Thank Rick Smith: A Look at the Texans' Abnormally Inept and Unlucky 2013 Draft Class
Back in June of 2012, Houston Texans General Manager Rick Smith gave a fairly memorable interview to SI.com NFL scribe Peter King in which he laid out his philosophy on roster construction in today's NFL.
Photos by Aaron M. Sprecher Rick Smith
Now, keep in mind that, looking back, if ever there were a time during the Rick Smith era that Houston Texans fans could call "halcyon days," it was probably that offseason, the summer in between the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
The team was coming off its first division championship and a playoff run that ended with a hard-fought divisional-round loss in Baltimore.
J.J. Watt finished that 2011 season showing dominant flashes that would coalesce into a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2012, Arian Foster had just put the finishing touches on another season with over 1,800 total yards and Wade Phillips's defense was ranked in the top five in the league.
By Texans standards, it was a glorious time.
Hell, it was so glorious that Texans fans entered 2012 looking forward to the return of quarterback Matt Schaub!
And overseeing the operation was Smith, the perceived architect of what was believed to be a budding perennial powerhouse going forward.
So when King asked Smith about his strategy in building an NFL roster, the Texans' general manager waxed poetic about how he had read a business leadership book by former GE boss Jack Welch and how he subscribed to Welch's "20/70/10" philosophy.
"If you have a 53-man roster, maybe you've got ten or 11 core players, and then 25 to 30 role players, and then you're always looking to churn the bottom of the roster," Smith espoused.
So basically, the top 20 percent is your elite class, the next 70 percent your middle class and the bottom 10 percent are disposables.
Smith's mantra (or more accurately, his restating of Welch's mantra) is actually very logical, and Smith's tenure has proven it, both positively and negatively.
In the NFL, two roster characteristics determine a team's trajectory -- quarterback play and overall team depth, depth being a more conventional football term for Smith's Welchian "25 to 30 role players."
In a league where roster constitution is shaped by the constraints of a salary cap, the role players on a roster are the NFL proletariat and, as such, must carry salary amounts that qualify them as football's version of "cheap labor." In the NFL, they're generally young, drafted players toiling on their multi-year rookie contracts.
The Texans' two division championship teams in 2011 and 2012 had a role-player layer that was stacked with quality picks from the 2009 and 2010 drafts. Connor Barwin, Glover Quin, James Casey, Brice McCain (when he was good), Kareem Jackson, Ben Tate, Earl Mitchell, Garrett Graham.
So deep were those 2011 Texans that they overcame season-ending injuries to Mario Williams and Matt Schaub and a season-curtailing injury to Andre Johnson.
Eventually, however, role players move on.
It's the transient nature of the league. You can't pay everybody, so when the time comes, you pay big money to your elite players (Smith's Welchian "20 percent," the aristocrats) to retain them, and hopefully fill in the "role-player" gaps with the next couple of draft classes.
Unless you're the 2013 Houston Texans, in which case you backfill your role players with stiffs like Ed Reed and your two division championships come crashing down on top of you in a 2-14 heap.