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Friday, March 22, 2013
Eight in the Box: FA winners or losers?

By Paul Kuharsky

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A look at whether each AFC South team has been a winner or a loser in free agency:

Houston Texans

They wouldn’t have had to do a lot to be considered a winner, so the acquisition of veteran safety Ed Reed (Baltimore) keeps them out of the loser's bracket. They’ve lost safety Glover Quin (Detroit), outside linebacker Connor Barwin (Philadelphia) and fullback James Casey (Philadelphia). They did retain nickel cornerback Brice McCain. Is there a receiver or a nose tackle out there whom they would consider among the cheaper options? If there is, they should.

Indianapolis Colts

In terms of numbers, it’s a raging success and they are winners. To what degree the free-agent class improves the Colts remains to be seen. But two elements are undoubtedly better today than they were at the end of the 2012 playoff season. Gosder Cherilus is a far better right tackle than Winston Justice, and Donald Thomas figures to upgrade one of the guard positions. Defensively, the Colts were a bad run-stopping team, and they’ve added better run-stoppers at all three levels -- from Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin on the line to Erik Walden at outside linebacker to LaRon Landry at strong safety. They are better equipped to run Chuck Pagano’s 3-4. Many of the contracts they’ve negotiated are front-loaded, so any mistakes will not sting very badly in future years.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are in a patient rebuilding mode, and it doesn’t include any big free-agent expenditures. So far they’ve shopped for role players like cornerback Alan Ball, running back Justin Forsett and defensive tackle Roy Miller, a good run-stopping defensive tackle. They re-signed longtime center Brad Meester and slot receiver Jordan Shipley, whom they got for cheaper after not tendering him as a restricted free agent. At the same time, they’ve watched Derek Cox, a high-quality but often-injured cornerback, and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, whose play trailed off in Year 4, move onto San Diego and Denver, respectively. It’s not fair to call non-players in the free-agency game losers at it, but if I am being forced to say they’ve won or lost so far, I can’t say they’ve won. They'd say the only way to win is not to play.

Tennessee Titans

They didn’t bring in as many people as the Colts did, but the Titans have addressed many of their weaknesses and needs. Guard Andy Levitre gives them an interior stud at a spot they’ve pledged to upgrade, and center Robert Turner can be better interior depth than they’ve had recently. Shonn Greene is going to take carries away from Chris Johnson but make the Titans two-dimensional at running back, where getting a tough yard won’t be so tough. The team wants to get back to moving an H-back tight end around a lot with shifts and formations, and Delanie Walker is better at that than Jared Cook was, though he had some drop issues last season with the 49ers.

For two years, they wanted to get bigger on defense, and Sammie Lee Hill is a bigger tackle who should help stop the run if he’s ready to take on a bigger role than the one he had in Detroit. Matt Hasselbeck was shipped out to cut costs, and while I am not a big believer in Ryan Fitzpatrick, he was probably the best backup quarterback option on the market. We need to see these guys play to know what the Titans got themselves, but on paper they are better than they were before free agency opened.