When the Houston Texans saw their chance at a Super Bowl, they took a pretty big reach.
Like anyone would, the Texans forked out big time because they thought everything was on the line. Houston spent money where it was needed and cut ties where it wasn't, and at the time, it seemed like a pretty smooth plan.
Signing guys like Ed Reed and extending Matt Schaub for five more years looked like good moves to give the Texans some kind of success. Last offseason was far from the Philadelphia Eagles' "dream team" year of 2011, but a lot of paper was burned, even if the team lost people like Glover Quin in the process.
But now, 12 months later, the Texans' front office has a 2-14 season to show for that hard work. And with the team labeled as one of the biggest salary-cap worries in 2014, they'd better have a plan figured out by the time the draft rolls around.
This year's salary cap is projected to be between $125 million and $128 million. For the Texans, they're looking at having just under $9 million left in cap room prior to any contract restructures or early releases.
So what does that mean as far as the Texans' offseason goes?
Before any spending can be done on free agents and draft picks, some problems have to be sorted out first.
The first one is Matt Schaub, because after signing a $66.1 million extension, the Texans probably don't want him to start another game of football.
That leaves one of two options. The first is to take Schaub's full cap hit this year and pay $10.5 million of his base salary for a quarterback they don't want.
Or, the Texans can be smart, cut Schaub and be left with $14 million on the finance books to be paid off over the next two years.
By getting rid of Schaub before the June 1 deadline, the Texans should save a decent amount of money. That then leaves room for a rookie quarterback to be drafted in May, brought in and signed to a worthy deal.
But unfortunately, the books can't shut just yet, even with the Schaub problem out of the way.
There is still the issue of how much the Texans have spent on players over the past few years, which is why Houston has a salary-cap problem in the first place.
Ed Reed is probably the biggest complaint from fans right now; after being signed for $15 million on a three-year contract, he now has $2.6 million of dead money heading his way while he helps the New York Jets.
Then, there is the seven-year, $55.6 million extension of Brian Cushing's, which still looks worth it, even though injury concerns could bite the Texans in the backside.
That kind of money may not be as nearly as regrettable as other contracts, though. One of the biggest concerns heading into next season is the running back spot, and with two talented players on the roster, there's a lot of money to be spent, but maybe not enough to keep both.
It seems like free agent Ben Tate is disinterested in staying with the team as long as Arian Foster is around. And after the Texans spent $43.5 million on Foster as an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee, an early back injury last year could make this scenario really heated before we know it.
Simply put, the numbers don't lie. If Houston cut Foster before June 1, they'd save close to $1.5 million, but that would rely on Tate signing a long-term deal of course.
Whether or not Tate has convinced the front office that he could lead the team as a starter is another question, yet with Foster set to earn so much money and a whole new-look offense set to come in next season, it wouldn't be surprising if the Texans considered moving on and spending the money elsewhere.
So with all of these contract squabbles in mind, where is the Texans' money best spent this offseason?
Ideally, Houston would like to pull off what the Kansas City Chiefs so triumphantly achieved in 2013: a complete turnaround in the span of 12 months, led by an experienced quarterback and head coach rather than a totally new and inexperienced rookie quarterback.
Unfortunately, the market isn't hot with quarterbacks at the moment, but the draft is. The money would be best spent on securing a rookie quarterback to a good deal and being able to pay him big bucks in the future, followed by targeting the weak spots on this team that are so obvious.
It may not even be close to free-agency time yet, but there is a big call in Houston for some decent defenders. Kareem Jackson is set to earn a base salary of just under $1 million next season, but he's out of contract as of this year. His play in 2013 warranted a lot of criticism, and the rest of the Texans' secondary faltered, aside from Johnathan Joseph.
It would be asking a lot, but there are guys like Jairus Byrd available in this year's pool.
Some experienced defenders and a quarterback are definitely top of the list.
Houston may have themselves to blame for a potentially tight year under the salary cap. Like last year with Andre Johnson's contract, there are some big figures on the table, and a lot that can be cut, too.
But for as bad as this past season has been, the Texans are still in a better position this offseason than the Cowboys.
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