Tuesday at Reliant Stadium, Texans general manager/executive vice president Rick Smith answered questions from the media during a press conference.
General Manager/Executive Vice President Rick Smith
(Opening statement) "Good afternoon and thank you for coming out. I guess I would open like I do every year, and talk a little bit about how excited we all are about this weekend. This is my favorite time of the year. As we get closer to the draft, I'm always trying to make sure that we have done everything we could do to prepare as a group. Again, I would have to start by applauding the efforts of our scouting staff as well as the coaching staff and what they've done, how we've vetted this board. I feel better about this board and our process; and I talk a lot about process and the reason I do that is because I think if you've got a solid process, this is such a subjective process, what we try to do is do as much as we can do to put ourselves in positions to make good decisions. And our processes are in place now and I feel so good about them and I think longevity helps us because we've got people who have worked with us in the system long enough that I just really feel good about where we are and how we've stacked this board and just the process. So the culmination, obviously, of a lot of work over the last year, I think can fully expect that it will be a very successful weekend for us. I'm thankful to the guys who have put in all the work and I think we've vetted this board, like I said, about as thoroughly as we've vetted a board and I feel very prepared as a group going in. We've met this morning to go over scenarios and we'll do the same thing tomorrow, but really the work's done. The board is set. We're excited about adding some players that will come in and hopefully impact our football team. And I will be happy at this point to take a any questions from anybody.
(on where his priorities are as he enters this draft) "If you're talking about in terms of our team and what we think our team needs are; I think we've got a solid football team. I think, obviously coming off the season that we came off of and the success that we had last year with the playoffs and winning a game and going on the road in the playoffs and our ultimate goal of winning a championship. And so we took a significant step, I think, last year. I think our team is a solid football team. I've always talked about the draft and what you try to do, particularly in the early rounds as you add impact players. So we certainly want to do that this year. I think if you look across our football team, the first thing I think you would think about, on the offensive line, losing a couple starters, via free agency in one case and then a determination in another case. But we've got to look at the offensive line group. I've said at the Combine earlier that I think we can probably help ourselves at the wide receiver position with maybe adding some youth and adding some speed there. And then depth in the linebacker corps. You can always add pass rushers. You can always add corners, I've always said that. We'll do what we always do. We'll stay true to our board. We've assessed a value that we think these players have at their particular positions and the way that it falls is the way that we'll pick them."
(on how he's prioritizing the first round for the Texans in value and if he feels good about getting a good player with the 26th overall pick) "I guess I'll answer the latter first. I think that, yeah, 26, it's where we are. I've said before, I wish we were picking 32nd. But I do think that we will have a good, quality football player at 26 that we'll have a choice on. So I do, I think we'll get a good player there. As far as the way we value the board, or rank the board, or order the board, it's all based on the way we value the players. So it's not based on a need or anything like that. We basically have valued the board the way that we always do. There's nothing different about that."
(on if he's confident that there will be a player available at the 26th overall spot who can step in and contribute right away like many of the Texans' first-round picks in the past) "Well I think so and I think in the first round you try to get a player that will impact your team. Whether he's a starter or not, I don't know if that's a prerequisite. But I do know that what you try to do is you try to add players that can come in and be impact players and if it's an offensive player, he can make plays with the ball in his hands. Obviously a defensive player is either going to rush the passer or going to make plays on the ball if he's a defensive back or a linebacker with sacks, or something like that. Somebody who impacts the team."
(on why he has made more draft-day trade deals in recent years) "I think certainly the experience helps. I'm much more familiar, obviously, with the process of making draft day trades. There is a lot of excitement about trading, maybe that has a little bit to do with it. I would probably lean more to just the coincidence and the way that the particular draft have set themselves up. We have certainly opened and always been open to moving up and back, and that's one of the things we're doing now. Then the last few days prior to the draft is what you do. You spend time trying to get a feel for what's happening around you; talking to the various GMs around the league and talking about their openness to moving and making sure that we have a good feel for who's open to moving and making sure that when those opportunities might present themselves and being prepared about what it might take to get the deals done."
(on if it is tougher or easier making decisions going into the draft because of how far his team has come) "I don't know. I would suspect in theory it might be easier because you don't have as many needs. But we've never been a team to draft for need so our preparation hasn't changed. You certainly are feeling that we've got a good football team and you can add players that can make a contribution. So maybe if you're doing anything, you might be more specific in terms of what you're looking for because you know what you have. So if a player has a particular dimension that you like and you know exactly what he can do and you fit him into your club, maybe you're making decisions that kind of way. But the preparation doesn't change. None of the value systems change. But it is nice to be in a position. We've worked so hard for so many years now to put ourselves in a position to have a good, quality football team. And I feel like we have. And I feel good about that part of it. So we've just got to continue. The reason why we were good, I thought we were successful last year in the draft and I thought we were successful last year in free agency and thought we were successful last year on the field during the season. And I started our draft meetings this year with the reason why, in my opinion, we were successful and the reason why is because we executed. We were prepared last year for last year's draft and we executed. During free agency, we were prepared and we executed. During the college free-agent process, we executed. During the season, our coaches and players prepared during the week and then they went out and executed on Sundays and if we can do that again this year, we'll be successful again. For me, it was a matter of us making sure we understood that and we went into our final preparations for the draft with the idea and the intent to prepare ourselves so that we will be successful at executing over the next few days, on Thursday, Friday Saturday, and I think that we've done that. I think that's what's going to give us a chance to have more success."
(on what he likes most about this year's draft) "That's an interesting question. I just think this time of year, it's always great when you can add talent and as a talent evaluator and a guy who is responsible for acquiring talent, you only get a certain amount of time to really impact a team. Now, you're managing, obviously, during the course of a football season with injuries and those type of things. Really, you get two shots. You get free agency and then you get the draft. This is the one that we decided we're going to build our team around and that's from a philosophical standpoint what we've decided to do, so it's a very exciting time. To pick one thing out, I don't know if there is anything different about this particular draft than the others. It's just an exciting time because it's a chance for us to improve our football team."
(on if there is a position that stands out to him in this year's draft) "As you know, historically, I don't do a whole lot of talking about specific players or ranking a draft, but I do think there is some depth at a couple positions. I think we talked about the wide receiver position, they have some depth there. I think there is some depth along the offensive line. I think linebacker is another position (with depth). So there are a few positions that have a little bit more depth than maybe others. All in all, I think this is a quality draft."
(on how much farther along the team is in understanding the 3-4 scheme as it relates to the draft than it was last year) "That was a challenge and we were fortunate. If you recall last year, we did not have a linebacker on our football team who had played in the position we had projected to play in. All of them were, from the guys that we had on our team to Brooks Reed, to even the guys that we took in the draft, they were all projections. We were very fortunate that we hit on those guys. I do think that's a product and a function of us getting in a room and listening to Wade (Phillips) and listening to Reggie (Herring) and really have good scouts. We've got good football men that help us pick these players. So we were able to get in a room and really get an idea what they were looking for and I think they did a good job of articulating the strengths and weaknesses and physical characteristics that they look for from the positions and like you said, we were fortunate. But to have another year, a year in the system; experience helps with everything and the more you've been around people and have had a chance to see exactly what the scheme looks like. It's one thing to kind of watch Wade and watch what he had done at other places and listen to him. But now to actually have a season of experience really listening to him and watching him every day in practice, I think it helped everybody. So I think we're further along, yes, and I think we'll continue to evolve. One thing about this defense is you need linebackers. You need depth at linebacker. You need as many guys as you can find that can rush the passer that are athletic. It helps you on special teams. I do believe that our special teams units were improved last year and part of that is a function of a 3-4 defense as one of the byproducts of the system. We'll continue to bolster those groups and continue to try to find players that fit that system and can come in and help us.
(on the process that the Texans staff goes through in putting together the team's draft board) "To me, the body of work is…all of those things that you mentioned (the Combine, players' pro days, pre-draft workouts, all-star games) are parts of a whole analysis. So it starts last May. We have a Spring class, we go send guys out to our national meetings and we get an idea what the class looks like, and then our scouts will leave and go out in the fall and we'll start actually setting the board in December. We have a preliminary board really put up in February, and that is based on all the character, mental, history background stuff, but our major thing that we look at is what the guy does on film, on tape. What type of football player is he? And that's what carries the most weight in our room. Now, we will take that preliminary board in February and we'll augment it with the Combine work, with the all-star games that you mentioned, with the Spring workouts, interviews, all of the other ancillary pieces of information that we use to try to paint a picture, but the bulk of the evaluation is, 'What type of football player is a guy?' and 'What can he do to help our football team win?'"
(on the Texans' past tendency to take defensive players in the first round and whether he needs to counterbalance that tendency) "This is a new draft. It's this year's draft. We rank it the way that this year is, and I think if you're influenced by anything that you've done in the past relative to that type of conversation, I think you might make a mistake because it might influence you in a way that you ought not to be influenced."
(on the importance of second- and third-round picks) "I think you've got to look for starters with your first three picks. I think your first-round pick ought to be a guy that can come in immediately and impact your team, but I think when you talk about the second and third rounds, those are guys that you think are really good football players, and you should expect that they come in and play at some point in their development. Last year, we contemplated moving up; we felt so strongly about (OLB) Brooks Reed. The one thing I like about the draft setup is you get two days to basically re-set your board. After the first round, you get to reset for rounds two and three; and then after the third round, you get to reset for rounds four through seven. And so as we did that last year, we identified Brooks as a guy that we felt like could really come in and help us, so we did a little research to try to ascertain where we thought he might go, or if we needed to move up, and basically felt like there was one team I was really concerned about and felt like if we got past that team, we would have a really good chance to get him, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to select him. And he came in and evolved into, again, one of those projections, but he evolved into a good player and we think that he's still got room to grow. So those players are guys that we would expect to come in and help us. And then if you recall, we made the move to go back into the second round to get (CB) Brandon (Harris), and I think Brandon is going to be a fine football player for us. He didn't have a bunch of opportunities this year, but I do expect that he's going to be another guy that will come in and help us. (RB) Ben Tate's another one of our second-round picks; (OLB) Connor Barwin's another one of our second-round picks. Those picks are important picks; they're valuable picks and you want those guys to come in and help you win."
(on what he likes about the new three-day NFL Draft format) "Well, it does. It gives you an additional opportunity to recalibrate, like you mentioned. If you recall, it was rounds one through three before, so you always had that natural break where you could do it, but now you get two times to do that, and that's fun. If you've got those picks early in the rounds, those picks become very valuable, because as people sit back and look at their board and they have maybe guys that are targeted that were earlier valued that they've got a chance to go get, then those picks become valuable because either you're going to pick a player that you had rated higher, or you're going to have somebody maybe try to come up and you can grab extra picks in exchange for making a move."
(on whether he felt forced to let some veterans leave via free agency due to financial reasons) "No, not at all. I'm just the opposite; I think we've had a productive offseason. We have a plan, and unfortunately a function of being successful and having a good football team is you're going to lose good players. That's just a part of it. We've been working hard to become a good football team. In the salary cap era, you can't keep them all, you can't pay them all, and so what we've had to do is decide who our core group of players are and make sure we keep those guys under contract and realize and understand that we're going to have to lose some good players. So that's kind of what we sat down and talked about in January and in February when we looked at the season and then looked at our football team and tried to assess our strengths and weaknesses and get a game plan moving forward, and we were able to do that. We looked at (RB) Arian (Foster) as a guy that we felt like was important; and (C) Chris Myers was a guy that we felt like were guys that were in that core group of players. Now, you can't keep them all. What you try to do is you try to set yourself up so that you don't lose great players, and that's just a function of planning. So I don't think we can look at our team anymore on a one-year basis. We've got to look at multi years to make sure that we're not in a situation where we're losing our good players. And so that's what our game plan has been, and we want to use the Draft as a way to continue to develop our players and to add depth to our football team and add impact players to our football team. We will supplement via free agency like we did last year with (CB) Johnathan (Joseph) and (FS) Danieal (Manning) and even (ILB) Timmy Dobbins. So we'll do that; we'll continue to look at all ways to improve our football team, but that's just a part of – parts of what we went through this offseason is just a function of continuing to get better, and so we'll continue to do that. We're executing a plan, and I think we are poised to be a better football team when we line up in the fall than the one that walked off the field in Baltimore last year, and our expectation is that that's going to be the case and we'll be better."
(on how restricted free agency has changed within the game and the new CBA) "It's never been a strong market historically, when you look at restricted free agency. I don't anticipate that that's going to change at all."
(on how losing two starters on the offensive line altered his draft board) "I do think there are some good players in this draft, however I don't know how many times, and you really have to believe me when I tell you this, we don't stack the board based on need. The fact that we had transactions subsequently to where we set our preliminary board really has nothing to do with the board. But there are some good football players in this draft and I mentioned the depth on the offensive line and so there are some good players there. We've got good players on our football team already that we think can step in there as well. (Rashad) Butler is a guy that played at a very, very high level when he had his opportunity, and it's been very limited, but he started four games for us and played at a pretty high level. (Antoine) Caldwell has starting experience. Last year, even our seventh round pick had the opportunity to be a swing tackle in Derek Newton. That's really good experience that he was able to get. We're not at a point where we're at a total deficit anywhere on our football team, but we do think that there are some players in this draft that can come in and provide depth and help us."
(on if there may be an opportunity to trade back) "That's always a possibility and we're open to it again. That's kind of what I spend the next day and a half doing, calling around and talking to people about potential moves and that kind of thing. We'll be open to any and all discussion with respect to that and sometimes you get in that part of the round and draft where a team that is sitting early in the second round, might have a guy targeted and they get excited about wanting to come up and grab. We'll look at our board and see where we are. A lot of times, when it comes to moves like that, they happen when you're on the clock more often than not. We'll see what the board looks like at that point. We'll entertain any offers if they come and then we'll make a good decision."
(on if kickers are a part of his draft board and the situation with Neil Rackers) "We're talking to Neil (Rackers). We're talking to Neil about coming back. With respect to your first question, kickers and punters are a part of the process, absolutely. Now historically speaking, you don't see many kickers and punters drafted. It may be, if you look back over the years, maybe one or two a year; maybe one of each a year on average. I think the reason is because most of the time, when you look at kickers and punters who are successful in our league, more often than not they have failed first. It takes some time for them to become good. People are reluctant to spend a draft pick on a guy they know they may end up cutting. What we did last year was making the decision that we were comfortable with a rookie punter and we went in that direction so it's not out of the realm of possibility of teams to do so. It's just most of the times, they don't. Absolutely, you've got to vet them, you've got to evaluate them and we certainly have done that this year."
(on if he has written off Neil Rackers coming back and if Rackers returning is the best scenario for the team) "No. I think we're going to look to put the best kicker on our football team. If that's a young guy, if it's Neil, if it's another veteran that's out there, then that's what we'll do. We're very interested in bringing Neil back and talking to his representatives about bringing him back."
(on if the team is looking at this draft to be able to build depth over finding starters) "I think anytime you are picking in the first and second round, you're looking for guys that will come in and be impact players. If I'm speaking to the nature of your question, it's probably more related to the fact that we have a good team finally. We are coming into the draft where we feel like we have a good football team and there are no glaring needs. I think that's what you're talking about. Certainly, we feel like we're in that position but I still think you have to look for impact players. Maybe the early contribution won't be as significant for some of them, but you still want to go out and find the best players available that fit your system and speak to some kind of need on your football team or can make some kind of contribution to your football team."
(on if the team felt like they didn't lose any of their core players in the offseason) "No, I think if you look at our team, Mario (Williams) would have been considered a core player. We've talked often about Mario's contract and it was a set of circumstances that made it very difficult to bring him back. Whether you're talk about the fact that you had to buyback a few years ago, then the lockout, then the injury, there's number of reasons why you look at that deal and say, 'wow, we got a good one get away.' He would absolutely have been a core member of your team. That's why I say you have to look out and plan not just for the next year but for multiple years to make sure that you keep that group together."
(on if he's concerned at all about the health of Matt Schaub) "I'm very confident in his rehab process and where he is right now. I'm very confident in that, if that's what you're asking me. He's working hard and looking good and everything seems to be right on schedule."