The money isn’t mine. I’m not certain about what you can afford and what the market will pay when free agency opens on March 13. I’m not positive about your plans and schemes.
But I’ve got a good sense of your team. We've looked at your free agents.
And here’s what I’d try to do with your major issues:
1. Make one, big solid offer to defensive end Mario Williams. Very soon. Tell him it’s the best you are going to be able to do now or later. Expect him not to take it. Prepare for life without him and the crushing reviews you’ll get when he goes to a place like Seattle or, worse, Jacksonville, and wreaks some havoc as a pass rusher. Take solace that he’s overpaid by his new team and will ultimately mess up its cap. Plan to draft a outside linebacker to be third in a rotation with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed.
2. Free up money with the following moves: Cut receiver Jacoby Jones (due a $3 million base salary) and reserve quarterback Matt Leinart (due a $1.75 million base). Make it clear while you’d like to keep them on your team, you cannot pay inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans ($5.9 million), receiver Kevin Walter ($3.5 million base) or defensive tackle Shaun Cody ($2 million) the base salaries they are scheduled to make. Ryans is a good player and a great locker room guy. But he played 58 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps last season. He can't make that money for that time on the field.
3. Do what you need to do to hold on to running back Arian Foster, but realize you have control. He’s a restricted free agent. A team trying to lure him away with an offer sheet would have to give up a first-rounder for him, and as great as he is, a first round pick is a high price for a running back. I think you can be a little risky here in terms of not worrying about outsiders. An offer sheet could be front-loaded and hard to match straight up. Hopefully if he’s offered one, he’ll share the numbers because he likes you and you’ve give him an equivalent deal shaped differently to get him to steer clear of signing the sheet. With or without outside influence, you should be able to give him a deal he’ll like that has a smaller 2012 cap number than the franchise tag of nearly $8 million.
4. Find a way to lock up center Chris Myers and don’t worry about guard Mike Brisiel, who's not the same caliber and won't cost nearly as much, unless he can be had for cheap. While you’d like to keep both, Myers is a better player, who's more valuable and has a better injury history. He’s also more of a the leader of the group. You need him long-term to keep that great running game going. Antoine Caldwell can take over at right guard without major drop off. There is no obvious replacement for Myers on the roster, so they’d have to find one if you let him go.