AFC South: Antonio Smith

During the past week seven former Houston Texans -- six on defense -- became unrestricted free agents and signed with other teams. Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell signed with the Dolphins, defensive end Antonio Smith signed with the Raiders, inside linebackers Darryl Sharpton signed with Washington and Joe Mays signed with the Chiefs, outside linebacker Bryan Braman with the Eagles, and backup nose tackle Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys. There was also Ben Tate's defection to the Cleveland Browns, a move rumored for several months.

But the Texans haven't been losing players so much as they've been letting them go.

The clearest example of this came with Smith, a starter for all five seasons he spent with Houston.

"The feel I got from the Texans was a feel of a third-down rusher coming off the bench," Smith told Mark Berman of Fox 26. Smith received an affordable two-year deal worth $9 million.

Tate wasn't a guy the Texans wanted to bring back, preferring to go with Arian Foster, a draft pick and a young player from the gaggle of them they have now. He only received $6.2 million over three years from the Browns to be their starter, according to reports of the NFLPA's records. By comparison, the Texans are paying their starting running back $6.25 million this year, including his roster bonus, on a contract that averages $8.7 million per year.

The high number of defensive departures might have a lot to do with a changing system, but it makes clear that there will be a degree of rebuilding for the Texans next season.

The Texans' plan is yet unfolding, and a lot of it will involve toughening up the current roster. But you can't let go of four starters (we'll count both Mays and Sharpton as starters since they did for most of the season) without admitting that. Add to it the Texans' likelihood to have a new starter at quarterback in September, and possibly a new right tackle and left guard, and you have quite a bit of change.
After getting egg on his face Wednesday, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie went back to work on Friday, signing former Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, along with cornerback Tarell Brown, a day after inking linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli broke down Smith leaving Houston for Oakland to the tune of a reported two-year, $9 million contract.

Paul Gutierrez: What I’m wondering, Tania, is what kind of defensive end is Smith, the prototypical edge-rusher the Raiders so desperately need, or more of a run-stuffer on the edge?

Tania Ganguli: He's better at pass rushing than run stuffing. The Texans’ scheme under Wade Phillips, one he liked to call the Phillips 3-4, featured an attacking front. Most of their pass-rushing pressure came from their defensive ends, Smith and J.J. Watt, rather than their outside linebackers. That’s not exactly by design – they would’ve loved more pressure from those edge guys – but it spoke to the skill they had at their defensive end positions. Smith is strong and can overpower opposing linemen.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Smith
George Bridges/Getty imagesAntonio Smith recorded five sacks for the Texans this past season.
How do you see the Raiders using him?

Gutierrez: As a pass-rusher/run-stuffer. Cop out, I know. But last season’s sack leader, defensive end Lamarr Houston, had six sacks and was better at stopping the run, though he left for the Chicago Bears, and the Raiders have not had anyone with double-digit sacks since 2006. Still, it is interesting that Smith, Tuck and Woodley ALL play on the left side. They still have to figure out what they’re going to do with the right side, unless they switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. Then, all bets are off.

Many Raiders fans have been screaming for Richie Incognito to join the Raiders and shore up the offensive line. But with Smith here now, kind of hard to see it happening with the bad blood, no? Could you explain it?

Ganguli: Oh, that would be interesting. Those two have a history going all the way back to college, when both of them played in the Big 12, Incognito at Nebraska and Smith at Oklahoma State. Then they played in the same division in the pros with Smith at Arizona and Incognito at St. Louis. They know each other well and Incognito knows how to goad him. In the 2012 season opener, Incognito engaged in some shenanigans with Smith’s ankle, in Smith’s view trying to twist and/or break it. He kicked Incognito in the head as he disengaged himself and landed a $21,000 fine. The fine was reduced to $11,000 after an appeal, but still went on Smith’s permanent record with the league. When they suspended him for what they viewed as him ripping off Incognito’s helmet and using it as a weapon during the 2013 preseason, they sent him a note detailing his history of discipline. Smith was again reacting to Incognito’s shenanigans, this time with his face mask and so his face, head and neck. Again, it cost him. It wasn’t the smartest move, taking off Incognito’s helmet, but I thought the talk that he “could have killed” Incognito was a little overwrought. One thing to know about Smith: He’s not the type of guy who gets into scuffles like this with everyone he faces. This is a specific deal between those two guys.

Another thing to know about Smith: He created an alter-ego called the Ninja Assassin while in Houston. Wore a ninja mask during pregame introductions. His sack celebration was him pulling out an imaginary sword from an imaginary sheath and brandishing it. Other times he’d say he was Tonestradamus, and make predictions about whatever came into his head. He’s silly, and even in the bad times I didn’t sense Texans fans tiring of it. How do you think Raider fans will respond to that?

Gutierrez: Put it this way: Raider Nation is going to love it. Or have you not seen how every home game is Halloween on Hegenberger, what with so many costumes and characters filling the Black Hole. He will be a fan favorite, so long as he produces. That being said, how much of his success was his being on the other side of Watt, and, with Smith, a 10-year vet turning 33 in November, how much tread does the Ninja Assassin have left on his tires?

Ganguli: I should note, unless he’s changed his mind, the Ninja Assassin is dead. Smith said that if he didn’t return to Houston he was going to leave it behind and find another character. I’m sure he’d love suggestions. I think a two-year deal was smart on the part of the Raiders. He’s got plenty left right now, but beyond 2015, that’d be tough to say. I think his fit, rather than his age, is why the Texans let him go. Watt and Smith had a symbiotic relationship. Two of Smith’s most productive seasons, sack wise, came after the Texans drafted Watt, but one of those was 2011, a season during which Watt hadn’t yet turned into what he is today.

Wrapping up, Smith was always happy to help younger teammates in Houston, taking an active mentoring role with some. Can you see that developing with anyone on the Raiders' roster?

Gutierrez: Poor Ninja Assassin. My dad actually toured the Far East on a martial arts expedition with Sho Kosugi, who starred in all of those ninja movies of the early 1980s. But I digress ... to answer your question, most definitely. Sure, the Raiders went the vet route with Smith, Tuck and Woodley, but they do have high hopes for defensive end Jack Crawford, who will be entering his third season and was initially drafted in the fifth round as a project, of sorts, out of Penn State. Plus, they kept undrafted rookie Ryan Robinson a year ago over seventh-round draft pick David Bass. So if Smith is up for some mentoring, the Raiders have some young bucks who would be wise to sit and learn at his knee. So long as they don’t ask any ninja-related questions, I surmise.
Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith felt optimistic about returning to the team after talking with head coach Bill O'Brien last month.

He had reason to be. O'Brien spoke very highly of the pending free agent during the combine.

However, the Texans didn't re-sign Smith before the test-the-market portion of free agency began.

Smith now has four teams interested in him, with two visits lined up for later this week.

Smith has been part of a very solid interior pass rush for the Texans. Though his younger compadre J.J. Watt has gaudier numbers, the veteran does create problems for opponents. He finished last season with five sacks. In his career Smith has 41.5 total sacks, having set career bests in 2011 with 6.5 and 2012 with seven.

Teams have been allowed to enter into negotiations with players since noon ET on Saturday, but can't schedule visits or reach agreements with anyone not on their 2013-14 roster until Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC South

March, 10, 2014
With the 2014 free-agency period starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, here is a look at top free agents in the AFC South as compiled by reporters Tania Ganguli, Paul Kuharsky, Michael DiRocco and Mike Wells. The top seven free agents are on defense, led by cornerback Vontae Davis of the Colts. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a fixture in Jacksonville for the past eight years, is looking for a new team. Is this the end of Antoine Bethea's run in Indianapolis?

1. Vontae Davis, Colts CB: Indianapolis needs a top cornerback to help a defense that finished 20th in the league last season. Davis has shown he has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He just needs to work on his consistency.

2. Alterraun Verner, Titans CB: A smart, aware corner with a knack for getting to the ball, he just lacks top speed and size.

3. Antoine Bethea, Colts S: A reliable player, having started every game he played during his eight years with the Colts. Finished with at least 100 tackles in five of those seasons.

4. Earl Mitchell, Texans NT: Solid player at the point of attack and has shown the ability to get consistent penetration. He had 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season.

5. Bernard Pollard, Titans S: Played well as an in-the-box safety and provided the sort of standard-setting leadership the Titans lacked previously. Update: Signed one-year, $2 million deal to remain with Titans.

6. Darryl Sharpton, Texans LB: Led the Texans with 87 tackles but is not as good in coverage as he is against the run.

7. Antonio Smith, Texans DE: He is more of a run-stuffing defensive end than a pass-rusher, although he did record five sacks in 2013.

8. Ben Tate, Texans RB: He led the Texans with 771 yards rushing. He has been somewhat injury-prone but has produced when needed as Arian Foster's backup.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB: Jones-Drew started 15 games and led the Jaguars with 803 yards and five touchdowns rushing. He also caught 43 passes (third on the team) for 314 yards. He got off to a slow start then battled through ankle, hamstring and knee issues and averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.

10. Donald Brown, Colts RB:
Brown was the Colts’ third running back twice in 2013 only to end the season as the starter. He has the speed but was too inconsistent during his five seasons in Indianapolis.

11. Garrett Graham, Texans TE: He’s not Owen Daniels, but he can line up tight or as a flex tight end. He came into his own as a receiver last season with 49 catches for 545 yards and five TDs.

12. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts RB: A neck injury limited Bradshaw to only three games last season. It took just those three games for him to show he was the Colts' most effective running back.

13. Ropati Pitoitua, Titans DE: A giant, run-stuffing end who would be a solid, flexible piece in the hybrid front. Update: Signed 3-year, deal for $9.6 million to remain with Titans.

14. Adam Vinatieri, Colts K: The 41-year-old Vinatieri was 35-of-40 on field goals and a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points in 2013.

15. Samson Satele, Colts C: Was released by the team on March 6 after a disappointing 2013 season. He has started 98 of 102 games during his seven-year career.
Unlike their counterparts in the AFC South, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, the Houston Texans will not be big spenders on the market once free agency begins March 11.

The NFL announced Friday the league’s salary cap for 2014 will be $133 million, which is an increase from $10 million from last season.

The Texans will have about $11 million in cap space. Houston isn’t as fortunate as the Colts and Jaguars, who will have about $41 million and more than $50 million, respectively, to spend on improving their rosters.

The Texans, meanwhile, could lose starters like guard Wade Smith, defensive end Antonio Smith and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell in free agency. They’ve also got to decide what to do with quarterback Matt Schaub, who is scheduled to make $14.1 million next season after losing his starting job last season.

Meanwhile, Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle has a neat story on a Crosby (Texas) High School senior football player who will be going to his prom with a Texans cheerleader.

“Courtesy of more than 10,000 retweets in a little more than 24 hours, [Michael] Ramirez went from just-broken-up status to one of Twitter’s hottest names Friday,” Smith wrote.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before the season ended, I asked a few pending free agents what their gut feeling was about whether or not they would be back.

The responses were often ones of uncertainty. Who knew what the new coaching staff would want?

If you assumed the Texans were finished with Antonio Smith, that might have been a premature assumption. Smith told Houston's Sports Radio 610 last week that his agent told him the Texans and Bill O'Brien like him. It made him optimistic about returning next year.

O'Brien was highly complimentary of Smith when I asked yesterday.

"Good player," O'Brien said. "Have a lot of respect for Antonio and what he’s done in this league. Really tough, good player. Good teammate from everything we hear. Enjoyed meeting him. I can only say hello to him. Meeting was really brief, but have a lot of respect for what Antonio does in this league."

O'Brien wouldn't go into more specific evaluations of Smith, but calling him a good teammate is a great sign for Smith. That quality is hugely important to O'Brien.

I asked general manager Rick Smith if he had started conversations about re-signing Smith, and he answered circuitously, while bringing up two names unprovoked:

"This is the time when we really start to sit down with the agents and start to talk about what the prospects look like for all those free agents, (tight end) Garrett Graham, (nose tackle) Earl Mitchell, there are a few guys that are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this year. This is the time we start to formulate those conversations."

Graham and Mitchell are two more guys I might have assumed wouldn't return. Graham because it might be easier to keep Owen Daniels. Daniels is better today than Graham, but over the next four years, Graham might have the advantage. Mitchell just doesn't seem to fit in Romeo Crennel's defense as well as he would in a 4-3 system.

We'll get more clarity on that over the next few weeks.

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

November, 24, 2013

HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 13-6 victory against the Houston Texans.

What it means: The Jaguars are on a roll after Sunday’s victory. That’s two victories in their last three games and they’re entering a stretch of winnable games in December: Cleveland, Houston, Buffalo and Tennessee. Part of the success is due to an easier schedule in the second half of the season, but the Jaguars have also played better against the run in the three games since their bye week.

Stock watch: The Jaguars’ running game, which has been the worst in the NFL all season, showed up in a big way against the Texans. The Jaguars ran for a season-high 120 yards, the first time they have rushed for more than 100 this season. Maurice Jones-Drew also had his best game of the season against the Texans. He ran for a season-high 84 yards and caught six passes for 60 yards to give him a season-high 144 total yards. His previous best was 71 yards rushing against the Denver Broncos and 122 total yards against the San Francisco 49ers.

Passing grade: One week after giving up 419 yards passing to Carson Palmer, the Jaguars clamped down on the Texans and quarterback Case Keenum. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 130 yards and no touchdowns. Receiver Andre Johnson, who came into the game second in the NFL with 72 catches, had just one catch for 15 yards until less than two minutes remained.

Ugly answer: The Texans took the opening possession of the second half and drove 83 yards in 6:34 and kicked a field goal to cut the Jaguars’ lead to 10-6. The Jaguars’ answer was less than impressive. They drove the ball from their own 20 to the Houston 31, but had to overcome three penalties and had a pass that was almost intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Chad Henne also simply dropped the ball while he was bringing his arm back to throw and the drive ended when Josh Scobee’s 49-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Plus, they got a first down in the middle of the drive when Antonio Smith was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Henne.

What’s next: The Jaguars will play at the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
HOUSTON -- On Monday, a day after Richie Incognito was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the Dolphins, Texans defensive end Antonio Smith was asked if the allegations that Incognito bullied a teammate, threatened him and used a racial slur toward him surprised Smith.

"Definitely not," Smith replied.


"You are what you are."

Smith and Incognito have a long history. It goes even further beyond the two games in which the two have sparred in the past two seasons. They both played in the Big 12 in college with Smith at Oklahoma State and Incognito at Nebraska. In the NFL, the players who were drafted one year apart wound up in the same division, facing each other twice a year.

Of course, Smith ripped off Incognito's helmet this year during the Texans' preseason game in Miami and the ensuing swing, which didn't make any contact, led to a fine and suspension of two preseason games and one regular-season game for the defensive end. He didn't say much about it, except to say that Incognito punched him in the face and grabbed his facemask before that. It's the second time in two seasons the league has fined Smith for an incident involving Incognito.

Today Smith was asked again about Incognito, bullying and the racial nature of some of the allegations.

What was clear was that he doesn't think what's happening in Miami is a cultural problem with the NFL. He thinks hazing, when done with the right intentions, can be harmless. Rather, Smith thinks what's happening in Miami is an Incognito problem.

And while the Dolphins locker room seems to be rejecting the notion that Incognito used racial slurs hatefully, it doesn’t sound like Smith buys that. Smith's words:

"Hate is a big -- especially in this day and age -- it’s a big factor. If some of the allegations are true of things that he said or left voice messages. I don’t think that has any place anywhere. But other people believe differently.

"I don’t think in my opinion a grown man should get bullied. I think that if you realistically get bullied, there’s only one way my mom taught me and my dad taught me how to get rid of bullies as a child. I can’t say what to do in this day and age, but when I was a kid they always used to say, you hit a bully in the mouth, it’ll stop him from bullying. No matter what you hit him with."

On hazing in general:

"I don’t know what’s the particulars on it. I know that a lot of it is just football players doing what football players do. The rest of the world don’t understand, they think it’s outrageous and different things like that. In every walk of life you have your rite of passage and your traditions that you do. These are the traditions that have been passed down throughout the NFL for a long time. I think a lot of the things that (happen are) no problem, it’s just in the hands of a person that you have in charge of doing it. Like having weapons or firearms. The person who’s in charge of (the weapon) is the one you should fear, not the firearm itself.

"If you’re hazing somebody and you’re hazing them out of pure hate instead of love, then I don’t think that has a place in (football). I’ve never been around it so I couldn’t even comment on it. When we have our fun, we laugh we joke with each other, you know it’s all in love. If (allegations about Incognito are) true from what I’m hearing, from what everybody’s saying, that’s not out of love. You’re just outright stalking somebody or threatening to beat their you know what and all of that, that’s totally different. That’s not what we as football players in the NFL do for hazing or right of passage, for rookies in that league."

Does he feel vindicated?

"I don’t feel vindicated at all. That situation was what it was. I closed the chapter on that situation whether it was that situation or any other, you’re going to be the man that you are. He is the man that he is. That’s just the bottom line. It don’t reflect on me or anything, any of the situation."

On Incognito's use of a racial slur:

"When you’re generating that type of hate toward somebody, I don’t think that’s called for especially for somebody that’s supposed to be your teammate. You’re spending most of your time with these guys in the locker room, more time than you spend with your family. You grow to love a lot of your teammates as brothers as friends. Racial slurs, any kind of slurs or hate generating, I don’t think has any place in the locker room, a football locker room, a team, anywhere as a matter of fact. I don’t want to just bottle it into us. Make it all about football. It don’t have a place anywhere. But some people believe that way."

Locker Room Buzz: Houston Texans

September, 29, 2013
HOUSTON -- Observed in the locker room after the Houston Texans' 23-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Watt angry: J.J. Watt had bruises on his face, six stitches across the bridge of his nose, dried blood on his hands and pants and a fixed glare staring at nothing as he addressed reporters. Never one to dodge the media like a few Texans did, Watt wanted to get his interview out of the way before showering. "I can't freaking stand losing," Watt said, looking furious at a game that slipped away late. "... Nobody likes to lose, especially like this in your own building." After the questions stopped, Watt turned into his locker and threw something down with an emphatic thud.

Jackson confused: For the second straight home game, cornerback Kareem Jackson bemoaned a penalty called on him in overtime when the official called him for unnecessary roughness, picking a player up before taking him down. "Horrible, horrible, horrible," Jackson said. Jackson said he didn't know what the flag was for and his intention was to just stop the receiver.

Support for Schaub: Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, Jackson, running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson all expressed support for Matt Schaub, who has thrown interceptions returned for touchdowns in the past three games.

The inaugural Texans Twitter mailbag

September, 14, 2013
Three matchup questions I have as I consider the Tennessee Titans game Sunday at the Houston Texans.

1. Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner and Coty Sensabaugh will all have a role in trying to slow down receiver Andre Johnson, who looked excellent against the Chargers on Monday night. Most of the time, a defensive back wants to get his hands on the receiver early to throw things off. But McCourty said there are times when Johnson wants a corner to jam him, because it sets him up for short routes. “Sometimes it works as an advantage and sometimes, with his strength, he uses it against you,” McCourty said. “Sometimes you have to lay off. You have to mix it up. He can be running a slant and let you get your hands on you and grab you and throw you by.”

2. As a member of the Bills, Titans left guard Andy Levitre played against Houston lineman Antonio Smith a year ago. Smith didn’t play in the opener after a suspension for a preseason incident with Richie Incognito. Smith will spend a lot of time trying to get past Levitre, but the Texans move people around up front, in part to prevent blockers from gaining any sort of consistent rhythm. “He’s strong enough to play inside but has still got that quickness of an end,” Smith said. “He’s an active guy, he plays all over the field.” J.J. Watt is the guy everyone is talking about and he’s a big issue for David Stewart, Chance Warmack and the whole line, but let's not forget about Smith.

3. Bernard Pollard was close to the line of scrimmage most of the time in Pittsburgh. The Titans often played Michael Griffin deep in the middle of the field alone. The combination of the Tennessee pass rush, solid coverage by the cornerbacks and minimal downfield threats from the Steelers allowed for that personnel distribution in the secondary. Can the Texans, who know Pollard well as he once played for them, force the Titans to back Pollard off and be more involved in coverage? Play-action passing is a giant piece of the Texans' offense, and Pollard is likely to be tested more.
Reading the coverage of the Texans ...

Antonio Smith has been all smiles this week, writes Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle. Smith arrived at Reliant Stadium shortly after the Texans did, back from San Diego. He said it was a weird feeling to watch Monday game rather than play in it. He felt like a coach at times. Back from a suspension that included one regular-season game and two preseason games, Smith says he won't change how he plays football, but he will change how he reacts to being goaded.

Arian Foster accepts that he can't control his playing time, writes the Chronicle's Brian Smith. He also writes that Foster said he feels like he's earned the right to be out there. Relatedly, Ben Tate took to Twitter yesterday evening to say he never waved off Foster from the field, as had been reported previously. As I wrote yesterday, video only showed Tate starting to come off the field, then turning around and staying in while Foster looked upset. I'm not sure it's a bad thing that Foster wants playing time. Tate wants playing time, too. This isn't in Smith's story, but yesterday Tate said he thinks he's better at hiding his frustration at not playing much because he's had much more experience dealing with it.

Speaking of Foster, he wrote a column for Yahoo! Shine about the six things he'll teach his daughter. Foster went with happiness, the value of a dollar, know your why, kindness, men and her worth, and the flying spaghetti monster. He also talked about his emotions when his wife -- who was his girlfriend at the time -- told him she was pregnant.

I've saved the best for last. Some of you know about this amazing news already, and the rest of you should brace yourselves. ... Vanilla Ice will perform at halftime of the Texans' home opener, writes Nick Mathews of the Chronicle. Please send condolences to the rest of the people covering this team and the Texans' public-relations staff, who will have to listen to me talk incessantly about this for the rest of the week. Will it ever stop? Yo, I don't know. (Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" was something of an anthem for the Arcadia High School girls water polo team, circa 2001. That and "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield. I don't know. We were weird.)

Word to your mother.

QB Watch: Titans' Jake Locker

September, 11, 2013
A weekly analysis of the Titans' quarterback play.

Rewind: Jake Locker was efficient and effective in a 16-9 upset at Pittsburgh. He hit on 11 of 20 passes for 125 yards with no touchdowns but no interceptions, either. It wasn’t a quarterbacks game, as the team ran the ball 42 times (two-thirds of the time). Play-action wasn’t especially effective, and Pro Football Focus says only one of Locker’s 11 completions was to the right side of the field. Those shortcomings didn’t matter in the big picture.

Fast-forward: The Texans can swarm the passer on a regular basis, and Locker is likely to face more pressure more frequently. Defensive lineman Antonio Smith returns from a one-game suspension and will add some spark to the efforts. J.J. Watt will move around, and it’s a question of when, not whether, he will cause problems. The Titans will need more from Locker than they did in Pittsburgh, and Houston will present a far different challenge than the Steelers did. If safety Ed Reed makes his Texans debut, he’s a wild card in the secondary.

Balance: I’m curious to see how well the Titans will be able to balance out what Locker does. By that I mean they will be best off if they can mix drop-backs with play-action, mixing in some options and maybe a called run or two. If the open receiver is consistently on the left, so be it. But I’d think that over the course of 60 minutes, the opportunities would be spread out more around the field.

Prediction: Locker made steady progress in the preseason and performed well at Pittsburgh. If the defense plays anywhere near as well as it did against the Steelers, he may have room for a mistake or two against the Texans. In a plan that is sure to ask him to do more, I expect he will make one or two. When they come and where the Titans are on the field when they come will have a big bearing on the result.
Reading the coverage of the Texans...

In the wake of inside linebacker Brian Cushing's signing, the Houston Chronicle created a slideshow of the highest-paid Texans sorted by guaranteed money. In order: receiver Andre Johnson, quarterback Matt Schaub, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, left tackle Duane Brown, Cushing, running back Arian Foster, center Chris Myers, defensive end Antonio Smith, defensive end J.J. Watt (on his fully guaranteed rookie deal), tight end Owen Daniels and safety Danieal Manning.

Dale Robertson of the Chronicle begins this day-after story on Cushing's extension with a fun anecdote about Cushing head-butting Justin Tuggle before the Texans' preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. It is quite possible the most Brian Cushing of all anecdotes. Robertson also uses some of Cushing's thoughts from his press conference yesterday.

During the press conference, Cushing and general manager Rick Smith talked about how closely they kept in touch during Cushing's rehab. Smith paid serious attention on his own, and Cushing made sure he knew every time Cushing hit a new milestone. He sent photos and videos regularly to show his general manager how well he was healing. Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press starts there.

A view from the other side: Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune scouts the Texans. He calls Watt, Foster, Cushing and Johnson players in the top five at their position (forgetting Brown, who I'd certainly say is in the top five at left tackle), but calls Schaub "more caretaker than playmaker."

RTC: Texans' window is not closing

September, 2, 2013
The Houston Chronicle printed its special section this weekend, and the section discussed whether or not the Texans window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl was closing. Mostly they concluded "not," such as in this story by Dale Robertson and this column by Jerome Solomon. The rest of the section looks at what teams could stand in the Texans' way, what Matt Schaub's role will be and how general manager Rick Smith arrived at his position. The story on Smith was my last piece for the Chronicle, and I'll have some more thoughts on it later in the day.

Antonio Smith resurfaces again to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and to Mark Berman of Fox 26. He tells them he forgives Richie Incognito. And himself.

Unlike Tim Tebow, three Texans cuts did not make it through the waiver-wire system. Tyler Clutts got claimed by Miami, Dennis Johnson by Cleveland and Chris Jones by Tampa Bay, writes Dave Zangaro of