Houston Texans: Loose ends and 2016 Draft

2007 NFL Draft

Now that the excitement has died down from the explosive first day of the Texans free agency, it’s time to settle down and look at where the team stands, which FA signings may still be necessary, and what to look forward to in the draft.

Going into the free agency, the top needs for the team were primarily offensive players; Quarterback, Running Back, Guard, Center, and Tackle. Other primary concerns on offense were Wide Receiver, and possibly an upgrade at Tight End. Defense needs, while relatively solid as it stands, needed to upgrade at Safety, Defensive End, possible add some speed to Cornerback and look to the future for Inside Linebacker.

Three solid (and possibly four) needs have been checked off the list: QB, RB, G, and possibly C. Texans also signed former Jets Safety Antonio Allen – while that’s not exactly a big upgrade at S, it plugged in a hole that still is lacking for the team, with Rahim Moore being cut before the FA, as well as Quentin Demps moving into the FA. It’s possible Demps may be re-signed before the draft, but Allen’s signing make that implausible.  If Demps comes back, it’s because the Texans couldn’t find what they want in the draft.

Texans also re-signed Jonathan Grimes, which is a slight surprise given the stalemate and no tender before hitting the FA. He’s a good addition to 2016’s pretty solid RB team, to be led by Lamar Miller. Fullback Jay Prosch, a key member on special teams, and valuable blocker to clear up lanes for the RBs. It’s kind of interesting that Prosch actually wasn’t utilized a bit more in 2015, considering the combined injuries and deficiencies of RB and O-line. He should get a bigger role in 2016.

Cornerback A.J. Bouye also re-signed with the Texans in the past week, which keeps a pretty solid CB team, although still lacking a bit of speed and skill. Texans have been in a perpetual need to add weapons on secondary, and the CBs are shaping up to be just what they need. It’s a relatively young crew, led by Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson – both, at times, explosive players, but the latter of the two needs to trim down the penalties.

Interesting to note, before heading into loose ends and further potential FA signings, is that David Quessenberry has quietly moved onto the 2016 Texans active roster.  Let’s hope that’s good news for Quessenberry, and that he finally gets to participate in these reindeer games. Quessenberry, as previously noted, came in and made a case in 2013 for a future starting position at T or G. He’s still got an uphill battle after 3 inactive seasons, but he could very well be a huge asset to the Texans O-Line in 2016.

The FA is far from over, but the signings, at least for the Texans, have trickled down to a slow drip. I wouldn’t expect much more action before the draft, although a big question is whether or not Jared Crick is brought back on at DE. DE is an upgrade needed, even with Crick, but without his re-signing, that leaves DE pretty bare on the weak side (cough, Clowney, cough). But, seriously, Pagan moves up to the top spot currently, with no back-up. Additionally, I’m not certain Demps is going to be back at S.

So, current top needs for the Texans heading into the draft are WR, DE, T, SS, TE, ILB, and C.

I’m placing C at the end primarily due to the fact that Bergstrom is currently penciled in at C, but has more playing time at G. At TE, I’m simply not impressed with what’s on the Texans current roster. O’Brien wants that position strongly utilized, so there’s going to be a need to bulk up the TE position. Currently, top dog Ryan Griffin and C. J. Fiedorowicz are the only 2 TEs coming back with substantial game time, with Anthony Denham and Eric Tomlinson, neither who have seen the field, heading up the back.

Seven needs on the team, and seven picks in the draft. Could the Texans be so brilliant in the 2016 draft to form what could be the most well-rounded team in franchise history? I seriously doubt it. Nobody’s that good. However, Texans don’t need to be brilliant in the draft to get there. A few solid picks will do, and we’ll take a look at each position in the coming weeks. With less than a month to go til the 2016 draft, the Texans are on the clock.

Houston Texans: Free Agency

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The Texans had a hefty to-do list coming into the new season, including re-signing some free agents from the 2015 squad, as well as evaluating potential veteran talent to add to the roster. Earlier in the year, I discussed my hopes that the Texans would go big and bold in the free agency, something they’ve rarely done in the past. A lot of moves the team has made in the free agency have been to pick up older “mentor” veterans of the game. Most of the time, the Texans play it conservative and stick to retaining talent on the roster.

Before the free agency period, the Texans had some inevitable cuts to make. The first cut, and biggest loss, was RB Arian Foster. Foster’s given the Texans the best years of his career, and a healthy Foster could have possibly stayed on the roster. Unfortunately, even his successful years have been plagued with injury, and at the time of his release, he still wasn’t healthy. Cuts like Foster’s remind us all that above all else, the NFL is a business, and sometimes it’s not personal.

Also cut were TE Garrett Graham, and S Rahim Moore. Graham, drafted in the 4th round in 2010, showed some promise as a starter in 2012, and was one of the few shining players in the 2013 season. He was re-signed in 2014, but quickly dropped off the shelf. Moore was a S signed as a FA out of Denver, who did not pursue him. Moore’s was a questionable signing, but he could hit hard. However, he lasted just over half the season as a starter before being benched. One year was more than enough for him.

Rumors swirled around in the past week  as the FA approached; about Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Brock Osweiler as possible signings at QB, Chris Ivory, Lamar Miller, Doug Martin as rumored RBs on the radar, the need to keep Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks, and little to no actual movement. Well, technically the free agency didn’t open up til Wednesday, March 9, at 3 pm Texans time, but the “legal tampering” period, as they call it, was producing some unofficial signings and commitments.

Throughout the week, the Texans secured contracts with a few of their own FAs and negotiated with others. Among the signings were T/G Jeff Adams, T Chris Clark, SS Eddie Pleasant, CB Charles James, P Shane Lechler, and K Nick Novak. Two restricted FAs LB Jon Simon and LB A.J. Bouye were tendered, and restricted FA RB Jonathan Grimes and the Texans could not reach a deal, thus Grimes would go into the free agency as an unrestricted FA.

As Tuesday drew to an end, C Ben Jones, one of the top priority signings, unofficially hammered a deal out with the Tennessee Titans, so he would be lost. As Wednesday rolled around, G Brandon Brooks, another top priority, reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he’d be lost in the FA. These were two starters on the offensive line, and two of the most consistent staples on the Texans offensive line. Both were rather unexpected departures, and fans began to worry.

However, just as soon as brows began to furrow the Texans struck, and they hit hard. QB Brock Osweiler was stolen from the Denver Broncos, and signed to a franchise QB-sized contract – 4 years, $72 million. Soon after, Miami Dolphins RB Lamar Miller followed suit, with a 4 year, $26 million contract. Losing Brooks still hurt a little, until a third big signing, Kansas City Chiefs G Jeff Allen inked a 4 year, $28 million offer. Also signed was Raiders G/C Tony Bergstrom, contract details still unknown.

In a matter of half an hour, the Texans plugged in 2 lost FA holes, and knocked out their two biggest priorities. Texans, for the first time in several years, went big in the FA, and strengthened their offense by unknown depths. There’s no argument that the offense improved on the first day of the 2016 NFL season, but how much is the big question. We’ll go over each signing in the next day or two, and add anything else that comes to fruition, although the monumental day will likely be the biggest show of the FA.

With that, we also said goodbye to some Texans FAs not offered a new contract. Those include QB Brandon Weeden, QB T.J. Yates, RB Chris Polk, RB Jonathan Grimes, WR Nate Washington, DE Jared Crick, and SS Quintin Demps. Also available without tender are restricted FA LB Justin Tuggle, and restricted FA CB Darryl Morris. Exclusive rights FAs are WR Josh Lenz, DE Brandon Dunn, and FS Corey Moore. A few more moves may be made, and a few more may be lost. Time will tell in the coming days.

One thing’s for sure: The Texans 2016 season is off to a great start.

Houston Texans: Offensive Line, part 2

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The Houston Texans offensive line is in need of some upgrades beyond the current roster. The current roster stock isn’t exactly weak, but with a key injury and empty hole in the LT position, the Texans will have to secure a few of their own free agents, go shopping elsewhere, and pick up some younger talent in the draft. There are 2 free agents necessary to procure, and a lot of potential talent in the draft to choose from.

The Texans have 4 offensive linemen as free agents to start 2016. Let’s take a look at each player to see where we can bolster the o-line heading into 2016.

First, and most important, is Brandon Brooks. Brooks has been a productive RG with the Texans, especially when lining up with Derek Newton (who the Texans could stand to lose but likely won’t) at RT. He’s got the experience the Texans need on the 0-line, as well as productivity that will likely send him into the FA to shop around. He’ll require a payday, but the Texans can afford it.

Second, there’s Center Ben Jones. Jones was a pivotal force for the Texans in the past 2 years, keeping the consistency under center with the carousel of QBs that have started behind him. He’s the top rated FA C in the league, and a necessary component to re-sign. Touting his top spot rates his value a little higher than it is, but with the back-up Mancz coming off his rookie season with just 3 games and off injured reserve, Jones will likely be an automatic re-sign.

Jeff Adams started as LG in 2015 with the Texans, plugged in primarily due to an injury plagued o-line, and went on season-ending IR in his first season to start. Adams is at the end of his 2 year contract with the Texans, after spending his pre-Texans NFL tenure bouncing around on practice squads. LG isn’t a position the Texans need to fill, and I don’t see the justification in re-signing him, with the depth already present in the current roster.

Chris Clark is the final Texans FA, and served primarily as the back-up plug in at LT for Duane Brown. Experience at LT alone gives Clark some stock with the Texans, although he may not be a permanent solution. Texans could get another 2 years out of him with a per game bonus to keep his cost down and head into 2016 with an experienced LT that can hold his own on the Texans o-line. He’s also an almost-necessary re-sign, due to Duane Brown’s injury and uncertain future.

The FA market outside of the Texans players simply isn’t impressive enough to comb through. A few players worth plugging in, primarily at LT, wouldn’t be a smart move for the hefty price when the draft is relatively deep with OL talent. Cordy Glenn, tagged today by the Bills, would be the only LT worth going after as a veritable improvement, and since that has now been rendered moot with a franchise tag, let’s take a look at some of the o-line prospects in the draft.

The o-line draft depth is pretty deep in 2016, so I would not be surprised at picking up some talent in some of the later rounds – primarily due to all over the board needs in the draft for teams to bolster their o-line. The Texans – but I wouldn’t be surprised if OT was looked at in round 2-3 (depending on where the eventual QB pick lands). The top picks – 1st round picks, will be off the board by the time #22 rolls around (Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley will be long gone by then) but for a 1st round pick, let’s look at a few.

First up is Michigan State starting LT Jack Conklin. Conklin started his college career basically as a walk-on for the Spartans in 2012, but eventually landed a scholarship and the LT starting position. He’s earned First Team All Big Ten and All American honors during that time. He’s got a wide base, but is sometimes a slow starter. He put in an incredible combine performance, and may still be on the board when the Texans draft at #22. Worthy of some scrutiny, depending on how the FA goes.

Second, we’ll look at Ohio State’s starting LT Taylor Decker. Decker certainly helped Ezekiel Elliot become one of the top RBs in the draft, and moved up to LT after starting RT in 2013. He’s got experience over the Junior declared Conklin, with a similar build and reach. His biggest downside is he’s slow to start at times, and at the swing position, a player has to be on time all the time. This can be worked through, and he’s another prospect that could still be available for the Texans in the later round.

If Texans sink the LT position down in the draft to a later pick, there’s a number of decent players to pick from. I’d like to highlight a potential steal and project out of this. This is a best-case scenario quick Duane Brown return with formidable development from Chris Clark project, but it could pay off heavily.

That is Texas Tech starting LT Le’Raven Clark. Why Clark? Size, speed, and footwork. He has the potential as an immediate starter on the o-line, as a guard, and the hand and arm span to make him a formidable option at LT in a few years, with some work. Clark may be a high 3rd round, or even graduate up to 2nd round stock. However, if he’s still on the board past that, the Texans shouldn’t think twice. This is entirely possible, considering the depth at the position (o-line and LT) in the draft. Keep a look out for him a a possible late round bonus.

Overall, we’ll see a LT pick-up in the FA, as well as a draft pick-up that can work through the line and be considered eventual starter. Depending on how the FA plays out overall, I believe the Texans will keep a strong option open for Conklin (one of the several players the Texans met with at last week’s combine). His performance during the combine may raise his stock just out of reach, or within reach with a trade for the 1st round. I think it would pay off to strongly look at this option in the draft.