The Third Coast Sainted Texans

Earlier this week, I posited the question on Twitter for two nearby teams that were having poor years: What if the Saints and Texans merged rosters?

They seemed to have rosters that would fit together well, with each team having a strength where the other hand a hole, and vice versa. To make it more interesting (and also realistic), I decided to look up the 2015 cap hits for every player and build the team under the salary cap (listed on spotrac.com as $146,025,476). My goal here was to create the best 53-man roster possible while remaining under the salary cap.

I’m only considering players who were on the team as of this week, when I wrote this– not players who were on the team earlier in the year (like, say, Akiem Hicks or Kenny Phillips for the Saints).

And here we go. Texans fans are likely to be unhappy for a little while.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

  • Drew Brees (age: 36, 2015 cap hit: $23,800,000)
  • Luke McCown (34, $665,000)
  • Garrett Grayson (24, $618,291)
  • Total: $25,083,291

This one is fairly straightforward. Brees is the only NFL-caliber starting quarterback on either roster, so he has to make the team, even at his age and cap hit. McCown is by far the cheapest of the next three options (Brian Hoyer’s cap hit starts with a 5, which would be fine if it were one digit fewer). And Garrett Grayson is the best prospect for the future. (Tom Savage is on injured reserve; we’ll get to IR at the end of the roster, but frankly, Grayson is the best prospect irrespective of Savage’s presence.)

RUNNING BACK

  • Mark Ingram (25, $2,000,000)
  • C.J. Spiller (28, $2,000,000)
  • Khiry Robinson (25, $585,334)
  • Marcus Murphy (24, $452,322)
  • Austin Johnson (FB) (26, $510,000)
  • Total: $5,547,656

know this one will make Texans fans unhappy. It’s pretty straight-forward: Arian Foster is a 29-year-old running back with a significant injury history and a cap hit of over $8.7M. You might be able to justify paying Foster and carrying one fewer running back if he could still reliably perform at his peak level, but at his age, you can’t count on that.

With Foster too expensive to risk, I think the rest of the Texans running backs are pretty bad, so this was fairly easy. No one besides Foster on Houston’s roster is even as good as Khiry Robinson, let alone Ingram and Spiller. Marcus Murphy adds value as a kick and punt returner. I went with Austin Johnson over Jay Prosch, knowing little about fullbacks, because he’s cheaper (and I don’t know how much Prosch plays, if at all).

WIDE RECEIVER

  • DeAndre Hopkins (23, $2,080,010)
  • Brandin Cooks (22, $1,905,330)
  • Willie Snead (22, $435,000)
  • Jaelen Strong (21, $627,995)
  • Nate Washington (32, $615,000)
  • Total: $5,663,335

DeAndre Hopkins is a budding superstar, an obvious choice for our #1 receiver and a must-have even at five times the cost. Brandin Cooks hasn’t turned into the star the Saints envisioned, but at his current age and cap number, he’s still a bargain– and he’s more suited to this role, the #2 to Hopkins’ #1. Willie Snead has come on strong as arguably the Saints’ most reliable receiver. Jaelen Strong is very young and a fine prospect to ease along in a fourth or fifth wide receiver role. I chose Nate Washington as the “cagey veteran mentor” to round out the bunch. Marques Colston is too expensive and has seemingly lost it. You could argue for Cecil Shorts, but Washington is on a one-year minimum deal and Shorts is being paid $6 million for two years. Even though he’s younger, I’m not sure he adds much value to the team at all, let alone over Washington. Cooks, Snead, and Strong can contribute on special teams, so I wasn’t worried about finding a player to fit that type.

TIGHT END

  • Ben Watson (34, $1,900,000)
  • Josh Hill (25, $586,668)
  • C.J. Fiedorowicz (23, $730,826)
  • Total: $3,217,494

It was a lot easier to justify Watson for the top spot after the game he had Thursday night against Atlanta. He’s the best do-it-all guy on either roster. Hill has the most athleticism; Fiedorowicz is a guy I don’t think is all that special, but is young, cheap, and has a relatively high draft pedigree (then again, I’m not sure if the Texans understand the draft).

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

  • Duane Brown (30, $9,500,000)
  • Terron Armstead (24, $769,359)
  • Andrus Peat (21, $2,071,544)
  • Total: $12,340,903

A no-brainer. This might be the best trio of tackles in the league.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

  • Jahri Evans (32, $7,000,000)
  • Brandon Brooks (26, $1,696,359)
  • Xavier Su’a-Filo (24, $1,261,727)
  • Total: $9,958,086

Evans is on the decline at 32, but he’s still the best guard on either team. Brooks is not someone I know much about, but I’ve generally seen his play well-graded and spoken fairly well of– or at least well enough to be the team’s other starter. Su’a-Filo is on this team for roughly the same reason C.J. Fiedorowicz is.

CENTER

  • Max Unger (29, $3,000,000)
  • Ben Jones (26, $1,662,362)
  • Total: $4,662,362

It’s easy to pick both starting centers when they come this cheaply.

TOTAL OFFENSE: 24 players, $66,473,127

DEFENSE

I’ve listed the team in a base 3-4, which made the most sense to me with the personnel I had to work with.

ENDS

  • J.J. Watt (26, $13,969,000)
  • Cameron Jordan (26, $4,169,000)
  • Bobby Richardson (22, $436,666)
  • Jared Crick (26, $1,639,875)
  • Total: $20,214,541

Watt and Jordan are a fantastic duo to have here and well worth the money. Bobby Richardson has played well so far his rookie season, particularly against the run. I don’t know much about Crick, but he’s cheap and he plays a lot of snaps for Houston, so he makes the team.

TACKLES

  • John Jenkins (26, $746,890)
  • Tyeler Davison (23, $489,306)
  • Christian Covington (21, $457,621)
  • Kaleb Eulls (24, $438,333)
  • Total: $2,132,150

One of the weakest groups on the team, but a very young one with lots of chance to improve playing between Jordan and Watt. Jenkins has the size to be a true nose tackle, so he’s the starter in the run-stuffing role. The word is that Vince Wilfork has looked ordinary, and even if he hasn’t, 2 years and $9 million is a lot for a 33-year-old nose tackle. (Though it’s not out of line with the kind of deals the Texans like to hand out– see “Reed, Ed.”) The other three are all rookies with varying talent level and skill sets; Davison is the most explosive of the bunch.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

  • Jadeveon Clowney (22, $5,062,045)
  • Hau’oli Kikaha (23, $957,511)
  • Whitney Mercilus (25, $2,979,030)
  • Kasim Edebali (26, $512,000)
  • Total: $9,510,586

Clowney hasn’t produced the big numbers yet, but he’s shown the flashes of greatness that made him the top pick in the draft. Kikaha now leads all rookies with four sacks (in six games); he’s been less flashy but steadily productive. Mercilus is a fine player, although nothing special, and Edebali has shown some signs of life as a rotational pass-rusher.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

  • Stephone Anthony (23, $1,404,766)
  • Dannell Ellerbe (29, $1,900,000)
  • Bernardrick McKinney (22, $971,840)
  • Justin Tuggle (25, $585,834)
  • Michael Mauti (25, $585,000)
  • Total: $5,448,440

I hate to say it, but Brian Cushing might be done. He looks like a shell of his former self out there– and to make matters worse, he’s on the second year of a six-year deal, one where his cap hit each year is higher than the entire ILB crew I’ve assembled here.

Anthony is the star of the bunch, but Ellerbe has been surprisingly good, surpassing my expectations. McKinney is a long-term player there, though he’s more of a run-stopper. I had no idea whom to go with for the fourth ILB spot; Tuggle beat out Akeem Dent based on age, salary, and slightly higher PFF grade. Feel free to replace him if you like someone better. Mauti won the special teams roster spot with his blocked punt Thursday night.

CORNERBACK

  • Keenan Lewis (29, $4,500,000)
  • Johnathan Joseph (31, $11,750,000)
  • Kevin Johnson (23, $1,827,166)
  • Delvin Breaux (25, $439,000)
  • Damian Swann (22, $481,807)
  • Total: $18,997,973

Another difficult decision I had to make was Joseph vs. Kareem Jackson. I was initially on Jackson because he’s younger and had a lower cap hit, but upon further research, I discovered he’s graded out really poorly this year, and he’s in the first year of a four-year contract extension; he’ll be 31 when it ends. Joseph is 31 now, but his cap hit is lower for the next two years than it is now, and the team can cut bait after 2016 with no further penalty. With the play so far of youngsters Johnson and Breaux, that is likely to happen. Also, Lewis has proven himself a fine #1 corner, even if he is exiting his prime, and Swann has performed solidly so far after winning the Saints’ nickel job as a rookie.

SAFETY

  • Jairus Byrd (29, $5,500,000)
  • Kenny Vaccaro (24, $2,570,376)
  • Rahim Moore (26, $3,000,000)
  • Andre Hal (23, $527, 281)
  • Total: $11,597,657

The Saints structured Byrd’s contract such that his cap hit makes him an affordable risk here– and even allows us to spend $3 million on Moore for when Byrd is inevitably injured. Vaccaro seems like an obvious choice, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Hal so far.

TOTAL DEFENSE: 26 players, $67,901,347

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Kicker: Zach Hocker (24, $435,000)
  • Punter: Thomas Morstead (29, $3,400,000)
  • Long Snapper: Justin Drescher (27, $875,000)

I chose Hocker before Thursday night, but he’ll probably be fired after that game. Well, the Texans already fired Randy Bullock this year, so I decided to go with the guy who stuck around the longest.

Morstead is more expensive than Shane Lechler, but he’s also twelve years younger and has a lifetime pass for hitting the greatest onside kick in NFL history.

Drescher is cheaper and younger than Jon Weeks.

TOTAL SPECIAL TEAMS: 3 players, $4,710,000

TOTAL 53-MAN ROSTER: $139,084,474

We’re still nearly $7 million under the cap, so I decided to add some players to our Injured Reserve list (who do not count against the 53-man roster, but do count against the salary cap):

  • CB P.J. Williams (22, $494,651)
  • SS Vinnie Suneri (22, $377,125)
  • OLB Davis Tull (23, $373,433)
  • TE Ryan Griffin (designated for return) (25, $381,611)
  • OL David Quessenberry (25, $613,363)
  • OLB Reshard Cliett (23, $340,621)
  • QB Tom Savage (25, $408,146)
  • OLB Anthony Spencer (31, $665,000)
  • FS Rafael Bush (28, $1,900,000)
  • Total Injured Reserve: $5,553,950

That brings the entire roster, 53-man and injured reserve, to a GRAND TOTAL of $144,638,424Still close to $1.5 million and change to work with; if you’re not comfortable cutting it that close, I totally understand removing Bush from IR. The team’s only contracts that are both long and expensive going to legitimate stars like J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan, leaving money to extend key players currently on their rookie deals, such as DeAndre Hopkins and Terron Armstead, when the time comes. Not a bad spot to be in. Of course, it’s easy when you get to pick and choose from two rosters.

 

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The 2015 “No One’s Mocking” Mock

Reading through some of the Zone Reads archives, I discovered a mock draft from 2013 I made with the sole goal of identifying picks no one else was projecting for a team. I thought about that and decided it was a neat intellectual exercise– if you kept to two rules:

  1. The picks have to be a good, justifiable fit. You can’t have Jacksonville taking Jameis Winston #3 a year after taking Blake Bortles #3. Stuff like that. Picks that would genuinely benefit a team, but that no one else has projected.
  2. The picks have to be good value. Jacksonville needs a free safety after missing out on Devin McCourty in free agency, but that doesn’t mean you can draft Gerod Holliman or Cody Prewitt #3 overall.

I enjoyed thinking about the picks and I hope you enjoy reading about them. Onward:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
La’el Collins, OT, LSU

The Bucs’ offensive line flatly sucks. They signed Anthony Collins to a big free-agent deal last offseason to play left tackle, and he was such a disaster they cut him this offseason. Replace one Collins with another: Some folks have concern about La’el’s ability to play left tackle in the NFL, but he’s immediately the best offensive lineman on the team. (And despite where others slot him, he’s my #4 overall prospect, so I don’t consider this a reach for our purposes.)

2. Tennessee Titans
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

He’s arguably the biggest-impact EDGE prospect and he is a natural fit as an OLB in a classic 3-4. Good marriage of need and value.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

I know they drafted two receivers in the second round last year (and uncovered an undrafted gem in Allen Hurns). I know they just signed Julius Thomas. I know there’s even hope Justin Blackmon could be reinstated. But I don’t think any of those guys (except Blackmon, and his off-field issues are too likely to get in the way) can be a true #1 the way White can. The Jaguars continue to build around Blake Bortles; if he fails, you can’t say they didn’t support him.

4. Oakland Raiders
Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Florida

Fowler gives them another edge player to pair with Khalil Mack. Fowler doesn’t have the elite bend around the corner you’d like to see, but he’s strong, fast, and does everything else well. Most likely alignment for Oakland is to continue at a 4-3 with Mack at LB and Fowler at DE, but you can do a lot of creative aligning with those two guys.

5. Washington Potatoes
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

I think the Robert Griffin era is probably over in Washington. (I do think his career can be salvaged, but now his career arc looks more like a Randall Cunningham, having to find redemption as a passer at his next stop.) Jay Gruden wants to do the West Coast Offense thing his way, and Winston is a highly accurate short-to-intermediate passer, among other things.

6. New York Jets
Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska

Most mocks have the Jets taking an offensive player here. But QB/WR are too commonly mocked to the Jets, and they aren’t immediate needs now with the recent additions of Brandon Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick (okay, QB is still a need, but that doesn’t mean they’ll draft one). Quentin Coples has been disappointing on the edge, and the Jets need a player who can take advantage of the interior disruption Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson cause.

7. Chicago Bears
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The new regime isn’t committed to Jay Cutler. He will start in 2015, though, as Mariota needs at least a year to get up to NFL speed. The Bears are bereft of talent in a lot of ways thanks to some draft misses by Phil Emery and (especially) Jerry Angelo, so they might as well start building for the future.

8. Atlanta Falcons
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Roddy White is 33. Harry Douglas just left for Tennessee. Jacob Tamme is the closest thing they have to a tight end. This receiver crew is one All-World player, a good veteran in decline, and… ??? Cooper answers one of those question marks emphatically.

9. New York Giants
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

“But the Giants are old-school! They build from the trenches!” Sure they do, that’s why they drafted Odell Beckham last year. Rueben Randle just isn’t getting it done as a big outside threat; Parker would fill that role nicely, and also provide the crew some insurance talent-wise in case Victor Cruz can’t return to his old form. Their goal here should be to extend the window they can compete with Eli Manning as their QB.

10. St. Louis Rams
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

Jeff Fisher never met a character concern he didn’t like. Peters is the best cornerback in the draft. Janoris Jenkins had a promising rookie year, but has been inconsistent since then. E.J. Gaines also had a promising rookie year, but he’s a sixth-round pick and would look even better in the nickel role. Some playmaking talent on the back end will help the team make the most of their devastating pass rush.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC

It’s not as crazy a fall as it seems: Some draft types have grumbled about Williams’ lack of explosiveness (what makes him impressive is his ability to command double- and even triple-teams despite that). Minnesota has a lot of talent on the edge but could use some up the middle– and what better player to take than another Williams?

12. Cleveland Browns
Landon Collins, S, Alabama

The only safety I could name on their roster was Donte Whitner, and he’s pretty old. I almost mocked another cornerback, but you gotta figure they believe Justin Gilbert will get his head on straight. Adding the guy who is well ahead of most players at his position on the board is… a good start (I think this is a little high for Collins, but I also think he could easily go here).
(edited to add: Okay, as of right now Tashaun Gipson isn’t technically on the roster until he signs his RFA tender, but I still should have mentioned him. He’s a back-end ballhawk type, though, and Collins will fit in nicely at strong safety next to him.)

13. New Orleans Saints
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

One of the recurring problems in the Saints’ defense over the last few years is a complete inability to stop the run. Broderick Bunkley is their only capable run-stuffer, and he’s 31 and can’t play forever. Shelton would enable the team to both run more traditional 3-4 looks and actually stop offenses on early downs.

14. Miami Dolphins
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA

Miami’s game of Linebacker Roulette last offseason didn’t really work out, as both Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbee are now gone. Kendricks is by some accounts the best linebacker in the draft and a true three-down player. The Dolphins now arguably have the best front four in the league: Let’s give them a true playmaker to take advantage.

15. San Francisco 49ers
Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky

Obviously inside linebacker has become more of a concern, with Navorro Bowman’s status still uncertain, and the unexpected retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland. But Aldon Smith is still a risk to be suspended at any time, and he’s really their only trascendent pass-rushing talent. Dupree lined up on the other side makes a lot of sense.

16. Houston Texans
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Arian Foster is 29, which is about 72 in running back years. Their passing game is still nothing to write home about: If they were a band, they’d be called “DeAndre Hopkins and the Castoffs.” This is all part of Bill O’Brien’s plan to win by running 40 times a game until they find a real quarterback.

17. San Diego Chargers
Cameron Erving, C, Florida State

Nick Hardwick, who came into the league with Philip Rivers in 2004 and has been his starting center ever since, finally retired. Erving is projected as a plug-and-play center who could step right in without missing a beat.

18. Kansas City Chiefs
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

Offensive line is a need for Kansas City, but I haven’t seen Peat mocked anywhere. He’s more boom-or-bust than other OT prospects, as he more than anyone else in the draft has the feet and reach needed to play left tackle, but probably doesn’t have the kind of functional strength in the run game to succeed elsewhere. Anyway, I’m skeptical Eric Fisher can continue to play left tackle.

19. Cleveland Browns
Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

Armstead is a raw athlete who would fit in as a 3-4 DE here and has the potential to be a wrecking crew if he develops. With the Kruger-Mingo pairing, the Browns don’t need edge guys so much as guys who can penetrate the interior and/or tie up blockers there.

20. Philadelphia Eagles
Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon

Fisher isn’t generally mocked this highly (and everyone has had the idea to mock Oregon players to Chip Kelly), but I saw Cian Fahey’s mock draft earlier this week that listed him at #13. I finally got started with film work on Fisher, and while I’m not so sure about his power, his athleticism and ability to get to the second level are astounding. Kelly loves athletic linemen– think Lane Johnson #4 overall– and Fisher would immediately fill one of the guard spots vacated by the released Todd Herremans or the rumored-to-be-shopped Evan Mathis, with the possibility that some day after Jason Peters is old and gone, Fisher and Johnson can form the bookend of the Eagles’ offensive line.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa

Scherff is a guy I have some questions about being able to play left tackle, but Cincinnati could use an upgrade anywhere on the line. Maybe he beats out the just-re-signed Clint Boling at guard. With rumors the Bengals will release Andre Smith flying, Scherff could start there right away. If he can play left tackle, Andrew Whitworth is 33 and probably won’t be able to much longer. Anyway, this is a good value pick for the talent and the Bengals like building that way even when the player they take doesn’t fill an immediate need.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

Heath Miller is a reliable red-zone target but he’s old. Antonio Brown is a true #1 do-it-all receiver, and Martavis Bryant is, I believe, going to grow into a tremendous outside player. Williams gives this team one thing they’re currently lacking on offense, a true seam-splitter.

23. Detroit Lions
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

This one’s easy. Detroit lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency. Here is a replacement defensive tackle.

24. Arizona Cardinals
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona

Arizona would seem to be set at receiver, but Larry Fitzgerald turns 32 before the season starts, Michael Floyd had a disappointing second year, and John Brown is basically the exact opposite kind of receiver as Strong. I’m not saying Strong can replace Fitzgerald, but he’s a big target with sure hands who uses his size and leaping ability to win difficult, contested catches. Now if only the Cardinals had a quarterback.

25. Carolina Panthers
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

Every mock I’ve seen has the Panthers taking an offensive lineman or a wide receiver. Let’s not overlook that, hey, their secondary is crap, too. We haven’t finished up work on Johnson, but some voices I respect are calling him the best cornerback in the draft. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but the first round is eminently reasonable.

26. Baltimore Ravens
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Baltimore tends to use those early picks on impact players at major schools. Waynes was arguably the best player on a great defense, and given Baltimore’s health problems at cornerback, he makes perfect sense. On the other hand, Baltimore now becomes the “Live by DPI, Die by DPI” team.

27. Dallas Cowboys
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

Dorial Green-Beckham has substance abuse concerns. Dallas welcomed Josh Brent back with open arms.

Dorian Green-Beckham reportedly forced his way into a woman’s home and pushed her down a flight of stairs. Dallas just signed Greg Hardy.

I think Jerry Jones is going to remember what happened the last time he took a chance on a big-time receiver talent with character questions. (I also think he’s going to remember that that guy is due something like $15 million a year, very soon.)

28. Denver Broncos
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa

Davis is a prospect whose lack of buzz I don’t understand. He moves very well on the field, both horizontally and vertically; he has a full array of pass-rush moves, and he was frequently in the backfield disrupting plays at Iowa. He’s not quite the same kind of player as the departed Terrance Knighton, but he can add an interior pass rush; guys with Davis’ agility at his size are rare.

29. Indianapolis Colts
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

While it’s not fully clear where Thompson will play, he’s a hyper-athletic playmaker. The Colts could use him as ILB, an OLB, or even a safety on passing downs. The Colts need more playmakers on defense; now they have one more.

30. Green Bay Packers
Henry Anderson, DL, Stanford

An active, aggressive player up front who frequently disrupts plays. I’ve seen him all over the board on various draftnik rankings, but we like him and we think he could help the front seven, and even let B.J. Raji go back to playing a nose tackle.

31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle)
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

I think this is the perfect landing spot for him. Sean Payton is not only the guy who recognized Drew Brees’ franchise talent when he was a free agent, he’s the guy who recognized Tony Romo’s talent at Eastern Illinois and groomed him into the QB he is today. Hundley has massive talent– enough to keep him a productive winner in 40 starts at UCLA despite iffy offensive support– but he lacks a lot of refinement in the finer points of the game. Here, he’d be on the Aaron Rodgers track: He can sit for at least a year– and more likely two or three– while he refines or even overhauls the parts of his game that need work. When Brees finally moseys on to Elysium, Hundley will be ready to take over, and the Second Payton Era will be underway.

32. New England Patriots
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma

This is a bit high for him, in my opinion, because Phillips is a little inconsistent– he’s athletic and flashes some disruptive ability, but too often plays high and is shut down by a single blocker. He’s still young, though, so there’s room to improve, and his size will allow him to start taking some of Vince Wilfork’s snaps.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Disappointments? What picks would you like to see that no one else is talking about?