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Dollars and sense

One event has ended and another is about to commence. And the fun is just beginning.

The Texans returned from the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis earlier this week, where they studied roughly 300 draft prospects up close and personal. But now, as they continue to pore over their draft notes, the Texans must also turn some of their attention to free agency, which starts at 12:01 a.m. EST Friday.

Although the Texans have room under the $75 million salary cap, expect a more subdued free agent shopping spree in 2003. Houston is still sticking to its long-term plan and not looking for any quick fixes, which this market doesn't appear to offer anyway.

"I think it's a thin crop this year," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said Wednesday en route to the team's pro room. "We'll start making phone calls on Friday but, overall, I don't think we'll be as active in free agency as we were last year. But we will still try to upgrade our roster."

Texans UFAs

RB James Allen

QB Tony Banks

S Eric Brown

S Leomont Evans (IR)

LB Jay Foreman

G DeMingo Graham

OT Jimmy Herndon

LB Keith Mitchell

LB Jeff Posey

QB Mike Quinn

G Ryan Schau

DT Corey Sears

CB Jason Simmons

G Cameron Spikes

S Kevin Williams

CB Kenny Wright

OT Ryan Young

At what positions? Casserly isn't saying, obviously. But it's no secret the Texans are looking to specifically upgrade an offense that ranked 32nd in the league last season.

"It kind of goes in waves," Casserly said. "You have an 'A' list. As you sign a couple of players you now adjust your thinking and now go to a different list of players, because they cost a different amount of money. That will happen next week once prices are set."

The free agent market offers plenty of solid offensive tackles such as Wayne Gandy (Steelers), Luke Petitgout (Giants), Roman Oben (Buccaneers) and Flozell Adams (Cowboys). Oakland's Mo Collins and Tennessee's Zach Piller top the list at guard.

Arizona's David Boston is the premier wide receiver available. Running back is thin, headed by Denver's Olandis Gary and Jacksonville's Stacey Mack.

Linebacker appears to be the best position on defense. Tampa Bay's Shelton Quarles started at middle linebacker for the Super Bowl champs. Anthony Simmons (Seahawks), Rosevelt Colvin (Bears), Mike Peterson (Colts) and Chris Claiborne (Lions) will also be on the market.

Washington defensive tackle Daryl Gardener is coming off a terrific season. The Titans are in some cap trouble and might not be able to re-sign John Thornton. Denver released veteran Chester McGlockton yesterday.

Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson headlines the list of free agent safeties, which also includes Arizona's Kwamie Lassiter. The cornerback market is thin.

Houston will look at each position thoroughly. And, unlike last season, the Texans now have to address signing their own free agents. Linebackers Jay Foreman and Jeff Posey, safety Eric Brown and tackle Ryan Young head that list.

"Free agency works for both sides," Casserly said. "We have to protect ourselves. We want our players back. But when we go into free agency we have to begin to talk to other players until we get our players signed. I have no idea what's going to happen."

Meanwhile, the club's coaches and scouts are reviewing their combine notes. This year's combine ran six days as opposed to four, giving the teams more breathing room to evaluate the 323 players that attended.

"The defensive backs were a very impressive group," Casserly said. "All the top guys either ran or worked out, which is very beneficial to them. The tight ends and the interior defensive line guys were also impressive."

Casserly and Texans head coach Dom Capers were allowed to interview 60 players.

"It gives you a first impression," Casserly said. "You obviously don't accept or reject a player based on a 15-minute interview but it is part of the process."

The Texans will attend on-campus workouts and bring some players to Houston for more interviews as the draft creeps closer.

Casserly was a popular man in Indianapolis and we're not just talking about his photo cameo on the front of USA Today's sports section. Houston owns the third overall pick in the draft and is listening to potential offers to trade down.

"We have had some discussions with some teams," Casserly said. "I think as the spring goes on, the pick will have more value. We'll get some good offers."

         Texans have 14 total draft selections.
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