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McClain: Collins' contract extension sends a strong message to his teammates


John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

By signing fourth-year wide receiver Nico Collins to a contract extension, Executive Vice President/General Manager Nick Caserio is sending a message to the Texans that should reverberate throughout their locker room at NRG Stadium: Work hard, be a good culture fit, produce on the field and get paid.

Collins signed a contract extension that, according to media reports, is a three-year deal worth $72.75 million with $52 million guaranteed. It has a maximum value of $75 million.

That's a strong message for Collins' teammates. Considering his accomplishments last season, the McNair family knows that's money well spent.

In 2023, Collins stayed healthy for the most part and started 15 games. Playing with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, Collins caught 80 passes for 1,297 yards (16.2 average) and eight touchdowns. He joined Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins as the only receivers in franchise history to have at least 1,200 yards.

Collins, 25, set a team record with 25 catches of at least 20 yards, fourth in the NFL. He was third in the league in third-down yardage with 545. Only CeeDee Lamb and Tyreek Hill had more. Despite missing two games, Collins finished eighth in yards. Pro Football Focus gave him a 91.0 grade for the season – fifth behind Hill, Brandon Aiyuk, Lamb and Justin Jefferson.

In the last two games when the Texans were desperate to win, Stroud and Collins combined for 16 receptions and 275 yards, and the Texans won both games.

In the most important game of the season, Collins was at his best. In the last game at Indianapolis, the Texans needed to win to earn the AFC South title. Collins caught nine passes for 195 yards and a touchdown in the 23-19 victory that secured a worst-to-first season. With the Texans trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, Stroud and Collins collaborated on a 75-yard touchdown that gave the Texans a lead they never relinquished.

That was Collins' second 190-yard game last season, tying Johnson's team record.

At this time last year, no one had any idea of what kind of season Collins would have playing with a rookie quarterback. The Texans knew what Collins was capable of because he flashed his talent in his first two seasons when he played with quarterbacks Davis Mills and Tyrod Taylor.

After Caserio drafted him in the third round in 2021, Collins was plagued by nagging injuries his first two seasons. As a rookie, he played in 14 games and started eight, finishing with 33 catches for 446 yards (13.5) and one touchdown. More production was expected from him in 2022 when he played in 10 games and started seven because of injuries. He had 37 receptions, 481 yards (13.0) and two touchdowns.

Under Ryans and Slowik, Collins exploded in his third season and became one of the league's most productive receivers. He showed what a difference durability, a new coaching staff and a dynamic young quarterback could make in a receiver's career – not to mention his bank account.

One of the most interesting things to watch next season is how Slowik and Stroud find enough catches to keep Collins, Tank Dell and Stefon Diggs happy. They also have to include tight end Dalton Schultz and a more vigorous emphasis on the running game with Joe Mixon. It's a good problem for Ryans and Slowik to have.

Not only does Collins' extension send a powerful message to his teammates, especially those entering the last year of their contracts, but the Texans don't have to worry about Collins and Diggs becoming free agents in March. Collins' contract is a win-win situation all around, and that's a good thing for the Texans, who are trying to improve on last season's 10-7 record and their elimination in the divisional round of the playoffs.

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