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:
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.