Houston Texans salary cap outlook: Defensive player of the year J.J. Watt is a bargain

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

The "Shutdown Countdown" is chugging along. In addition to previewing each team, Shutdown Corner will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the Houston Texans.

2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $125.046 million (21st in the NFL in 2013)

2013 Cap Room Remaining: $1.447 million (30th in the NFL, as of July 26)

Best Bargain: J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the league and is coming off a season where he led the NFL in sacks (20.5), posting 39 tackles for a loss, 43 quarterback hits, forced four fumbles and had 16 passes defensed. As the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the year that compensation for incoming rookies was sacrificed in the new collective bargaining agreement, Watt has earned $7.938 million over the first two seasons of a four-year, $11,237,498 contract. Watt earned less than $900,000 during his outstanding 2012 season and will earn just $1,396,590 in base salary in 2013, which ranks 49th among current defensive end contracts.

The player chosen with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis, signed a five-year deal worth up to $26.5 million and earned $14.129 million in the first two seasons of his contract.

Potential Camp Cap Casualty: There are a couple of expensive veterans over 30 who meet the criteria, but are safe as the Texans look to take the next step and advance deep into the playoffs in 2013. Left guard Wade Smith made the Pro Bowl last season, but Duane Brown and Chris Myers had a lot to do with that. Smith turned 32 in the offseason and if the Texans had someone who could legitimately push him for a starting job, the $3 million in non-guaranteed base salary he's scheduled to earn this season would have him on the chopping block.

Veterans Andre Johnson, Johnathan Joseph, Antonio Smith, Owen Daniels and Danieal Manning will combine to earn $32 million in cash this season as each has a base salary over $4 million. The Texans could restructure a few of those contracts to create cap space, but with all but Joseph over 30, they may not want to create further cap issues down the road by renegotiating those deals. If the Texans want a little more space, quarterback Matt Schaub could provide some relief. Schaub's $7.25 million base salary is fully guaranteed, so the team could reduce his salary to the league minimum ($840,000), convert the remaining $6.41 million to a signing bonus that is prorated over the remaining four years of his contract and create $4.8075 million in cap space. The downside to that is that Schaub's cap numbers would rise to over $16 million in 2014, over $18 million in 2015 and over $20 million in 2016.

Looming Contract Issue: Inside linebacker Brian Cushing will earn $3.143 million in base salary in 2013, which is the final year of his rookie contract. Cushing has 353 tackles, 9.5 sacks, seven interceptions and 21 passes defensed during his 49-game career and is clearly the best player at an area of the roster that is a weakness for the Texans. Cushing is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but his resume also includes a four-game suspension for violating the PEDs policy and he's coming off a torn ACL.

Other free agent issues the Texans will have to address next offseason include starting defensive end Antonio Smith, starting nose tackle Earl Mitchell, linebacker Darryl Sharpton and tight end Garrett Graham. The Texans will have until May 3, 2014 to exercise the fifth-year option on Watt. Since Watt was selected outside of the Top 10, the value of his 2015 salary will be the average of the third through 25th-highest salaries for players at his position in 2014. Obviously that situation is very fluid, but as of now, that figure is close to $9 million, which would be guaranteed for injury only.

Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: The "Top 51" contracts on the Texans' 2014 contract have salary cap commitments totaling $115.66 million, which could increase if Andre Johnson hits his $3.5 million base salary escalator (he triggered $3.3 million of a possible $3.5 million in 2012) and Kareem Jackson adds up to $775 million to his 2014 base salary of $1.665 million.

Previous salary cap outlooks

32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
13. Chicago Bears
12. New York Giants
11. Carolina Panthers
10. Washington Redskins
9. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Atlanta Falcons

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