HOUSTON -- Brian Gaine understands just how important it is to surround quarterback Deshaun Watson with talent this offseason.
During his news conference at the NFL combine last week, the Houston Texans' general manager said the team would be "selectively aggressive" during free agency to continue to build the roster around its young quarterback.
"We feel like we have a long-term solution at the quarterback position with Deshaun Watson," Gaine said. "As long as I'm here, I'm going to make every effort to put the pieces in place around him to help him, support him and help him be successful on the field.
"He's certainly a centerpiece in terms of how we want to build our team, and it's a focal point of how we want to build the roster."
The Texans have the next two or three years to do that by making big splashes in free agency.
One of the reasons that the Texans have the flexibility to build around Watson is because he is still on his rookie contract. While Houston's window to win will be open as long as Watson can stay healthy and play as well as he has shown he can during his first two seasons, there's no doubt that the Texans feel some pressure to take advantage now, while they're not paying Watson top dollar and can instead spend that money on adding pieces around him.
Watson is signed to his current deal for three more seasons, and although the Texans aren't likely to wait that long to reward their young quarterback with a contract extension, that still gives the Texans at least two more seasons when they can take advantage of not having a $100 million quarterback contract eat into their salary structure.
In 2019, Watson will have a cap hit of less than $3.8 million, which is just 2.92 percent of the Texans' current cap. By comparison, Russell Wilson is currently making 18.02 percent of the Seattle Seahawks' total cap, and Aaron Rodgers is being paid 15.92 percent of the Green Bay Packers' cap. Matthew Stafford's contract accounts for 18.13 percent of the money spent on the Detroit Lions' roster and the Lions haven't had any playoff success, in part because of an inability to build a strong team around Stafford.
In the past decade, some of those same teams had success building a Super Bowl-winning roster around a quarterback before he got his first mega-contract. Three seasons after the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Green Bay rewarded Rodgers with a five-year, $110 million contract; the Packers have not been to the Super Bowl since. The Seahawks (with Wilson) and the Baltimore Ravens (with Joe Flacco) have had similar situations, failing to win another Super Bowl after giving their quarterbacks a big contract. Seattle got back to a Super Bowl the year after its win, but after that, Wilson was rewarded -- rightfully so -- with his first massive extension.
While the Texans won the AFC South last season, it's no secret that each of the other three teams in the division have made the playoffs in the past two years and could challenge again in 2019. Andrew Luck already has his big contract, and the Colts have more than $100 million in cap space, mostly thanks to having built their roster through drafting well. Indianapolis also finished the regular season red-hot and beat the Texans twice at NRG Stadium, including during wild-card weekend, trouncing Houston 21-7 in a game that wasn't even that close.
Although the Texans already have a talented roster, there are plenty of holes to fill, most notably on the offensive line and in the secondary. To keep pace with the Colts and take a step forward to compete with the elite teams in the AFC, they have to invest well in free agency. Houston will not be able to do so for much longer, at least not in the way it can this offseason.