Straight after they were beaten in the AFC championship game I looked at the needs of the Jacksonville Jaguars going into this offseason and then I briefly touched on the Indianapolis Colts needs when Josh McDaniels abandoned the ship. Now it is the turn of the Houston Texans who have probably one of the most interesting offseasons ahead of them for multiple reasons but the overriding question for the season will revolve around the health of their key players and their relative lack of draft picks.
Entering this offseason the team has $63 million in cap space available and if they really wanted to they could actually clear more space if they were to cut Jadeveon Clowney, giving them nearly another $14million on top of that. I think it is fairly safe to say they don’t need to do that though because Clowney doesn’t count against the cap in 2019 and they have enough space right now so for the sake of this article let’s assume they have $63 million with the potential to clear another $5-7 million if they cut lower end guys from the roster.
When you look at this team the roster looks solid but there are some depth issues at quarterback, running back and tight end. Defensively they are fairly solid in the front seven but the issues come more on the back end as they were never really able to replace AJ Bouye last season. That leaves the most imemdiate needs on this roster right now as offensive line, cornerback and safety. The good thing for the Texans is that they have a QB in Deshaun Watson who, if healthy, can make them a contender for a few years and therefore they don’t have to go all in this year. So what can we expect from this team this offseason?
Even though free agency will come first I will start with the draft where the Texans have no 1st or 2nd round pick due to the trades for Deshaun Watson and to clear Brock Osweiler from their books. That means right now they have two 3rd round picks and a single pick in the 4th, 6th and 7th which leave their options limited. At this point there are two ways I can see them going; either go all in on a big 1st or 2nd round prospect, which will deplete them of most of their options this year and some next year, or sit back and let this year’s draft come to them and pick off the value at the spots they are in. The second option would be my preference as they can always see if someone they likes starts to fall and then step up and grab him or they can look at their roster for the next three years and assess what pieces they can draft later and develop to help them over the next couple of years.
However, what they do in the draft will likely depend on what they do in free agency and what they do in free agency this year may very well depend on one crucial point; the health of Watson. If they think Watson is going to be healthy to start the year then absolutely they should get some big free agents on board who can help them this year. However, if they aren’t certain then I think they should try and add some pieces that can help them not only this year but going forward in 2019 and 2020. The one thing they must not do is rush Watson back and risk him getting another injury that can set them back long term.
So let’s now end on free agency which as I said could shape their draft strategy; fill some big holes in free agency and then in the draft they can look more at developing players rather than looking for immediate impact. Free agency can be broken down into the positions of need:
Offensive line: If Watson is going to be healthy this is the biggest need. They have to protect him and if they can I think they can go toe to toe with most teams in an offensive battle negating the need for a majorly upgraded defence. Top options at the tackle position include Ju’Wuan James, Nate Solder, Cameron Flemming and Chris Hubbard. At guard they will have the choice of names like Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh and Jack Mewhort. Finally at centre the headline names are John Sullivan, Weston Richburg and Travis Swanson. The Texans could legitimately sign a whole new offensive line this offseason but the priority for me would be a couple of mid-20s guys who can shape that line for the next five years in order to form a group with Watson. Those kind of guys don’t come cheap so they may have to prioritise a couple of positions and then kind of make do with what they already have or cheaper, short term options at the other position. I expect the Texans to make at least one and probably two big free agency moves for offensive linemen.
Secondary: Malcolm Butler, E.J. Gaines and Rashaan Melvin are the headliners at corner but there are quite a few decent corner options this year and having hit a gem in Bouye I think the Texans will fancy their chances at going cheaper and younger and looking to develop a guy. Again safety has the headline options of Morgan Burnett and Lamarcus Joyner but there are some cheaper options which would allow the Texans to prioritise their offensive line and protecting their main franchise asset. These positions are going to be decided in free agency simply on whom they fall in love with and who they think can fit into their scheme best.
General depth: Some running back, wide receiver and tight end depth are their final needs in free agency. They have number 1s at all three positions and Will Fuller is a good WR2 but they could do with a back-up to Miller and Fiedorowicz as well as a consistent third option at receiver.
All in all the Texans are in a really interesting position this offseason as they could go all in and sign some big name free agents who will help them push the Jaguars for the AFC South this year or they could bide their time and let Watson have another year in the offence before going big in 2019. Either way watching their offseason move sis going to be fascinating and whatever they do now they will have some fun players to watch next season in Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and JJ Watt.