Houston Texans: Offensive Line, part 1

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Generally speaking, the offensive line is an intriguing and often misunderstood component to the offensive side of the ball. Consisting of offensive guards, tackles, and center, they are the first line of defense to protect the quarterback  on passing plays and create holes in the defense to allow rushing plays. Most often graded as a group, as opposed to individual strength, and done so for a reason, as the weakest link on the team determines the strength of the group.

That being said, the Houston Texans offensive line has been an enigma for a few years now, and merits some strong consideration for upgrades in the free agency and/or draft. However, I will go somewhat against the grain and grade the 2015 0-line as being a relatively consistent force to be reckoned with, despite a myriad of injury and position shuffling, and an outrageous season record number of sacks in the Texans 1st post-season game since 2012. Credit should be given where credit is due, and the fact of the matter is the Texans had a QB in 2015 that consistently took too much time in passing reads.

The Texans o-line has 2 distinctive weak spots; rush blocking and left tackle. Left tackle is the pinnacle position of the o-line, protecting the outside corner blindspot of the QB, and this position has been held by the heart and soul of the team: Duane Brown. Brown, although still a solid player in the LT position, has lost a step or two in 2015, but his season-ending quad tear in his right leg, which led to surgery and a lengthy recovery and a pretty large amount of uncertainty for the 2016 season. With Brown’s future somewhat questionable, LT should be aggressively shopped in the FA.

Rush blocking cannot be pinpointed to a single player, mainly due to the shuffling the Texans have seen on the o-line early on in the season, and throughout the year. When a relative consistency was reached on the o-line (starting players), the rush blocking did improve. However, star quality is still somewhat lacking with contract players, and a few of those contracts should be scrutinized before heading into the free agency. In essence, while it’s great to have formidable back-ups in every position, the o-line shouldn’t be saturated with them.

Duane Brown’s injury leaves a heavy hole in the o-line, and someone is likely needed to plug in at LT to at least start the 2016 season. Currently, our roster options are Derek Newton, Andrew McDonald, David Quessenberry, and Kendall Lamm. Do we have an answer at LT in the current line-up? Let’s take a look.

Derek Newton honestly lines up better as guard, but has shown a formidable stance at right tackle alongside current G free agent Brandon Brooks. Newton has a limited future, and while he has experience with both guard and tackle, he’s too inconsistent to be a viable plug-in at LT.

Andrew McDonald hasn’t touched the field with the Texans, and was signed as a post-season back-up due to Duane Brown’s season-ending injury. He brings some veteran knowledge to the team, and could be an assett if Duane Brown isn’t ready for the start of the season. If he’s kept, he’ll be filler.

David Quessenberry’s story can be found here, and I would expect him to finish out his final year on his contract in Houston. Before his cancer diagnosis and long term non-football injury designation, Quessenberry showed some spark and promise at tackle. He could make a case for himself as a formidable back-up at LT.

Kendall Lamm was an undrafted rookie who stepped in at RT with current free agent Jeff Adam’s season-ending injury. He’s a dual player, used both as RT and blocking tight-end, with an impressive rookie season for an undrafted player. He’s not a future LT, but his spot on the roster is in his to lose coming into 2016.

I guess we’ve got our answer there – we’ll need some help at tackle in the FA, and possibly in the draft as well.

Now, let’s take a look at our guards under contract. Currently under contract are: Oday Aboushi, Xavier Su’A Filo, Chad Slade, and Karim Barton. I’d also designate Derek Newton here, as well, moving forward, and his stock has already been discussed, so let’s look at the other guys.

Oday Aboushi was claimed off waivers at the beginning of the 2015 season, due to other team injuries, and played well at LG for the first half of the season. He shined in his first few starts, but was mainly relegated to back-up and plugged in as necessary, due to other player injuries. While a solid performer at LG, you have to consider that LG is the weakest player in the o-line. He may be back, but I predict he won’t be.

Xavier Su’A-Filo is the 2014 2nd round pick that was expected to hit the ground running, but didn’t. He couldn’t get any consistency going in 2014, and was constantly beat out by veterans where youth should have been on his side. There have been questions to his physical strength, and he started off the 2015 offseason behind the curve, being relegated to drills because he wasn’t in shape.

Injury sidelined him in the first few games of the season, but he did start to make headway and eventually became a consistent starter, in place of Aboushi, as LG toward the end of the season. With his contract, no doubt he’ll be back, and if he continues his improved streak. he’ll finally be a good payoff for the Texans in 2016 and beyond. If he shows up to training camp in peak condition, it’ll be a good start.

Chad Slade was an undrafted rookie signed on in 2015, and showed a lot of promise in the preseason. An injury and back surgery sidelined him for the 2015 season, so much is still left to be learned about his potential. He’ll get his chance in the offseason to show what he can do, and if he keeps his momentum going from the 2015 preseason, it would be great to have a young talent back-up on the o-line in 2016.

Karim Barton was an undrafted free agent signing in 2014, with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was eventually signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad for that season. After failing to make the final roster in Cleveland in 2015, he was signed to the Texans practice squad. This year is the year to prove he’s got the talent for a roster spot, but he fails to have the developmental backround in the pros to equate success. I see him being cut before the season starts.

After this, we’ve got the Centers, Ben Jones and Greg Mancz. Jones is the top free agent center, and a player we’ll need to re-sign in the FA. He had a pretty decent first year as the Center, taking over for Chris Myers, who was questionably and uncerimoniously released in 2015, and then announced his retirement after being approached again by the Texans. This is how you don’t restructure a contract. Lesson learned? Jones has been the most consistent guy on o-line, and he’s a pretty solid bet for the next few years.

Mancz has been a quick study, and has a lot of knowledge of the o-line play coming in as an undrafted rookie signing in 2015. He’s a formidable back-up for Jones, and has shown some decent capabilities when plugged in as guard. He’s a pretty safe pick for the roster as a reliable back-up for C and a plug in at G.

So, after taking a look at the roster, the Texans have some work ine the free agency and draft, primarily at tackle.  We’ll take a look at where the Texans can get some help here coming up.

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Houston Texans: #DQStrong

Before we go into discussion about the Houston Texans Offensive Line and the FA/Draft discussion, I want to take a moment to talk about Houston Texans 2013 6th round draft pick, who’s never played a down in the NFL.

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David Quessenberry, the 176th overall pick in the 2013 draft, was an offensive lineman coming out of a prolific college football career at San Jose State. His rookie season with the Houston Texans was cut short due to a season-ending foot injury, which placed him on IR. In 2014, after fatigue and a persistent cough during OTAs, David Quessenberry was given a diagnosis that changed his future in the NFL: non-hodgkins lymphoma. That diagnosis shook both Quessenberry and the team to the core. He was placed on the non-football illness list and began his fight.

In 2015, shortly after the end of the 2014-15 season, Quessenberry announced that he was officially in remission. He soon got back to conditioning and preparing for his eventual return to the NFL, with an unknown timetable for when that would happen. Quessenberry was placed on the non-football illness list again in 2015, showing the uphill battle he still had to get back into form. Quessenberry has taken the 2015 season to continue building back his weight, strength, and conditioning in order to increase his chance of landing a roster spot in 2016, and it looks like he may as close as ever to getting that chance.

I, for one, am championing for Quessenberry to get a roster spot for 2016. He is in his last year of his contract, and deserves the chance after a rather promising show in the 2013 preseason. His weight and upper body strength will be the question of whether or not he can handle the duties of offensive tackle, or even guard, but his determination thus far speaks loudly. Coming up on 2 years since initial diagnosis and 1 year in remission, Quessenberry has steadily added both strength and weight back into his form. If officially cleared to return by the OTAs, he’ll be out there playing his heart out.

The offensive line is a slightly weak link going into 2016, with some injuries and free agents to look at. Quessenberry will definitely be a conversation for the Texans in the near future. So, let’s give him a chance, and hope for a Quessenberry jersey to be spotted out on the field soon.

Houston Texans: Running Backs, part 2

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We’ve discussed the options and possibilities for the Texans in the free agency, now let’s look at where that leaves the need for an RB in the draft. If the Texans can manage to get a jewel of a signing like Lamar Miller for a long term contract, then guess what? Top RB in the draft is no longer a huge need. It’s still worth considering, but it leaves open a lot of room to bulk up that O-line. I still would expect at least the first 2 rounds to go toward offensive players, but the Texans can look for more of a development player for the RB position than potential 2016 starter.

However, I realize that I’m living out some pipe dreams, and the Texans would more likely make a conservative, cap saving play in the free agency, so I still expect RB to be a top priority in the NFL draft. In reality, I would expect the 1st round pick to be a RB, as any attainable top prospect QBs in the draft are 2nd round stock. The good news for picking a RB in the first round is there is not a huge competition, as far as overall needs for 1-21 NFL teams in the draft are concerned. The bad news is that 1 of those teams has the #1 pick, is in our division, and knows what we need. If Tennessee’s smart, though, they’ll cover their top need wisely with the #1 pick.

That being said, Texans have a great shot at picking up a top-3 RB in the draft, and should go that route in the 1st round, if no substantial signings are made in the free agency. As done with discussing the top QB prospects of the draft, I’ll be utilizing the following list to discuss the pros and cons of each of the top 5 RB prospects in the 2016 Draft. Honestly, there’s really only 1 RB we need to look at if we go for a 1st round pick. If he’s off the board by #22 (or Texans don’t trade up to get him), then 1st round pick should be designated for something other than RB or QB. We’ll get to that later, though. On with the evaluations of the top 2016 RB prospects.

First on the block is Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is a star RB from Ohio State. There is no downside to choosing Elliott in the 1st round, if he’s still on the board at 22. He’s even worth a trade up. Elliott is largely considered the top RB to go in the 1st round primarily because of the Texans need to pick one up in the draft. If the Texans don’t to the route of giving up half their draft picks to get QB Carson Wentz, I’d expect Elliott to be the 1st pick for the Texans in the draft. He’s got the speed and versatility of an undrafted Foster, is quick on routes, and can pick up yards. He’d be a starter by mid-season. Folks, there is no downside to picking up Elliott. He’s the guy.

Second RB to look at is Derrick Henry. Henry’s a junior declaree from Alabama who’s a productive RB and disruptive in the passing game. He’s another possibility at #22, although that would possibly be upping his stock a little. Still, he’s not a bad consolation if the Texans lose out on Elliott. He’s not as versatile, but has the speed to break away with the ball. He’s also disruptive with blitzes, which will tremendously help a QB like Savage or a future rookie in the passing game. His downside, as mentioned above, is he lacks the versatility and playing background for a complex offense. However, he’s an overall worthy 1st round pick for the Texans RB needs.

And that’s that. No need to evaluate any further. Well, not really – crazy things happen in the draft, so we’ll look at a few more prospects.

Next up, which I’d consider in the third round or a trade up for an additional 2nd round pick, is Alex Collins. Collins is a reliable, hard runner from Arkansas. He’s a good, reliable RB, but lacks the speed and depth in an offense that would contribute to the rushing game, but likely place him behind Blue for a few years, if drafted. He’s not a 1st round pick, by any means, and lacking a real option in the 1st round for QB, that would open up the option to nail down an offensive tackle or guard pick in the 1st round. We’ll get to that later, though. Collins is a solid 3rd round pick, or possible trade-up option for another 2nd round pick.

Fourth on the list is Devontae Booker. Devontae Booker is coming off his 2nd year in college football from Utah. He’s also coming off a late season knee injury which required surgery to repair a meniscus tear. While he’s a versatile player with speed and physical toughness on the field, he’s too much of a gamble to place a heavy emphasis on in the draft. Texans will likely need an eventual 2016 starter, and he’s not it. He’s a possibility at round 3 or beyond with a Miller signing, so don’t completely count him out as an option. He won’t be the top focus going into the draft, though.

Last, we’ll deviate a bit from the linked list, and take a look at C.J. Prosise. Prosise hails from Notre Dame, is a versatile player in many aspects. He’d be a good pick in the 2nd day because he’s got great strength, speed, and also a background as a WR, and a strong contributor to special teams play. We may see him picked up even as late as the 4th, even if the Texans opt for a 1st round RB, because of this. Texans is lacking in ST, and a versatile player like Perkins would be a smart, healthy decision going into the 2nd or 3rd day, 3rd or 4th round. Look for him to be in the discussion, regardless.

My pick would be, of course, Ezekiel Elliott, but Henry’s no slouch if Elliott’s scooped up before #22. I’d also pick up Prosise in a later round. 2 bird, y’all.

Houston Texans: Running Backs, part 1

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Outside of the coveted QB position, the biggest hole in the offense is a quality starting running back. Arian Foster has been our quality starter for the past several years, having his break-out season in 2010. However, he’s had a lot of breaks in between, with a history of injury that rivals his accomplishments on the field.  He’s also past the age of prime productivity for a RB, if you consider the graph below showing the life of a RB in the NFL.

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Running backs are tough, physical players. They have a small window to prove themselves and stay on top. Decline typically starts setting in around 27 years of age, and then a pretty rough decline hits. Foster has been plagued with some pretty nasty injuries, keeping him off the field at least 2/3 of the past 3 years. This previous season he’s been a little slow to recover from injury, taking almost 3 of the 4 games he played before suffering a season-ending achilles tear to start getting back into prime shape. In essence, we’ve seen the best of his career and thankfully, it’s been on our field.

Does Foster still have something left in the tank? Probably. I’d expect him to play somewhere. However, at his price tag, we’d have to expect him to be the leader of the RB corps, and he’s not in that position anymore. If he can be talked into a salary cut, I could see keeping him in his final year of the contract, but it’s hard to see that playing out for what the Texans would need to free up in the cap in order to bring in a leader from the free agency. It’s a rough business, the NFL, and sometimes a team has to make business decisions. This year I predict they will make a tough one, in releasing Foster.

This brings us to what’s left on the roster, and what moves need to be made to strengthen that position going into the 2016 season. Texans don’t play spread, so RB is an important position. Alfred Blue has improved his game in the past season, although it took practically the entire season to hit that stride. If Blue can hit the ground running next season, he’ll be a pretty key player. He’s not the leader of the pack, though. Chris Polk is a free agent that the Texans should let go. He made some good plays, but the consistency isn’t there. He’s not coming back to play at the level of his breakout year in Philadelphia.

Jonathan Grimes is the next RB free agent. He’s a slight step up from Polk, and a decent plug in. The Texans should bring Grimes back to the fold, if Foster’s out – and Foster is pretty much out. If the offense didn’t rely so much on a powerful RB presence on the field, Grimes could be expendable. But, the Texans offense relies fully on a powerful RB presence. Improvements over Grimes as a back-up wouldn’t be worth the effort to negotiate in the free agency. The Texans will be doing that with Foster’s release. Overall, as mentioned above, 2 moves need to be made over last year’s roster: Foster and Polk.

This still leaves the Texans with some good depth at the position, with Akeem Hunt coming off a pretty decent rookie season, and Kenny Hilliard, who spent his rookie season on the practice squad and has been signed to a futures/reserved contract for the 2016 season. That doesn’t mean much more than bringing him back to the practice squad for the 2016 season to possibly develop. He’s a 2015 7th round pick, so he’ll be the first man out if the Texans land a 1-3 round RB in the draft and need the room, on either the roster or, more likely, practice squad.

That being said, what should the Texans do in the free agency the draft? Simply put? Go big. The Texans have a history of failing in the free agency – losing more star power than what is brought in, whether it be failure to sign or releasing players. It almost seems like Rick Smith covets compensatory draft picks more than managing future team talent. That’s not unique to the Texans, but it is an area which has plenty of room for improvement. This year could be the year the Texans even the score. For starters, as mentioned above, Grimes over Polk  (symbolically, at least, as Grimes was an undrafted signing). Next move: top free agent RB.

First up for discussion is Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. Martin’s the 2015 2nd best ranked RB, and is an unrestricted free agent for 2016. Tampa Bay will chase him, but not before the Texans can make an offer. The question will be whether Martin wants a payday or 2 more seasons to excel. The Texans would be smart in at least including Martin in the discussion of picking up a solid RB to lead the pack, with a 2 year contract. That may be a stretch; I’d see Martin looking more for a long-term contract, and Tampa Bay is on the upswing. Texans are a little further on that path, though, so that leaves for a realistic discussion.

Next up is Lamar Miller. Miller has the youth and is heading into his prime years with some impressive stats during his 4 year career with the Miami Dolphins . Miami’s new staff is sure to see this, and will certainly put up a fight. He may even get the dreaded franchise tag. Miller would be more of a long-term solution at RB than Martin, and the Texans would have to go to the table with a longer contract than 2 years. A 6 year signing would likely be what it takes to woo him from Miami, but 4 year contract would be optimal for the Texans. He’ll certainly garner the attention from other teams around the league as well, but the Texans this year are fortunate to have a big need at the RB position that most teams have filled.

My third pick is going to be Matt Forte. Forte on the downward slant of the cusp of his career, after playing 8 years with the Chicago Bears. He’s not an upgrade over Foster, but he’s a plug in that can patchwork a year, and allow a more aggressive draft to get a future hot shot. Forte (comparatively to Blount because please no more New England throwbacks) is a formidable vet that wouldn’t say no to a single year contract, and it doesn’t appear that the Bears have a lot of interest in keeping him around another year or two. He can be picked up at a cheaper price tag than Foster, and would add a reliable balance.

Out of the three, and with my suggestion to go bold in the free agency and draft, i’d like to see the Texans make a serious run for Lamar Miller. He’s a long term solution and has improved every year. His prime is before him, and he’d be a great addition to the team. Martin would be the best short-term plug in, as a second option. Forte would be a risk, as he’s coming off an injury. He’d be a gamble, almost enough to consider keeping Foster. His upside, though, is a possible substantial reduction to the cap, as his old team isn’t chasing him. That transaction would leave the door wide open for a top RB in the draft, though. A Miller signing would knock that down substantially.

Next up, we’ll discuss the options for RB in the 2016 NFL draft.

Houston Texans, Quarterback hunt, part 2

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Part 1 of the quarterback hunt focused on the current roster, free agents, and possible moves the Texans can make with the QB position. That can be browsed right here if you need a refresher. In short, the Texans will keep at least 1, and likely 2 QBs from the current roster and/or free agents. My hope is Weeden/Savage, but likelihood points to Hoyer/Savage (and maybe Daniels for another role and/or practice squad). After working through the possibilities on the roster, the next big question will be who do we draft as QB in the 2016 Draft, and when do we do it?

Realistically, with the NFL Scouting Combine still being a few weeks away, any projections or rumors of the 2016 draft class are nothing more than mere speculation. Draft prospects typically don’t take a nose dive after the Combine, though, unless they turn in an absolutely horrific performance, or drop a bomb in the interview process. In that regard, we can look at the current projected draft order of our 45 QB prospects (realistically, though, top 6, as I don’t see the Texans drafting a QB past the 3rd round) and come up with a reasonable picture of which prospects are in the Texans radar.

We’ll be taking a look at the following list of QB prospects in the 2016 draft for this overview, and discuss the possibility/probability of each of the top 5, which are current designated prospects to go in rounds 1-3.

First on the list: Jared Goff. I disagree with his ranking as the top prospect for a few reasons, but given the Cleveland Browns have the top QB pick in this draft, I can understand the #1 overall rank, as far as the QB position (#2 out of the draft). Goff spent his college football career at University of California, Berkeley, under two primarily different, but similar, offensive coordinators. The “Bear Raid” spread-style offense was highly successful in the West-Coast style coordination of plays, but it doesn’t translate well to O’Brien’s pro-style offense that keeps threatening a stronger use for tight end play than a more versatile use of wide receivers. Goff is also a junior declaring, and has been primarily positioned in the pistol/shotgun formation. And he’s likely to be taken by the Browns. So, next.

Next up: Carson Wentz. Wentz spent his years with North Dakota State, starting his final 2 years and leading the team to 2 consecutive FCS championships under his lead. If the Texans had a top-10 draft pick, I believe the Texans would heavily be eyeballing Carson Wentz as the potential 1st round pick. Wentz has the prototypical QB size that O’Brien likes, has a strong arm, good pocket presence, and is highly mobile. His main danger is throwing a floater that can make for some costly turnovers in the NFL. If the Texans could manage to trade up high enough to snag Wentz, it would costly, and would count on the Browns overlooking him, and a possible trade up deal with the San Diego Chargers. With the other pressing needs for the Texans this year in the free agency and draft, it’s not likely. Again, he’ll be gone before the Texans get a real chance.

Third on the list: Paxton Lynch. Lynch honestly hasn’t impressed me enough to be #3 QB overall. He played at Memphis, declared as a red shirt Junior (meaning he has another year of college football eligibility), and looks more like a potential project to develop. He has the protoypical QB build and height, has the arm strength, is pretty mobile, and played a pro-style offense. However, his accuracy and footwork need some real conditioning, has some work to do as a pocket passer, and would probably benefit from another year at the college level. Realistically, he could be picked up in the late 1st or early 2nd round, but he would need to be developed to the Texans system for the first year, at the very least, and that’s not a player you want to pick up in the 1st round. Realistically, I wouldn’t want the Texans picking him up til the 3rd, and he’ll likely go before that.

Fourth on the list: Connor Cook. Cook is a 4 year starter for Michigan State, and earned his place in the the history books for that football program. He’s got the size and arm strength to throw in the pros, and has consistently improved his game in a pro-style offense in his years as a starter. He will also realistically be available in the 2nd round, and possibly even the 3rd. His biggest problem is consistency in the passing game, and overall. For a 4 year starter, I’d signal this as a red flag. Quite possibly the most experienced, but most likely more of a game manager QB that could end up having a journeyman career in the NFL. It may be worthwhile to mention that his draft profile QB comparison is Brian Hoyer. Give that some thought. If the Texans want a game manager QB with questionable enough leadership skills to not be named as team captain of his college team, then Cook is it. However, there’s some proven vets in the NFL that can already do this, and by all appearances the Texans want more.

Fifth on the list: Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg was the first QB recruit of O’Brien’s head coaching career. His most prolific season came under the mentorship of O’Brien in Penn State in 2013. Hackenberg’s performance fell off after O’Brien joined the Texans, but in his first year as a starter he proved to excel under the O’Brien pro-style offense that O’Brien graduated to the pro level. Add me to the list of people getting a feeling of Hackenberg as the Texans QB pick, but not in the first round. Hackenberg’s draft stock isn’t necessarily impressive enough to rank him as the 6th highest QB overall in the draft, but he’s certainly the underdog candidate that could go higher than expected, primarily due to the lack of offensive weapons and coaching development in the Nittany Lions program. Hackenberg will need a good year or two of development, but with O’Brien’s tendency to go with what he knows, it’s highly possible to see Hackenberg join the Texans squad in 2016.

My wish list: Carson Wentz. Is that realistic? Probably not. Would I urge the Texans to use a 1st round pick on any of the top 5, outside of Wentz? Nope. Most likely prospect, pre-Scouting Combine, with a 2nd round pick? Christian Hackenberg, because he and Bill had a sweet thing going once.

Houston Texans: Quarterback hunt, part 1

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Since the dreaded wheels-off 2013 season, the Houston Texans have gone through a slew of quarterbacks leading the team on the field – leading, of course, being used very lightly. That season, we benched our so-called franchise QB, Matt Schaub, shortly after his feat of shattering the consecutive games with a pick 6 record in the league. After Schaub was benched as the starter in 2013, the carousel began,and hasn’t stopped. Starting in that season, the Texans utilized T.J. Yates, Case Keenum, Matt Schaub again, Case Keenum again, Matt Schaub again, Case Keenum again, Matt Schaub again, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fizpatrick again, Tom Savage, Case Keenum again, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett again, Brian Hoyer Again T.J. Yates again, Brandon Weeden,  B.J. Daniels, and again, Brian Hoyer.  Did I miss anyone?

That timeline, since Schaub’s benching, has resulted in a 18-23 record. Ironically, when the Texans QB carousel was in full swing, the Texans produced two consecutive winning seasons, one including a post-season appearance (albeit short). Without a consistent, franchise-level QB, the Texans have shown their scrappiness. Players can adjust, and coaches can create wins with a patchwork process. But enough’s enough. A QB drafted in the higher rounds in the 2016 draft is not only anticipated, but it’s straight-up mandatory. With 45 college QB prospects who have declared for the 2016 NFL draft, and several other teams in position 1-21 in the draft (well, maybe 2-21), O’Brien and Smith have some serious thinking to do. The question of “is there a franchise QB in this draft” happens every year, so let’s ditch that thought.

Before looking into draft prospects, let’s look at the current roster, and what changes should be made.

Currently, the Texans have three QBs on the roster: Brian Hoyer, Tom Savage, and B.J. Daniels. Hoyer will be in his final year, with a $4,000,000 salary plus a $1,250,000 roster bonus. Tom Savage will be in his 3rd year of his 4 year contract, with a salary of $600,000 and a prorated bonus of $75,146. B.J. Daniels is also in his final year of his contract, with a salary of $600,000. There are also two QBs headed into free agency: T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden. Yates previous salary with the Texans was $745,000. Weeden’s salary for 2015 was $615,000, with the Texans picking up his remaining salary from the Dallas contract late in 2015. Both, if signed to another contract, would be looking for a pay raise. So, what should be done with the current QBs on the roster?

Brian Hoyer has shown that he can hang, and his best season has been as a Texan. I don’t know if that speaks more toward the QB conditioning for the Texans or for the lack of any organization with the Browns, but the success of recent ex-Texan QBs, namely Fitzpatrick and Keenum, leans more toward the former. However, Hoyer has shown a tendency to completely buckle under pressure, throw inconsistently, and he lacks the arm strength needed to continue to be the journeyman we need. While Hoyer doesn’t have a painfully high cap hit, his 2016 salary and cap hit is simply too high to justify keeping him, with the other options on the roster. Texans should trade or release. A few more compensatory picks would be nice to pick up.

Tom Savage is the QB drafted in 2014; O’Brien’s first QB decision as head coach for the Texans. Savage isn’t likely to go anywhere. He had a shaky start when thrown in as a back-up in the 2014 season (remember that snap fumble?), but has shown major improvement going into the 2015 pre-season. An unfortunate injury in the last minutes of the last pre-season game cost him the season where he would have likely seen his first career start as an NFL QB. In the 2014 draft, he was a talked about newcomer, with arguably the best arm strength and consistency, as well as other intangibles that made him an interesting draft prospect. His limited play meant he’d be sitting a year or two in development. Well, 2016 is going to make or break his future with the Texans. Keep him, start him by week 3.

B.J. Daniels is a versatile player, with both QB and wide receiver experience. In 2015, the Seattle Seahawks made the move to switch Daniels from QB to wide receiver, but he’s been kept on a practice squad for most of his NFL career. The Texans utilized him as a QB, mainly in the wildcat formation, which does not spell out for a lasting gig. He may be looked at to develop in his last year as a complementary WR to DeAndre Hopkins, while being tagged to utilize trick plays with the wildcat. I don’t see him as a legitimate contender for even a journeyman QB spot on the roster, however. He has a final year of practice squad eligibility, as well. The Texans should hold onto Daniels in his final contract year and see how he can develop as a WR in training camp and the pre-season. If he doesn’t make the final cut, he can still make it on the practice squad.

T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden have similar stock on this team as a can-do journeyman who can get the job done while (Tom Savage/future draft pick) ready themselves as a starter, and as a quality back-up when needed. I don’t feel the need to break either down individually, as they both have similar upsides and downsides. Bottom line for these two is that they’re cheap and reliable, and know the system. Weeden has the slight advantage for consistency, and Yates has our hearts. If looking for a bargain back-up, the Texans should consider a 1 year extension for Weeden. However, with a few veteran free agent QBs hitting the market this year, one could play devil’s advocate and bargain for releasing Hoyer, Yates, and Weeden to make room for the likes of Kaepernick, RGIII (gulp), or even start a bidding war with the Jets to bring Fitzpatrick back in for another round.

If the Texans want to bring a new journeyman in for the 2016 season, I’d champion for Fitzpatrick – but that’s gonna be tough. Otherwise, I’d go with Weeden to continue to be the journeyman, Savage to develop and get a shot as the starter, and a draft pick. Do we really want to bring yet another veteran QB into the system? I’d think not. Look for the Texans to keep 2, maybe Daniels as a practice squad/WR plug-in (he could help out the special teams unit, too). Realistically, I see the Texans keeping Hoyer one more year, but I hope they surprise me and go for Weeden instead. In Part 2, we’ll discuss the draft prospects.

Houston Texans: What do we need in 2016?

Houston Texans 2015

The 2015 NFL season is officially over. The Texans, after a 2 year hiatus, found themselves back in the playoff picture, albeit a rather unceremonious showing, with a blow-out loss in the wildcard round after finishing a season barely above .500.  This was a step-up from the previous season of being a game shy of a play off berth, and a night-and-day change from the doomed 2013 season that let an essential chunk of our coaching staff move on to win a Super Bowl in 2016.

Nah, that doesn’t burn.

But hey, what’s done is done. The Texans have made a substantial turnaround after that doomed season, boasting 2 winning record seasons after the coaching staff change. The O’Brien era, after a few hiccups, is off to a good start, regardless of how ugly the 2015 season may have been.  Previous cuts and picks can’t be changed at this point; the team can only move forward. It is more than due time to move on from the shoulda coulda woulda, because dwelling in the past doesn’t help anything. Just ask the Cowboys.

There have already been a few immediate improvements to the coaching staff, with changes at receiving and special teams coaching. These were good, necessary changes that show that O’Brien and company are recognizing the coaching deficiencies. The front office is likely locked in for at least the 2016 season.  Yes, Rick Smith is probably getting another year as the GM – deal with it. Good or bad, he’s the guy. 2017 may bring those somewhat necessary changes, but it’s not going to happen this year. So let’s move on.

The next focus for the team will be the free agency, and the 2016 NFL draft. Currently, the Texans have 11 unrestricted free agents, and 11 restricted free agents. Among those players heading into contract negotiations, cuts, or trades (or, God forbid a franchise tag) are some key players in key positions, with around an average NFL cap space moving into the 2016 season (around 29M). We’ve also got some aging veterans eating up a healthy chunk of the salary cap, in which a trade, cup, or some contract renegotiations may be essential to bolster the team roster in 2016.

For now, let’s look at the players heading into the free agency and, then, the team needs in 2016.

Here’s a list of the current players, by position, who are restricted/unrestricted free agents in 2016 (red is unrestricted, blue is restricted):

Brandon Weeden, Quarterback, Free Agent
T.J. Yates, Quarterback, Free Agent
Chris Polk, Running Back, Free Agent
Jonathan Grimes, Running Back, Restricted Free Agent
Jeff Adams, Tackle, Restricted Free Agent
Chris Clark, Tackle, Free Agent
Nate Washington, Wide Receiver, Free Agent
Josh Lenz, Wide Receiver, Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Brandon Brooks, Guard, Free Agent
Ben Jones, Center, Free Agent
Shane Lechler, Punter, Free Agent
Nick Novak, Place Kicker, Free Agent
Jared Crick, Defensive End, Free Agent
Brandon Dunn, Defensive End, Exlusive Rights Free Agent
John Simon, Linebacker, Restricted Free Agent
Justin Tuggle, Linebacker, Restricted Free Agent
Quintin Demps, Strong Safety, Free Agent
Eddie Pleasant, Strong Safety,Restricted Free Agent
Corey Moore, Free Safety, Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Charles James, Cornerback, Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Darryl Morris, Cornerback, Restricted Free Agent
A.J. Bouye, Cornerback, Restricted Free Agent

To break down this list, unrestricted free agents can sign with any team they wish. They do not have to wait for an offer from the Texans, nor do the Texans have to be given an opportunity to match an offer. Restricted free agents can talk to other teams, but have to give the Texans an opportunity to match any offer they receive. Exclusive rights players either have to take a fair offer from the Texans, and can only negotiate with other teams if the Texans make no offer to them.

Given this list, and the current deficiencies on the team, here are the urgent needs for the Texans moving into 2016, ordered by priority:

Quarterback
Running Back
Punter
Place Kicker
Strong Safety
Tackle
Center
Defensive End
Cornerback

To break down the priority list, you have to consider the deficiencies and the free agent list, meaning that some of the above-listed players will be cut or traded. The priority placed on this list, therefore, will be needs that the Texans most likely have to look outside of their own free agents and roster to fulfill. We already know the priority needs at Quarterback and Running back, and the free agency list opens up a few more needs to cover either in the free agency or the draft.

I’d place quarterback and running back as an even priority, followed by kicking unit. If you look at the special teams roster, the Texans have half of those dedicated players without contracts for 2016, as it stands, and the 2015 shows some clear room for improvement. There is a pretty urgent need for center, tackle, and strong safety as well, but these needs will likely be filled in with the current Texans free agents.  The defensive end and cornerback needs is interesting – there are a few different options that can be had here. We’ll examine each side of the ball – offense, defense, and special teams, more in depth later in the week.

NFL: Cam Newton’s a sore loser, move on

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Cam Newton post-game presser

The Carolina Panthers star Quarterback, Cam Newton, has had a banner year. He led team who, thanks to a lackluster 2014 NFC South, barely scratched into the playoffs with a losing record and made it past the Wildcard round. The 2015 season was nothing short of spectacular, with a 15-1 season record, and Super Bowl berth. The team that has literally lost 3 games (4 if you count preseason, but who does?) since December 7th, 2014 came in hotter than any team that the NFL has seen in a long time.

But then, the QB who had just won MVP honors the previous night, led his team to a devastating lost in the biggest game of his career. His nerves showed before the game, his frustration was apparent, both in the game and on the sidelines, throughout, and his utter disappointment post-game could not be more obvious. In the midst of the fanfare and celebration of the Broncos Super Bowl win, a clearly upset Cam Newton took to the podium, still in uniform and donning a hoodie, sat down, and tersely answered a handful of questions before stepping off.

His body language told the story. He came out, sat down instead of standing, slumped back and looking everywhere but straight ahead into the faces of reporters asking his questions. His arms folded defensively, and legs ticking in annoyance. He would rather be anywhere on earth at that given moment but in the spotlight. Coaching staff adjacent to him would try to catch his attention and motion for him to de-hood, but he ignored it. He sulked his way through some questions with often one-word answers, and then abruptly left when another interview criticizing his performance grew louder than his own.

Cue the outrage.

Fans, critics, and media were waiting for this moment. Cam Newton has been criticized for his character all season, from his celebratory dancing in the end zone after a touchdown, giving away $5000 free footballs to kids, to his pre-game and post-game outfits. Yes, his suits and shoes have been the subject of many conversations and pictures this season alone. He’s arrogant. He’s got an attitude. He’s a bad winner. And now, thanks to the post-game presser in a Super Bowl loss, we can add one more character flaw to Cam Newton: he’s a sore loser.

Now we know. Well, we knew this before, but now we really know. The start QB who celebrates wins and sulks about losses likes to win, and hates to lose. Maybe he’ll grow up a little in the future, learn from this, and put on a better face in the future. Maybe he’ll still pout and sulk after a devastating loss on the national stage. This was certainly not the best showing of a newly-named MVP with the biggest spotlight shining on his face, but let’s face it – the hounds were ready to pounce as soon as he took center stage. Because of his character issues.

People, get real, and get over yourselves. He cracked under pressure. He’s been scrutinized and picked apart all year – more so than most QBs that have losing seasons. The last QB in the league to be given this much negative press after a winning season and Super Bowl appearance was Tom Brady, and he was being INVESTIGATED for rules violations. That’s right – Cam Newton has been given as much negative press this season than a QB being investigated for violating league rules and procedures. Why? Because he dabbed in the end zone and gave footballs to kids. Because he was a flashy dresser.

Sure, we can expect our NFL MVP to have better behavior in front of a mic after the biggest loss of his career, but that’s where it needs to stop. The scrutiny in this 5 minute episode has been unreal. In a night where, in a week’s time, an NFL player barely made headlines in a brutal bar fight where 2 off-duty officers ended up hospitalized, and another is being investigated for domestic violence, the biggest headlines and social media chatter, from both fans and media, has been about Cam Newton’s attitude. Players are beating people up and breaking laws, and Newton is the big disappointment.

Cam Newton doesn’t lose gracefully. Most players don’t. All the critics, and even himself, have pointed it out. So, can we go ahead and move on? The season’s over, a victor has been crowned, and real issues are slipping under the radar. Just in case you missed it, the NFL has announced groundbreaking rules to ban players with domestic violence and other violent criminal convictions from participating in the NFL combine. This is a positive step to keep real character issues from continuing to be a problem in the NFL. This is a story we should be talking about, folks.

Houston Texans: On the cusp

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The 2015 Houston Texans, in their second year with HC Bill O’Brien, gave fans a memorable year. It wasn’t the greatest year, but in spite of the horrible start, the piles of injury, the on-going QB controversy, terrible special teams play, and sometimes baffling playcalls by a rookie OC, it was the same year that brought the Texans back into the playoffs. Now, some might say that this was only because of the terrible season the Indianapolis Colts had, and those people would be half-right. However, We’re gonna visit this thought and put some things to rest before moving forward.

The Indianapolis Colts have constantly been a thorn in the side of the Texans, both in the division and in the playoff scheme. The record speaks for itself, with the Colts boasting a very lopsided winning record of 23-5 versus the Texans in the Texans franchise history. Only two of those Texans wins came in the Andrew Luck era, and only one with Andrew Luck behind center. That second win, without Andrew Luck behind center for the Colts, became a crowning acheivement for the Texans franchise. The win all-but-sealed the deal for a post-season run, and also was the first time the Texans won a game at Lucas Oil Stadium in franchise history.

Of course, naysaysers and self-loathing fans will still be quick to point out that it was against a weak Colts team without Andrew Luck.

Yeah, so? Adversely, the Colts were playing an injury-riddled Texans team, at home, with nothing but back-up QBs on the roster. Technically, they should have won that game. Statistically speaking, they should have won that game. Every single stat was in their favor, but they didn’t. The Texans won, because the Texans were the better team. Without a QB. Without key players on offense. Without anything resembling a competent special teams unit (with the exception of an all-star punter). A Texans team in worse shape than the Colts, who was only missing their QB, made franchise history.

The Colts did have a terrible season, but so did the Texans. The Colts had some QB issues, and a season-ending injury for Luck. They also had a terrible start with Luck, and without other significant injury on the roster. So, one could argue that the Colts had a terrible season, and one would be correct. But the Texans won out this year because they were the better team, not because the Colts were the worse team. The Texans overcame adversity that few other teams could do – star players gone, 1/3 of the team on field not performing at all, and a terrible QB shuffle. No other team with this problem came close to the post-season. The Texans made it to the post-season, in spite of their issues.

The Texans have momentum to dominate the AFC South, and the Colts have stalled. The future is ours to take in this division, and beyond, because this team is on the cusp of becoming a complete, competitive team. The next few months may be some of the most important months of Bill O’Brien’s early tenure as a HC in the NFL, if he plays it right. That means the proper releases and pick-ups in the FA, as well as some well-planned draft selections in the 1-4th rounds. Not to put the pressure on or anything, but this season’s selections and team could make or break O’Briens’s career with the Texans.

In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at the status of the roster, the free agents, and the needs of the team. In the interim, brush up on your Tom Savage knowledge, because he’s gonna be a big part of this team’s future.

Does the NFL really care about players? Let’s find out

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The infamous Manziel “money” sign.

Earlier today Sashi Brown, EVP of the Cleveland Browns organization, released the following statement regarding QB Johnny Manziel’s future with the team:

We’ve been clear about expectations for our players on and off the field. Johnny’s continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization. His status with our team will be addressed when permitted by league rules. We will have no further comment at this time.

This statement follows yet another disturbing incident involving alleged assault against a woman, the second such incident in less than a calendar year. This particular weekend comes on the heels of yet another party weekend, this time in Dallas. His lengthy visit in Dallas has lit up social media over the past two weeks, strengthening rumors of a mutual interest to add Manziel to the Dallas Cowboys roster in 2016, but the latest incident could put that rumor on ice, as well as Manziel’s brief career in the NFL. And it should.

I’m not going to go on record for being an official Manziel hater. While I did feel that his talent was a bit exaggerated coming off his freshman season at Texas A&M University, and I was grateful the Texans overlooked him in the draft and instead drafted Tom Savage, I do feel he had some potential to be a QB in the NFL. That potential hinged (and still does) on his maturity, and his ability to let go of his past behavior. Thus far, he’s proven nothing more than to be the guy he said he would be shortly after the 2014 draft; a guy who wouldn’t change for anyone.

It appears he’s kept his word.

One question is, will the NFL and the other 31 teams in the NFL pay attention to what word Manziel has kept? We’ll likely know the answer sometime in March, but they should. The question I have is should the NFL and the other 31 teams do right by one of the players they brought into their fold in 2014? The answer to that is an emphatic YES. How do they do right by their player? Do everything within their power to get this player help, and to commit to keeping that player off the field until he does. The how, though, is the tricky matter.

The NFL has its hands tied by the Personal Conduct Policy and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). Without official charges on any of Manziel’s incidents, there could be little that the NFL can do to keep Manziel off the field. The NFLPA will see to that. Now, this is where I think the NFLPA should step up to bat for Manziel’s true well-being, but it’s not gonna play out that way. Without charges, the responsibility to do the right thing by Manziel essentially comes down to the individual teams. Even with individual contracts, individual teams may be limited in their actions.

Luckily, individual team conduct policy can be slightly more vague and can include distractive off-field behavior as a violation of team rules. Again, this eventually falls into the lap of the NFLPA, in which the true well-being of their representative player should be the top priority. Unfortunately, with the way the rules are currently written, any individual team would have to take a moral stance, and likely a monetary hit. Some teams have been willing to do this – as we are likely to see within the Browns organization in March.

However, the teams willing to take this stance are not likely to be the teams wiling to take a chance on Manziel.

A case like Manziel’s should open up the discussion on how to better treat players with substance abuse problems, with or without an official charge or arrest. The incidents that have led to the impending release of Manziel show some clear problems with anger management and alcohol abuse, as previously foreshadowed by his parents prior to the 2014 draft. With our without official charges or arrests, it seems pretty clear where Manziel is headed, and it’s not pretty. But will this single player create that change within the NFL? He’s certainly not the first player to succumb to addiction.

I, for one, feel it is due time for the NFL and the NFLPA to step up and start treating its players like players, and not the current cash cows that they are viewed as. I feel it’s time for this billion-dollar organization to invest in their money into the very people that make this organization what it is – the players. Many businesses and organizations around the world do this, and their employees lead better lives because of it. The NFL certainly has the money to do this, so why don’t they? Instead of feel-good commercials and arbitrary rules, why don’t they actually get involved at the ground level?

This can start with a player like Manziel. Even without official charges levied against him, Manziel’s on-field performance and status as a teammate has been negatively affected by his off-field behavior. He’s been late to team meetings, and has skipped treatment for injury. Individual teams should have the authority to require treatment and rehabilitation for such behavior, or be allowed to cut ties without monetary damages. Currently, the Browns organization is likely to wait until the start of the 2016 season to cut ties with Manziel, due to salary cap issues, but they shouldn’t have to.

Manziel’s behavior as a player when he’s counted on being a team member should be cause enough to release him without a cap hit. Even if there are people that still don’t believe that Manziel has a problem, it is clear that his performance as a team member has been affected by his personal life. It’s also clear that the Browns organization stepped in and gave him opportunities to improve himself and improve his behavior, while still being a member of the organization. When that intervention failed, though, the Browns should have the option to break ties without a hit.

Without this option, few teams can be counted on to do the right thing by their players.