Sources: Texans haven’t ruled out chance of retaining Jonathan Greenard

HOUSTON – One of the greatest questions facing the Texans this offseason is also one of their most expensive unresolved scenarios.

Because pass rushers are such a premium position and veteran defensive end Jonathan Greenard has emerged as one of the top free agents, he’s expected to command anywhere between $17 million and $22 million annually, if not even a few million dollars above that high-end projection, on the open market.

The Texans and Greenard have a strong mutual interest in extending their working relationship now that his rookie contract has expired and the AFC South champions and their former third-round draft pick remain motivated, hopeful and actively exploring whether a financial compromise can be reached, according to league sources. That doesn’t mean that Greenard will necessarily remain with the Texans, but that possibility hasn’t been ruled out by either side. Ultimately, the decision will come down to whether a potential bidding war with other teams makes that possibility financially undesirable for the Texans despite their cache of $67.3 million in available salary cap space.

Texans coach DeMeco Ryans was noncommittal on whether a deal will happen with Greenard, but was enthusiastic about the former University of Florida and Louisville standout’s skills.

“JG did a good job for us,” Ryans said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine. “He was very productive, his play was physical. He did the things we asked him to do. We’ll see where free agency plays out, but we love JG. We loved what he did for us this year."

Inside the Texans’ locker room, in the wake of a disappointing playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Greenard contemplated his immediate future.

Greenard delivered a breakthrough season, recording a career-high and team-high 12 1/2 sacks, 52 tackles, 15 tackles for losses and 22 quarterback hits.

He proved he can be durable, overcoming past injuries, and playing through a painful late-season sprained ankle to return for the playoffs. He expanded his growing repertoire of pass rushing moves, displaying power, skill and explosiveness. And he became a stouter run-stopper.

Greenard is one of the top free agents in the NFL. That means he could command a blockbuster del depending on negotiations and market forces. The Texans, who have nearly $72 million in salary cap space available, are expected to try to retain Greenard and he is interested in returning. Whether a deal will be struck between the Texans and Greenard, who’s represented by veteran agents Drew Rosenhaus and Robert Bailey, remains to be determined.

In his heart, Greenard wants to be a Texan. As he acknowledged, that goal isn’t entirely up to him. There will be key negotiation.

“Man, at this point, they know I love Houston” Greenard said. " I know I definitely want to come back, but as we know, that’s not up to me. At this point, I can’t do much more. I feel like I put my portfolio out there and closed that chapter and the rest will take care of itself. If they have me back, I’ll be 10 toes down, but if not, it’s just a game. I’ll definitely appreciate if this was the last time.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity that Houston has given me. They stayed with me throughout the years. They could’ve gone left at any time through the injuries and all that and they stuck beside me. All I can be is thankful for the opportunity that they have given me. If this is the last rodeo, I appreciate everything, but it’s not for me to decide.”

Because of how Ryans designs his trademark 4-3 defense, it’s built on the principles of creating pressure, disruption and setting a strong edge with the defensive line.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Houston Texans

Photo: Logan Riely / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

That means that Greenard and other key free agents, including defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, are premium players and priorities to try to retain.

“Yeah, we would like to feel that all of our free agents would love to be here and enjoy playing here in Houston,” Ryans said. “Again, special place, special team, a special organization. So, I think most of our guys would love to be back here. Jonathan, specifically, he did a really great job for us. I think it was his most productive year, his best year of his career.

“He did some really great things to allow us to be in the position to win some games. Everything I believe in, it starts up front with the rush and also with the offensive line and protecting. So, we’ll continue to build with our fronts. Start at the front and build backwards, that’s how I envision it, and Jonathan had a really great year.”

One thing that Ryans has continually emphasized is his desire to bolster the defensive line and build his defense from that starting point. That could mean retaining free agent defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins or Greenard, or exploring a market that includes defensive ends Danielle Hunter, Josh Allen, who’s expected to receive the franchise tag, Chase Young and Bryce Huff and defensive tackles Christian Wilkins, Justin Madubuike, who’s also expected to receive the franchise tackle, Chris Jones and several others.

“There’s some really good guys at the end position,” Ryans said. “There are guys who are those tweener-types that can rush the passer. There’s lighter guys who have the speed off the edge. You also see there are lighter tackles in this draft. They have some explosiveness and twitch on the inside. The d-line class, it’s a lot of varying degrees of capability amongst the players that we have.

“There are big physical guys who can get after it. It’s about us mixing the right guys together and deciding which formula works for us. How can we get the right guys to complement each other, and play well off one another because that’s how I see d-lines play. It’s not about just one guy. It’s a complement of eight guys who can come in and continue to put pressure on the opposing team.”

Greenard follows his traditional routine of visualization; the mental technique of seeing and communicating concrete ideas since the start of humanity.

For Greenard, that means lots of deep thinking the night before games, going through his pass rushing moves in his head or even at home in his conversations with his fiancée.

“Yes, I do, 1,000 percent,” Greenard said when asked about his use of visualization techniques. “The night before or in practices or a couple nights before I’ll even say it to my lady, my fiancée: ‘I’m about to do this, I’m thinking about doing this.’ Just how I want to attack people. Visualization is the best thing because, if you don’t envision yourself doing it, you won’t know what to do when you get there. I’m just a big proponent and advocate of doing that going into the games.”

The importance of what Greenard is doing on the field has been heightened with his family responsibilities he proudly embraces. He’s the doting new father of a baby girl and engaged to be married.

And the growing family coincides with the former third-round draft pick from the University of Florida finishing the final season of a four-year, $4.48 million rookie contract. And Greenard’s timing for his best all-around season is ideal.

“I think that’s the biggest key is I knew going into it,” Greenard said. “I’m not oblivious to what’s going on in the outside world. Obviously, I’m in a contract year. I knew I was about to have a child at the time. I just had to understand that, ‘Hey, it has to go right. My feeling is, ‘Who’s going to provide for her?’

“I went about that in that mindset that somebody has to do it. The main thing is the only way I could go was up. Don’t worry about next year or things of that sort. It will happen if it’s going to happen. It’s not for me to decide. I can only control what I can control.”

Greenard approaches football and life in perspective. There are a lot of important things happening, especially being a girl dad. And he intends to maximize this prime opportunity. Whether he cashes in with the Texans or with another NFL team, he’s cementing a bright present and future.

The way that Greenard performed set him apart apart as the most consistently disruptive pass rusher on a Texans defense built around coach Ryans’ vision of creating pressure primarily with a four-man front and not blitzing frequently.

Fast and smooth in his moves, Greenard is getting home with a versatile repertoire of pass rushing moves. What he’s doing is working.

And the successful outcomes, hitting quarterbacks, tackling running backs in the backfield for losses, are a direct byproduct of his consistency and work habits.

“I would highlight JG again as sort of the poster child for that,” Texans defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “When he’s getting off the ball, I would say, is JG’s biggest thing. Like when he’s launching and covering ground out of his stance, he sort of plays on his terms. He’s an explosive player.

“So, when he gets out, he’s like forcing linemen to make decisions earlier and he can get into the rush earlier.When he stutters at the line of scrimmage, or he’s not quite as threatening, maybe he doesn’t look the same. For him to go through that process and realize when the success is coming for him, when he plays with his length and when he’s explosive, he’s a pretty impactful player. The consistency for him to do that play in and play out, I feel like he’s been trending through the whole season to this point, and hopefully he keeps growing.”

For Greenard, the opponent changes every weekend. Yet, his style doesn’t. He’s a finisher who maintains high energy from the snap to the whistle.

“I think it’s just connecting, honestly,” Greenard said. “Some games, it’s good. Some games, it’s better than others. We work these moves all the time. It’s just a matter of continuing to work and trust that they’re eventually going to work.”

Reflecting on it all, his upcoming wedding, the contract status and his season, Greenard is maintaining his focus. And he’s doing it all with an eye on physical and mental fitness.

Maturity and being present in all situations, that’s what Greenard is all about.

“Exactly, what it is,” Greenard said. “I know coming home from this, I can’t bring work home. I can’t bring the uncertainty home. I have to put that to the side and say, ‘Hey, look all I can control is my effort and my play on the field.’ Whatever happens outside of that isn’t for me to control.”

Greenard is well aware how lucrative rushing the passer can be.

The highest ranked edge rusher contracts as far as average per year range from the San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa ($34 million), the Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt ($28 million), the Los Angeles Chargers’ Joey Bosa ($27 million,), the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett ($25 million), the Green Bay Packers’ Rashan Gary ($24 million), the Los Angeles Chargers’ Khalil Mack ($23.5 million), the Las Vegas Raiders’ Maxx Crosby ($23.5 million), the Miami Dolphins’ Bradley Chubb ($22 million), the Cincinnati Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson ($21 million), the Buffalo Bills’ Von Miller ($20 million), the Tennessee Titans’ Harold Landry ($17.5 million), the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Alex Highsmith ($17 million), the Minnesota Vikings’ Danielle Hunter ($17 million), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Shaquil Barrett ($17 million), the Dolphins’ Emmanuel Ogbah ($16.35 million), the Seattle Seahawks’ Uchenna Nwosu ($15 million), the Philadelphia Eagles’ Haason Reddick ($15 million), the 49ers’ Randy Gregory ($13.9 million), the New York Jets’ John Franklin-Myers ( $13.75 million) and five players making at least $13 million annually: Carl Granderson, Preston Smith, Josh Sweat, Cameron Jordan and DeMarcus Lawrence.

Bottom line: Pass rushers get paid. Greenard is well on his way to achieving a life and career goal of generational wealth.

“100 percent, you get to the quarterback, they’ll figure something out,” Greenard said. “I’m going to keep playing ball. I’m happy now. I’m in a good groove, mentally and physically.”

It’s a winning approach for Greenard as he’s been impressive after maintaining a spartan training regimen all summer with his private trainer, Christian “Speedy” Ford, reporting at a lean 250 to 255 pounds, down from his listed 263 pounds on the roster. His body-fat percentage is a lean 12 percent, the lowest of his career.

“I’ve been through dang near every single thing I can think of to go through,” Greenard said. “You just keep a level head and not get too high or too low. This whole game is about ups and downs. You can be high one moment, so you can’t get too high where you don’t understand how to handle the lows. I love that about the game because it’s an exciting game. I steadily grow as a player and as a human because you can’t play this forever and it leads to better habits off the field.”

Greenard was drafted in the third round by the Texans by former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien after recording 9 1/2 sacks, 15 1/2 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles and one interception in his final season for the Gators.

“I think he’s a freak,” Ford said in a telephone interview. “He can do multiple things on the field. He can get out in space. He can rush the passer. I love how he can really bend. I’m excited to see a full, healthy season out of him. He has a motor.”

Ideally, Greenard will remain in a Texans uniform for a long time. That’s his stated preference.

“Shoot, that’s the goal,” he said. “That’s the reason why I play this game, so I can continue to play ball. Hopefully, it’s here. Ultimately, that’s not up for me to decide. I just control my play.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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