The coaching staff is beginning to take shape. The Super Bowl has been played. Free agency is the next spot on the calendar. Officially, it begins on March 15, but you have to imagine that there are conversations behind the scenes on some of these key players. It also means that teams will be cutting guys left and right in advance of the new NFL year.
The Houston Texans are currently $37 million under the cap, but that number will almost certainly grow once they release some of their veterans and restructure others. It is possible that their effective spending limit could practically double before that magic March 15 date. Nick Caserio can’t afford to plug every hole on the roster, but he certainly can put a dent in it in preparation for the draft.
Safety is one of the priorities that a number of experts have pegged. Jonathan Owens was the 86th ranked safety out of 88 qualifiers. While Jalen Pitre did some good things down the stretch, he ranked 76th overall according to PFF. Most of that was due to a 38.5 PFF and 45.9 PFF run grades for Pitre and Owens respectfully. The difference between the two is that Pitre graded out well in coverage and as a pass rusher. So, if you could find a safety that can play the run well then that would allow Pitre to excel at what he does best.
Possible Free Agents
Projected Contract: 5 years, $75 million
That’s an awful amount of money to give to a safety. Of course, run defense is the strongest part of his game (88.3 PFF) and he added four interceptions. If DeMeco and Burke can creatively use both safeties, this could become a great marriage of combined strengths and minimized weaknesses. The Texans have never been willing to pay safeties this much, but it’s a new day, so who knows which direction they go.
Projected Contract: 2 years, $17 million
This feels a little bit more like their speed in terms of spending. Like Bates, the run defense is the best part of his game, but at 70.0 it is solid starter quality and not elite. Like Bates, he had four interceptions this past season, so maybe he could be used to be a reasonably priced improvement over Owens. The difference between the two salaries is probably enough to sign another significant player, so it is not nothing.
Projected Contract: 3 years, $24.5 million
If the numbers are correct then he is essentially going for the same rate as Pryor. He put up better counting numbers (five tackles for loss, six interceptions) but the PFF scores indicate he might not be a fit based on a low grade on run defense (54.7 PFF). This could be a case of overpaying someone that put up gaudy numbers in a very good defense. It happens every year.
Vonn Bell— Cincinnati Bengals (PFF #45, NFL.com #43)
Projected Contract: 3 years, $22 million
Bell’s strength is that he has no glaring weaknesses. In the PFF world, a 70 grade is usually indicative of a legit starter. A grade of 60 or higher means you probably would be a very serviceable rotation player. Individual skill grades usually work the same way. Bell did not score 70 on any individual skill, but all of the skills came in at 66.1 or higher. So, he can be a three down safety and do almost everything you ask him to do at least reasonably well. As per usual, it always comes down to price and exactly what DeMeco thinks of him.
Projected Contract: 2 years, $13.5 million
This one cuts both ways. DeMeco obviously knows him and what he is capable of. Ward will also know the defense, so that could give him a leg up. He also had a spectacular run defense grade at 91.4 PFF. He was also strong in coverage, so he could be a three down safety. Is DeMeco going to like all of his former guys or does he see the holes and look to upgrade?
The Final Verdict
Ward is probably the easy and obvious answer at this point and if he were willing to come at that price then the Texans will have upgraded their safety room. Couple Pitre and Ward together and the Texans could have one of the strongest secondaries in the NFL. They also could pay a little more for some bigger names as well. Safety is definitely a position to watch.