Houston fans are still getting over the shock of Andre Johnson’s release. The star receiver is considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the franchise since being drafted number three overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. What hurts even more is that Johnson left for the Indianapolis Colts — arguably the Texans’ biggest rival.
Cowboy fans are feeling a similar blow after losing reigning Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray. The running back led the NFL in rushing as a dominant player last year and was a key part of the team’s success. Like Johnson, Murray left the Cowboys for a division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Those two players were considered major offseason losses for the Texas teams, but the decisions were not without reason. Johnson, who saw a dip in production last season because of injuries, less targets and the emergence of receiver DeAndre Hopkins, would have counted $16.1 million against the Texans’ salary cap with the contract he had, according to espn.com. Houston saved $8.825 million in cap space when he was released. While fans are saddened by the loss, the move may be better for the team in the future.
Murray’s case with the Cowboys is more complicated. As a third round pick in 2011, he blasted onto the scene, but his first three years were hindered by injuries, and he was viewed as inconsistent. With one of the best offensive lines in the NFL blocking for him last year, the former Cowboy maintained his health and finished a stellar season with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 392 carries.
Despite his killer season, the Cowboys did not seem to think Murray was worth the price that he ultimately signed for with the Eagles. Philadelphia signed its new running back to a five-year, $42 million contract, according to espn.com. Sources told ESPN’s Todd Archer that Dallas only offered $24 million over four years. Dallas will be the first team since 1947 to not have the NFL’s leading rusher returning to the team. The main reason for this decision had to do with the Cowboy’s salary cap.
There is no denying that Murray is an elite player who deserved the contract he got, but Dallas may believe that his numbers were inflated due to the outstanding play of the offensive line, which they hope to continue to invest in, and the sheer number of touches he got. The Cowboys must have confidence that they can find a suitable replacement for Murray in free agency or this year’s draft. If they do, they just saved a lot of money that can be used on other team needs and future re-signings.
With the money saved by not signing these players, both teams were able to sign and re-sign key free agents that will hopefully contribute to their overall success in the long run.
The Texans were able to resign two key starters: right tackle Dereck Newton and cornerback Kareem Jackson. Both players have nearly mirrored each other in their career trajectories. Early in their careers, they were thrown into a starting role arguably before they were ready and struggled at times. But last season, both players were key to Houston’s success and demonstrated a lot of improvement. Newton and Jackson were rewarded with five-year, $26 million contract for Newton and a four-year, $34 million contract for Jackson, according to chron.com.
The Cowboys re-signed significant free agents too. Despite the controversy versus the Green Bay Packers in an NFC semifinal playoff game (was it a catch?), Dez Bryant is still regarded as one of the best receivers in the NFL. There are not many players in his position with his catching skill. Bryant will have one more year to prove that he can be a mainstay. His franchise tag for next year will amount to $12.823 million, according to nfl.com.
Maintaining the dominance of the offensive line was a key goal this offseason for Dallas. The only player of the starting five that was an impending free agent was right tackle Doug Free. A starter since 2010, the veteran has been blocking edge rushers for quarterback Tony Romo longer than any of his fellow lineman. The Cowboys re-signed Free for a $15 million deal, according to espn.com.
Both teams acquired impact players from free agency, but the Texans, with money saved and more upgrades needed, made much more of a splash. After re-signing Ryan Mallet, the Texans signed Bryan Hoyer from the Cleveland Browns. Mallet, at this point, is a player with lots of potential that the team hopes can develop into a franchise quarterback. Hoyer was brought on to play if Mallet does not work out or prove to be an upgrade over traded quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Hoyer showed signs of solid play at the beginning of last season, but his team crumbled around him, and things fell apart like they typically do in Cleveland. The Texans show promise of a better situation for Hoyer, and if called upon, he is anticipated to produce good results.
With Johnson’s departure, the Texans had a severe depth problem at wide receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins. With virtually no names after him, receivers Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington were signed from division rivals, Jacksonville and Tennessee. Both players bring speed and deep threat ability, filling in as adequate placeholders for now. The value of the two defensive free agent signings that Houston made cannot be overstated. Both the pass defense and run defense added high quality players.
The NFL’s most popular big guy is heading to East Texas. All 325 pounds of Vince Wilfork are bringing some much needed solidification to the center of the Texans’ defensive line. The 12-year veteran and five-time Pro-Bowler — who bookended his career with two Super Bowls as a New England Patriot — signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Houston in March.
The Texans also signed Rahim Moore, one of the top safeties in free agency, to help with their pass coverage. With the departure of last year’s starting safety Kendrick Lewis, Houston needed a replacement and an upgrade. Moore has continued to steadily improve throughout his career and has the potential to be a top tier safety. His three-year, $12 million contract, is a well-warranted bargain.
The Cowboys only made one notably impactful free agency signing — with controversy surrounding it. Dallas has taken a chance on defensive end Greg Hardy, who missed most of last season with a suspension for being charged with assault against his girlfriend, and signed him to a one-year, $11.3 million deal. Hardy could still face punishment from the league and miss multiple games this season.
From a strictly strategic standpoint, this is a great acquisition. There were not too many pass rushers in the NFL as good as Hardy in 2013. After a year off, Cowboy fans will have to wait and see if he can match that season. If so, this could be the impact player Dallas needs to elevate its defense.
After both teams exceeded expectation last season, this season’s expectations are even higher. The NFL Draft on April 30 filled out the teams rosters with a new crop of young players.
Some fans may be disappointed with what happened to their team over the offseason, but they should remember take a step back and look at the bigger picture with hope for the upcoming season.