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Red Zone Play: NFL Free Latency

Trying to decipher what Rick Smith is doing by being so quiet in free agency thus far.

NFL: AFC Divisional-Houston Texans at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

While Houston dropped a Hiroshima-sized bomb on the NFL landscape right before free agency began last week by dumping incumbent quarterback Brock Osweiler on the Cleveland landfill, general manager Rick Smith has barely fired a single shot since.

Chasing huge free agent contracts has never been Smith’s way, and the core of the team is still solid, despite losing cornerback A.J. Bouye, linebacker John Simon and safety Quentin Demps. However, the holes in the roster are glaring. Smith’s inactivity isn’t doing much to ease the restless natives in the Houston fanbase.

Other than quarterback Tony Romo, Houston really hasn’t even been linked to any free agents, other than offensive lineman Mike Remmers, who was scheduled to visit H-Town after he left Minnesota (but he never did, signing a deal with the Vikings instead).

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the team’s current needs and possible players who might fill those holes.


This really needs no explanation. Tom Savage can’t stay on the field and Brandon Weeden is hardly a franchise quarterback.

Tony Romo: It seems the Houston brass is trying to hang their hopes on the aging arm of Romo, should he ever be released by the Dallas Cowboys. The various reasons why that’s a bad idea are detailed here.

Jay Cutler: For some strange reason, many of the NFL talking heads have Cutler made out to be some mythical franchise quarterback who will automatically propel whatever club signs him into the stratosphere. The stats and stories from teammates and coaches says otherwise. #JustCutOutCutler

Chase Daniel: The newest veteran quarterback to hit the market, Daniel was released by the Eagles yesterday. Like so many other journeyman signal-callers, the jury is out on Daniel. He has a lot of potential, but that may be potential to be great, horrific or mediocre at best. In the words of Bill Parcells, “Potential means you haven’t done anything yet.”

Prediction: Houston puts all their eggs in Romo’s basket and all the king’s horsemen can’t put him back together again, leaving Tom Savage, then [insert rookie QB] to drag the offense across the finish line in 2017.

Offensive Line

The last three moves by Rick Smith to repair Houston’s broken offense line have not panned out – yet. Center Nick Martin is coming back from a season-ending injury with all the same hype he was drafted with last year, but see the definition of “potential” above. The entire right side of the line is a major hindrance to the Texans’ offensive hopes and dreams for 2017. There aren’t enough quality players available in the 2017 NFL Draft to make it work.

Smith slept on the hot prospects, but there are some that might have that “O’Brien Lunch Pail” mentality to push this thing up the hill.

Austin Pasztor: Bleacher Report calls Pasztor “the best option left at a position that's already picked over and then some.” Pastzor is a ball-hawk, which is an odd quality for an offensive lineman, but that’s the sort of thing that would make O’Brien smile.

Jake Long: Houston had little to no interest in Long last year. After another season of injuries and abuse, it’s hard to imagine they’d have much interest this year either.

Ryan Clady: Clady was a workhorse in a zone-running offense in Denver for years. However, Father Time hasn’t been kind to Clady. His lunch pail has more than its share of dents and medical tape holding it together.

Prediction: Smith brings in some leftovers, once again ignoring the importance of the offensive line. Tony Romo takes the brunt of this early and often, enduring a career-ending injury off a missed block sometime in the first few weeks of the season. Fans call for Smith’s head on a pike. Romo ends the 2017 season counting his stack of Houston money on the beach somewhere while Cowboys fans laugh incessantly at their cross-state rivals for signing him in the first place.

Defensive Line

With the career of all-world defensive tackle Vince Wilfork seemingly at an end, the incredible might of Houston’s shut-down D-line may suddenly be hollow. While this is only one player, having a run-stuffer clogging the middle of the line is key to the success of edge players J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.

Dontari Poe: Bringing in Poe makes a lot of sense. Just like Houston brought in Lamar Miller last off season after he torched the Texans defense in 2015, bringing a strength from the Chiefs over to the light of NRG Stadium would weaken an AFC rival and add yet another potential Hall of Famer to the already loaded defense.

Bennie Logan: This guy is a landmark. Plant him in the middle of the line and the offense will be forced to flow around him, right into the waiting arms of Houston’s ferocious edge rushers.

Jonathan Hankins: His best years might be in the rear-view mirror, but Hankins would offer some scheme versatility for genius Romeo Crennel to play with when trying to throw different looks at an offense. Hankins would certainly not offer every down reliability, but he could spell younger players enough to keep the line fresh.

Prediction: Smith stands pat with players already on the roster and adds a late round or undrafted rookie.


What Smith lacks in offensive line vision, he makes up in secondary wizardry. Some believe Houston really doesn’t need to bring in any new players at the safety position and can merely rearrange the existing DB depth chart. One possibility is to slide Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph back into safety roles to help out Andre Hal and K.J. Dillon at times to shore up any weakness.

Prediction: While there are a few free agent players Houston might kick the tires on, this draft is overflowing with great secondary talent. Odds are Houston drafts at least two defensive backs and picks up several more undrafted DBs once the draft is over.

The lack of movement by Houston so far in free agency certainly isn’t sitting well with fans, but overall, the team doesn’t need that much to improve their fortunes over 2016. Getting rid of Brock Osweiler already doubled their Vegas odds of winning it all in 2017.

However, that doesn’t mean Smith should be sitting on his hands. Hopefully, he’s working behind the scenes to drop his second atomic bomb of the offseason by trading for a high-quality quarterback who has some life left and won’t get broken in half the first time the right side of the offensive line falters. While Kirk Cousins would be a great coup, players like Philip Rivers, A.J. McCarron and – dare I say it – Colin Kaepernick could still add just enough to not lose a game (read: turn the ball over at the worst possible times).

The TV test pattern that is Houston’s 2017 Free Agency so far certainly doesn’t bring much excitement or drama for the entertainment aspects of the off-season, but the team is already better than it was just a short month ago. With a few more moves, the defense won’t have to carry everything and Houston might actually stand a chance of taking out whomever stands between them and the Lombardi Trophy in 2017.

What free agents would you like Houston to target? Have any predictions for the position groups mentioned above? Want to can Smith and bring in another GM whom you’re convinced can load the roster with even more talent than it already has? Make your case in the comments below.