The Texans made their most significant offseason move to date today, signing Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels to a four-year, 22 million dollar contract including six million in guaranteed money. NFL Network Insider Jason La Canfora reported that roughly $13 million will be paid out over the first two years of the deal.
Before the 2009 season, Daniels held out of organized training activities when his agent and the team couldn't come to terms on a new contract. Daniels reportedly wanted top three tight end money, and the Texans would have none of it. We all know what happened next. After getting off to a blazing start in 2009, Daniels went down with a torn ACL, and that was the end of his hopes for a huge new contract.
Skip ahead to 2011, and the $20+million Daniels was seeking in guaranteed money has turned to six million. On the surface, it seems like a very team-friendly deal, but we're talking about a guy who has now had multiple torn ACL injuries. Daniels' speed and ability to find the seam is key to what makes him a special player in this offense. Can his knee hold up, and will he be the same player he was in 2009 prior to the injury?
With so many needs on defense, and a lot of rhetoric about turning said defense around in one offseason, the Texans, though it goes against their nature, figure to be players in the free agent market. Daniels' contract isn't back-breaking, and it shouldn't keep them from jumping in head first on a high-dollar veteran defensive back. However, $13 million over the first two years of the deal is a solid chunk, especially with the aforementioned injury history.
If you believe great depth is a key to being a playoff team, you can see why the Texans have yet to sniff the playoffs. One position where the Texans actually have excellent depth is at tight end.
Joel Dreessen, while not spectacular, has been consistent in place of Daniels when he's had the chance. He's also a better blocker than Daniels, but he can't stretch the field like Owen can when he's 100%.
James Casey is more in the mold of Daniels. He's a pass-catcher first, has good speed, and is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. Well, that's what we all believe, anyway. It's not like he's had a lot of chances to show it.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Garrett Graham was said to be a "clone" of Daniels. He showed flashes of potential in the preseason (and at some of the open practices I attended), but he's clearly locked near the bottom of the depth chart along with the oft-injured Anthony Hill, who will probably not make the 2011 roster.
With the depth the Texans have at the position, it tells you just how much the Texans think of Daniels and what he means to the offense. Despite the fact that the offense continued to roll along without him after his injury in 2009, and to a lesser-extent for most of 2010, the Texans clearly feel like he is a difference-maker.
With all the needs this team has on the other side of the ball, I wouldn't have been against letting Owen Daniels walk away as a free agent. The Texans are going to need to throw a lot of money at a veteran cornerback or safety, and let's not forget there's still the important matter of bringing Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach back into the fold. There's still a ton of Bob McNair's money to be spent. Just ask Shaun Cody.