AFC South: 2013 NFL free agency

Football Outsiders continues their red flags series Wednesday, hitting on the AFC South.

Tom Gower takes on the biggest remaining issue for each team.

Houston Texans

Gower says wide receiver: “Considered about the most pro-ready receiver in this year's draft, the Texans are counting on (DeAndre Hopkins') relatively polished route-running skills and natural hands to let him step in as a starter immediately. Most late first-round receivers of late have been eased into the lineup, but the Texans need Hopkins to be a high-impact player immediately.

Kuharsky counters: Sure, Hopkins’ development is a big storyline going forward. But the right side of the offensive line is more of a lingering issue and didn't add a first-round pick. Right tackle Derek Newton is recovering from major knee surgery, and could lose out to third-rounder Brennan Williams. Veteran Ryan Harris could be in the mix as well. Second-year right guards Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks are promising, but also need to prove they are going to be better and solidify a line that needs more consistency on the right side.

Indianapolis Colts

Gower says cornerback: “(Greg Toler) ranked in the top 10 in success rate and yards per pass. However, those stats are heavily dependent on Toler's role. His career history suggests that Toler can be a good nickel or dime corner, as he was in Arizona last year, but that he struggles when asked to play a full-time role.”

Kuharsky concurs: A cornerback pool of Vontae Davis, Toler, Darius Butler, Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy really could have used one more solid entry, perhaps between Davis and Toler, but certainly between Butler and Vaughn. Cornerback depth is an issue for most teams, and it was more than a bit surprising that the Colts didn’t add one in the draft. It’s good they didn’t reach, but they might still be on the lookout for some additional help.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gower says quarterback: ”It is very hard to win games with quarterback play as bad as the Jaguars have had recently, and generally requires a strong defense (the Jaguars ranked 28th by Football Outsiders in defensive DVOA in 2012) and a strong running game (the Jaguars ranked 27th by DVOA there). The addition of (Luke) Joeckel and the return to health by Maurice Jones-Drew should mean an improved running game in 2013, but another season of (Blaine) Gabbert and/or (Chad) Henne behind center likely means another high draft pick for Jacksonville in April 2014.”

Kuharsky counters: Gower, pretty much agrees with my thinking here. Sure they need a quarterback. But I don’t see a move they should have made that they didn’t make, and neither does he. Wait a year, build elsewhere, make things better for the next quarterback in a year. So setting quarterback aside, my concern is the pass rush, where they really haven’t added anything on the edge and don’t have sufficient depth.

Tennessee Titans

Gower says defense: “The Titans seem to be counting on a lot of internal improvement, better coaching with the addition of senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams (though Jerry Gray returns as defensive coordinator) and an offense that can do a better job of sustaining drives. While Tennessee fielded a particularly young defense in 2012 and some internal improvement is likely, most defenses that improve quickly devote more resources to adding better players.”

Kuharsky specifies: You can’t have too many pass-rushers, and counting on dramatic improvement from multiple holdovers seems shaky. So I’d narrow Gower’s category to defensive end. The team could sign John Abraham or Israel Idonije, two veteran ends who have visited recently. Adding one would make me feel a lot better about the team at end beyond Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley and fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards.
The accuracy of unofficial depth charts varies team to team. Non of them mean a ton in April.

But the Titans have one out as part of their pre-draft news release.

Five of the free-agent additions are listed as starters: Tight end Delanie Walker, left guard Andy Levitre, right guard Rob Turner, defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill and safety Bernard Pollard.

Where the other additions are listed:
The team’s first round draft pick could displace someone for sure, and the second-rounder could, too -- though unofficial depth charts typically honor veteran players and wait for kids to pay dues before they get their rank confirmed on paper.

Find the whole depth chart here.
Chance Warmack is going to have a new advantage virtually anywhere he winds up in the NFL.

The Alabama guard is a projected top 10 pick. Popular opinion says he will go inside the top 10 to Arizona seventh, Buffalo eighth, the New York Jets ninth or Tennessee 10th.

All four of those teams have offensive line coaches who played offensive line before becoming coaches.

The Titans, of course, have Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak as their head coach, and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews as their offensive line coach.

“I’ve never been coached by an actual offensive lineman before,” Warmack said. “That alone will escalate my play to a phenomenal level. Most of my coaches played tight end. My offensive line coach in college (Jeff Stoutland, now with the Philadelphia Eagles) played linebacker. They couldn’t really relate to what an offensive lineman does.

“They did a good job coaching me, but with those two (in Tennessee) it would be a whole 'nother level of learning the position. I was more attracted to hearing those two guys being on the same team and to know that it was three hours away from my college. It would be like a dream come true for me.”

Many evaluators are rating North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper ahead of Warmack, but both could go in the top 10 or 12 picks.

The Titans have gone too long counting on Munchak, who was offensive line coach before he got the top job in 2011, to develop linemen without making major investments in talent.

That's changing now. They signed free-agent Andy Levitre to play left guard, and have told Warmack he would be their right guard if they draft him.

If Warmack’s not off the board when the Titans pick at 10 and they go another direction, it sounds like he’ll be disappointed. It shouldn’t last long, as his name will be called soon after.

But it sure looks like it could be a wonderful marriage if he’s available and the Titans tab him to be their right guard.
Free agent Josh McNary is a new member for the Indianapolis Colts, but he won’t have a chance to make his first impression for a while.

Indianapolis placed him on the team’s reserve/military list.

Currently commissioned in the United States Army, McNary will finish his active duty service prior to joining the team. The team doesn’t know when McNary will become available. It will be determined by the Army, of course.

McNary was a defensive end at Army, but the Colts will use him as a linebacker.

“Josh had an outstanding career at West Point,” general manager Ryan Grigson said in a statement. “His production speaks for itself, but his intangibles rival any stats. He is still fulfilling the commitment he made to serving our country, but we look forward to him wearing the horseshoe here in the near future.”

McNary is 6-foot and 251 pounds. He finished his collegiate career in 2010 as Army’s all-time leader in sacks (28.0) and tackles for loss (49). He also had 195 tackles (117 solo), nine passes defensed, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

This is Grigson once again looking everywhere possible for a player. Any GM in the league could have had signed McNary and put him on the reserve list.

Grigson is the one who did, and if the Colts get something out of him it will qualify as a smart move.
Before the 2012 season, I thought a bit too much of Rashad Jennings and a bit too little of Tim Dobbins.

Dobbins
Jennings
The former was the Jacksonville Jaguars running back who took over as the starter while Maurice Jones-Drew held out through the preseason and was first in line after MJD got hurt. Jennings wasn't as effective in his chances as I expected, and wound up dealing with injuries himself. His next NFL act will unfold in Oakland, where he he will provide some depth at running back.

Dobbins, meanwhile, wound up with an increased role for the Houston Texans after Brian Cushing was lost to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. I came to think he can be a pretty effective inside linebacker in the 3-4. But to earn and keep playing time, Dobbins simply must get past the sort of nagging injuries that sidelined him when he got his chance last season. Ultimately an ankle injury kept him out of the playoffs in a season where the team suffered too many injuries beyond Cushing at the position.

Jacksonville added Justin Forsett to take over Jennings' role.

The Texans are likely to draft an inside linebacker who can compete with Darryl Sharpton and Dobbins for the second starting role. If that pick is skilled enough, he might even be able to keep the team in base and nickel personnel more often.
Todd McShay’s newest mock draft has him sharing three scenarios for each team.

Here we share the first of those and reflect on it. You can see the rest in McShay’s Insider file Insider. (Don Banks of SI has a new mock draft out today as well.)

2) Jacksonville Jaguars

Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

McShay’s scenario one: The Jags would be perfectly content to stay home and take Jordan, whose rare combination of length and versatility against the pass make him a perfect fit for the Leo position in Jacksonville's new defensive scheme.

My thought: Jordan is becoming an increasingly popular choice for the Jaguars at No. 2. Recovery from a shoulder problem could mean he’s not on the field until after camp starts. If he’s the right guy, you have to be patient with him.

10) Tennessee Titans

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

McShay’s scenario one: The Titans need a player along the defensive front who can disrupt and make life easier for defensive ends Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, and getting Floyd here would be a good value.

My thought: I just heard Greg Cosell of NFL Films rave about Floyd. A defensive tackle who can be a constant headache can have a positive trickle-down effect on everyone on the defense.

24) Indianapolis Colts

D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston

McShay’s scenario one: The Colts play man-cover schemes, and Hayden's smooth movement skills and ability to manufacture turnovers would be a solid fit.

My thought: Hayden’s story is a phenomenal one. He showed incredible toughness with a great comeback. If Chuck Pagano, with a defensive back background, likes him, huge opportunity would await.

27) Houston Texans

Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State

McShay’s scenario one: The Texans could stand to get an upgrade over Derek Newton at right tackle, and Watson's athleticism and movement skills would be a perfect fit in their zone-blocking scheme.

My thought: They are due to draft offense in the first round. The last guy they took on offense was left tackle Duane Brown in 2008, and before that it was Andre Johnson in 2003.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars select a receiver in the NFL draft, he’s going to be a guy they see as a super value.

Massaquoi
With the news that they have agreed to terms with free agent Mohamed Massaquoi, I think they are in pretty good shape at the position. And given how thin they are at other spots, I’d expect their draft focus will be elsewhere.

Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts will be the presumed starters. Jordan Shipley will get a lot of opportunity in the slot. And now Massaquoi adds another physical presence.

Scouts Inc. scores Massaquoi a five out of five in route running and traffic presence, four out of five in hands, yards after catch and durability and a three out of five in speed.

Here’s their scouting report:
Massaquoi is a big, physical receiver and an excellent route runner. He has very good hands and shows courage and concentration in traffic. He is a solid perimeter blocker, giving great effort staying connected to defenders. Massaquoi is one of the more consistent offensive players for the Browns and could flourish in a more stable environment.

Jacksonville doesn’t qualify as a more stable environment, yet. But it could be in a year after general manager David Caldwell has more time to reshape the roster and Gus Bradley and his staff have had a year to coach guys up.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each AFC South team thus far this offseason:

Houston Texans: Is Shane Lechler under the radar? As punters go, he’s a big deal. But he is a punter. Anyway, the Texans haven’t done a lot in free agency, and Lechler has a tremendous leg. The Texans need to get a lot better on special teams. And while punter Donnie Jones was not one of their problems last year, Lechler should be an upgrade and can be symbolic of a changing tide on special teams.

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts had a lot of options on the cornerback market, and prices wound up being pretty reasonable. But they targeted Greg Toler right from the start and landed him immediately for three years and $15 million. The former Arizona Cardinal hardly has the name recognition of Nnamdi Asomugha, Sean Smith or Keenan Lewis. But he will have an opportunity to be the Colts' No. 2 cornerback and provide a major upgrade to a unit that was a serious weakness a season ago.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Roy Miller isn’t a well-known player. But I think the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer will prove to be a solid run-stopper in the middle of the defensive line for the Jaguars. Jacksonville let Terrance Knighton leave as a free agent and cut C.J. Mosley. The Jaguars haven't been especially active in free agency aside from adding Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks at defensive tackle. I think Miller is a dirty-work guy who will help the Jaguars get better, and a team with a new coaching staff typically likes to start on defense with an emphasis on stopping the run.

Tennessee Titans: The interior offensive line depth in 2012 was comprised of guys such as Deuce Lutui and Kevin Matthews, and the Titans wound up calling on them when front-line players were injured -- and suffering for it. Andy Levitre was the big-ticket addition and should be a problem-solver in the starting lineup. In quieter moves, Tennessee brought in Rob Turner and Chris Spencer. Maybe one ends up starting at right guard. Ideally, a draft pick gets that job, and Turner and Spencer provide a much better safety-net situation.
Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he will work on the interior defensive line with Tyson Alualu and Roy Miller.

Marks is the seventh AFC South free agent to switch teams but stay in the division.

The other six:
  • Fullback Greg Jones went from the Jaguars to the Texans.
  • Running back Justin Forsett went from the Texans to the Jaguars.
  • Cornerback Alan Ball went from the Texans to the Jaguars.
  • Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck went from the Titans to the Colts.
  • Linebacker Moise Fokou went from the Colts to the Titans.
  • Receiver Kevin Walter went from the Texans to the Titans.

As for Marks, here's Scouts Inc.'s review of his game:
"Marks is a solid starting 3-technique with just adequate size, but he has excellent initial quickness, agility and body control. He is very quick off the ball and does a good job of hitting gaps and seams to get upfield and create problems in the backfield. He does a good job feeling and fighting through pressure and will use his hands to defeat and shed blocks. He is quick to locate the ball and takes good angles to get to the play, but he shows limited lateral range when the ball is run outside the numbers. He is not an effective pass-rusher because he lacks great upfield acceleration and does not bend to close on the quarterback with a burst."

Reassessing the Titans' needs

April, 2, 2013
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We need to reserve judgment on just how well the Titans did with their free-agent haul. Several of their key additions -- like tight end Delanie Walker and defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill -- are expected to graduate into bigger roles with their new team.

The Titans project they can handle that and excel with it. We’ll have to wait and see.

What I like most about what they’ve done is this: A team with a ton of needs as the 2013 NFL year began has far fewer now.

That creates a certain draft freedom. While there are still things they need, they need them far less desperately. If a guy they really want in the draft goes off the board a couple picks before they are up, it will be less tragic.

[+] EnlargeBernard Pollard
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsThe Titans signed safety Bernard Pollard, hoping the former Raven can add fire and veteran leadership.
A review of what they needed as free agency opened, and some thoughts on what they need now.

Safety: Like it or not they are locked into Michael Griffin. So what they needed was a serious upgrade with regard to an in-the-box presence at the position who will allow Griffin to play as a center fielding free safety. Enter George Wilson and Bernard Pollard. They are veterans who are better than the options the Titans had in 2012, plus they bring leadership -- Wilson of a quieter variety, Pollard with a loud swagger. If they draft a kid to develop behind this group, that’d be fine, but it’s not a pressing need.

Guard: Andy Levitre was the best option on the market. Rob Turner and Chris Spencer are far better options than interior guys like Kevin Matthews or Deuce Lutui, who wound up playing last year. Ideally the Titans find a young stud to play right guard long term. But if the can’t get, or decide to pass on, Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper or Larry Warford they could still be OK.

Defensive end: Internally, it’s not been rated the need it was externally. They did add super-sized Ropati Pitoitua, but he doesn’t appear to be a guy who will spur the pass rush. I think they feel good about Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, and will use Akeem Ayers more as a rusher. But I’d still rank an end that can boost the pass rush as a need.

Running back: They needed a short-yardage guy to serve in a complementary role with Chris Johnson, and found a guy they liked in Shonn Greene. Darius Reynaud is back, though he’s primarily a returner. A mid- or late-round back would make sense to increase their options if Johnson’s money is an issue next year and/or to compete with Jamie Harper for a role.

Defensive tackle: They showed no interest in bringing back Sen'Derrick Marks and found the size they wanted in Hill. With Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin, that’s a nice three-pack. Karl Klug is a question mark. This is a spot where they can definitely continue to add, even if they have high hopes for Klug and DaJohn Harris.

Cornerback: The one name that surfaced as a guy they courted was Keenan Lewis, the Steeler-turned-Saint. Depth at this position is shaky. Coty Sensabaugh did OK as a rookie nickel back. But ideally the Titans would get Alterraun Verner into the slot, even if he’s starting outside in the base defense. They need a better candidate that Tommie Campbell to play outside as the second or third guy. This could now rate as one of the top needs.

Tight end: Following the breakdown in talks with Jared Cook, the team decided against using the franchise tag on him. Walker is more equipped to shift around from the backfield to the line to the slot, and the Titans want to get back to using a guy like that. No remaining need with Craig Stevens, a solid blocker, and Taylor Thompson, a second-year project, in place.

Linebacker: Depth is the issue here, especially in the middle where Colin McCarthy gets hurt. Moise Fokou might help, and ideally the main addition would be a veteran upgrade over outgoing free agent Will Witherspoon. If Ayers moves forward to rush some as a defensive end, they’ll need a quality outside guy who can cover. A need, still, for sure.

Receiver -- I wasn’t thinking it was a spot they needed to address before the draft, but they looked at a lot of guys and signed Kevin Walter. He’s a reliable route runner who can work underneath and do well against zones for quarterback Jake Locker. But Walter isn’t explosive. I expect they’d like to add a draft pick who’s a smart, quality route runner with a little more ability for yards after the catch.
The Indianapolis Colts have managed to repeatedly assume little long-term risk, even with some of their most costly free agent deals.

If things don’t work out with a guy they bring in, they will be able to move on. In most instances the greatest effect would just be filling another need.

The deal they’ve struck with former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey came later in the free agency period and hold the lowest risk possible. Adam Schefter reports it’s a one-year contract that could be worth up to $3 million.

If DHB gives them more than Donnie Avery did last season, it’ll rank as a win. If he’s a big hit, they’ll have the first chance to secure him long-term before he reaches another round of free-agency. If he doesn’t pan out, they’ll move on to the next guy, or perhaps a draft pick will be that much more ready to take on more in 2014.

I’m not seeing any downside.

Heyward-Bey won’t be in anyone’s way. If LaVon Brazill needs to be playing ahead of the veteran, he will. Same for a rookie.

General manager Ryan Grigson has added an option. Adding an option who was once a first-round pick, who could potentially pan out in a new environment with one of the league’s best young quarterbacks, seems like a smart move.

Newest Titans will add depth

April, 1, 2013
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The Tennessee Titans added their 11th and 12th free agent in their ongoing roster revamp, signing receiver Kevin Walter and interior offensive lineman Chris Spencer.

Walter is familiar to the Titans as he played the last seven years for the Houston Texans, often serving as the second wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson.

He had 65 catches and eight touchdowns for Houston in 2007, but his role had diminished with only 39 and 41 catches the last two seasons and five total touchdowns. He was a recent salary-cap casualty for a team that drafted a couple receivers last year and is expected to draft a more dynamic No. 2 receiver at the end of the month.

The Titans have struck out with several veteran receivers, including Danny Amendola, Wes Welker and Brandon Gibson. Indications are they’d like to trade the expensive Nate Washington, but I am not sure Walter will add enough to make Washington expendable.

Walter joins Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt, Washington, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins and Michael Preston on the Titans receiving corps. The group has a new position coach in Shawn Jefferson.

Spencer is the third veteran, interior offensive lineman the Titans have added. He joins Andy Levitre, who will start at left guard, and Rob Turner.

While Fernando Velasco is expected to remain the starter at center, right guard will be wide open and Turner and Spencer could compete with a draft pick or slug it out between them.

Seattle picked Spencer in the first round in 2005 out of Ole Miss and he played the last two years in Chicago, where offensive line struggles were a big issue.

“Both Kevin and Chris are established veterans in this league who have a great deal of starting experience,” said Titans general manager Ruston Webster said in a statement. “They have made significant contributions on good teams during their careers. We feel like they can come in and provide increased competition at their respective positions for us.”

The addition of Spencer could mean the end of overpriced Eugene Amano, who was hurt in the preseason last year and missed the entire 2012 season.
C.J. Mosley will be 30 in August and he’s been somewhat of a journeyman in his eight NFL seasons. The Jacksonville Jaguars cut him Monday per John Oehser of the team’s website (hat tip to PFT). So Mosley will seek a fifth team if his career is to continue.

He started 12 games for Jacksonville last season ahead of Terrance Knighton, who was unable to effectively serve as a run stopper on early downs. Knighton left as a free agent and signed with Denver.

Mosley played 54 percent of the snaps on defense and 20 percent of the plays on special teams.

The Jaguars added free-agent Roy Miller from Tampa Bay, who figured to start alongside Tyson Alualu on the interior of the defensive line.

Jacksonville has three other interior defensive linemen on the roster: often-injured D'Anthony Smith and two guys who were rookies in 2012, Jeris Pendleton and Jerome Long.

Coach Gus Bradley has ties to veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch, a Seattle free agent. But I've seen nothing tying the team to the player and didn't get an immediate response from Branch's agent.

Per The Tennessean, the veteran the Jaguars will consider is Titans free agent Sen'Derrick Marks. The market for Marks, a second-round choice in 2009, has been super quiet. I imagine he'd be an affordable option at this point and perhaps a change of scenery and scheme will spark his game.
The big moves of free agency are behind us. You know what that means. It’s grading time!

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. runs through the AFC in this Insider file Insider.

Indianapolis Colts

Some of Williamson’s analysis: “The Colts had a ton of money at their disposal and certainly improved in several key areas, but they didn't add a true star to their roster. The signing of (Erik) Walden is probably the roster move I understand the least this offseason, as Indy paid him starter's money very early in free agency when he hasn't proved to be a starting-caliber outside linebacker. I also think the Colts overspent on (LaRon) Landry, although he is a good fit as an in-the-box safety for this scheme. (Aubrayo) Franklin also should be very useful on the nose and has some playmaking skills from that position as well, and (Greg) Toler should be a very solid second corner opposite Vontae Davis.”

Williamson’s grade: B+

My thought: Besides Toler, all the defensive moves have been about stopping the run. The question is if the pass rush and coverage will improve enough in conjunction with that.

Tennessee Titans

Some of Williamson’s analysis: “My biggest issue with the Titans' offseason is the amount of money Tennessee gave to (Shonn) Greene. I don't see any special qualities in him, and he would not have been a priority for me whatsoever, making this one of the worst free-agent signings to date. Overall, Tennessee's signings seem disjointed, especially on the defensive side of the ball in terms of scheme fits, but the Titans did add more than they lost in free agency.

Williamson’s grade: C+

My thought: Greene can do the things that Chris Johnson can’t. But so can a lot of cheap, mid-round draft picks. I fear they overvalued a guy from a good short-yardage team as a short-yardage back.

Houston Texans

Some of Williamson’s analysis: “(Ed) Reed is going to the Hall of Fame someday, but is he currently an upgrade over (Glover) Quin? That is debatable, but obviously Quin has much more football ahead of him. If you look at Houston's roster, the majority of its stars have been Texans their entire careers. Bringing in a leader that has been instrumental in so many wins like Reed might pay off in the locker room.”

Grade: D

My thought: Reed can provide the sort of juice the back end of the secondary lacked at the end of last season. So long as there is draft pick who can play special teams now and develop behind Reed, I’ll be fine with this change.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Some of Williamson’s analysis: “They still have an awful lot of money to spend if they chose to do so, which could lead to many value signings between now and when the season opens. In the meantime, (Roy) Miller will replace the departed (Terrance) Knighton, which is more or less a lateral move, and (Justin) Forsett could establish himself as Maurice Jones-Drew's top backup. Other than that, Jacksonville has done very little of note.”

Grade: D

My thought: It’s a good point about the remaining potential for value signings. There will be another new market, for example, following some cuts after the draft.

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