Thanks to the Brock Osweiler trade and a few other cuts, the Texans are sitting on a pile of gold they have yet to turn into anything. As of right now, Houston has $28,780,555 in cap space according to Over The Cap. Next year, they are on track to have $56 million (before Jadeveon Clowney or DeAndre Hopkins sign likely extensions). Despite this, the team has stayed quiet when it comes to unrestricted free agents. So far they have only signed the awful Breno Giacomini to offer “depth” and “competition.” With all this money available, the Texans need to toss stones at some windows. They need to take a chance on veteran free agents they could snag on one to two year deals to improve the roster and fill out the little holes in the fabric. Of the available free agents, these are the ones I like the most for Houston to sign.
Defensive Back: Darrelle Revis
Houston may or may not need an additional defensive back. It all kind of depends. It depends on if they move Kareem Jackson to strong safety, how much they love Robert Nelson at the slot or fourth corner spot, whether they believe in Corey Moore taking over for Quintin Demps, and the bones in Kevin Johnson’s foot. These are all questions that only the team knows the answer to. Regardless, you can never have enough defensive backs or pass rushers.
I want to see Revis play in Houston because I’m a brat. Houston should have at least franchise tagged A.J. Bouye—even before they had the cap space from the Osweiler trade. They should have resigned Glover Quin years ago, too. It would be beautiful if IowaHawkeye’s prophecy comes true and Houston loses one great defensive back and signs another former great player only for it to be a complete disaster. Time is a circle. It could be spinning back to 2013 again.
When it comes to Revis the player, instead of Revis the narrative, he still is kind of interesting. He went from being one of the best cornerbacks in the league in 2015 to one of the worst. Among corners that were targeted at least 50 times, Revis was 163rd in success rate (out of 166), 165th in yards allowed per pass, and 158th in yards after the catch allowed. All of this is terrible, and even more so when you consider the fact Revis is 31 years old; he may be tumbling down the hill with a pail of water. But at the same time, there’s only a year’s difference between when he was last great, and there’s an argument to be made some of his issues last year were the scheme giving him more responsibility, forcing him to cover receivers better than he should have at his age.
Additionally, a move to safety for Revis is possible. Throughout his career, he was known for being intelligent and great at recognizing routes. Sitting in the middle of the field, reading the offense, and pouncing on routes seems like something he could still do. Even with a deterioration in speed, Revis could still handle tight ends in man coverage.
My biggest concern is Revis didn’t tackle well last year. As a last line of defense, teams need at least one safety they can count on to take the proper angles to snuff out breakaway runs. Houston doesn’t have a strong safety, and Revis seems more like a free safety, which would push Andre Hal out when the Texans shouldn’t. I would be for signing Revis if his tackling problems were a commitment issue instead of a lack of skills and if he could play strong safety. There’s a world out there with Revis playing strong safety and Houston keeping Jackson and Hal where they are. How things go from there depends on the universe’s beauty.
Pass Rushers: Mario Williams, Elvis Dumervil, Dwight Freeney
Houston’s pass rush suffered the most without J.J. Watt last year. Their sack total dropped by 14 from 45 to 31, and their adjusted sack rate and pressure rate ranks dropped from 6th to 18th and from 8th to 18th. This is dramatic compared to the run game, where their run defense DVOA dropped from -13.5% (13th) to -8.6% (17th). It’s impossible to tell how Watt will recover from his back injury. He may end up missing more time this year. He may be beautiful and perfect again. Or he may never be the same. Who knows? If Watt does end up missing time, the pass defense will be an even greater issue because this year’s secondary will not be as good as last year’s without Bouye knocking passes down.
Even if Watt goes back to being a denizen of the backfield, you can always use extra pass rushers. I love it when older edge rushers move to the bullpen and get around 15 snaps a game in pass rushing situations. Dwight Freeney has managed to stay around the NFL at age 97 because of spins and fake spins.
Freeney accrued 45.5 pressures and 11 sacks on just 670 snaps the last two seasons. Even at his age, he is still looking to play in this role. Based on what he did last year, he could probably do it again this season. On a one year deal, it would be fun to watch this heathen bring terror and misery to someone else.
The other two veteran rushers I like are Elvis Dumervil and Mario Williams. Both are over 30. They don’t need to play every down like they have in the past, and each would be worth a try in this Freeneyish role. Dumervil tore 60% of ACL at the end of 2015 and gutted it out. He spent last season playing, recovering, and missing games at times. Despite this, Dumervil had 28.5 pressures in 2015 and 21.5 while recovering last season. These numbers came on every down. If he’s fully healthy, Dumervil would be great at using his fresh lungs to beat tackles to the point of attack and getting around them with his beautiful rip move.
Everyone in this esoteric part of the internet knows Mario Williams. He was recently cut by Miami. He dealt with ankle issues and was called out by Vance Joseph for not playing hard throughout the season. He was cut in the offseason’s infancy, a done deal since he was a healthy scratch in Miami’s playoff game. His 2015 in Buffalo was just as bad. In Rex Ryan’s stupid 3-4 scheme that ruined Buffalo’s defense, he moved Williams to outside linebacker and forced him to do things like drop back and rush standing up. Williams was miserable in that role, accumulating only 14.5 pressures and five sacks over 885 snaps. These last two years have been the most miserable of Super Mario’s career. Yet despite this, there are reasons to believe he can still play. Williams remains an athletic freak, a great pass rusher who can use every move except for the spin. Additionally, if an injury were to occur, Mario could fill in as a starter because he was such a great run defender. Williams could add depth and performance to the Texans’ rotation at defensive line.
Of the three, I like Dumervil the most. Williams’ entire career has been motivated by monetary purposes. There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s made a lot of it. But the idea here is to find someone who will play on a short and cheap deal. Williams has had two gross seasons and probably wants more than he is worth. Freeney is old. No one knows if he is going to hold up again. At 33, Dumervil has been the most productive of the bunch. He layed pretty well considering his circumstances last season, and he should be able to play out a two year deal.
Nose Tackle: Jonathan Babineaux
Babineaux has spent his entire career in Atlanta, and throughout it he was underappreciated. He has been one of the better run defenders in the league and even had some flashes into the sun when it comes to pass rushing. After last season, Atlanta decided not to bring him back, choosing instead to sign the overrated Dontari Poe. The 35 year old eleven year veteran is looking to play somewhere else. Something, something, 28-3.
Whoever signs Babineaux is signing him only to be a spot run defender. At his age, he’s no longer a flash of pass rushing talent. He’s a strong player with great leverage who can hold the point of attack. With D.J. Reader expected to start at nose tackle and Vince Wilfork’s retirement unknown (which doesn’t matter very much anyways), Houston needs a backup nose tackle. Babineaux can do exactly this. He can give Reader a break on run downs while adding some veteran presence and #leadership to help aid in Reader’s development.
Tight End: Gary Barnidge
The Texans have three tight ends on their roster with playing experience: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, and Stephen Anderson. The issue is none of them have done much of anything. Fiedorowicz has improved his blocking enough to stay on the field, but he still has drop issues and was extremely inefficient last year (yes, I know who the quarterback was). Ryan Griffin, of the same mold of Garrett Graham, is one of the worst tight ends in the NFL. He’s an atrocious blocker who doesn’t create separation on his routes. The only thing Griffin is good at is being tackled immediately after catching four yard passes to the flat on 2nd and 8. Last season Griffin had only 442 yards on 74 targets (5.97 Y/A), posting a DVOA of-23.1% and a DYAR of -79. Anderson is the type of player fans get excited about in August and completely forget about in September.
In 2015, Barnidge went from never doing much of anything at all to doing a lot. That year in Cleveland, he caught 79 of his 125 targets and turned them into 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was efficient as well, with a DVOA of 19.7%. Last season Barnridge wasn’t as good, but he was still a solid player. He caught 55 of his 82 targets for 612 yards and two touchdowns while remaining efficient and productive. He was released at the conclusion of the 2017 NFL Draft after Cleveland traded up to take Miami tight end David Njoku in the second round. With Njoku and other players 24 years and younger, Cleveland removed the 31 year old Barnidge from the roster.
Griffin shouldn’t have been re-signed. Even though he was, it would be better if Griffin isn’t on the field. Although the Texans have three tight ends on the roster now, Barnidge is the type of player they should sign. They focus on the position because of a passing scheme that likes to throw to the short middle part of the field and their love of running the ball out of 1x1x3 and 2x1x2 personnel. Houston has done all this while never being able to produce a productive tight end or get much out of the position overall.
Kick Returner: ???
Houston was last in special teams DVOA last year. So of course they resigned both of their kickers who have the largest impact in that aspect of the game. Despite filling the positions by default, the Texans still have a hole at kick returner. They were fine at punt returns with Will Fuller V using his speed and acceleration to get moving quickly and the occasional Tyler Ervin spurt, but they were a disaster at running back kicks. They lost -8.3 expected points on kick returns last season thanks to Ervin playing like Marsha Brady and not getting much from Akeem Hunt or Braxton Miller.
I went through the list of available free agents. There isn’t really anyone that stands out as a possible kick returner. The Texans should have been all in on Cordarelle Patterson, but he signed with Oakland long ago. Whoever, whenever, wherever, the Texans’ front office should do their job and see if they can find someone they can bring in to return kicks since the internal options have been a miss year after year.