Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
HOUSTON -- It hovers, like a storm cloud, over Reliant Stadium and the Texans' practice facility.
A young team expected to make a big jump has three key players unhappy over their contract situations:
Cornerback Dunta Robinson was tagged as the team's franchise player - a tag that comes with a one-year salary of $9.957 million -- and is not participating in the Texans' official offseason work to express his displeasure over the failure to reach a long-term accord.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans missed some of the offseason at the start, but is now with the team while still hoping for a new deal. He's slated to make $1.39 million this season
Further complicating things: Daniels and Ryans, both drafted in 2006, are on track to become unrestricted free agents in 2010 if the collective bargaining agreement is extended and there is a salary cap. If it's an uncapped year, they'd be restricted again.
Could contract issues for the trio serve to distract a team that's a popular pick to be a 2009 breakout after consecutive 8-8 seasons?
"Will they be distractions? No, I won't let that happen," coach Gary Kubiak said. "This team is working hard. If they're here, we're going to coach the hell out of them. And we're going to be a good football team and nobody will distract the football team."
Here's the section of my conversation Monday with Ryans about his contract and the team's approach to the three guys in question.
"It's not so much about me, Owen, Dunta. It's about setting a standard that the league has thrived on: That guys who go out and play and perform well, who outperform their contracts, they get new deals, they get taken care of. But we haven't seen that taking place here with the Texans. I haven't seen one guy rewarded from within.
"...Owen and myself have both been to the Pro Bowl, Dunta was one of the top rookies when he came in. These are guys who have gone on and gotten the accolade from outside the organization, but have not been rewarded from within the organization."
"It'll take care of itself. I feel like I've done what I've had to do and that's go out and play. That's' the only thing I can control. I can't make them write the check, they have to want to do it."
"I still don't think that looks right for the team, for the younger guys that come out. They'll say, 'Damn, well we go out, make the Pro Bowl, did what we have to do and they still didn't reward Owen or DeMeco, so why should we think we're going to be rewarded."
"It'll be good to get a new deal, but I'm not begging for one."
I pointed out to Ryans that Eric Winston got a new deal. I should have pointed to Andre Johnson, too. I understand Ryans' complaints, but it's not as if the Texans have rewarded no one with extensions.
Last September, Winston got a five-year, $30 million deal with $10M guaranteed. And in the spring of 2007, receiver Johnson got a new contract for eight years and $60 million, with $15M guaranteed.
In a chat with Winston, I wondered if he felt a touch of guilt or awkwardness over having gotten his considering what's going on -- or not going on -- now with other guys. Winston and Daniels are good friends and Winston said receiver David Anderson does well to try to stir things up by pointing out the difference in contract status between the two when they are hanging out.
Winston said new deals for Robinson, Daniels and Ryans are something a lot of guys on the team want to see happen:
"I know to me it's real important and I know to a lot of other guys it's real important. I was lucky enough to get a contract last year, I feel like I'm a cog, just a part of a chain and I think everybody needs to get a little grease coming around and I hope they do, because they've all deserved it..."
"We all came in together and we all kind of made a commitment to each other that we are going to do everything we could to turn this around. I really hope they make the same kind of commitment to them. Owen's been such a vital part from day one starting, Dunta's been a guy that's stuck it out here for a lot of hard years. I know they have an idea of what their fair share is and it's hard to disagree with that. It's hard to say that they're not right."
"It's not just the money. Your life's on hold. I know Owen has found a piece of land that he wants to build a house on and be here in Houston and he can't, he doesn't know where he's going to be. One year is great, I'm sure he's not complaining about the money. It's more that your life is just on e hold, you don't know what you're going to do. I think that's an aspect people don't' take into consideration. He's stuck kind of, he's on hold another year, that's another year of insecurity and not being able to really settle in."
"I really don't see any reason why we all can't get a piece of the pie, I really don't. With the salary cap issues the way they are, how big it is now, the way the contracts are going. There should be middle ground. I can't imagine that these guys that I know that are so reasonable are asking for unreasonable deals. I've talked to them, I know they're not."
GM Rick Smith has maintained a level tone throughout the contentiousness, and did so again Monday.
"What's important for me is that we're fair, that we give guys opportunities to be compensated in a manner that's fair, that's good for them," GM Rick Smith said. "Deals that are in the market and are good for our club and are structured the right way and that make sense for everybody.
"The biggest thing I would like to try to be consistent at is fairness. Sometimes you've got an idea of what you think the market value is and the other side will have an idea or opinion and what that is and it's up to all of us to be able to sit down and come up with deals that make sense. And we certainly are diligent about that and committed to that."