In failing to reel in Rodger Saffold, the Texans offseason unraveled in front of our eyes

In 2018, the Texans got in a massive bidding war with the Giants for the services of Nate Solder. They failed to get the deal done. Solder was serviceable at best in New York, but the Houston offensive line was a cataclysmic sieve for the team, altering how the offense played on multiple occasions. They were unable to generate push up front, they were unable to protect Deshaun Watson on the edges, and that pressure cascaded into some of Watson’s worst mistakes of the season. Mistakes that could have made the difference between a first-round bye and getting trounced by a hot Colts team.

Rodger Saffold wasn’t my preferred target inside — that would’ve been Matt Paradis — but reasonable minds can disagree on the value of the two players and how Nick Martin would play at guard. Here’s the calculus of the situation:

  1. The Texans had more cap space available than the Titans, the team that they were reportedly against to the end with Saffold.
  2. With Saffold signing a four-year, $44 million deal that essentially only guarantees two years of play (guaranteed $22.5 million, most structured in the first two), the Titans didn’t exactly give Saffold an unbeatable offer. For the sake of comparison, it took almost $35 million in guarantees to land Solder. In fact, the Texans could’ve given Saffold more up front if they were worried about him being a long-term liability, because they have no salary cap worries to even discuss this season. There’s no way they’re spending the entire hoard of it right now.
  3. Every incremental upgrade means a lot to the Texans right now. Saffold displacing Zach Fulton or Senio Kelemete isn’t a big deal on its own, but the cascade effects of that — players having to earn starting spots, possibly even creating depth — are huge. Especially when compared to letting one of the best guards in free agency join an AFC South opponent.
  4. The cornerback market is in shambles and the Texans wildly overpaid for Bradley Roby on a one-year deal if you’d like another place some money could have come from.

Now it’s one of the worst-kept secrets in the NFL that the Texans are going to draft an offensive tackle early in the draft. They might do it in the first round, or they might do it in the second round if a trade-down materializes. Houston is very much an “our guy” organization at tackle and isn’t necessarily going to be swayed by the consensus big board.

OK, so let’s think back to the last time the Texans drafted a tackle early with designs towards putting him on the left side. It was Duane Brown. Brown wound up being an excellent tackle in the long-term. But he was horrendous in his rookie season, blowing 10 different blocks that led to sacks. Matt Schaub was hit so much that he only started 11 games, and he managed 31 of his 190 career rushes in those 11 games. (It means he was under pressure, Matt Schaub didn’t do running.)

Drafting a new left tackle is like spinning a roulette wheel. From all accounts it seems to be a good class, but good raw talent doesn’t necessarily play well right away. Brown didn’t. Sam Baker, a much worse left tackle from a career value basis, was much better in his first season.

So that leaves us with the question: What is it that the Texans are actually doing here? Is it ensuring that the cap space available is being used to build the best team possible? I don’t know that you can say that’s true, especially when they’re increasingly likely to have cap space left. Is it protecting the most valuable person on the franchise’s payroll? The only effort they made this offseason so far was to bring back Seantrel Henderson, who has started a grand total of two games since 2015. This is coming off a year where Julien Davenport was destroyed and Martinas Rankin did nothing at tackle. Oh, and Kendall Lamm is a free agent too.

We can talk about valuing players at levels and having limits, but at the end of the day value doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To one team, Rodger Saffold is worth $44 million. To another, he’s probably worth more. With zero returning good guard play in 2018, I would argue that he should have been worth more to the Texans then barely getting beat out by the Titans, and that the millions they saved will almost certainly not have had a better marginal purpose.

The Texans could have brought in a surer thing to make their overall offensive profile less volatile. Instead, after they bring in their rookie tackle, they’ll have a grand total of zero linemen that can be counted on to be good. Maybe they’ll bring in someone else in free agency who can be serviceable. A John Miller, or a Jermey Parnell. They’re not finding a player of Saffold’s caliber without a trade. Without the sure thing, all they’ll have is projections.

And in case you didn’t notice last year, those projections don’t always turn out how they did on the scouting report.

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