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2016 Houston Texans Free Agency Review: An Analysis Of What Has Been Done So Far And What Still Needs To Be Done

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The big wave of free agency has been ridden. Matt Weston breaks down the moves the Texans made last week at Battle Red Blog.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Houston Texans spent the first two and a half days of free agency watching through the window while the rest of the NFL put their cap space to use. Crumbs fell from the mouths of sources and players were linked to new teams, but nothing happened. Instead, the first wave of free agents left, and the only thing the Texans had was about $40 million in cap space thanks to the cuts of Rahim Moore, Garrett Graham, and Arian Foster. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a lot of very important things happened very quickly.

Brock Osweiler:

There were a myriad of rumors involving the high-speed chase to get Osweiler to Houston. He hadn't spoken to the Broncos in ten days. He wanted a shorter deal so he could hit free agency quicker. The three-year, $45 million deal Denver offered wasn't enough. His feelings were hurt that he was benched for Peyton Manning in Week 17. These were all examples of gossip from anonymous sources. Now, we don't know what is true in the NFL's version of telephone. But what is true is that Houston offered a lot more money, and Osweiler felt the Texans were a quarterback away from being something more than an AFC afterthought.

Houston gave him a four-year, $72 million deal that includes a $12 million signing bonus and $37 million guaranteed after just seven professional starts. I should've been a quarterback, you should've been a quarterback, we all should've been quarterbacks.

Osweiler

The contract is a two year commitment with the ability for Houston to move on if things don't work. This season he has a cap hit of $12 million and next year it bumps up to $19 million. After that, the Texans could save $15 million in 2018 or $17 million in 2019 by cutting him.

The Texans are paying all that money to a player whose 2015 performance was similar to Brian Hoyer and Teddy Bridgewater.

Player DYAR DVOA Cmp% AY/A TD INT Sk%
Brian Hoyer 205 (20) -2.9% (20) 61% 7.2 (T-16) 19 5 6.3% (22)
Teddy Bridgewater 185 (21) -5.1% (22) 65.3% 6.9 (T-24) 14 9 9% (34)
Brock Osweiler 153 (22) -3.2% (21) 61.8% 6.9 (T-24) 10 6 7.7% (27)

A sample size of seven games is minuscule.  There's not much gleam from it. The film is a better indicator of his performance. This piece from Cian Fahey at Football Outsiders will make you want to put a camphor-soaked rag on your forehead and lay in bed, watching the ceiling fan click around in circles. In that article, Fahey points out the terrible mistakes that Osweiler makes and that his interception rate should be much higher.

I thought Osweiler was fine in Denver. He took advantage of the easy throws Gary Kubiak creates in his offense, did enough with the greatest defense in the world, and made the occasional OMG throw to win games. The difference is that fine and average won't slide anymore. Osweiler is making $18 million a year; that's money reserved for good quarterbacks. He's getting paid like Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.  For the Texans to make the leap, Osweiler will need to play like he's paid.

Even then, any analysis made operates in the murky waters of the unknown. Osweiler is coming off what was really his rookie season. He's going to be 26 this year and is entering the prime of his career. He should improve, and Bill O'Brien has been able to soak every drop of limited talent from the quarterbacks he's had in his system. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzaptrick both had the best years of their careers up to that point playing with O'Brien. And did you know the Houston Texans won nine games with four different quarterbacks last season?

The thing is the Texans had to make a move at quarterback. The past two seasons, they coupled their top ten defense with the 18th and 22nd ranked passing offense according to DVOA. They didn't take one when they had the draft capital in 2014. Aside from mysterious trade rumors, there wasn't anything available last season. After Brian Hoyer's AFC Wild Card sharting, the franchise finally got woke (is that how the kids say it?), stopped screwing around and decided to actually invest in the most important position in football.

If Houston didn't sign Osweiler, they would have gone through the draft to find someone. They have pick #22 in this year's draft.  For them to get their guy, if they actually had one, they probably would have needed to trade up and give up first round picks to select either Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, or Paxton Lynch.  Or they could reach for one of the quarterbacks in the tier below those three players. Osweiler may be an enormous risk, but he was the best option available for this team this offseason.

It's not all snuggle puppies and wildflowers, though. What's concerning is that this team never had an all-encompassing plan. They just made up stuff as they went along, like a television show that lives season to season and never comes to a satisfying conclusion. Quarterback has been an issue for three straight offseasons. This was just the year they did something about it. They didn't get their guy or set up the chess board in their favor. All they did was throw a bunch of money at something and actually make a decision.

Time will tell, but to me, putting this much money and risk into Osweiler isn't, and won't, be the best decision they could have made. Paying this much for someone and hope he transforms from fine to really good seems more like desperation than anything. As a result of all the finicky middling around, the Texans invested the next two seasons and tied their jobs into the unknown.

That being said, Houston should definitely take a quarterback no later than the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. They are going to be manacled to Osweiler for two years. That is two years the Texans have to develop a young quarterback with upside and potential. This way, they won't be naked if Osweiler is nothing more than a giraffe who makes poor decisions. If they don't need this mysterious young quarterback after two years, they can always flip him to a franchise that's fiending for a quarterback of their own. Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg, and Dak Prescott are all potential options with intrigue and could join Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler this swampy summer.

Lamar Miller:

There's nothing sillier than investing in the running back position. They have a short lifespan. They are prone to injury. You can find talent anywhere: late in the draft, through undrafted free agents, or in the bargain bin of the Wal-Mart. It's a position you can just copy and paste.

That being said, if you are going to invest in a free agent running back, Lamar Miller is what you want. His time in Miami is best described as underused. He has just 638 career carries.  The most he’s had in a single season is 216. This despite of averaging 4.5 yards a carry and finishing fourth in DVOA and DYAR in 2014, the season where he had those 216 carries. He's also 25 and is entering the prime of his career. If you are going to spend on the running back position in free agency, this is the perfect situation to do so.

He also automatically adds the major thing this offense was missing other than quarterback--speed. He ran his 40 yard dash out of college in 4.4 seconds. He can catch passes out of the backfield and can do things in the screen game, something that has been nonexistent the last two seasons. Miller is quick, has great vision, and makes guys miss. He can actually break a tackle.

I don't think Alfred Blue has ever broken a tackle. I don't think Alfred Blue could even break a porcelain plate. Additionally, the idea that Miller can't sustain an offense is balderdash. The Dolphins are just a mess and never fully utilized him. His time in Houston should be full of ankle breaking cut backs and explosive plays...as long as he stays healthy.

The Offensive Line:

It's a shame that free agency came in and dismantled a really fun offensive line. This unit struggled in the beginning of the year with both Brandon Brooks and Duane Brown missing time, and with Xavier Su'a-Filo sitting on the bench for some unknown reason. Once they started their August offensive line in November, they morphed into one of the better units in the league.

First the Titans took away Ben Jones with a four-year deal that pays an average of $4.375 million a year. Jones is consistently average. He played every offensive snap last season, but he missed blocks because of a lack of agility at the second level and a lack of strength on the first level. He made a career out of doing just enough. I still find it strange that Tennessee signed Jones, because they have a younger, better, and cheaper player on their roster named Brian Schwenke. Houston counteracted this move by signing former Raider Tony Bergstrom. I know nothing about him other than he played just 250 offensive snaps in 2015. Hopefully, the Texans invest more into this position in the draft to continue to solidify this question mark.

Kelechi Osemele set the offensive line market when the Oakland Raiders signed him to a six-year, $58.5 million deal. This set the stage for Brandon Brooks, the next best thing, to make a million or two more than first thought. As a result, he left for Philadelphia on a five-year, $40 million deal. He's going to be great there and it's a perfect fit for both parties. He will be sandwhiched between Pro-Bowl to All-Pro players in Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Lane Johnson. The Eagles also have had horrendous guard play since Chip Kelly ran Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans out of town.

Houston quickly responded by signing Jeff Allen. Allen is a big, nasty man. On every play, he tries to squish defenders into the dirt like someone who doesn't know how to cook a hamburger. He moves the first level really well. His issues come from his lack of foot quickness and getting to the second level. Like the line he played on last season, Allen's physicality and strength made up for his shortcomings. He is a great quick replacement, but the Texans' line will be worse with Allen instead of Brooks.  If the line falters next season, questions will be asked about why Houston didn't just offer the extra year and million dollars to keep BREWTON intact. Aw, man, now I'm sad all over again.

R.I.P BREWTON.

Quick Hits:

-Shane Lechler & Nick Novak: Whenever you have the worst special teams unit in the NFL, you have to bring back both your kickers. The Texans signed Lechler to an one-year, $1.8 million contract and Novak to an one-year, $965,000 contract. Lechler is cool and all, but he's now a terrible punter. Houston had the worst special teams last year mainly because of its punting unit. On punts, the Texans gave up 15.1 points. Opponents' average drive following a punt started at their own 29, which was 31st in the NFL. Lechler was an enormous part of that.

Novak was perfect on field goals less than fifty yards. After fifty yards, he was 2-5. His lack of leg strength is an issue; Houston only created touchbacks on 42.8% of their kickoffs. This was good for 29th in the league. Also, Novak never was forced to make any clutch kicks last season. No one knows how he will perform in Houston once he starts sweating.

Now, the coverage teams aren't great, but neither are these kickers. They are part of the problem. It's strange for a team to be this bad on special teams and assume that better coaching will fix it instead of talent. I'm sure the Texans could have found two kickers playing stay-at-home dad or guys who just graduated college who've yet to have the world crush them come in and kick better than the two players Houston just re-signed.

-Eddie Pleasant: The second most famous person from Compton will get to keep playing football despite not being very good at it. In 2015, Pleasant played more often than he has in previous seasons as the team's nickel linebacker. The Texans would sub out Benardrick McKinney for Pleasant to bring a quicker player in to help in coverage. What happened was that his below average ability in coverage couldn't make up for the decimation that occurred in the run game. In the first half of the season, the Texans were stomped out of this package when Pleasant was in.

A lot of teams use this same nickel defense strategy now that offenses can attack the middle of the field without worrying their receiver is going to get splattered. But the teams that use it have a capable third safety. This isn't something difficult to find for cheap. Instead, the Texans went with the known in Pleasant.

-Charles James: James was a beautiful story on HBO last summer and was a productive slot corner in the fall when Kareem Jackson went down. When Jackson came back, James' playing time was limited and was saved for dime packages, where he again played well. Houston brought him back on a one-year, $600,000 deal, I'm just happy to be here contract. He provides depth, is great on special teams, and it's nice to have him back.

What's Left:

The Texans still need a wide receiver, tight end, safety and defensive end. This is what to be watching for as life progresses this spring. They will get something in trade for Brian Hoyer, which is unbelievable, because not knowing what you have in a quarterback is very scary and the risk-averse groupthink of the NFL salivates over proven below-average commodities that are known quantities. Whenever they trade Hoyer, the Texans will create an additional $5 million in cap space. With this extra money, they can bring in another starter or two.

The remaining wide receivers are a bunch of talented yet unproductive players and older guys getting phased out of the league. Hopefully Jaelen Strong will put down the marijuana needle, finally get "it," and take over the second wide receiver position.

At tight end, the Texans just need a known quantity. Someone, anyone, who can catch a football and attack the seams will let Houston throw to somewhere other than the sideline DeAndre Hopkins is lined up at. There are veterans available; Owen Daniels, Vernon Davis, and Zach Miller are all possible options.

Quintin Demps hasn't been resigned yet, and he shouldn't be. He's an okay tackler and is alright in the box, but he's a liability in the deep part of the field. He doesn't have the speed to make a play on the ball. Teams who are smart and can throw the deep ball will do what the Buffalo Bills did to Houston.  They'll run route combinations that isolate Demps deep.

A guy I like who could be had for a reasonable amount is Rashad Johnson. He's not the best tackler, but he makes plays on the ball. He picked off five passes and deflected seven last season. Johnson is versatile and did a variety of different things on Arizona's wild and crazy six defensive back defense. At the age of 30, he's just looking for a chance to start, which means he doesn't have to be paid much.

Like Demps, the Texans still haven't re-signed Jared Crick. Last year, Crick was worthless as a pass rusher.  The only thing he was above-average at was taking on double teams. It's strange to see him drop off as far as he did after his best season in 2014. The defensive line options in free agency aren't enticing. This could be yet another year where the Texans use a first round pick on the defensive side of the ball.

Conclusion:

Wednesday was exhausting. I got up to take a piss and the Texans were an entirely different team. They invested in a quarterback, they signed a running back who can do something more than not fumble, and they quickly replaced one of the better guards in the league all in the span of an hour. After two years of middling around and wasting the aging talent of past playoff teams, the Texans finally made decisions that could morph this team into something more than forgettable.