Last year, the Texans entered the offseason $20 million over the $120.6 million salary cap. After releasing some players and restructuring a few contracts, they were $4.7 million under the cap by the deadline that signaled the start of free agency.

This year, the Texans are $7.6 million under a cap that will be $123 million at the start of free agency March 12.

Today is the deadline for teams to designate franchise players. The Texans haven’t used the franchise tag on a player since 2009, when they did so with cornerback Dunta Robinson.

The Texans are hoping to re-sign players like free safety Glover Quin, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, cornerback Brice McCain and fullback James Casey, among others.

General manager Rick Smith and vice president of football administration Chris Olsen are at the front of all negotiations.

Expect a lot of movement as free agency approaches.

The reason the Texans aren’t using the franchise tag on a player like Quin is because he would get $6.9 million this year, which would use almost all of their current cap. Tagging Barwin would cost $9.6 million.

The Texans are hoping to sign Quin and Barwin to long-term deals that would reduce their cap figures to less than what their franchise designations would be.

They also hope to sign players like inside linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive end Antonio Smith to extensions. Both are in the last year of their contracts.

An extension for Smith, who is coming off the two best seasons of his career, would significantly lower his $9.5 million cap hit that includes a $6 million base salary.

Obviously, the Texans will need more room under the cap to accomplish their goals of re-signing and extending players. Being $7.6 million under the cap today doesn’t take into account other player expenditures like the rookie pool for draft choices.

Before everything is done, the Texans will rework contracts. Last year, they restructured receiver Andre Johnson’s deal to free up $5.2 million. Johnson has a $14.6 million cap figure, and he is scheduled to make a base salary of $9.5 million. They could give him his base salary as a signing bonus and prorate it over the life of his new deal, which could free up another $4 million to $5 million.