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PFF’s top free agents: six stars for the Houston Texans edition

No time like the present to dream of roster upgrades.

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Super Bowl, featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers is still two weeks away, the Houston Texans have already started working on the 2024 season.

Along with that, all of us who write about football and football related things, have also looked to the horizon; unless the Chiefs or 9ers are central to the writing gig.

PFF.com recently released their Top 150 players set to enter free agency list. And, there are certainly some names that would look great emblazoned on the backplate of a Texans jersey in the upcoming season.

Where does Texans’ general manager Nick Caserio need to shore up the roster? Well, there are lost of opinions and POVs on that. However, for the sake of this post, we’ll focus more on the big splash sorts of players, not the depth or practice squad sorts.

2024 Houston Texans Free Agent Target List

PFF.com

3. EDGE JOSH ALLEN, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Allen backed up a strong 2022 with an extraordinary 2023 season, racking up career highs in quarterback pressures (90) and sacks (19), coupled with a 20.5% pass-rush win rate that was among the league’s best.

Top free agent comparison: Melvin Ingram, 2017

PROJECTED CONTRACT

1 yrs — $22.79m avg/yr

$22.79m guaranteed, $22.79m total

Bringing in one more EDGE, particularly one who plays at such a high level - while weakening a division rival - certainly sounds appealing, even if the nearly $23 mil cap number does not.

Speaking of spending $23 mil:

6. DI JUSTIN MADUBUIKE, BALTIMORE RAVENS

Madubuike has a strong case for being the player to earn himself the most money in 2023. With at least half a sack in 13 of 17 games this season, Madubuike more than doubled his prior season high. He also exactly doubled his total pressure output. His effort and intensity on backside pursuit plays have always been there, and now an improved arsenal of moves with a more explosive first step has Madubuike set to cash in big time.

Top free agent comparison: Javon Hargrave, 2020

PROJECTED CONTRACT

4 yrs — $23m avg/yr

$60.25m guaranteed, $92m total

Now to the other side of the line:

14. T TYRON SMITH, DALLAS COWBOYS

When Tyron Smith is healthy, he is an impenetrable brick wall as a blindside protector, no matter the matchup. Smith playing through nearly the entirety of his eight-year extension signed in 2014 is something we will probably never see again, and he provided enormous surplus value to Dallas despite the time he missed here and there.

After agreeing to a revised one-year deal worth $6 million for 2023, Smith outplayed that deal once again. Perhaps he is more focused on remaining a career Cowboy and chasing a Lombardi Trophy, a la Andrew Whitworth with the Los Angeles Rams, but he deserves a solid payday if he wants to pursue one.

Top free agent comparison: Terron Armstead, 2022

PROJECTED CONTRACT

1 yrs — $10m avg/yr

$10m guaranteed, $10m total

With the injury concerns the Texans offensive line endured in 2023, adding some quality depth to the line for 2024 is a must. Would Smith want to leave Jerryville and head to H-Town? Why wouldn’t he? Why play for an Oklahoma billionaire when you can join #TeamMeco?

25. T MIKE ONWENU, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Onwenu had been shuffled around endlessly throughout his rookie contract but returned to right tackle in Week 7 of 2023, the position he seems most comfortable playing as a solid pass protector and a strong gap scheme blocker with good footwork to combo block at the line and get to the second level fairly well.

Onwenu is not the quickest player off the line, given his massive frame, but has the strength to wall off backside pursuit defenders in the run game with a solid base and heavy hands when called upon.

PROJECTED CONTRACT

4 yrs — $14.5m avg/yr

$33.25m guaranteed, $58m total

For the same reasons Smith might fit well into Bobby Slowik’s offense, Onwenu would provide a great fill-in on the right side if Tytus Howard needs to shift over or gets bit by the injury bug. Not only would Onwenu give quarterback C.J. Stroud solid right side protection, he would also give the running game a bulldozer and brick wall.

27. G ROBERT HUNT, MIAMI DOLPHINS

It came as a bit of a surprise that Hunt was not the young Dolphins offensive lineman agreeing to terms on an extension before the season concluded, but it could also be a signal that he knows he can command a strong contract on the open market with a large sample size of good play.

At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, Hunt got his NFL start at tackle, lining up on either side in his rookie season and holding up admirably. He found a home for the past three seasons at right guard and was a great fit in the team’s zone rushing attack under head coach Mike McDaniel.

PROJECTED CONTRACT

4 yrs — $17.5m avg/yr

$42m guaranteed, $70m total

Another o-line Swiss Army knife sort of player, Hunt is plug and play at either tackle spot and right guard. Moving George Fant aside for Hunt would mean an immediate upgrade at a position of need, also.

From the “If you can’t beat ‘em...” file:

31. RB DERRICK HENRY, TENNESSEE TITANS

There is only one “Tractorcito,” with Henry’s usage as a screen receiver in recent seasons adding another element to his game, causing comparisons to players like Steven Jackson and Chris Ivory to fall a bit short. Henry has not yet hit the proverbial wall, whether that is tied to a running back’s age or total carries. His 3.32 yards after contact per attempt in 2023 was still a top-tier mark.

Going forward, Henry may not break off as many explosives as in years past, but he looks to have a few more seasons of bowling over defenders and scoring double-digit touchdowns in him.

Top free agent comparison: Leonard Fournette, 2022

PROJECTED CONTRACT

2 yrs — $10m avg/yr

$13m guaranteed, $20m total

The Texans ground game needs a boost, and who better to run over the H-Town enemies than the player who made a career running over the Texans? Henry would give incumbent back Devin Singletary thunder to his lightning and if the blocking schemes improve, the two backs would immediately jump into the “most feared running back tandem in the NFL” conversations.

In addition to these players, Caserio and co. need to focus on re-signing the Texans players who are hitting the Top 50 on PFF’s list: cornerback Steven Nelson, tight end Dalton Schultz and EDGE Jonathan Greenard. All three of these young men were integral to the Texans 2023 fortunes and Houston should prioritize bringing them back.