This week, I asked the BRB staff which two free agents they would most like to see the Texans land. The “legal tampering” free agency period begins March 11th and runs through March 13th, with the free agency signing frenzy officially starting on March 13th at 3:00 PM Central time.
There are lots of varying opinions below of which two free agents the Texans should prioritize. For a team that won 11 games in 2018, the Texans have a lot of needs. Free agency should serve as a way to ensure the Texans aren’t desperate heading into the 2019 NFL Draft.
Let’s see which two free agents BRB wants the Texans to chase beginning next week!
I’m going with two of the lesser-discussed needs for Texans. Obviously their biggest needs are cornerback and offensive line, but I’m not loving the free agent choices. I am intrigued by Eagles CB Ronald Darby, but coming off a midseason torn ACL and not knowing if he’ll maintain his speed makes him tough to commit to. For the offensive line, I think I would be okay with making a run at Dolphins tackle Ju’Wuan James but I’d MUCH rather address OT in the draft. With all those qualifiers neatly laid out, here we go:
Sheldon Richardson (DT, Vikings)
The Texans NEED an interior pass rush. I can’t explain it any better than Weston will later in this post, so I’ll leave it to him. Richardson seems to have plenty left at a position that isn’t likely to break the bank. If the Texans are going to continue to rush J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney off the edge, they need to make sure they get more than the near-nothing they got out of their interior defensive line pass rush in 2018.
John Brown (WR, Ravens)
I’m a broken record at this point, but I don’t care. The Texans’ offensive success seems to be SO TIED to Will Fuller V’s health, and Will Fuller V’s health is not something to be counted on. Go get John Brown. He’s a burner and adding him to the mix to fill in for another potential extended stretch without Fuller would be excellent insurance. A WR corps in 2019 of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, Keke Coutee, John Brown, and DeAndre Carter would be something to look forward to. Imagine if in addition to that, the tight end position actually was able to — uh, okay. Another topic for another time.
Matt Paradis (C, Broncos)
This play lets the Texans move Nick Martin to guard and give him a fresh start -- perhaps his issues with technique can be corrected if he has less mental load. If not, it greases the wheels for his exit/benching in the final year of his rookie contract. Paradis has the wheels to play center in a zone-blocking scheme and, in my brain, this move upgrades both center and guard. I think tackle is where you go in the first round. Center is still relatively cheap, and I think the Texans can give a Ryan Jensen-plus contract and get a lot better results than Tampa Bay has out of Jensen.
Morris Claiborne (CB, Jets)
Not sexy, I know. But I don’t think the Texans need a superstar at this position -- which is good because none of the corners out there are superstars. I think Claiborne offers a different schematic than the rest of Houston’s corners in that he has the body to play bump-and-run and the speed to stay with a player like T.Y. Hilton. He’ll make mental mistakes from time to time, but I also don’t expect to be dropping $10+ million a season on him. The Texans need some players that offer them more schematic diversity with Johnathan Joseph more of a zone or off-man corner at this point of his career and the rest of the group a bunch of question marks. I think Claiborne is a player that offers the Texans some different options, and maybe even generates a cornerback platoon in an ideal world depending on what they think the offense is going for.
As much as the offensive line needs attention in Houston, I’d look to solve this in the draft and/or in a creative trade with another team for a veteran who’s not in the free agency market. I recommend focusing on the secondary in free agency.
Adrian Amos (S, Bears)
He’s 25 years old and is a ball-hawking man-coverage safety who can instantly upgrade the Texans’ leaky secondary. It might also (finally?) be the answer for division opponent T.Y. Hilton, who calls NRG Stadium his second home. It’s starting to look like Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu will be departing in a week or two, so securing Amos to work with Justin Reid and Andre Hal could be a winning formula.
Steven Nelson (CB, Chiefs)
After watching Johnathan Joseph slowly decline in consistency (injury/health, reaction time, speed) during his later years, I would shy away from older corners, so Claiborne (29) isn’t on my list. Oh, and age discrimination lawsuits don’t happen in the NFL for some reason, so we can say stuff like that openly. Darby is intriguing at 25 years old, but is an unknown prospect with respect to speed, agility, and burst after that ACL injury.
No, I’d put my chips on the table for Nelson (26 years old) as the best CB prospect in this year’s class. He was targeted the most in the league during the regular season (113 times) and responded with outstanding results. He has improved each year over his first four seasons in the NFL, and would be a major upgrade for Houston, especially against deep threats like, ahem, T.Y. Hilton.
I’m going to go with two more realistic options:
Neither are going to break the bank or turn this team into Super Bowl contenders, but they would provide depth at second-tier positions of need. This would allow the Texans to go all in on two offensive lineman and two corners in the first four picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Imagine the immediate impact to those two positions with fresh faces.
Rodger Saffold (LG, Rams): I’m so tired of watching the Houston Texans’ offensive line being unable to block the second level. They haven’t been able to do it since 2015, when the best version of their offensive line finally came together and became the best part of that year’s terrible offense. No one on this line does it particularly well. Lamar Miller doesn’t break a ton of tackles, but it’s hard to when there’s always a linebacker in the hole and the run scheme is never consistent.
If Houston finally sticks to an outside zone scheme, Saffold would be perfect. He’s an incredible outside zone blocker. Reaching the inside shoulder. Smothering linebackers. Cutting off the backside. Steal him from the Rams. Release Senio Kelemete, who’s perfectly mediocre, and the left side run blocking should be sealed up. Wow, Miller may finally have a cutback lane for the first time since he arrived in Houston.
There are two ways to look at this one. The Texans had zero pass rush last season aside from Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt. Being a good run defender doesn’t really matter when you play with Clowney, Watt, D.J. Reader, Benardrick McKinney, and Zach Cunningham. They have that whole run stopping thing taken care of. They need help rushing from the interior, and with Watt and Clowney almost always playing on the edge, a jet edge rusher would be beneficial too. Whitney Mercilus is pointless as a wide nine speed rusher. He’s a hands and rip guy. There’s no place for him on this defense if they use him the same way.
SO, if the Texans keep doing what they did last year, both an interior rusher and wide speed rusher are the most important positions for this team to fill through free agency because the cornerback options are whatever. Next year will probably once again be pass rush or bust. If Houston actually uses Mercilus correctly and gets Watt and Clowney more interior rushes, an interior rusher is all they need.
As an interior rusher, I like Malik Jackson, a really good, not great, potential cap casualty from the Jaguars.. Jackson is a great stunter and a bull rusher who can collapse the pocket. He’s perfect for creating one-on-one matchups along the rest of the line of scrimmage. I also like Sheldon Richardson, another player who can rush the passer from the inside and had similar production to Jackson last year.
Shaq Barrett was great in 2016 and pushed down the roster after Bradley Chubb was selected, or Preston Smith, who has been pretty good, are both speed rushers Houston could target and maybe get on a decent contract. Each one would fit in better in this defense on pass rushing downs than Mercilus did last season.
Like Weston, my first choice is Rodger Saffold. While the position I’d upgrade first is offensive tackle, this is a best player available thing and Saffold can do more for Houston’s offense than any of the tackles about to be free agents. Plugging him into the guard slot should automatically give Deshaun Watson more time in the pocket, provide a little more distance of clear sailing for Lamar Miller, and help Nick Martin elevate his game. Keeping opposing defenders from getting into the backfield faster than the ball is something Houston’s offensive line should strive for this season. Saffold could go a long way to making that happen.
Ju’Wuan James (OT, Dolphins) is my second target. While I’m not as out on Trent Brown as others, James seems like a lower risk option who won’t command quite as much money. Plug James in at right tackle, with Saffold and Martin, and then go after Andre Dillard, Cody Ford or Greg Little in the draft. Since Houston has so much cap space, I might still kick the tires on Brown, D.J. Fluker or Daryl Williams instead of hoping there will still be a starting quality tackle available when Roger Goodell steps up to announce the 23rd pick.
There’s a lot of solid logic behind each of these picks, but even if everything makes perfect sense, free agency is often a crapshoot. Look no further than Houston’s signing of Aaron Colvin last year - a player I was hoping the Texans would target. Colvin seemed to be a good fit for the Texans and he was.................not. (Here’s to hoping a lot of this was due to injury and he finds his way in year two.)
Who are your top two free agent targets for the Texans? Please use the comments to critique our picks and provide your own as we prepare our minds and bodies for free agency!