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BRB GroupThink: Houston Texans Free Agency—Buy or Sell?

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Several members of the BRB masthead share their thoughts on whether the Texans should try to bring back a handful of players scheduled to hit free agency this year.

NFL: Houston Texans at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While we revel in the glory of the Houston Texans holding the #2 seed in the AFC Playoffs, we thought we’d take a moment to look to the future. To 2019, NFL Free Agency and possibly kolaches...or not.

Here's the question. It’s quite simple, really. When it comes to these impending Houston Texans free agents, if you were in general manager Brian Gaine’s position, would you buy or sell on re-signing these players?

  • Jadeveon Clowney
  • Demaryius Thomas
  • Kareem Jackson
  • Alfred Blue
  • Christian Covington

Diehard Chris:

Jadeveon Clowney - solid BUY. The defensive line might be Houston’s best position group, and moving on from Clowney would create the need for an immediate upgrade via draft or free agency - and the Texans already have plenty of needs to address. That said, depending one what Clowney’s agent is seeking for him, I would absolutely not pay him Aaron Donald or Khalil Mack money. I think the franchise tag is certainly in play for Clowney. The Texans have the cap room to handle that.

Demaryius Thomas - soft BUY. There are a lot of “ifs” with this one. By all accounts, the Texans’ offense is fairly complex, so I’m not going to hold his lack of production thus far against him. I think Thomas would be better with an offseason and camp under his belt, but even with that, he’d still be “present day DT” and not “top-end WR DT”. I LOVE the red zone threat he brings. I love that he’s been durable his entire career. BUT I also want the Texans to draft another speedy deep threat WR because there’s no reason to believe we won’t be playing the “it’s a matter of time” game with Will Fuller V’s injuries every year, and we’ve seen what his deep-threat ability does for this offense. If they can bring DT back on a team-friendly veteran deal - great. If not, I let him walk and have zero regrets.

Kareem Jackson - BUY. I, along with several others who write for BRB, read BRB, and generally just folks who have eyes, a brain, and watch football, had been calling for Kareem to convert to safety for 2-3 years now. I even said I thought he would excel as a safety. I see no reason to walk away from a guy after he’s had two contracts here and may have played the best football of his career in stretches this season. If the Texans can be more healthy at the CB spot next season and Kareem can settle in as a more full-time safety, you might get a couple of years of very, very good safety play before he declines. With the way offenses are in the NFL, I don’t see any reason the Texans can’t have all of Justin Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, and Kareem Jackson here, especially considering how versatile Jackson and Mathieu are. Again, I think the Texans have the cap room to do this, plus Mathieu, plus Clowney... but I’m no cap expert.

Alfred Blue - SELL. If I could be guaranteed he would a) only play special teams, b) sign a very low, maybe minimum deal, and c) only play RB in an emergency situation (i.e., NEVER get higher that third on the RB depth chart), then yeah, I’d bring him back.

Christian Covington - SELL. Eh, I mean - as depth on a super cheap deal? Sure. You could do worse than Covington as a rotational player. It all depends on the number with him.

Rivers McCown:

Jadeveon Clowney -- Franchise tag. Don’t think about it.

Demaryius Thomas -- I would be pretty cutthroat on this one. I think he’s a solid veteran receiver but you can find another guy like that in the offseason, and Fuller/Coutee/Hopkins/Akins is an explosive starting crew next year without him.

Kareem Jackson -- This is going to be the most fascinating one to me. Slot guys generally have gotten the short end of things in negotiations. The cap is creeping up again while free agency seems to be more dry than ever. Is that combo going to get Jackson actual bidders? I think the Texans definitely want to keep him. But the combination of age and the potential of a market-setter make me wary that he’ll actually wind things down in Houston. They’ll definitely try.

Alfred Blue -- I mean, if it were me running the show, you can do better. But the Texans love him and I’d bet he’ll be around free agency waiting to see if they draft a running back. Worst case, he’ll be a camp back again, waiting for another injury.

Christian Covington -- If the Texans love Christian Covington as much as Tim does, he’ll get $3 million a year for three or four years. I think he’s been solid, but I don’t think he’ll have a huge market. To me, he’s a later re-sign, not a guy you chase on the first three days of FA.

Kenneth:

I’m buying Jadeveon Clowney. Something tells me we are going to franchise tag him and he misses all of training camp. He is nowhere near putting up the numbers that Mack, Watt, and Donald are, so he should not be getting paid like them. However, some miserable franchise out there will be willing to pay him $125M to be a good-to-great player.

Did I just convince myself to sell on Clowney? Maybe. If the Texans were to trade Clowney and received a trade similar to what Mack fetched, I would be very okay with it. Here is the Mack trade for reference.

The Bears gave up first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2019 to acquire Mack earlier Saturday. In return, the Bears also received a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2020.

Demaryius Thomas was a short-term fix. If they want to sign him to a two-year deal, that is fine with me. When healthy, the Texans have three WRs with very different skill sets and all can beat you in a single game. If Keke Coutee can freaking remain healthy for more than two games, I think they part with Thomas relatively quickly. He hasn’t shown anything spectacular that garners keeping him more than any other free agent that will be on the market.

For Kareem Jackson, I am out on him. His play is still too inconsistent, and I have a hard time relying on him when the opposing team’s offense gets rolling. This has been his best season and he will be due to get paid big bucks, so at least the Texans would potentially receive a conditional draft pick if they lost his services. I could see the Texans cleaning house in the secondary this offseason - Mathieu, Jackson, Joseph, Johnson, Wright. All of these names could foreseeably be gone next season.

UGH AGAIN, I CONVINCED MYSELF AGAINST MY INITIAL OPINION. That is way too much turnover for one secondary. The Texans keep Jackson as the leader in the secondary considering how great of a year he is having.

Alfred Blue. Every time you think he is going to be ousted or replaced, he keeps on trucking. This offseason, there were three other backs that could have replaced him in training camp yet he proceeded to beat them all out. Blue doesn’t inspire confidence but he is a means to an end. Which in O’Brien’s offense is 3-4 conservative yards per play to set up a manageable third and short. We will always wonder what else is out there as long as Blue is on the roster. Most likely, the Texans sign him to an extension or short-term deal.

Covington is a favorite in the locker room and an all-around good dude. It’s hard to find those in the NFL. His brains and hard-working style fit the team well, but his talent can be replaced. The Texans haven’t molded him into anything that is different or unique that won’t be on the market when free agency arrives. He has had a solid season and is a respectable player, but the depth he provides can be absorbed in the NFL Draft (assuming we draft another Clemson defensive lineman again).

BFD:

Clowney - Buy with a franchise tag.

Thomas - Probably a sell. That said, if the money is right, he would be nice to have. At this point, he wouldn’t be anything better than WR4 next year.

Jackson - KITTEN. Oh, wait, wrong game. Buy buy buy, leave him at safety, and happiness.

Blue - FIRE INTO THE SUN. Then sell. The only worse running back in the NFL is Alfred Morris.

Covington - Sell, but I bet we bring him back. Ultimately, he’s JAG.

Mike Bullock:

Clowney - Buy all day. He might not always hit his stride, but a mediocre Clowney is much better than just about any other option Houston might have. In a league where edge rushers are one of the top five most important positions, letting him go doesn’t make much sense on the surface. Now, if he demands top defender money, it’s a whole different discussion. Like Kenneth said, he’s not earning the checks that Watt and others are cashing. Hopefully, he’s smart enough to realize since he has yet to live up to his potential, his contract will reflect that and he can be resigned for a reasonable amount. Otherwise #FranchiseTag. Odds are, his agent has already realized that’s the best route to Clowney Payday 2.0 and will negotiate from that world view.

Thomas - I’d love to see him stick around for another year on a friendly deal. The Texans always seem to scrounge up a long-in-the-tooth wideout, so why not just keep Thomas around instead of bringing in another x-factor?

Jackson - A scenario where Jackson decides he’s outplayed his value to Houston and takes a big payday elsewhere, only to flameout and become the next subject on “They paid how much for this utter lack of production?” seems very possible. Hopefully, he’s enough of an H-Town Homer after nine years that he and Brian Gaine come to a mutually beneficial deal before free agency even starts, assuring his place in the backfield with Justin Reid, Andre Hal and (hopefully) the re-signed Honey Badger.

Blue - I know it’s popular to hate on Blue, but like anything, his role is a tool that, when used correctly, does the intended job. No one in their right mind expects him to #BellCowUp at this stage, but like John Madden once said, “He’s dependable. If ya need two yards, he’ll get ya three. If ya need five, he’ll get ya three.” With that, I’d re-sign Blue and try to land a scat-back in the draft or through free agency.

Covington - This guy is probably a career blue-collar Bill O’Brien lineman who will always have a job if BOB has any say in it. From where I sit, a low cap hit and he’s worth it. Anything above second-string money and he’s expendable. Bring on the next Clemson defensive lineman and huddle up.

Matt Weston:

Jadeveon Clowney--If it wasn’t for his injury history, I’d say to just give him the money and keep him here for his second career. As great as J.J. Watt’s been this year, he isn’t the same universe devourer he was before, and who knows how long he’ll be able to stay healthy as he becomes a 30 year old man? Clowney is the perfect bridge from one great defense to the next, and in the meantime, he has been the perfect compliment for Watt. He’s a spectacular interior blitzer. He allows Watt to rush against lesser right tackles. He is the best run defending defensive end around. I still think he can get better.

But because the specter of scar tissue rests upon my heart, give him the franchise tag. See if he plays an entire year. Then pay him in 2020. Imagine how awful this defense would be without him? FRANCHISE TAG.

Demaryius Thomas--Eh, whatever. If it’s super cheap and he wants to stay, fine. He can pick up enough first downs, is pretty good at catching screens and taking off, and has shown some red zone leaping ability. It really depends on if anyone gets cut. I’d rather spend elsewhere and go with Keke Coutee, Will Fuller V, and DeAndre Hopkins. BUY IF THERE’S NOTHING ELSE.

Kareem Jackson--Jackson is one of the best defensive back tacklers in football. I can’t say for certain that he is. I need Pro Football Focus to tell me how I should feel. If the Texans can spend at cornerback aand keep him at safety, let’s do it. He can play the shallow part of the field, demolish the screen game, and obliterate skill players. Houston would be better off spending less to keep him and upgraing at cornerback than giving Tyraan Mathieue $9 million a year to talk [kitten] after holding a tight end or making a tackle after a twelve yard gain. BUY.

Alfred Blue--Feed him full of rocks. Dump him into the Gulf of Mexico. Go back and watch this Chiefs-Chargers game. Both of these teams’ third string running backs are better than Alfred Blue; I could be swayed into thinking each is better than Lamar Miller after enough games go by. The only thing Blue does well is move his legs. Other than that, he’s slow, he can’t make anyone miss, he can’t break tackles, and he offers nothing in the passing game. It’s too easy to find better second team running backs to keep him around. SELL.

Christian Covington--When I watched the film to write about Watt and Clowney, I watched him roll around the ground too much in the run game to want him to stay. His career record of like three sacks has been the result of being a vulture snorting lines of cremains. If the Texans need another defensive end, just find out who Chris Ballard is interested in and outbid the Colts for him. SELL.

Capt. Ron:

Jadeveon Clowney - Strong Buy.

He’s good for a brain-fart offsides penalty at least once per game with his aggressive efforts to get into the backfield, but he’s also incredibly disruptive at an inconsistent rate and the best run-defender of the front seven. He’s also young and now has two full seasons delivered without missing time for injury, so we can put that rough injury-laden beginning of his career in the archives. I would pay him top-ten DE money, but not a top-five contract. Franchise tag him (non-exclusive) if his agent doesn’t agree with that, and then Houston receives TWO first-round draft picks if they don’t match what another team offers Clowney.

Demaryius Thomas - Buy.

He has attributes that are worth keeping him on the roster: good hands, solid route running, excellent blocking skills, not missing games due to injury, and he has a large-target body type that bridges the gap between Houston’s other receivers and tight ends.

Kareem Jackson - Buy

He’s the best tackling defensive back on the roster, stays healthy, and is the only screen buster in the secondary. I don’t like him on the outside, because that head has hardly ever turned to look for the ball during his tenure with the Texans. Let’s keep him at safety or over in the slot, patrolling the box.

Alfred Blue - Goodbye (Strong Sell).

Easily replaceable in his role as a backup and special teams contributor. Has a splashy result once every few hundred plays, but otherwise defines the bottom performance tier in the NFL.

Christian Covington - Neutral.

This is a player who won’t command a big market, so offer him a reasonable “for depth” contract. If his agent doesn’t agree, thank him for the fish and move on.

Where do you stand on each of these players?