The Houston Texans might not win the new AFC South in their first season, but they added more top talent in yesterday’s expansion draft than predecessors Carolina, Jacksonville and Cleveland did between them in the 1995 and 1998 NFL expansion drafts.
The salary cap, or more specifically cap mismanagement by Baltimore, Jacksonville and the New York Jets, left linebacker Jamie Sharper and two-time Pro Bowl kick returner Jermaine Lewis of the Ravens, five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tony Boselli and defensive linemen Gary Walker (2001 Pro Bowl pick) and Seth Payne of the Jaguars, and tackle Ryan Young, two-time Pro Bowl choice Aaron Glenn and fellow cornerback Marcus Coleman of the Jets available yesterday and the Texans grabbed them all.
Houston then added a ninth likely regular in guard Matt Campbell, who spent last season in Washington after starting three years in Carolina for Texans coach Dom Capers. The departure of Campbell, who started five games in 2001 when Ben Coleman was ailing, saves the Redskins $875,000 and leaves them about $12million under the $72.1million cap.
The Redskins also were affected by the Jaguars’ personnel losses because Jacksonville, after its expected upcoming release of linebacker Kevin Hardy, will have cleared enough cap room to avoid being forced to trade or cut quarterback Mark Brunell. That means that New England’s Drew Bledsoe will be the most coveted passer potentially available this offseason for new Washington coach Steve Spurrier, who badly wants to upgrade from 2001 starter Tony Banks. Spurrier also lost out yesterday on a chance to pick up a quarterback he knows, Danny Wuerffel, because the Chicago third-stringer and 1996 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for Spurrier at Florida was taken by Houston.
Despite losing Sharper ($2.88million) and Lewis ($4.29million), Baltimore is still about $16million over the cap, meaning that such standouts as defensive ends Rob Burnett and Mike McCrary, cornerback Duane Starks and tight end Shannon Sharpe may also have played their last games as Ravens. Add the retirement of defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and the free agent losses of last offseason and half of the 22 players who started Super Bowl XXXV for the Ravens just 13 months ago would be gone.
“That’s the nature of the business,” Lewis said during ESPN’s coverage. “We had a great run and we won a Super Bowl, but now it’s time for me and Jamie to move on.”
Ravens coach Brian Billick had said that he expected to lose Sharper and Lewis, and Sharper noted that his contract had been designed to make him attractive to the Texans.
“I’m happy to be playing under Dom Capers, a guy who turned great players into Pro Bowl players in Carolina and Jacksonville [as defensive coordinator] and that’s what I hope to accomplish,” said Sharper, who was overshadowed by Pro Bowl linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware in Baltimore.
The Texans wound up choosing 19 players including ex-Redskins safety Matt Stevens from New England, but surprisingly not Minnesota offensive lineman Brad Badger, whom Houston general manager Charley Casserly had drafted in Washington and spending $41.570million. But then with 14 picks in April’s college draft and a thin crop of talent available when the free agent signing period opens on March1, the Texans could afford to spend big yesterday.
“This is going to be the only experience we’re going to have,” said Capers, who is expected to make Fresno State’s David Carr his quarterback with April’s top pick. “We’re going to be a very young team. We have to get leadership out of these players.”