The topic of re-signing Texans OLB Mario Williams is akin to a glass half-empty, or glass half-full debate.
Sure, the Texans' defense was among the better units in the league, even after Williams was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in a Week Five loss to Oakland. Connor Barwin (11½ sacks) had a breakout campaign, and rookie Brooks Reed (six sacks) progressed quicker than most expected in Williams' absence.
Still, imagine how much better the Texans can be with Williams returning next season. That is what defensive coordinator Wade Phillips prefers to have happen, as we hear he is already thinking of ways to get all three pass-rushing outside 'backers on the field at one time.
The Texans clearly view Williams as an integral part of their blossoming defense, as they said re-signing the unrestricted free agent, who has registered 53 sacks in his first 82 games in the NFL, is their No. 1 offseason priority. But accomplishing that goal could be tricky, we hear.
The Texans are currently $20 million over the salary cap, so deals will have to be restructured and cap casualties are likely to occur regardless of whether Williams returns. Because of the lack of cap flexibility, the Texans are not likely to use the franchise tag on Williams, which could cost them more than $16 million.
We hear Williams wants to return to Houston — he was a good teammate, showing up at all of the Texans' games even after the injury — but don't expect him to take a hometown discount. He and his agent, Ben Dogra, will gauge the market in March and allow the chips to fall from there, we hear.
Another key Texan who is likely to command big dollars this offseason is RB Arian Foster, a restricted free agent whose rights Houston controls for two more seasons. The club told Foster that if he could replicate his 2010 season, he would be rewarded. Foster's numbers dipped slightly this season, in large part due to missing almost three games because of a nagging hamstring injury and sitting out Week 17 to rest up for the playoffs, but he clearly proved his worth, and we hear the Texans plan to make him a long-term offer.