In a move that further ratchets up their public stance of indecision over the first pick in the NFL draft, the Houston Texans on Friday exchanged contract proposals with the agents for Southern California tailback Reggie Bush and North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, ESPN.com learned through multiple league sources.
Because they own the first choice, the Texans are free to speak with any of the prospects and to conduct simultaneous negotiations. The aim of the Texans, it appears, is to have an agreement in place before the start of the April 29 draft.
Houston general manager Charley Casserly said earlier this week that the Texans would likely not settle on a top pick until next week. Like most teams, the Texans are deep into their draft evaluation meetings, which will continue this weekend. The choice, Casserly all but acknowledged this week, comes down to Bush or Williams, but the consensus in the league is that the Texans will choose the former Trojans star.
The Texans have yet to receive any firm offers from other teams trying to trade up to the top spot. Certainly they have the right, and ability, to financially leverage Bush and Williams against each other by negotiating with both at the same time and to strike a deal most advantageous to the team.
The events of Friday, at least with Bush, followed a Thursday evening discussion in which the two sides broached contract parameters for the first time. None of the sources contacted on Friday had knowledge of any of the financial details of the proposals exchanged earlier in the day. Bush said Thursday that rumors he was seeking $30 million in guarantees were erroneous and reiterated at the time that no numbers had been discussed.
It is not known when parameters were first suggested to Ben Dogra, the agent for Williams, a dominating pass rusher who is regarded as the premier defensive player in the talent pool.
Bush's agent, Joel Segal, told ESPN.com last week that "it would be the ultimate for both sides" to have an agreement in place before the draft begins. It does not appear, sources said, that an agreement is imminent with either player based on the Friday discussions.
Even with the recently approved extension to the collective bargaining agreement, there are still several restrictions that will call for creativity from the Texans and whoever is the first choice in the draft.
In the last 10 drafts, the top overall choice has reached a contract agreement before the start of the lottery on three occasions. Houston agreed with the top choice in the 2002 draft, quarterback David Carr, before the draft commenced. The other No. 1 overall selections who had deals in place before the draft began were Tim Couch of Cleveland in 1999 and Carson Palmer of Cincinnati in 2003.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.