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Red Zone Play: Should The Texans Invest In Pass Rush Or Secondary?

If he has to choose one, does Bill O’Brien need to be all in at edge or cornerback?

Atlanta Falcons v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Last offseason, it was blatantly obvious your Houston Texans’ offensive line was the clear area of dramatic weakness on the roster. After two early draft picks and one massive trade, Bill O’Brien’s franchise quarterback found himself protected by Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard and Max Scharping instead of the guys who were one of the worst units in pro ball the year before.

Now, a year later, with very little draft capital and several massive contracts pending, O’Brien is going to put on his Superman cape and save the day with some historically great free agent signings and drafting if the Texans have any hope of going further in 2020 than they did in 2019.

ESPN’s Sarah Barshop did a solid write-up on the current state of the secondary, including some options in free agency, such as Byron Jones, Logan Ryan and the oft-mentioned Chris Harris Jr.


But if they do want to make a big splash at the position, cornerback Byron Jones might be the best available. Jones has played for the Cowboys since he was drafted in 2015 and could be available because Dallas might not be able to afford to use a tag on him with quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper free agents as well.

Cornerback Logan Ryan, who has played for the Tennessee Titans since 2017, is a versatile option who can handle multiple positions in the secondary. Last season, he had 113 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles. Ryan was drafted by the Patriots in 2013 and was there when Jack Easterby, Houston’s executive vice president of football operations, was in New England. His experience and winning pedigree would be important additions to what is a relatively young secondary.

No matter who O’Brien inks a deal with, it’s pretty obvious from the utter demolition of Houston’s secondary from beginning (the Monday Night Football opener against the Saints) to end (the embarrassing loss to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs) that the Texans’ defensive backfield isn’t ready for prime time. Second year player Lonnie Johnson and former Oakland Raider Gareon Conley do not a lock down corner duo make.

While there are a few cornerback options that could still be out there when Houston finally gets to pick with the 57th overall selection in next month’s NFL Draft, rolling those dice is the sort of mistake smart general managers don’t make. Instead of taking that risk, the Texans should be all-in on a Pro Bowl corner when the “legal tampering” period begins in six days.

After that, Bill O’Brien has the unenviable task of also landing a player or two who can apply pressure to the opposing quarterback. Currently in between rock and several hard places, (handing what seems like too much cap space to Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt’s declining health, and D.J. Reader’s impending flight from Houston to greener pastures), Houston can’t afford to stand pat on the edge.

When the question was put to the Masthead, the nearly universal answer was that Houston’s biggest current need was someone to pressure the quarterback. Players like Arik Armstead, Yannick Ngakoue, Shaquill Barrett and Chris Jones made someone’s wish list. The big question is whether Bill O’Brien will take a shot at outbidding other teams for the level of service he refused to pay for with Jadeveon Clowney (and let’s not talk about the rumors that Clowney may sign with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason).

Either way, just as Houston couldn’t go into 2019 with its 2018 offensive line, they can’t take the field in 2020 with their 2019 defensive front seven. What was once the team’s greatest strength has become anemic and weak. However, one or two key acquisitions can turn it right back around.

What about other areas, like wide receiver and running back, you ask? Well, the draft has one of the greatest crops of young wideouts in recent memory and the Texans should be able to land a starting caliber receiver with the 57th pick. By either renegotiating Will Fuller V’s contract or trading him to a team in desperate need of a speedy wideout, that unit should flourish while providing more cap flexibility for other areas.

As for running backs, tune in later this week for more on that.

Assuming Bill O’Brien isn’t going to make more than one splash move in free agency, if that, which position do you think he should bolster in free agency? Put your Emperor of NRG hat on and tell us your plans in the comments.