Every season is a contract year one way or another for the majority of players in the NFL. Few players can finish a season knowing for certain that they'll be back the next.
But looking at it more literally, every team will have dozens of players looking to earn a new deal, with a select few eyeing a bigger sum than most.
For the Houston Texans, they enter the season with no less than 50 players with deals set to expire after this season. Naturally, this includes many who won't make the 2021 roster, let alone next season.
However, with general manager Nick Caserio seemingly using this year as a chance to see which players could be building blocks around which to construct his new-look Texans for the future, a few potentially key elements to this plan need to impress in 2021 if they are to remain a cornerstone moving forward.
1) S Justin Reid
Drafted by the Texans in 2018, Reid quickly made his mark in Houston forming an impressive duo with Tyrann Mathieu at safety. Reid's leadership and maturity stood out from day one as much as his ability to make plays on the field. And while he has had to deal with his fair share of injuries, he's remained productive and shown plenty of flashes of his capabilities.
Arguably held back last season by the lack of productivity around him, hopefully, a change of defensive scheme and much of the playing staff in 2021 will take some of the pressure away from Reid and allow him to focus on his craft and earn the top 5 (at his position) salary and the long-term deal he deserves moving forward.
2) WR Keke Coutee
Coutee impressed at times during his rookie campaign despite a persistent hamstring injury, including a 109-yard debut performance against the Indianapolis Colts, followed by a 110-yard game against the Colts in the playoffs. However, he has seemed unable to build any momentum in 2019. He worked his way back into the lineup, helped by injuries to his teammates, in 2021 and put together some impressive performances including a 141 yard game against... you guessed it... the Colts.
The ability is certainly there, but he needs to be more consistent. Not to mention he needs more luck staying healthy.
If he can quickly form a partnership with whoever ends up starting at quarterback this year, and surpass the more experienced Randall Cobb to start in the slot, then he could yet save his Texans career.
3) CB Desmond King
A new arrival to the Texans this year, King fills a need that was continuously exploited in 2020. Houston needed depth and quality at cornerback badly last season, and the arrival of a former All-Pro slot cornerback in King could be what the doctor ordered.
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If King can regain his form of 2018, this would take the weight off of Bradley Roby's shoulders and allow the Texans to move him outside while King works the interior. On paper a solid plan, but it is entirely dependant on King returning to his former self.
If he can, then this Texans regime should learn from their predecessors' mistakes and keep hold of their stellar defensive backs.
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4) TE Jordan Akins
It's somewhat counterintuitive to be talking about a player coming to the end of his rookie deal... at 29-years-old. But that's the case for this former baseball player, who has been solid for the Texans during his three years in the league thus far.
Of course, there is a 'but' here. While his ability to gain yards after contact has been a strength of his, consistency hasn't. 2020 started promisingly for Akins before he was forced to miss three games injured, after which his season was turbulent.
Given that the Texans not only drafted promising tight end Brevin Jordan this year but also signed three veterans, it seems clear that the position is up for grabs. Akins will have to impress this training camp and find his rhythm this season if he's to earn a new deal in Houston.
5) RB Phillip Lindsay
Houston's running back situation has been rocky, really since Arian Foster left in 2016. Lamar Miller was solid, if somewhat uninspiring and the likes of Alfred Blue and Duke Johnson chipped in here and there but the Texans haven't had a standout back since Foster.
Last season was supposed to be former All-Pro David Johnson's comeback year after arriving from the Arizona Cardinals via a trade that saw DeAndre Hopkins head the other way, but it wasn't to be for Johnson.
Granted, he had three strong games to finish the season, but overall he looked a shadow of his former self. This offseason Caserio brought in fellow veteran backs Mark Ingram and Rex Burkhead to compete, but given that all three are the wrong side of 30, they aren't the long-term solution.
Lindsay is still only 26 and is just one year removed from rushing for over 1,000 yards for the Denver Broncos in both of his first two seasons in the league.
If he is able to recapture his form then the Texans may have found their Foster replacement at long last.
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