The playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts confirmed everyone’s fear that the Texans were incapable of beating an elite team. The 2018 Texans were a middle school bully that got away with picking on smaller, feebler kids. Once they got to the NFL Playoffs, it was like they graduated to high school and received the ultimate wake up call. The Texans had the easiest schedule in the league last season and took full advantage of it beating up on the Jets, Bills, Broncos, Redskins, and Dolphins. In their nine-game win streak, the two best offenses they faced were the Colts and Cowboys; although both won a Wild Card game, they are far from the most potent offenses in the league, especially when they faced the Texans.
Before we deconstruct the Texans’ secondary, let’s look at who all is on the Texans’ depth chart before free agency begins. In parenthesis is the number of years left on the player’s contract.
CB Shareece Wright (FA), Aaron Colvin (3), Deante Burton (1), Kayvon Webster (FA)
CB Johnathan Joseph (1), Johnson Bademosi (1), Kayvon Webster (FA)
CB/S Kareem Jackson (FA)
SS Justin Reid (3), Andre Hal (2)
FS Tyrann Mathieu (FA), A.J. Moore (2), A. J. Hendy (2)
Kareem Jackson was the highest paid player on the team last season who’ll be a free agent this offseason. He may demand the largest contract (among Texans’ defensive backs) in the market. At the age of 31, Jackson arguably had his best season last year when playing the nickel-safety position. But due to injuries creating a lack of depth at corner, Jackson was forced to revert back to playing on the outside.
Jackson was named as a reserve for the Pro Bowl and finished the 2018 season with 87 tackles, one sack, and two interceptions. Since he was by far the Texans’ best secondary player last year, it’s hard to imagine the Texans not bringing back Jackson in a similar role. If the Texans cannot lock up the veteran defensive back before free agency begins, he will be tough to keep around; he could easily leave Houston in search of a defense that can best use his talents and/or are willing to pay him the big bucks on what will likely be the last big deal of his NFL career.
Kevin Johnson had his fifth-year option exercised that will keep him in Houston through 2019 if the Texans want that to happen. K-Jo was brought into the organization to be the next franchise cornerback, but he was literally knocked out of the season after taking a nasty hit against the Patriots in Week 1. This was his second concussion in less than a month and forced the Texans to shut down the former first-round pick for the rest of the season.
For Johnson’s own health and the sanity of the Texans, both parties should move on from this relationship. A foot injury in 2016 slowed him down. The MCL sprain he suffered after that may make it difficult for him to drive on the ball. The concussions definitely make it difficult to rely on him suiting up and contributing long term.
Nevertheless, since the Texans already lack depth at the corner position, the most likely scenario is that Johnson enters the 2019 season on the Texans’ roster and in a position to be a starter. Still, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Brian Gaine cuts ties with the injury-prone corner.
Speaking of Gaine, the new general manager performed well in his first year in the position. However, the signing of cornerback Aaron Colvin to a four-year contract was by far the worst misstep of last offseason. Playing the nickel corner position in Jacksonville was a pretty sweet deal for Colvin; A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey handled the opponents’ best receivers, allowing Colvin to frequently play against average talent. Colvin asked for a bigger role when he joined the Texans, but he was clearly not up to the task.
He did suffer an ankle injury midway through the season, but even when healthy the Texans had seen enough from Colvin. In the biggest game of the season, the Wild Card game against the Colts, Colvin was a healthy scratch. It’s not exactly an endorsement of Colvin’s long-term fit in Houston that the coaching staff chose to go with another player like Shareece Wright instead of a high-dollar free agent acquisition.
If you are like me and are ready to get rid of Colvin, you’re in luck. Just not yet. Colvin’s contract has an out in 2020 that the Texans should pursue if Colvin doesn’t improve in 2019. After next season, the Texans could liberate themselves of Colvin with just a $2 million dead cap hit.
Next on the list are Shareece Wright and Kayvon Webster. Wright was signed in the wake of the Kevin Johnson concussion injury and played significant snaps this season. If you are a fan of the Texans and want to blame someone for the long passes the Texans gave up this season, look no further than Wright. At times, he was the best man-coverage corner the Texans had on their roster. Other times, he looked as though he was playing with lead cleats, especially if a receiver put any sort of double-move on him. Though he provided depth, Wright erred on too many plays to be kept as a backup corner.
Webster was also brought in after Kevin Johnson’s injury and was working to recover from an Achilles injury that ended his 2017 season when the Texans signed him. Well, Webster’s 2018 season only lasted two snaps as he tore his quad against the Cowboys and was placed on Injured Reserve again. Two serious injuries in consecutive seasons give the Texans no reason to keep Webster on as a backup corner.
Free agent Tyrann Mathieu, who many fell in love with the second he announced he would be joining the Texans, had an up-and-down season (along with the rest of the secondary). Quickness and size appear to be too much for him at times, but he would absolutely set opposing players ablaze with devastating hits. Mathieu can play all over the field and fits into Romeo Crennel’s defensive system. Will Mathieu return to the Texans next season? He turns 27 in May, so the Honey Badger definitely has some years left in the league. In terms of continuity and leadership, the Texans should keep Mathieu and pay him well; other teams will be eager to bring him into the fold if he doesn’t stay in Houston.
The last player to cover is 34 year old corner Johnathan Joseph. He has one year left on his contract, but does he have one more year left in the tank? T.Y. Hilton and other speedy receivers had field days against him. The off-coverage he must play to compensate for his lack of speed down the field allows for receivers to have a free release. Most likely, Joseph will be back for another season since the team is so thin at the corner position.
The only two arguments for not flushing the toilet on the Texans’ entire secondary are depth and salary cap hits. The Texans do have a significant depth problem at the position that may take multiple offseasons to solve. Fortunately, they also have significant salary cap room to use, though much of that may go to keeping Jadeveon Clowney and re-signing Kareem Jackson and/or Tyrann Mathieu. Wiping the plate clean of this mediocre secondary sounds nice, but finding immediate and effective alternatives without losing excessive salary cap room will be a tall task for Brian Gaine this offseason.