AFC South: 2014 NFL free agency

Luck will have abundance of weapons

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
11:30
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Andrew LuckKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsThe Colts should enter training camp with a healthy group of skill players, including Reggie Wayne.
INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Luck isn’t a dreamer. You won’t find him with his feet propped up on his couch at home or fantasizing while he’s flying across the Atlantic Ocean to a soccer match in Europe thinking about the plethora of offensive weapons he’ll have at his disposal next season.

It’s understandable that the Indianapolis Colts quarterback doesn’t want to look too far ahead after what he went through last season.

So we’ll look ahead for Luck.

The third-year quarterback led the Colts to an 11-5 record last season, despite missing five offensive starters.

Things should be different next season. He'll have plenty of options, more than he's had his first two seasons in Indianapolis.

Receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), tight end Dwayne Allen (hip), running backs Vick Ballard (knee) and Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) are expected to be healthy, and the Colts added depth at receiver by signing former New York Giant Hakeem Nicks, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2010-11.

As crazy as it might seem, you have to wonder: Will there be enough footballs to go around for everybody?

Nicks
"It's a good problem to have," coach Chuck Pagano said. "There's only one football. When you have great competitors and great players like we have, they all want the rock at the same time. They all certainly know you only have one football. It's a great situation that we have getting those guys back, getting Dwayne back, Ahmad, Vick, Reggie and then adding Hakeem. It's a great situation."

It is a great situation, especially when you take into consideration how quickly bodies went down last season for the Colts.

Allen in Week 1. Ballard in between Weeks 2 and 3. Bradshaw in Week 3. Wayne in Week 7.

It got to the point where it wasn't embarrassing to have to do a quick Internet search for players such as receiver Da'Rick Rogers and tight end Weslye Saunders.

Luck still managed to do a lot with a little last season. The Colts averaged 24.4 points, which was 14th in the league, so there is no doubt he can be even more effective with a full cupboard.

That is a scary thought for opposing defensive coordinators.

"It's all about us being on the same page and with the same agenda, and that's winning," Wayne said. "It's always been about that inside our locker room, and that's why I don't see it being a problem."

Egos are something the Colts don't have to worry about when it comes to who is getting the most attention from Luck. That is part of the reason they have made the playoffs each of Luck’s first two seasons. He and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will make sure everybody is involved in the offense in some way.

All of Luck's weapons bring something different, which is why the potential of this offense is even more promising.

Wayne is a possession receiver, that security blanket Luck can go to no matter the situation. Hilton is the cocky, speedy player who has no problem letting the defensive backs know when he's made a play on them. Wayne described Nicks as a receiver nobody can cover one-on-one.

The tight end group of Coby Fleener and Allen, the better of the two, has the potential to become one of the top duos in the league. You also can’t forget about the running back trio of Trent Richardson, Ballard and Bradshaw. They don’t have to be dominant, just effective enough to ease some of the pressure on Luck.

"There’s going to be enough [balls to go around]," Hilton said. "We’re a team, so when one guy is having fun, then we all have fun. As long as we're winning and doing the right things, we should be good."

The key, of course, is everybody remaining healthy, and the offensive line has to do its part for the first time with Luck under center. The line will have questions again because Khaled Holmes, who only played 12 snaps last season, has the inside track to be the team's starting center.

That is why Luck and others aren't getting ahead of themselves with the expectations of having an offense that can keep up with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, who led the league in scoring at almost 38 points a game last season.

“On paper, we look great. I’m very excited,” Allen said. “I’m really eager to get us all out and together and moving around to see how well we mesh together, and see what different combinations the coaches come up with to put on the field.”

Reitz signs qualifying offer

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
6:40
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts continued to add depth to their offensive line.

Guard/tackle Joe Reitz signed his one-year, $1.43 million qualifying offer as a restricted agent Thursday. Reitz, who went to high school in the Indianapolis area, has started 20 of the 34 games he's appeared in during his career. The Colts claimed Reitz off waivers from the Miami Dolphins in 2010.

The problem with the 6-7, 323-pound Reitz is his inability to remain healthy. He missed two games with a concussion last season and seven in 2012 with concussion and knee problems.

With Jeff Linkenbach signing with Kansas City, Reitz has an opportunity to be the Colts' primary utility backup offensive line because he plays either the guard or tackle position.
 

Chris Johnson has found a new home, and it’s with the New York Jets.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports it’s a two-year deal. ProFootballTalk says it has "a base value of $8 million, with another $1 million available in incentives based on yardage." I still want to see the guarantee and the structure to have a real sense of it. Johnson was due an $8 million base salary this year with the Titans before they cut him.

He could be great for the Jets. If Johnson plays well there, keep in mind it doesn't mean he would have played well in Nashville.

I see two big questions ahead for him.
  1. How does he react to what’s likely to be a reduced role? He was THE centerpiece of the Titans' offense for the bulk of his time in Tennessee. Will the Jets be selling him as that or giving him a narrower role and not talking constantly about their desire to give him 20 carries a game? The role is likely to be narrower, and he’s a guy who understandably wants the ball and enjoys NFL stardom. He’s been a good teammate, though not necessarily a great team guy. What direction do things go with that?
  2. How does he handle the New York press when things don’t go well? Fair or not, a good share of Jets fans will view him as an offensive savior. If he averages 3.9 yards a carry as he did for the Titans last year, if he fails to break an occasional tackle in the backfield, if he suggests the negative issue is with the offensive line or play calling, a giant press corps will be more difficult for him to deal with than our small group in Nashville ever was.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There’s nothing wrong with swinging for the fences every once in a while. Sometimes it works and you do hit one into the stands.

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell took a shot with Alex Mack. He didn’t connect because the Cleveland Browns quickly decided to match the Jaguars’ five-year, $42 million ($26 million guaranteed) offer sheet Mack signed earlier on Friday. But it was a heckuva swing.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit for attempting to steal one of the game’s best offensive linemen away from a Browns team that made a mistake by not using the franchise tag. The contract was structured in a way that was supposed to make it difficult for the Browns to accept by including a clause that allowed Mack to void the deal after two years, but Browns management accepted that risk.

Even though Caldwell was unable to pull it off, it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren’t going to be the last guy picked for the dodgeball game any longer. Owner Shad Khan has made a significant financial contribution to the team’s facilities -- spending $11 million to renovate the weight room and locker room and $20 million to help finance the stadium and scoreboard improvements -- and now he is showing he’s willing to do the same when it comes to improving the roster.

Adding seven free agents, including guard Zane Beadles ($30 million over five years) and defensive linemen Red Bryant ($19.5 million over four years) and Chris Clemons ($17.5 million over four years), was a good indication of that commitment, but his willingness to give Caldwell the green light to pay that much money to land Mack offers even more proof.

Caldwell has steadily improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Taking a shot at Mack was a shrewd gamble that would have accelerated the rebuilding process. It didn’t work, but the Jaguars are no worse than they were before Mack signed the offer sheet.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The next five days are not going to be easy for Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley.

At any moment, they may find out that the Cleveland Browns have decided to match the offer the Jaguars made to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. That news could come Friday night or they may not find out until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, which is the deadline for the Browns' decision.

Until then, all they can do is wait and hope that the potential contract is structured in a way that will deter the Browns from accepting despite having the significant cap room available (roughly $30 million). ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the contract is for $42 million over five years, including $26 million guaranteed. The contract also allows Mack to void the deal after the first two years and includes clauses that prohibit him from being traded or tagged again.

That deal isn't exactly team friendly, but it's much worse for the Browns than it is the Jaguars -- and for that the fans can thank former general managers Shack Harris and Gene Smith. Caldwell can afford to pay Mack that much guaranteed money because he doesn't have to worry about having to pay big money to re-sign any current Jaguars players within the next three to four years.

None of the players from Harris' final two drafts (2008 and 2009) remain on the roster. Eight of the 26 players that Smith drafted from 2009-12 are still with the team, but none will deserve big contracts. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is gone and receiver Justin Blackmon is currently serving an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. A team would be foolish to sign Blackmon to anything but a minimum deal.

With the rookie salary structure keeping signing bonuses and contracts reasonable, the Jaguars will be able to handle Mack's front-loaded contract over the next three seasons. Even if players from the 2013 draft class like safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, left tackle Luke Joeckel or receiver Ace Sanders do become elite players, they are on four-year deals that won't expire until after the 2016 season.

The Jaguars added seven free agents (not counting Mack) but some of those contracts include bonuses tied to playing time and most are front-loaded, especially for older players such as defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Red Bryant.

So the Jaguars can certainly afford Mack, and if the Browns decline to match the offer the Jaguars will have solidified the left side of their offensive line for at least the next three years until Joeckel' s rookie deal is up after 2016.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit if he can pull this off, and it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be last guy picked for the dodge ball game any longer. Caldwell has rapidly improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. This potential Mack signing shows he's not a na´ve, easy mark, either.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and GM Ray Farmer, who is in his first season with the team, certainly didn't handle the Mack situation as deftly as Caldwell. Instead of giving Mack the franchise tag, which guaranteed Mack a salary of $11.6 million in 2014 and meant any team that signed him would have to part with two first-round picks, they used the transition tag. That saved the Browns about $1.5 million in salary in 2014 and they had the right to match any offer that Mack received, but it also meant they wouldn't get any compensation if they didn't.

It was a gamble, and regardless of their decision on Mack they've lost. They either lose one of the best offensive linemen in the game or they agree to a contract that they can afford now but will impact their ability to extend the contracts of some of their other stars, like cornerback Joe Haden, receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Plus, they could get Mack for 2014 and 2015 and lose him with no compensation if he exercises the clause that allows him to void the deal after two seasons.

The Browns may very well decide to match the Jaguars' offer, at which point the Jaguars will be no worse off than they were before Mack signed his offer sheet on Friday. But credit Caldwell for taking a calculated shot, one that could play a significant role in changing the franchise's direction.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell is close to putting together what could become a pretty good offensive line.

Provided the Cleveland Browns don't match whatever offer the Jaguars are expected to make to center Alex Mack on Friday, of course.

Mack
If the Jaguars are able to land the Pro Bowler, Caldwell will have put together a group of players that has a chance to become the team's best offensive line in more than a decade. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack is a significant upgrade from Brad Meester, who retired after the 2013 season, physically and has shown he's adept at handling the myriad of disguised fronts and looks defenses are using.

The Jaguars added Pro Bowler Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) in free agency and installed him as the starter at left guard, lining up alongside second-year tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. Joeckel (6-6, 306) played in only five games, four at right tackle and less than a half at left tackle. He did show a lot of promise in the short time he was on the left side, keeping St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks last season, at bay.

When Joeckel moved from right tackle to left tackle following Eugene Monroe's trade to Baltimore, first-year player Austin Pasztor stepped into the starting job at right tackle and held onto the job for the rest of the season. The coaching staff likes the 6-7, 308-pounder and is excited about his potential as a long-term starter.

The only question mark is what the team will do at right guard. The Jaguars released Uche Nwaneri last month and could move left guard Will Rackley, who started 12 games last season, into that spot. The Jaguars also could try Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon or Cameron Bradfield there as well, or draft a guard in the middle rounds.

Another possibility -- which seems unlikely at this point -- would be for the Jaguars to draft Greg Robinson or Luke Matthews at No. 3 and slide Pasztor to right guard.

Even taking the uncertainty at right guard into consideration, the Jaguars' new-look line has the potential to be pretty formidable over the next several seasons, as long as Joeckel continues to develop and Mack and Beadles continue to play at a Pro Bowl level.

The Jaguars haven't had a truly dominant offensive line since the 1999 season. That group was anchored by left tackle Tony Boselli, generally recognized as the best left tackle in the game at the time, and right tackle Leon Searcy. Ben Coleman, Zach Wiegert and Rich Tylski were the guards and John Wade started every game at center.

The '99 team didn't set any rushing records but long-time Jaguars observers consider that the best offensive line in team history. The Jaguars did go 14-2 that season and lost to Tennessee in the AFC Championship game.

The potential lineup in 2014 and beyond has a chance to be better than any group the Jaguars have had in the last decade. At the very least it's pretty much a guarantee that newly-acquired running back Toby Gerhart is going to be spending a large amount of time running behind the left side.
By agreeing to terms with new running back Andre Brown today, the Texans have added another more veteran presence to a very young backfield behind starter Arian Foster.

Brown
Despite this signing, I could still see the Texans drafting a running back they hope will be Foster's backup. When it comes to running backs, the fewer miles, the better. But Brown, reportedly on a one-year minimum deal, gives them some pretty good starting experience.

I checked in with Dan Graziano, our Giants reporter, who said after the Giants cut Ahmad Bradshaw following the 2012 season, Brown went into camp as a co-starter with David Wilson. It was the result of some strong showings he had in relief of Bradshaw an injured Bradshaw during the 2012 season. Brown broke his leg late in the 2012 season.

He had his most productive season in 2013 with the New York Giants, when Brown started eight games after coming off injured reserve. He was on injured reserve after breaking his leg again, in the same spot, during the Giants' final preseason game of 2013. Brown rushed 139 times for 492 yards, averaging 3.5 yards per carry last season. He scored three touchdowns during that span, two against Washington and one against Oakland.

Foster is the only running back making any kind of significant salary on the Texans' roster. Ray Graham, Dennis Johnson, Jonathan Grimes, Chad Spann and Toben Opurum are all on very inexpensive contracts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Safety Kurt Coleman will visit the Indianapolis Colts on Friday.

Coleman
That usually means one thing: The Colts have serious interest in him.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson isn’t one to bring players in for visits without them leaving with a deal. Just ask receiver Hakeem Nicks.

Coleman, a former seventh-round pick, started 29 games from 2010-12 with the Philadelphia Eagles before not starting a game for them last season. Coleman’s best season was in 2012 when he had 93 tackles and two interceptions.

Grigson was with the Eagles in a number of different capacities from 2004-11, and is well aware of Coleman's capabilities.

Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star pointed out that Coleman was involved in a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Colts receiver Austin Collie out of the Nov. 7, 2010, game in Philadelphia.

Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano recently pointed out that Delano Howell, Sergio Brown and Corey Lynch are options to start alongside LaRon Landry at safety. Longtime Colts safety Antoine Bethea signed with San Francisco last month. Pagano also indicated that they’ll look to select a safety in the May 8-10 draft.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Though Jaguars general manager David Caldwell never quite closed the door on Maurice Jones-Drew re-signing with the team and finishing his career in Jacksonville, it's now apparent that it was only open a crack.

Jones-Drew said at the end of the 2013 season that he wanted to finish his career in Jacksonville but that the decision would come down to money. He also said he had a number in mind but would not elaborate. The Jaguars were leaning toward a two-year contract, but Jones-Drew privately told people he wanted at least a three-year deal.

Caldwell had very little discussion with Jones-Drew's agent, Adisa Bakari, once the 2013 season ended and said the Jaguars never made a contract offer. He also said the two sides hadn't spoken since the Senior Bowl in late January. The Jaguars' signing of Toby Gerhart in the first few days of free agency is another sign that Jones-Drew wasn't a high priority for the Jaguars.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMaurice Jones-Drew ends his Jaguars career as the franchise's second-leading career rusher.
They would have gladly re-signed him under the right terms. The three-year deal Jones-Drew got from the Oakland Raiders on Friday was clearly out of the Jaguars' parameters of length of contract and what they were willing to spend.

So Jones-Drew's time in Jacksonville ends with him being the second-leading rusher in franchise history (8,071 yards) and the record-holder in touchdowns scored (81) and rushing touchdowns (68). He led the NFL in rushing in 2011 (1,606 yards) and made three Pro Bowls. His legacy, though, is more than that. He became the face of the franchise and the team's best player for the past five seasons.

But as much success as he had individually, Jones-Drew was not able to carry the Jaguars to the playoffs. Since Fred Taylor was cut after the 2008 season and Jones-Drew became the team's primary ball carrier, the Jaguars went 26-54 and never had a winning season.

His final season with the Jaguars was disappointing. Though he ran for 803 yards and five touchdowns, his average of 3.4 yards per carry was the worst of his career.

Still, Jones-Drew's time in Jacksonville will be remembered fondly, even with his protracted holdout in 2012 that lasted all of training camp and the preseason. When his career ends he should be the next player inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars.

Here are five memorable moments in Jones-Drew's career:

Colts killer: Jones-Drew ran for more yards (1,451) against Indianapolis than any other opponent. The first two 100-yard games of his career came against the Colts (103 and 166 yards in 2006). The second meeting with the Colts that year was a 44-17 victory and the Jaguars ran for 375 yards against the NFL's worst rush defense. Jones-Drew ran for 166 yards and Fred Taylor ran for 131.

Take a knee: Jones-Drew, acting on orders from coach Jack Del Rio, took a knee at the 1-yard line late in a 2009 game against the New York Jets. The touchdown would have put the Jaguars ahead 28-22 with 1:48 to play, but Del Rio was worried that left too much time for the Jets to answer. So he told Jones-Drew to get as close to the goal line as possible and take a knee. The Jaguars ran the clock down and Josh Scobee kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jaguars a 24-22 victory. "Sorry to my fantasy owners," Jones-Drew said after the game. "They told me to get as close as I can and take a knee."

Atop the NFL: Jones-Drew led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011. When you consider what he had to overcome to do that, it's an even more impressive feat. Not only did he battle a knee issue throughout the season, he had to fight through eight-man fronts every week. The Jaguars had cut starting quarterback David Garrard just days before the season began and rookie Blaine Gabbert was forced into action before he was ready to play. Defenses ganged up to stop the run but still couldn't stop Jones-Drew, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

Having fun: Jones-Drew clearly enjoyed himself on the football field, especially when he scored. He came up with creative celebrations, such as mimicking taking money out of an ATM after scoring against Kansas City in 2007 (which earned him a $7,500 fine) and imitating LeBron James' pre-game powder toss after a touchdown against Cleveland in 2011.

Blasted: Jones-Drew has earned the reputation as one of the league's best backs at picking up the blitz. It began during his rookie season when he destroyed former San Diego Chargers defensive end Shawne Merriman. The 5-foot-7, 210-pound Jones-Drew pancaked the 6-foot-5, 272-pound Merriman on a play near the goal line during the Jaguars' 24-17 victory in 2007. Jones-Drew's block allowed Garrard to complete an easy touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Shaun Phillips looks to be the one, best remaining option for the Tennessee Titans in free agency in terms of finding a pass-rush boost.

Phillips
The free-agent defensive end from Denver recorded 10 sacks for the Broncos out of their 4-3 last season. But for the vast majority of nine seasons before that he was an outside linebacker in a 3-4 in San Diego, and that's where he'd line up for the Titans, who are transitioning to that front.

He has 79.5 career sacks since being drafted by the Chargers, who selected him out of Purdue in the fourth round in 2004.

Here's a scouting report from ESPN's Bill Polian:
Phillips wound up being the only legitimate edge rusher for Denver's defense in 2013, and even though age may be a factor (he'll be 33 this offseason) it's hard to imagine that the Broncos would let him leave. He is decent versus the run with good effort and chase but his game is all about getting to the QB. Phillips takes good angles to the ball, closes well and is a finisher who makes a lot of plays.

If the contract is short enough and the price is reasonable enough, he'd be a great addition and he would lessen the pressure on the Titans to land an impact edge-rusher early in the draft.

UPDATE, 5:29 p.m.: Mike Garafolo and Jim Wyatt both report a deal is done. Two years and a max value of $6 million with $2.5 million guaranteed fit the parameters I just mentioned. Good get, I think.
INDIANAPOLIS – New Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones didn’t want to reveal too much when asked about if he would be playing more defensive tackle than end next season.

Jones
Jones
Colts coach Chuck Pagano answered the question during the NFL owners meetings earlier this week.

Well, sort of.

“I’m not going to pigeonhole by saying he’s an inside guy or an outside guy,” Pagano said. “He brings position flexibility to our front. He’s a sub-rusher on third down. He can give you inside push, he can beat guys one-on-one. He has sack numbers for an inside guy.”

Pagano was Jones’ defensive coordinator during his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Jones went from having 20 tackles and zero sacks his rookie season to having 53 tackles and four sacks last season, and now he’ll try to be just as effective in Indianapolis.

“He’s really matured as a young man,” Pagano said. “He knows our scheme. Terminology won’t be an issue. It’ll be a seamless transition for us.”

Pagano’s goal is to have a defensive front that has players who can play multiple positions so that they can constantly rotate them in so in the fourth quarter they’ll still be relatively fresh. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who missed part of last season with a foot injury, can play on the end.

The Colts were abysmal at stopping the run last season, finishing 26th in the league in that category, and linebacker Robert Mathis had 19.5 of their 42 sacks.

“You can never have enough defensive linemen,” Pagano said. “We roll those guys all the time and try to keep them fresh. If you can play with six, seven guys in the defensive front by the time fourth quarter comes around and everybody is still fresh, it’s going to play to your advantage.”

The Colts currently have seven defensive linemen on the roster: Montori Hughes, Ricky Jean Francois, Arthur Jones, Fili Moala, Jeris Pendleton, Cory Redding, and Josh Chapman.
The talk of the NFL's free-agency period through the first two weeks in the AFC has centered on the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.

The Broncos bulked up their defense by acquiring defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib to go with quarterback Peyton Manning and the rest of the offense. The Patriots signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner while re-signing receiver Julian Edelman.

The Indianapolis Colts?

They didn’t make any free-agent splashes outside of re-signing cornerback Vontae Davis. General manager Ryan Grigson easily could have panicked as the Patriots and Broncos, the two teams who played in the AFC Championship Game last season, made their moves.

Nope.

The Colts went into the free-agency period with a plan, a plan they weren’t going to deviate from. Grigson said they signed all the players they wanted to get.

"You're competitive, but you can't be competitive in that way where you're watching what they're doing and say, 'We’re going to one-up you.' That makes no sense to me," he said. "We're in our own little world over here with our own vision of the future with our own set of problems and circumstances and things we're trying to work through positionally and needs we're trying to address. And they have a completely different landscape on all of those different teams."

The Broncos loaded up their roster in an attempt to make at least one more run at a Super Bowl with Manning before his Hall of Fame career likely ends in the next couple of years.

The Colts, like the other 31 teams, want to win the Super Bowl, but don’t have a short window to win a title like Denver and New England. Their quarterback, Andrew Luck, is headed into only his third season. Grigson also has to be financially conscious because they’ll have to pay players such as Luck, offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo and receiver T.Y. Hilton sooner than later.

"It's a team effort when we bring guys into the building," Grigson said. "We really attack it like a team and at the end of the day, we stick to our plan and our vision. Again, it's forward thinking and always looking ahead and not necessarily living in the now even though we feel like Super Bowl XLIX is something that we can attain. With the quarterback that we have and the young players around him, you want to build for sustained success. It's something that you have to stay disciplined in day in and day out."
Bill O'Brien, Ryan FitzpatrickGetty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick, left, offers Bill O'Brien's Texans stability as they search for their QB of the future.
The Houston Texans' quarterback shuffling started in earnest Thursday night with some inter-division trading when the Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick less than a week after the Tennessee Titans released him. Fitzpatrick said on a conference call today that he’s coming in to compete, and that Bill O’Brien hasn’t boxed him into a “mentor” role or anything else just yet. But his ability to mentor whatever young quarterback joins the Texans' roster (or even one of the young guys currently there) will be important for the Texans this year.

Here, ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and I tackle Fitzpatrick’s move from both angles. So Paul, what kind of relationship did Fitzpatrick have with Titans quarterback Jake Locker as the two intersected in Locker’s third NFL season?

Kuharsky: They got along well. There was no tension about who was in what role. Locker won the starting job from Matt Hasselbeck a year earlier. The Titans thought Hasselbeck was starting to fade and was too expensive, so they cut him and brought on Fitzpatrick. Everyone knows he’s smart since he went to Harvard. I think he’ll be a good resource for a draft pick to lean on in terms of how to be a pro and all of that.

Is the sense in Houston that while Fitz throws too many picks, he’s a cheaper option to keep the seat warm and be a resource for a draft pick than Matt Schaub would have been?

Ganguli: There is no parameter under which it didn’t make sense to do this for the Texans. They had to move on; Schaub’s time was done. They just needed to make sure to get something for him. Fitzpatrick is cheaper while offering some of the same things Schaub would have offered on the field and in the classroom. They replaced what would have been an $11 million salary for 2014, which includes a $10 million base and $1 million in per-game roster bonuses, with Fitzpatrick, who will make $4 million this year.

You addressed why the Titans cut Hasselbeck, but why did they cut Fitzpatrick last week?

Kuharsky: GM Ruston Webster said they just didn’t play well enough when Fitzpatrick was at quarterback last season, and that’s fair. I have trouble imagining Charlie Whitehurst will be better -- at least Fitzpatrick has some real experience. But Whitehurst was with Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego last season, and the Titans avoided a roster bonus and saved $3.25 million by parting with Fitzpatrick.

He’s very much a shotgun guy who is not very comfortable under center. How do you see that fitting with Bill O’Brien?

Ganguli: O’Brien is adaptable, and I think he’ll be able to work with that. Intelligence, size and at least some mobility are important for O’Brien’s quarterbacks as they will be asked to process a lot. I think those things are in line with what they will get with Fitzpatrick.

One thing that was interesting from Fitzpatrick’s conference call today is that he said being released by the Titans turned out to be a good thing for him. He said he had a lot of options and wound up in what he considers a better situation. What do you make of that?

Kuharsky: No player who just got dumped says where he lands is a worse situation. But he could have avoided that topic altogether. We have a lot to learn about both the Titans and Texans with their new coaching staffs and schemes. Obviously the Texans have some talent. But this idea that they can bounce back into a playoff-caliber team from 2-14 in a year is getting a little tired for me. Both the Texans and the Titans have new coaching staffs. I’m not so certain the one that finished five games worse is the better situation.

Fitzpatrick said he drew a lot of interest. What was the draw of O’Brien?

Ganguli: Sounds like two smart football minds were drawn together. They're both Ivy League guys, though somehow you were let into an Ivy League school, so maybe that doesn't mean anything. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, to hear Fitzpatrick talk about his affinity for the mental aspect of the game and the strategy sounds a lot like what you hear about why O'Brien loves football. Fitzpatrick is also very well connected around the league, as you know, and he's talked with plenty of people who know O'Brien well and spoke very highly of him. "Not only his mind and the way that he thought about football, but treating guys fairly and demanding the best out of you and all that stuff," Fitzpatrick said. "It was nothing but positive reports from people I really trust."

Free-agent review: Ziggy Hood

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
2:30
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An examination of the Jaguars' additions in free agency.

DT Ziggy Hood

Hood
Hood
Contract details: Hood signed a four-year deal worth $16 million ($3.5 million guaranteed). His base salary of $2 million is fully guaranteed in 2014 and he also received a roster bonus of $2 million, so he's getting a guaranteed $4 million this season. In 2015, $1.5 million of his base salary of $3.95 million is guaranteed for injury and becomes fully guaranteed in April 2015. He makes a base salary of $3.475 million in 2016 and $4.075 million in 2016. None of his salary in those two years is guaranteed. He is due a roster bonus of $400,000 in 2017.

What's to like: The Jaguars plan on moving Hood back inside to a three-technique defensive tackle, which is where he excelled at Missouri. He was playing out of position at end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense since the Steelers drafted him with the final pick of the first round in 2009. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Hood is only 27 years old and gives the Jaguars good depth at tackle behind Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks. Hood played in an attacking, up-field defensive scheme at Missouri where the emphasis was on tackling the running back on the way to the quarterback. He should beef up the interior pass rush.

What's concerning: The Jaguars are doing a bit of projecting here because Hood has not played inside in his five-year NFL career. However, Hood said his time at defensive end has allowed him to get better at using his hands.

From ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown: "Hood was durable and effort was never an issue with the former first-round pick. But he may have been miscast as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme after playing as a three-technique tackle in college. Hood has excellent strength and a good motor but he is not a great athlete nor does he run exceptionally well.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Khaled Holmes and Phil Costa.

Those two names might cause you to look at their Wikipedia page to find out their background.

Here’s the condensed version of who Holmes and Costa are: They are centers for the Indianapolis Colts and will be the two competing for the right to hike the ball to franchise quarterback Andrew Luck next season.

[+] EnlargePhil Costa
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe Colts signed center Phil Costa to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. He'll compete with Khaled Holmes for the starting job this fall.
That essentially was the message general manager Ryan Grigson passed along during a conference call with reporters late Friday morning.

“We feel pretty good where we’re at,” he said. “You always like to be able to plug in a Pro Bowler there or someone that’s a five-year starter, have that luxury, but I’ll say this to make this point: You guys had great success here with (Jeff) Saturday who was a (college free agent) that I think was stocking shelves when they brought him in.

“About center in general, I personally have been fortunate enough to be to three Super Bowls with two teams, and on all three of those teams the centers were (college free agents). That’s a position where you can find a quality guy and you don’t need always to have that high-profile player at that spot."

Samson Satele was the Colts’ starting center the past two seasons, but he was released this month after performing poorly last season.

The Colts had interest in Cleveland center Alex Mack, but being able to land him was a longshot from the start because the Browns used their transition tag on him, meaning they could match any offer made to Mack.

Indianapolis signed Costa, who spent his first four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, to a one-year, $1.2 million contract last week. He started every game in 2011 for the Cowboys. His 2012 season was cut short because of ankle and back problems. Costa, an undrafted free agent, dressed for 12 games in 2013 but only played in three of those games, losing his starting job to Travis Frederick, the team’s first-round pick last season.

Holmes, the Colts’ fourth-round pick in 2013, still remains a 6-3, 319-pound mystery. He played a total of 12 snaps last season. That number is alarming when you consider the problems the Colts had on the interior part of the offensive line last season.

“We signed Phil Costa, he’s a tough young center that has started games,” Grigson said. “We drafted Khaled Holmes to be that center of the future. He never got a chance in camp really because of the ankle, so he’s still a little bit of an unknown at the professional level. But it’s going to be a good competition.”

So for now, learn as much as you can about Holmes and Costa, because they are currently the two players with the best shot of being the Colts’ starting center next season.

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