Locking up Texans' core players could do a number on salary-cap space

Orlovsky: Watson should've fired O'Brien after loss to Chiefs (0:55)

Dan Orlovsky criticizes Bill O'Brien for his coaching performance in the Texans' playoff loss to the Chiefs, saying Deshaun Watson should have fired O'Brien after the game. (0:55)

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans are expected to make quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil among the highest-paid at their positions this offseason, but the team also has many other decisions to make about the makeup of the roster.

The team enters the 2020 offseason with an estimated $41 million in cap space but is expected to spend most -- if not all -- of that before the start of the season to keep its core in place for the future.

The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson is currently the highest-paid quarterback, but he is expected to be eclipsed with whatever deal Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes signs, and perhaps what Watson signs, this offseason.

Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan is currently the highest-paid player at his position, but Tunsil and the Baltimore Ravens' Ronnie Stanley will likely set the market in 2020.

But what about the other free-agent or notable contracts the Texans are to decide on this offseason? Here’s a look:

CB Bradley Roby

Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent

What the Texans are thinking: Roby was the Texans’ best cornerback in 2019, but he also made nearly $10 million on a one-year, prove-it deal. Even though he missed five games with a hamstring injury in the middle of the season, he likely priced himself out of Houston. The Texans aren’t likely to pay a premium for one-year contracts going forward, and Roby will get offers for multiyear deals.

NT D.J. Reader

Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent

What the Texans are thinking: A fifth-round pick in 2016, Reader’s price went up because of how well he played. In 2019, Reader was Pro Football Focus’ sixth-ranked interior defender and head coach Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel have spoken highly of Reader and what he means to the Texans’ defense.

“He's been a really good player for us ever since the day he walked in here,” O’Brien said. “So, we're going to sit down with D.J., we're going to talk and we're going to try to do what's best for both sides. We'll see where that goes.”

The Texans could also use the franchise tag on Reader instead of giving him a big contract extension this offseason or use the time to get a new deal done by the July franchise-tag deadline.

RB Carlos Hyde

Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent

What the Texans are thinking: Hyde came to Houston with a chip on his shoulder after being traded on cut-down day by the Kansas City Chiefs. Hyde had the best season of his career, with 1,070 yards on 245 carries and six touchdowns.

Houston certainly has room at the position for Hyde, and he said after the loss to Kansas City that he wants to be back with the Texans next season.

“I definitely want to be back here,” Hyde said. “I don’t want to go to another team and start all over again. I felt like Houston was home. I think I handled my part. I’ve just got to let things play out in the offseason and see what happens.”

TE Darren Fells

Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent

What the Texans are thinking: Fells was a great surprise for Houston this season, standing out among the five tight ends the team had in training camp. The 33-year-old had a career-best 34 catches for 341 yards and seven touchdowns, setting a franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end in a season. The Texans might get outbid for Fells’ services next season, but the team will try to bring him back.

CB Johnathan Joseph

Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent

What the Texans are thinking: Joseph has been in Houston since 2011, but he played fewer than 60% of Houston’s snaps this season because starting Week 13, he did not play consistently. In 2018, he played more than 75% of the team’s snaps. But the 35-year-old said he’s not thinking about retirement.

“I’m playing next year,” Joseph said after the playoff loss to the Chiefs. “Without a doubt. Unless someone [doesn’t] employ me.”

CB Vernon Hargreaves

Contract status 2020: $9.6 million cap hit, no 2020 dead money

What the Texans are thinking: By signing Hargreaves in November after he was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Texans got a chance for an extended look at the 2016 first-round pick. O’Brien likes Hargreaves, but he might not want to pay the cornerback the $9.6 million he’s scheduled to make on his fifth-year option that is guaranteed for injury only.

“I don't think that's easy to be able to come in, in the middle of a season, and really later than that, and play that nickel position is not easy,” O’Brien said.” So, I give a lot of credit to Vernon. There's a lot of things that he's going to work hard to improve upon. We're going to help them with that, but I think Vernon stepped into a tough situation and really made the best of it.”

With Roby and Joseph both free agents, Houston has so much potential turnover at cornerback that the team might be able to bring Hargreaves back on a multiyear deal with a lower cap hit.

QB AJ McCarron

Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent

What the Texans are thinking: For the first time since Watson was drafted, the Texans had a capable backup quarterback in McCarron. He only played in two games in 2019 -- in mop-up duty in the Texans’ blowout loss to the Ravens and in Week 17 when Houston rested its starters -- but showed he could run the offense if Watson gets hurt. He and Watson get along well and it would make sense for the Texans to re-sign him.

RB Lamar Miller

Contract status 2020: Unrestricted free agent

What the Texans are thinking: O’Brien and the Texans like Miller, but now that he’s coming off of a torn ACL, he’s unlikely to get a multiyear offer this offseason. Houston could bring him back on a one-year, incentive-based deal after he’s tested the market. The Texans’ running backs room has openings, but the Texans aren’t likely to bring back both Hyde and Miller.

RG Zach Fulton

Contract status 2020: $7 million cap hit, no dead money

What the Texans are thinking: Fulton has two years left on his four-year, $28 million contract, but he has no dead money in either of the next two seasons. Despite his expensive contract, Fulton did not play up to his high price tag in 2019, and moving on from him could be an easy way for Houston to save some cap space with the impending signings of Watson and Tunsil.

If Houston cuts Fulton, they would either have to rely on guard Greg Mancz or draft another interior lineman to play opposite 2019 second-round pick Max Scharping.