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Smith talks Robinson, draft needs at combine


INDIANAPOLIS - General manager Rick Smith took the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine on Friday, where he answered questions about franchising cornerback Dunta Robinson and building the Texans through the draft.

Texans general manager Rick Smith

(on CB Dunta Robinson's reaction to getting the franchise tag from the Texans) "I think the first thing you have to remember and understand is that a negotiation is a dynamic, fluid process. We had a conversation very early in the negotiation process where I indicated that I didn't want to use the franchise tag on Dunta, and I was clear about that because of the negative feelings around the tag. So my approach was that we are going to do everything thing we can do to get a deal done, so that we don't have to use it. We didn't want to do it, but things changed during the negotiations. We had a value we put on him. There had been some deals that had been done at the end of the season and even as recently as this week, and we felt like he fit in that area. That was our initial position for him with respect to value in his contract, and we changed on that. We offered him a deal that exceeded that. So we changed a lot of positions as things went along. But the whole time, as you know, up until yesterday at four o'clock, the franchise tag is always in play. When they elected to exercise their right of declining our offer that was going to make him one of the highest paid corners in football, we exercised our option to tag him. It's just part of the deal. You know, he's upset about it. I understand that. But it's a decision we felt like was best for our organization and our club. He's very, very important to our football team, to our defense. We have a new defensive coordinator in Frank Bush; we want to play aggressively. He (Robinson) can do some things that we want to do, which is why we had the kind of deal on the table that we had. It's why we worked so hard to get it signed. It didn't work out, so we'll continue to work with him to try and get a deal done."

(on when the Texans will revisit Robinson's contract) "At this point, he is upset. I think it's good to give it some time at this point. When that will pick back up, I don't know right now."

(on an NFL-record 14 players receiving franchise tags this year) "I can speak to our particular set of circumstances, and we had a unique situation here with Dunta. He's coming off the injury; we felt like we had a good assessment as to where he fit in the market. His agency and representation felt like they had a different deal. I don't think that's much different than the 13 other guys that were franchised, in a lot of respects. It's just a matter of where we are in the climate and where people think the market is going to go and where clubs feel like the market it. And if you can't reach a point where you are going to agree on that, then this is a right that the club has, and it's been collectively bargained. I think it's smart for clubs to use it."

{QUOTE}(on if the widespread use of the franchise tag is a sign of the market in the NFL right now) "I think that when you look at the top players and what's potentially available for them out there in the free market and what agents think that those numbers are relative to what the clubs think – I think that's part of the reason you haven't seen deals get done and the tag being used."

(on drafting a player who is the best available athlete versus fitting the team's needs) "I think that you assess value. I think that there a couple of things that you value; you value positions. I think certain positions have more value to them. I think you assign value from a standpoint as to how good a player is and what round you think he should be drafted in, and then you let your board take you through there. I believe that if you draft for need, you are much more inclined to reach, and I have said that for years. So what we try to do is assess value by rounds, and if you find yourself in a position where you have two players that are rated in the same, you draft one - if it's a need position, you do so. If not, you look at the second layer of value, and that's by position – what position might be more effective or more valuable at the point. And then you take that player. But I don't think you should draft based on need, because I think you are more inclined to reach and take players who are outside of the value that you have assessed."

(on if the competition committee is reviewing the NFL's overtime rule) "Yes, we spent a lot of time this week talking about that. I think that overtime is something that we have to look at. I think we have to look at the statistics. I'm not so sure that we know really if it's statistically significant to change. We talked about a number of things; we talked about something similar to the college system where both teams get an opportunity to have a possession. We talked about moving the kick off back, because what you don't want is games decided by the flip of a coin. The statistics might suggest that over the last year or so that may be the case, but there's a lot of discussion that needs to take place about that. Because one thing that you don't want – I like the phrase that I learned this week and that's, 'unintended consequences.' You don't want to make a rule change and try to address one thing and cause ripple effects in other areas. But it's definitely something that we are talking about and exploring, among other things."

(on his opinion on overtime rules) "I am in a position now where I am open. I'm not so strong in one position or another. I like our system now. I like the fact that we play a game and our fans understand that it's sudden death, but I'm open. As we continue to look at the statistics again – you know, we met for three days. I've been sitting in meetings for three days, and we are going to spend some time in Naples again reviewing this whole process. Again, I do like our system, but I am definitely open to exploring, if in fact the study indicates that it would be better for our game to do so, then I'm open to that."

(on the economy's impact on the Texans and the NFL) "I think we are not immune to what is going on in the overall economy. I think you see that in any number of areas as you look at our league. You see teams that are making staff reductions. That may even go back to your question with respect to the franchise tag, where teams may not be as open to signing those big deals. I think what we'll do is we'll continue to look and be very diligent in our approach to spending. We've always done that. We're willing to pay our players. In the case of Dunta, we had in our estimation a pretty good deal, and it was a deal that was reflective of one of the top paid cornerbacks in football. So we are willing to spend when it makes sense, but I do think overall you will see teams be more prudent in their spending. That's no different than in any other community."

(on what has changed in terms of a player's value in contracts) "Again, those numbers might be the same, but then you have to look at the overall revenue streams. Our industry is affected by the economy just like other industries. So some of those numbers may be consistent, but other numbers aren't consistent. Generating money locally, advertisers – you look at some of the people we are in business as a league and some of the struggles that they are having, that impacts our league."

(on the jump the Texans made in 2008) "You talk about the jump we made from'07 to '08, we were an 8-8 team for the last two years. I think we were a different 8-8 team this year than we were the previous year. And what I mean by that is I think I watched our team mature. And since we've been in Houston, we've talked about learning how to win and it takes time and we understand that it's a process. But what I saw last year is if you look at the way we opened our season, we went to Pittsburgh and that team turned out to be pretty good and we thought they were. Then, we had the incident with the hurricane and all the distractions, and then all of a sudden you don't have a bye week. You hit the bye early and you have to go play all those games. We were a streaky team. We lost a bunch of games in a row and we won a bunch of games in a row; we lost some more and then we went on a streak at the end. But as I watched our team at the end of the season, particularly the last month of the season, we go to Green Bay and get a little bit of national recognition and win that game and we win the next week against Tennessee. We go to Oakland and lose at Oakland. Then, we have a chance to go 8-8 again and not go back to a losing team and we start the game against Chicago down 10-0, but you saw our football team fight back and dig back and find a way to win. I think that was a microcosm of what I saw over the course of the season and how it manifested itself in the last month and even in the last game. From that standpoint, I am excited because I think our guys understand how close we are. We just have to add some players and improve ourselves in a couple of areas and protect the football a little bit better and keep our quarterback healthy. But I think our team understands now that they are capable of winning, and that's exciting."

(on if uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement has impacted how he writes contracts) "It's impacting us because there are different rules that come into play when you talk about entering into the last capped year, when you talk about free agency. As soon as we do that, then there are new rules. For example a guy who is unrestricted at four years, now it takes six years. So all of that goes into how you build your roster, how you approach extensions, how you approach contracts – it all impacts you."

(on what he thinks about the group of free agency defensive players) "I think we were at a point where most teams were locking up their players and so you didn't see a ton of really good football players in free agency. I think we went to that. I think what you saw this year was that a number of guys were franchised. It tells you that there are some really good players reaching free agency, and there are still some other good players who are going to reach free agency if they can't get deals done with their clubs between now and next week. So I think it's a strong class."

(on his philosophy of building the Texans through the draft) "I think that's a tried and true philosophy. I think you build through the draft, and what that means is you have success on draft day and then you try to lock those players up under contract long term. You supplement via free agency. If you feel like a player can fill an immediate need, then you entertain that. I think you have to. Sometimes those guys will call for big, expensive contracts. You can't, in my opinion, be afraid to go after a big-money free agent if he fills a specific need. But I don't think you build your program with those types of players."

(on the deep group of outside linebackers available in the draft) "I don't like to get into specific players, but I will say I agree with you with respect to the linebacker market. I think there are some quality inside linebackers as well. I think that bleeds over to your question with respect to the 3-4 defense and that bleeds over even to the defensive end group of players in this draft, because there are some undersized defensive ends that could maybe be pass rushers or fit on the right side in a 4-3 defense but also are players that could stand up and be players in a 3-4. I think both those areas are impacted in this draft, and I think there are some good players in those areas."

(on drafting RB Steve Slaton in the third round, and if teams can find good running backs in later rounds) "I think that there are certainly some other positions where you can find value in rounds three, four and five. But you look at the history of where I've been, and in Denver we found really great success in second-day running backs. I think you saw a ton of running backs come out of the draft and play at a very productive level. I think a lot of is due, in large part, to teams understanding what they are looking for and drafting players who fit their systems. Then, those guys can come in and they understand what they are being asked to do and they let their athleticism take over. We saw that last year, and I think we'll see that again this year.'

(on how much he learns from one-on-one interviews with players at the combine) "It's not limited to just that 15 minutes. There is a ton of information and research that has been gathered on those players prior to that time. I do think that you can get an assessment of a person's character when you look them in the face and talk to them. It's like the combine. Our position on the combine is that it is one element to a big process in evaluating and it's just a part of the whole total evaluation."

(on a story about CB Dunta Robinson heard he was being tagged through the media) "First of all, I was in negotiations with Dunta's representation. Once we made the decision to franchise Dunta, I called him personally on his phone and left him a message and I texted him, because we are in that age right now. I actually exchanged text messages with him; he texted me back. I wanted him to know and hear that directly from me, and I expressed that in a voicemail to him and in a couple of text exchanges. So I don't know where that report came from; that's just not true."

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