When the Texans drafted Duane Brown late in the first round in 2008, skepticism abounded.
Fans were upset that general manager Rick Smith traded down from 18th to 26th, passing on running backs such as Rashard Mendenhall and cornerbacks such as Mike Jenkins. Critics called the pick a reach, saying the Texans could have gotten Brown in the second round.
Brown was athletic but unproven and unrefined. He had played only one season at left tackle at Virginia Tech after one season at tight end and two at right tackle. He was the eighth offensive tackle to go in the first round of the 2008 draft.
"We have really been in love with this kid for a long time," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said at the time. "He fits what we want to do. He is very athletic, which we want guys to get to the second level and do some cutting and those types of things. We think he is only on the rise. This kid is going to get better and better."
Four years later, it turns out the Texans were exactly right. Brown, 26, received a contract extension on Thursday that will reportedly pay him $53 million over the next six years. He earned it after allowing just 2.5 sacks last season on his way to second-team All-Pro honors.
"We thought we knew the type of player that he could develop into, and it's just fortunate that he has," Smith said. "He's a young, ascending player. I think he's determined and committed to being as good as he can be, and I think he has the ability to be as good as there is in the league. We're excited. It's another important piece to the foundation that we've laid about trying to bring a championship to Houston and build on that."
Brown has started 60 of 64 games in four seasons with the Texans. As a rookie, he rotated every third series with veteran tackle Ephraim Salaam. In 2010, he missed four games early in the season because of a suspension for a failed drug test.
After having his best season in 2011, Brown has looked even better this offseason. Kubiak Kubiak said during OTAs (organized team activities) that Brown looked like he had taken his game to another level. Offensive line coach John Benton said in the first week of training camp that Brown has become not just a good player for the Texans but a weapon, a rare athlete at left tackle who attacks opponents with a nasty disposition on run and pass plays alike.
Brown also has grown into a quiet leadership role on the offensive line.
"Duane has not only been a good player but he's been excellent off the field, in the locker room," Kubiak said Thursday. "He's had a great offseason, he's a worker and he's here all the time. All those things add up to what happened to him today, so it was well-deserved.
"We're happy for him. As a coach in this business, you love seeing players who do it the right way get rewarded. He's been exceptional since the day he walked in the building, not only as a player but as a person. He's got a lot of bright years ahead of him, so we're very happy for him. The whole team is."
Brown said earlier this offseason that he wanted to stay in Houston, that he loved the organization, his teammates and the city. He got his wish on Thursday.
"(It's) just surreal," Brown said. "I'd been happy to make it to this point, to the NFL, but once you get here, it's hard work, and I realized that. It took me a while to mature and to get to this point in my life where I've become a complete pro. I'm just happy that they recognize that and have the confidence in me to extend this great deal.
"I'm so excited to be able to get this deal extended, and to be a Texan for a long time means a lot to me."