AFC South: best match 09
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Two things to keep in mind when looking to match remaining free agents with AFC South teams.
This was a harder exercise than I expected, largely because the available talent pool hardly has super attractive, can't-miss types at the top of each position list.
And I have not factored in expected price tags or team budgets at all -- just matched a name with a team.
The Texans got their big target by signing defensive end Antonio Smith away from the Cardinals.
Houston can still use an interior defensive lineman to work with Amobi Okoye, a cornerback to contend for the starting job opposite Dunta Robinson, a veteran running back to help keep Steve Slaton's workload reasonable and a bigger and more durable outside linebacker.
They're talking to Cedric Benson about that running back role right now.
The list of options at all three spots is hardly spectacular.
I pondered going the restricted free agent route and parting with a fifth-round pick to try to sign defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery away from Washington. (It's easy for me to spend their draft picks, right?)
But I think I like their thinking with Benson.
Here's some of what Scouts Inc. has to say about Benson:
"He is effective when he runs behind his pads and attacks the line of scrimmage. He has good foot quickness to make subtle cuts and hit a crease with acceleration. He has adequate speed to the outside and can lower his shoulder for a strong finish at the end of runs. He lacks long speed to run away from defenders once in space. Benson doesn't show great vision or creativity when dealing with congestion. He's not overly elusive to make multiple cuts and he's at his best making one cut and getting his shoulders squared up field. As a receiver, Benson has good hands out of the backfield. He's not overly dynamic in space, but he can get north-and-south quickly after the catch. Benson is better suited to be a backup because he lacks consistency."
One cut-and-go is what works best in Alex Gibbs' run blocking scheme, and the things Benson may lack are a lot of the qualities Slaton has. A strong finish in Cincinnati made it seem as if Benson might have gotten it together.
This one needs a major disclaimer: the Colts won't be signing any big free agents. The biggest free agent for them this offseason, beyond Jeff Saturday, could be Dominic Rhodes. Outside of their own guys, the likelihood they add even a mid-range outsider is slim to none.
They need linebackers and defensive tackles, and we can expect those positions to be addressed in the draft and with the quality crop of undrafted rookies they always manage to bring in. If it doesn't work out with Rhodes, they could need another running back too. However, I suspect Joseph Addai and Mike Hart as the first two backs might be OK. They need a receiver too, but I am thinking that will be addressed with the first round pick.
No one at any of those spots still available in free agency strikes me as a sure-thing Colt.
So I use this category to go somewhere I know they won't -- Tennessee free agent return man and cornerback Chris Carr.
New special teams coach Ray Rychleski is going to run into the same issues his predecessor Russ Purnell did -- the Colts' construct doesn't provide many veteran backups to fill out their special teams. Carr is not flashy with the ball in his hands, but he is dependable and will get what's there. That would give Peyton Manning and the offense a little boost in field position, offer depth in the defensive backfield, and weaken the division rival that got in front of the Colts in the AFC South last season.
The Jaguars have made it clear they aren't going to be big spenders. They've re-signed a few of their own guys and brought in safety Sean Considine to take the place of Gerald Sensabaugh, who they won't bid on.
They need better protection and better weapons for David Garrard as well as help on the interior defensive line.
The remaining list of free agent tackles -- offensive or defensive -- is hardly exciting. Maybe a guy like Tampa Bay free agent defensive tackle Jovan Haye could be a good role player for them.
If the draft falls right, the team can get a stud left tackle at No. 8 in the draft.
Which means, even a year removed from the Jerry Porter debacle, they should
be looking carefully at available wide receivers. The two that could help them most also qualify as players of interest for division-rival Tennessee: Devery Henderson and Nate Washington.
Scouts Inc.'s Insider Analysis on Henderson starts with this:
"Henderson is a good-sized receiver with excellent top-end speed, who can stretch the secondary and be the downfield threat for virtually any offense."
We're naming names here, not extrapolating the finances. I don't know what he's looking for or what the Jaguars would be willing to pay on the heels of the failed Porter deal.
He's not going to burst on the scene as a No. 1 receiver. But I think Henderson could give the Jaguars good upside if they were going to go get one more guy in free agency. (Read the Titans' section for more.)
Surprise, surprise: Tennessee's primary need is once again at wide receiver.
This free agent group is hardly a huge impact group, but a receiver drafted at No. 30 in the first round won't get on the field much immediately if the team's history is any indication. (But then, if the team's history is any indication, a first-round receiver isn't even going to be around to present that issue.)
Washington is in Nashville today. Mel Kiper's 2005 draft book had him running a 4.53 coming out of Tiffin, which doesn't make him seem like the blazer the Titans could use to help stretch the field. But he's been a deep threat for the Steelers and his career average of 16.4 yards is 1.3 yards better than the only established receiver on the Titans roster, Justin Gage.
But we are looking to another free agent receiver the team has reportedly expressed interest in, Henderson.
We can't pin everything on stats of course. But our friends at footballoutsiders.com had Henderson as the NFL's No. 1 receiver in DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.
"This number represents value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations," footballoutsiders.com explains. "The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance."
At 36.5 % in that category, Henderson well outdistanced the two players regarded as the league's best wideouts -- Andre Johnson (22.4%) and Larry Fitzgerald (19.7%) -- not to mention Washington (-0.9%).
Worth a shot, no?