Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and a Pro Bowler the last two years. So he's likely due for a big payday when his rookie contract runs out after the 2015 season, if not before.
But team owner Bob McNair said on Friday that he is open to using the franchise tag on the 25-year-old, if necessary.
"You've got guys in the Hall of Fame that have been franchised in back-to-back years," McNair told ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli. "The franchise tag is worth something to the team, and you can't be afraid to use it."
In three NFL seasons, Watt, the 11th pick in the 2011 draft out of Wisconsin, has 36.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, three blocked kicks and hasn't missed a game. He also has five sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown in four postseason games.
"It's going to be a big contract," McNair said. "If we can do something with him that makes sense for the team to do it early, we'll certainly do it.
"It has to make sense for us. The team comes first. We want to keep all of our players. We want to take care of all or our players, but the team comes first."
The Texans picked up the fifth season on Watt's rookie contract earlier this summer, meaning he's under team control through 2015. The franchise tag would pay Watt the average salary of the top-five players at his position. NFL rules stipulate that non-quarterbacks can't be franchised more than twice.
"We want him here for a long time," McNair said of Watt. "We protected Andre Johnson, given him long-term contracts. Brian Cushing's got a long-term contract; Arian Foster. So certain key players, core players, we've tried not to tie them up for a long period of time. Mario [Williams] is gone; we just couldn't do that.
"Some people said, why didn't you sign Peyton Manning? Well, we just couldn't do it. We would have had to let go of two or three of our outstanding players to create enough room in the salary cap to do something with him. Those are the decisions you have to make as you go forward. You hope you make the right decision."
- Chris Mascaro