My plan for the Houston Texans as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:
Finances: Cut wide receiver Kevin Walter, saving $2.5 million in cap space. Restructure the deal of wide receiver Andre Johnson, reducing his base salary from $10.5 million to $940,000 (giving him the rest now as a bonus), resulting in a salary-cap savings of $7.17 million. Restructure the deal of cornerback Johnathan Joseph, reducing his base salary from $7.5 million to $940,000 (giving him the rest now as a bonus), resulting in a salary-cap savings of $4.373 million. Extend defensive end Antonio Smith, reducing his 2013 base salary of $6 million and his cap charge of $9.5 million significantly.
Continuity: Re-sign safety Glover Quin. The Texans didn’t use the franchise tag on him but would face a tough hole to fill if they let him depart. He’s carved out a good role on this defense, and his staying would be mutually beneficial. In addition to extending Smith and saving money, invest in inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who counts $4.643 million against the cap in the final year of his initial deal and is due $3.143 million in base salary.
Turnover: Allow outside linebacker Connor Barwin to leave as a free agent if he gets a good deal. Although it would be nice to keep him, the team is equipped to move on without him and should be able to draft a player who can be the third guy at the position behind Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus. Brice McCain can be a nice nickel but should be replaceable if he finds an opportunity he prefers. Be done with nose tackle Shaun Cody.
Additions: Sign a free-agent defensive tackle like Roy Miller from Tampa Bay. He’s a good run-stopper who could replace Cody and be better in tandem with Earl Mitchell in Wade Phillips' 3-4 front, which allows for a smaller nose. Mike DeVito (New York Jets) also could work and wouldn’t have to transition to 3-4 thinking.
Draft: Swing big for a wide receiver who can line up opposite Johnson and pose a matchup threat. Perhaps Cal’s Keenan Allen or Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins fits the bill. Tavon Austin from West Virginia, who is smaller and quicker, could give the Texans the sort of weapon they don’t have. Use other early picks on inside linebacker, safety depth and corner/nickel depth. Emphasize linebacker with late picks, looking to boost special-teams coverage and blocking.