Texans Slowly But Steadily Improve
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2004; 2:02 PM
The Houston Texans likely will continue their steady but slow ascent toward contender status in year three of their existence. They continue to get better. But they still don't appear to be quite there yet.
General Manager Charley Casserly spent heavily on the offensive and defensive lines early in free agency. On the opening day of the free agent market, the Texans signed coveted offensive tackle Todd Wade to a five-year, $25 million contract that included a $10 million signing bonus. The following day, they signed Robaire Smith, regarded by many as the top defensive tackle on the unrestricted free agent market, to a six-year, $26.3 million deal that included an $8 million signing bonus.
Casserly also got two impact players on draft day. Houston used the 10th overall choice on South Carolina's Dunta Robinson, considered the second-best cornerback in the draft after Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall, who was taken surprisingly early when the Atlanta Falcons grabbed him with the eighth choice. Many in the league thought the Texans would end up with Hall, but they didn't fare much worse by getting Robinson. He isn't as fast as Hall but he is a complete cornerback who should be an immediate starter and a future Pro Bowler.
Casserly traded for a second pick in the opening round when Western Michigan defensive end Jason Babin remained available for the 27th overall choice. Babin gives the Texans the quickness off the edge that they desperately need. They managed only 19 sacks last season, and no individual defensive lineman had more than one sack. If Babin is the pass rusher that the Texans think he can be, he could be the offseason's biggest pickup.
This is a solid organization, from owner Robert McNair to Casserly to Coach Dom Capers. The Texans have done things the right way, and quarterback David Carr seems en route to becoming a star despite his disappointing 2003 season. After going from four wins in their inaugural season in 2002 to five triumphs last season, the next step is to reach .500. A run at the playoffs is possible, but seems more realistic in 2005.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Sharpe Meeting With CBS
Tight end Shannon Sharpe announced last month that he would return to the Denver Broncos in the fall for a 13th season with the team and a 15th season in the NFL. But Deion Sanders's departure from the CBS studio show this week could change that.
Sharpe reportedly is scheduled to meet with CBS executives on Tuesday in New York to discuss to the possibility of replacing Sanders alongside Jim Nantz, Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino on the network's NFL pregame show. Sharpe perhaps was in line to replace Marino when the former quarterback joined the Miami Dolphins' front office earlier in the offseason. But Marino abruptly backed out of that job.
An NFL source said this morning that the Broncos on Thursday reached a contract agreement with free agent tight end Byron Chamberlain, a former Pro Bowl selection for the Minnesota Vikings who was released by the Washington Redskins last month following an unsuccessful stay with that team. Earlier in the offseason, the Broncos had prepared for Sharpe's possible retirement by signing free agent tight ends Jed Weaver and O.J. Santiago and re-signing tight end Patrick Hape in free agency.
CBS reportedly was offering Sanders a contract worth $1.3 million per year, while he was seeking $2 million annually. Sharpe, who turns 36 next month, is to have a $760,000 salary from the Broncos for the upcoming season.
Browns' Davis Cleans House
If things go wrong for the Cleveland Browns in the upcoming season, the blame will fall squarely on Coach Butch Davis. Davis continued to clear out the Browns' front office Thursday when he fired Lal Heneghan, the team's vice president of football operations and general counsel.
Davis has consolidated his power this offseason. He reports directly to owner Randy Lerner and is in charge of all the club's football-related decisions, and he has little help with the recent resignations of Carmen Policy as team president and Ron Wolf as a front-office consultant to the club.
Heneghan, a Rockville native who graduated from law school at Georgetown, joined the Browns in 1999 after seven years with the NFL's Management Council. He was the Browns' chief contract negotiator. Now the club must negotiate a contract with agents Carl and Kevin Poston for its first-round draft choice, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., without an experienced point man. The Browns apparently plan to turn over their negotiating duties to Trip MacCracken, their salary cap coordinator, and Pete Garcia, their vice president of player personnel and football development who spent six years with Davis at the University of Miami. Policy's replacement, John Collins, also could play a role in high-level negotiations.
Giants Sign B. Gramatica
The New York Giants today signed place kicker Bill Gramatica, who has been a free agent since the Arizona Cardinals decided in February not to tender him a contract offer as a restricted free agent. Gramatica will compete against incumbent Matt Bryant for the Giants' kicking job, and he joins the team against which he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while celebrating a successful field goal during his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2001. He missed the final 12 games of last season because of a back injury. Gramatica, whose twin brother Martin is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' kicker, made 34 of 45 field goal attempts in three seasons with Arizona.
Saints Keep Fontenot
The New Orleans Saints re-signed free agent center Jerry Fontenot on Thursday, but he probably won't keep the starting job that he's had for the past seven seasons. The Saints plan to move LeCharles Bentley from guard and make him their starter at the position . . . . Thursday's release of tailback Troy Hambrick by the Dallas Cowboys puts the pressure squarely on second-round draft pick Julius Jones, the club's projected starter at the position. The Cowboys tried but failed to trade Hambrick, their leading rusher last season with 972 yards . . . .
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