|Houston could wait until next offseason to address Foster's desire for a long-term contract. (Getty Images)|
By Ryan Wilson
Even if you've been half paying attention to our various soapbox sermons this season (and we fully understand if you've instead chosen to ignore us -- get in line), you're probably familiar with this one: teams shouldn't pay running backs big money because they're easy to replace. We've said ir in the past and brushed off the argument in August when Chris Johnson held out for a new deal.
The Titans eventually caved, Johnson woefully underperformed and those four months of mostly dreadful football no doubt has Tennessee questioning the decision, but it also ruined any chance that young backs now looking for new contracts would be able to cash in.
Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Arian Foster are all among the league's best runners. And by the time 2012 rolls around, they'll make substantially less than they might have just a few years ago for the reasons we described above.
Foster on Houston playoff victory. Rookie J.J. Watt returned an interception for a touchdown, and Andre Johnson and Arian Foster put the game away with second-half scores to power the Texans over the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 on Saturday in the NFL playoffs.
Foster, who came into the league in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, began his career on the Texans' practice squad. He started one game as a rookie before going off last season, leading the league with 1,616 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. A hamstring injury limited Foster early in 2011, but by the time it was over he ran for 1,224 yards and 10 scores. In Houston's wild-card matchup against Cincinnati Saturday, Foster continued to make a case for just how important he is to this offense, rushing for 153 yards on 31 carries, including two touchdowns.
And yet, the Texans and Foster have "made zero progress" towards a long-term deal, a source tells ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
Foster will be a restricted free agent this offseason, which means that the Texans don't have to concern themselves with a multi-year contract just yet. Instead, they can sign him to a tender that what Florio suspects will be in the neighborhood of $3 million for 2012 and revisit things 12 months from now.
That'll be Foster's fourth professional season, which is something more than that when measured in running back years. By that point, Houston could chose to move in a different direction, one that involves Ben Tate, or perhaps address the position in free agency or the draft.
Still, Foster does have some leverage. Florio writes:
"If [he] receives a one-year tender offer, he’ll be entitled to hold out as long as he chooses, since he won’t be under contract. In theory, he could show up in Week 10, sign the tender, and get credit for his fourth season, becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2013."
Ultimately, however, the organization has more leverage. First, as we've mentioned a few million times, running backs are fungible. Second, Foster apparently wants to play football. He's not interested in sitting on the couch, Chris Johnson-style, while his agent bangs out a deal. Florio points out that Foster didn’t hesitate to sign his one-year tender offer in 2011, perhaps concerned that Tate might move up the depth chart in his absence.
Houston general manager Rick Smith has done a fantastic job of assembling the roster (particularly the 2011 defense, including coordinator Wade Phillips), but he'll have some decisions to make regarding Foster. If not this offseason, then certainly next offseason.
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