AFC South: Jacob Ford

When Jacksonville cut him just before the season, the widespread presumption was that David Garrard would be quickly scooped up. But the former Jaguars quarterback remains out of work, reportedly unsatisfied with a scenario Miami recently presented.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert and David Garrard
Phil Sears/US PresswireDavid Garrard, who was replaced by rookie Blaine Gabbert, is still searching for a job in the NFL.
Jacob Ford was a pretty effective situational pass-rusher for the Titans, but didn’t rate as a fit for them as they changed their defense and went with bigger ends. When healthy, former Jaguar Vince Manuwai can be a top-flight run blocking guard. Like Garrard, they seemed like players who would land another job in relative short order.

But more than a month into the season, they and many others who may still be NFL-caliber players are floating around, jobless.

Why?

My theory is that when Team X spends a draft pick, money, time and resources to develop a player and ultimately decides he can no longer help, the rest of the league tends to think, “We’d rather develop our guy than take a chance on theirs, considering they’ve given up on him.”

“There are a lot of good players out there,” Titans defensive end Dave Ball said. “Look at guys coming through for workouts [and] not getting picked up. [Safety] Chris Horton came through here and worked out. He was playing a big role for the Redskins, a big role, a couple years ago.

“It’s tough. When you get cut, it can take a while. I got cut and it took me a year-plus to get back with somebody. I think it’s a big confidence-shaker for teams looking to pick people up.”

Teams typically have realistic views of their own players, at least in time. Fans can tend to overvalue their own.

Ball said Ford is a good pass-rusher who should definitely be on a team, and that it’s scary to look at the landscape of a league where there is not a spot for him.

As more and more teams devote themselves to building through the draft, they seem to be less interested in pulling in an outsider during the season if they don’t have a hole created by injury.

Surely former Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu expected to be working again by now.

For a lot of No. 1 picks, it’s different. Aaron Maybin, a defensive end drafted in the first round by Buffalo in 2009 but cut after two seasons, was of interest to more than one team and got signed by the Jets. The Colts scooped up former Atlanta No. 1 pick Jamaal Anderson and are getting good run-down work from him. Linebacker Ernie Sims was a similar acquisition, but he’s been hurt.

“There are a lot of people who will take that first-rounder, anticipating that they may not be able to get a full 60 minutes out of him, but maybe they can get two quarters of No. 1-draft pick play out of him, kind of using him in a role,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “There are some teams that do a great job of that, take guys who have been No. 1s, plug them in and say, 'All I need is a quarter or two quarters' or 'All I need is third down from this guy' and try to utilize him that way.”

As for lesser picks who are still floating out there, Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said he thinks it’s still early and a lot of those guys will wind up playing.

The lockout also contributed to less opportunity. Reinfeldt said the draft pick a team might have given up on after spending the spring and summer with him got the benefit of the doubt as teams needed more time to evaluate.

“It was all so quick,” Reinfeldt said. “You didn’t get the opportunity to evaluate them the way you did in the past, so some made it because of who they were. This year was so compressed, I think some rookies made it just because the period of inspection and scrutiny wasn’t what it usually was. And that came at the expense of those other guys.”

Draft picks are such a premium commodity. Teams love to gather them, hate to part with them, and believe their scouting system can find them quality with each one.

Linebacker Barrett Ruud moved from the Buccaneers to the Titans as a free agent this season. He sees building your own guys as the central theme when it comes to opportunity these days.

“Teams want to develop the guy they brought up,” Ruud said. “Sometimes you’ve got a young guy and maybe it’s his first chance to start a game. You bring in someone to start in front of him and his confidence is shattered.

“I don’t think it’s a reflection so much of how somebody got cut. I think it’s more a reflection of a team wanting to develop a guy they brought in.”

Division defenses big on quick sacks

September, 23, 2011
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The number of quick sacks Peyton Manning took in 2009-10 is a testament to just how quickly he gets rid of the ball. Sack him quickly -- with initial contact 2.5 seconds or less after the snap -- or don’t sack him at all because the ball will be gone.

Manning
Manning
But even more interesting from this J.J. Cooper piece at Football Outsiders is a look at quick sacks by defenses over the past two seasons,

The Texans, Colts and Titans rank first, second and third, offering a testament to the quality of their edge rushers and also to some weakness in the secondary.
“…[T]he Texans’ secondary has been a cesspool of suck over the past two seasons, so it isn’t that shocking that 40 percent of their sacks were quick sacks -- either Mario Williams and the rest of the Texans’ pass rush gets there quickly, or there’s usually going to be someone open.”
Dwight Freeney, Jason Babin (now with the Eagles) and Robert Mathis rank in the top 10 in the category over the time span Cooper is dissecting.

Houston made two big moves in free agency to shore up its secondary, so there might be more long sacks as part of its total. Tennessee added depth to the defensive backfield but also lost two of its fastest rushers (Babin left as a free agent, Jacob Ford was released) while altering its scheme. Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones can be excellent rush ends, but quick sacks will likely go down.

RTC: Reviewing the division's cuts

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Their best back in the preseason and a fifth-round pick were among the Texans' cuts, says John McClain.

The Texans are heavy at defensive back, light on the offensive line, says Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

The shared experience of Chad Span and Darren Evans continues, says Mike Chappell.

Phillip B. Wilson on Colts’ survivors.

Assessing the 53, with Brett Mock.

Another 53 breakdown, with Jake Sanders.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars lost Rashad Jennings for the year and traded for Dwight Lowery, says Tania Ganguli.

The defense will determine the Jaguars fate, says Gene Frenette.

The Times-Union went hard with a “Little Engine That Could” theme on its season preview. Here’s the lead story from Ganguli.

Tennessee Titans

The cuts included three guys who’d been around for a while: Justin Gage, Vincent Fuller and Jacob Ford, says John Glennon.

The suspended Ahmard Hall says he never took steroids and thinks he’s built up enough of a relationship with fans that they should believe him, writes Glennon.

I missed this breakdown of Chris Johnson’s contract from Andrew Brandt.
A running list of Saturday cuts around the AFC South so far, per reports from people in the know…

Houston
Indianapolis
Jacksonville
Tennessee
Reading the coverage ...

Will lower rookie salaries invite a competing league? An interesting angle I had not considered from Scott Bolander.

Houston Texans

Wade Phillips looks to build on his track record for quick turnarounds, says Craig Malveaux.

Brad Maynard is the new punter, Ty Warren is getting a look, Lawrence Vickers is in play and Brian Cushing is almost back from January knee surgery, says John McClain.

It’s odd seeing so many quality players on the sideline for practice at this point, says McClain.

Given DeMeco Ryans' situation, Stephanie Stradley considers how guys come back from Achilles injuries.

Andre Johnson put the sell on Johnathan Joseph at Fred Bennett’s wedding.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts' offensive line is something to worry about, says Bob Kravitz.

Curtis Painter is the No. 1 quarterback while Peyton Manning is out, writes Mike Chappell.

Reggie Wayne said he would not be in camp if his contract was an issue, writes Chappell.

Chappell’s reserving judgment on Jamaal Anderson.

Blair White is on the PUP list and we don’t know the injury, says Tom James.

With Charlie Johnson gone, the Colts have to sign a veteran tackle, says Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

So far Blaine Gabbert looks the part of a franchise quarterback, says Gene Frenette.

The defense is being paid handsomely, says Vito Stellino.

Marcedes Lewis isn’t looking for Antonio Gates money, says Tania Ganguli.

Aaron Kampman says free-agent acclimation varies player to player, writes John Oehser.

Keep defensive expectations reasonable, urges Shane Clemons.

Tennessee Titans

Will Barrett Ruud be an upgrade over Stephen Tulloch? John Glennon considers.

The Titans re-signed a significant trio in Ahmard Hall, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, says Jim Wyatt.

Kenny Britt is still out, says Wyatt.

Matt Hasselbeck learned early from Brett Favre. David Boclair asks if Hasselbeck can now do the same for Jake Locker.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each AFC South team:

Houston Texans

1. Finally fix the secondary: Not only was the Texans’ secondary awful in coverage last season, but it also needs some stabilizing veteran leadership on the back end of this revamped defense. A safety like Eric Weddle could help cure both issues. There are quite a few safeties in this crop of free agents who would be clear upgrades for Houston. Of course, we have to discuss Nnamdi Asomugha -- and the Texans should certainly be right in the thick of those negotiations. If they can’t land Asomugha, the Texans could pursue Johnathan Joseph or Ike Taylor, who could help fix some leaks.

2. Work the cap: Houston is pretty tight up against the cap as it stands right now. But the team has serious needs on defense -- particularly in the secondary. In order to get the help they need, the Texans might have to restructure a few contracts or let a current player or two go.

3. Lock up Vonta Leach: This offense pretty much has it all. Wideout Andre Johnson makes everyone around him better in just so many ways. And the running game was exceptional last season. But Leach is a key component in that running game. And no fullback opens holes like this guy. Houston should bring him back and dedicate the rest of its free-agent moves to the defense.

Top five free agents: Leach, WR Jacoby Jones, S Bernard Pollard, DE Mark Anderson and QB Matt Leinart.

Indianapolis Colts

1. Get Peyton Manning’s extension done: Manning has been franchised and had surgery again on his neck recently. But there is little doubt who the face of this franchise is. Getting him locked up long term is something that Indianapolis just needs to get done.

2. Get a starting safety signed: Melvin Bullitt is a free agent. He is a solid player, and bringing him back makes a lot of sense. Outside of Antoine Bethea, who is vastly underrated, Indy has very little at this position. The Colts need to get a starter under contract. Also on defense, bringing back linebacker Clint Session, who is a superb fit in this scheme, and adding defensive tackle help also should be priorities if they can fit it under the cap.

3. Add running back help: This could come in the form of bringing back the reliable Joseph Addai. Well, he is reliable when he is healthy. And Addai has a great grasp of the Colts’ offense. I am very high on 2011 draft pick Delone Carter and maybe the light goes on for Donald Brown. But the Colts do need someone in their backfield who can pass protect and can be trusted. In this capacity, Addai seems to be worth more to the Colts than to any other team.

Top five free agents: Manning (franchised), Session, Addai, Bullitt and OT Charlie Johnson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

1. Address holes at linebacker: Linebackers Justin Durant and Kirk Morrison are up for free agency. I would suggest bringing one of those two back and then finding an upgrade from a coverage standpoint at a starting linebacker position to go along with the steady Daryl Smith. James Anderson would be an excellent target, and if healthy, so would another Panther -- Thomas Davis.

2. Address holes at safety: Jacksonville featured one of the worst secondaries in football last season. The Jags tried many bodies at safety, but it yielded minimal results. This is a very strong free-agent safety class, and the Jaguars need to add a starter or two they can count on week after week.

3. Spend! The Jaguars have quite a bit of money to spend in free agency, and under the new rules, they will have to spend. This free-agency period is like none we have ever seen and the action could be fast and furious. Jacksonville needs to stay the course and make wise financial decisions as it tries to add players who can mostly upgrade a hurting defense.

Top free agents: Marcedes Lewis (franchised), WR Mike Sims-Walker, Durant and Morrison.

Tennessee Titans

1. Revamp the Interior offensive line: Although they didn’t play great in 2010, I have faith in the Titans’ offensive tackles. But the interior of the line is a train wreck. That won’t do with a rookie quarterback behind center and in an offense that will be extremely run-heavy. Chris Johnson had little room to run last season. That needs to change. Marshal Yanda and Harvey Dahl would be great targets here.

2. Add a veteran quarterback: Needless to say, the Titans cannot enter the season with just the quarterbacks they currently have on their roster. They must bring in a veteran with some experience. Donovan McNabb would be high on my list. Matt Hasselbeck might also fit the bill.

3. Fortify every level of the defense: Presently, Tennessee is very young at linebacker, just adequate at safety and could lose three of its defensive ends. Making matters more difficult, the team is also installing a different version of the 4-3 defense. The Titans do have some money to spend in free agency. It would be wise if they used those funds on young free-agent talent, as it appears this team is now rebuilding from the ground up. Every level of the defense could use reinforcement.

Top five free agents: DE Jason Babin, LB Stephen Tulloch, WR Randy Moss, DE Dave Ball and DE Jacob Ford.

Titans back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: As poor as any team in the league, simply because of bad timing. New coach Mike Munchak and his staff have not had any time with their guys and are relying completely on tape for their assessments of veterans. The team does not yet have a quarterback who is the probable starter on opening day. Although Cortland Finnegan and Jake Scott did admirable work with group workouts and a two-day minicamp, having rookie Jake Locker along with Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff as the signal-callers didn’t cut it.

Biggest challenge: Sorting out the quarterback issue. Even if the Titans wanted to go sink-or-swim with Locker from the start -- and the chances are very slim that's where they'll end up -- they have no veteran qualified to help him out. They could take a big swing at free agent Matt Hasselbeck, who would be determined to start as long as possible but also would mentor Locker, who’s already a friend. If they don’t land him, with Kerry Collins retired, the position will be a major concern.

Beyond quarterback: How actively will the Titans shop in free agency? They said they were not done at defensive tackle after the draft. They could use help at linebacker, especially if Stephen Tulloch moves on. Chris Hope is aging and expensive, and they could look to upgrade at strong safety. What goes unaddressed (like interior offensive line, likely) will tell us about their initial confidence level in multiple incumbents.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Defensive ends Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, Tulloch, guard Leroy Harris, fullback Ahmard Hall, receiver Randy Moss.
Co-hosting “The Wake Up Zone” in Nashville this morning, I was part of an extensive conversation with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. about the Titans’ roster.

We focused on free agency.

Some of his larger points:

  • Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is a good, physical player against the run but is pretty much a two-down player who’s a liability against the likes of Dallas Clark, Owen Daniels or Maurice Jones-Drew. Williamson thinks the Titans are ready to move on without Tulloch.
  • Of ends Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, the Titans are most likely to bring back Ball. He’s bulkier and would fit best with the team’s push to get bigger. Williamson thinks Babin will break the bank somewhere else.
  • Chris Hope can be part of an average secondary, and addressing the safety position shouldn’t be very high on the Titans list. If they pursued a free-agent strong safety, Baltimore’s Dawan Landry could be an affordable upgrade and pair up nicely with Michael Griffin.
  • Fullback Ahmard Hall is coming of a poor season (along with the interior line) and is unlikely to draw much free-agent interest. Williamson rates Houston’s Vonta Leach, also a free agent-to-be, as a superior player. But generally, teams that utilize fullbacks don’t want to invest a lot in the position, feeling they can always find someone adequate.
  • Williamson likes Donovan McNabb as a place-holding veteran quarterback option, and expects him to be cut by Washington. McNabb’s style and strengths line up nicely with what Jake Locker does. I don’t believe the Titans are interested in McNabb, who might not embrace a caretaking role and has an ego that would need some managing. If the team brings back Kerry Collins, Williamson points out the Titans will be doing different things for an immobile veteran than they will eventually be doing for Locker, who excels at throwing on the move. [UPDATE: Collins announced his retirement later in the day.]
If the new CBA takes the shape that’s currently being reported, unrestricted free agency would arrive after four years. That was the standard number for players with expired contracts to hit free agency until 2010 -- the final year of the old CBA -- when players needed to have six years of experience.

So Independence Day could arrive for players who were trapped by the rule change in the final year of the last deal.

Here’s a team-by-team look at notable players who stand to be unrestricted now who didn’t know what their fate would be in a new labor agreement.

Houston Texans

OT Rashad Butler -- Was not great playing filling in for four games for a suspended Duane Brown, but they like him as their third tackle.

WR Jacoby Jones -- Flashes make him appealing, inconsistency makes him dispensable if someone wants to pay him more.

QB Matt Leinart -- Likely to move on to a place where he can rank better than No. 3.

Indianapolis Colts

RB Joseph Addai -- Has more value to the Colts because of system fit, so perhaps he won’t get a more attractive offer elsewhere.

S Melvin Bullitt -- There are a lot of safety-needy teams in the league, including the other three in the AFC South and he’s very steady.

DT Antonio Johnson -- Probably would only rank fourth on the inside. Has not been real effective but team seems to like him.

OL Charlie Johnson-- Versatility makes him valuable, but like Addai he may not fit other teams as well.

DT Daniel Muir -- Could still rank as the second interior lineman depending on development of third-round pick Drake Nevis.

LB Clint Session -- The Colts have a long history of letting young linebackers move on and plugging in the next guy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

LB Justin Durant -- All indications are the team is ready to find a veteran linebacker in free agency to take his place.

QB Trent Edwards -- No hope of a return with David Garrard, Blaine Gabbert and Luke McCown on the roster.

TE Marcedes Lewis -- He’s franchise tagged and that’s expected to hold in the new agreement, so he won’t really become free.

P Adam Podlesh -- They could do better, they could do worse.

WR Mike Sims-Walker -- The team told him before the lockout they’d be going another direction.

Tennessee Titans

DE Jacob Ford -- The Titans know his situational pass rushing value but are also looking to beef up and emphasize stopping the run.

FB Ahmard Hall -- An important guy for Chris Johnson and a rock on a team with little leadership even if he’s not an every-down guy.

G Leroy Harris -- The team’s faith in him as the starter at left guard appears to be unwavering.

LB Stephen Tulloch -- I suspect his view of his value and the league’s view are quite different.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Andre Johnson said he can’t imagine the Texans without free-agent-to-be Vonta Leach, says John McClain. The Texans are better with Leach than without him, for sure. I’m not convinced he’s a goner. Do we really expect a hot market for fullbacks? I don’t. Johnson is also trying to sell Nnamdi Asomugha on Houston.

Gary Kubiak will spend time with the troops, says McClain.

How did the Texans hire a Richard Smith disciple, Frank Bush, to coordinate the defense in 2009 anyway? Houston Diehards asks.

Indianapolis Colts

Peyton Manning’s silence is connected to his contract in the opinion of Vic Carucci.

The Colts are helping collect donations for Joplin, Missouri tornado victims.

Could Tom Moore be overseeing the Colts workouts? Mike Chappell takes the question. I don't think that's happening.

Nate Dunlevy considers our Flash Points selection.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gene Smith plans to be active in free agency, writes John Oehser.

Tennessee Titans

Vince Young was back in Houston working with kids, says Keith Calkins.

Mike Munchak is promoting boating safety.

With or without Jason Babin the Titans defensive line will be deep, says Music City Miracles. If they lose Babin, David Ball and Jacob Ford, I'm not so sure how deep they are at end.

If things revert to 2010 rules ...

March, 14, 2011
3/14/11
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If the NFLPA wins an injunction that stops the lockout, Mark Maske reports the NFL’s intent will be to stay with to the rules of 2010 -- with no salary cap and tougher criteria for free agency.

If players need six years instead of four to be unrestricted, it will hold back some key players in the AFC South, restricting their ability to move and tying them to restricted free-agent tender offers.

The Titans and Texans officially announced their tenders, the Colts had several reported and all indications were the Jaguars, who had only a couple candidates, stayed away from the process.

Who will be held back in such a scenario?

It would be a great landscape for the Colts.

Here’s a team by team look at how 2010 rules could affect 2011 teams:

Houston

The team would control the movement of four players it likes: Receiver Jacoby Jones, defensive end Mark Anderson, offensive tackle Rashad Butler and quarterback Matt Leinart.

Jones is a player they would like to keep, and while he did not pan out last season the way they hoped, retaining him could eliminate or reduce the one need we can find when looking through their depth chart -- a potentially dynamic receiver beyond Andre Johnson.

Leinart was a third stringer behind Matt Schaub and Dan Orlovsky. But he could have value in a league where a lot of teams have holes at quarterback.

Indianapolis

The Colts will fare far better at holding their roster together in this scenario, as it gives them extended control of six players who could hit the market if four years of service was the standard: running back Joseph Addai, offensive lineman Charlie Johnson, defensive tackles Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir, strong safety Melvin Bullitt and linebacker Clint Session.

Five of those players could be in the starting lineup on opening day and all of them would play significant roles. Bullitt and Session are the most likely to be attractive to other teams if they come free, and Bullitt could create a hole the team would have to address through the draft or free agency.

Jacksonville

The two key players the team could hold on to with a tender would be linebacker Justin Durant and punter Adam Podlesh. But all indications were the team didn’t give either a tender offer.

Tennessee

I expect the team will be happy to hold on to fullback Ahmard Hall and guard Leroy Harris. Though Harris was part of interior line issues last season, his position coach, Mike Munchak, is now his head coach and has said he believes those issues can be fixed by the incumbents. Hall was not as good in 2010 as he’d been, but is a good blocker who’s a respected leader.

Jacob Ford could be the sort of guy the Titans move away from as they’ve talked of beefing up at defensive end, but they tagged him.

No one in the division will be more upset to see things pan out this way that middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who was unhappy he didn’t reach the market last season. I think he’d feel like a prisoner if he’s back under a tag without a long-term deal. I also suspect, even with 32 teams as possibilities, he wouldn’t land the deal he thinks he would.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
12:29
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Needs.

Houston Texans

Where to start? The defense needs a major personnel infusion, starting at safety, where this draft is weak. Eugene Wilson (cut) and Bernard Pollard (not tendered in case he would be restricted) are not going to be back. They need candidates for both starting spots.

Outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 is a void, where rehabbing 4-3 end Connor Barwin is slated to be one guy and there is a blank on the other.

The team has talked confidently about Shaun Cody, who got a two-year contract, and second-year man Earl Mitchell being capable of playing the nose for Phillips. They can certainly upgrade.

The best answer for a group of too-young cornerbacks would be a veteran, not a rookie, but who knows how the next guy arrives? And a No. 2 wide receiver better than Kevin Walter who can do what they’d hoped Jacoby Jones would do would be nice.

Indianapolis Colts

We’ve been hearing about the need to get a tough yard in a crucial situation with the run game for some time and haven’t seen the personnel changes necessary. Then Bill Polian said during the season that yes, offensive tackle Rodger Saffold (drafted by the Rams in the second round) could have helped the Colts. The team needs offensive linemen, plural. At least one high-quality guy who can contribute from opening day would be big.

When they're healthy, Indianapolis has a great four-pack of receivers in Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez. But health questions on Collie and Gonzalez will linger; none of those guys looks to be an heir to Wayne’s role, and the Peyton Manning-era Colts have spent premium picks on skill guys.

The corner depth proved pretty good, but even if they are ultimately able to re-sign Melvin Bullitt, the Colts need some depth at safety.

Jacksonville Jaguars

While Courtney Greene may be a serviceable NFL safety, Don Carey probably is not. Odds are the Jaguars draft one and sign one at a position that was a big weakness in 2010.

Linebacker is also a spot of need. Daryl Smith is locked in, but the team probably will allow Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant to walk as free agents, meaning they need a starter on the middle and the outside.

Defensive end wouldn’t seem a need considering the team drafted Larry Hart and Austen Lane last season after adding veteran Aaron Kampman. But the pass rush is not where they want it, and a rush end could well be a position they address.

Inconsistent quarterback David Garrard needs to see the team have a legitimate alternative, and he should come from this draft. And those two quarterbacks plus Luke McCown need a No. 1-caliber receiver to head a group that won’t bring Mike Sims-Walker back.

Tennessee Titans

It starts under center, where the Titans do not have a No. 1 or No. 2 quarterback. They intend to add one veteran and one rookie and could easily spend their first or second pick on a signal-caller.

The team needs to get bigger and more durable on the defensive line. A beefy tackle and a rugged defensive end are on the wish list, and both could help make things easier for the rest of the defense. The interior didn’t collapse the pocket a lot, and the smallish ends wore down. Three of them are heading for free agency -- Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford.

Stephen Tulloch is heading for free agency, and the Titans didn’t get enough plays out of the linebackers last year, so they could upgrade.

Chris Hope’s replacement at strong safety doesn’t appear to be on the roster. While it’s a thin draft at the spot, the Titans need to find a candidate.
D. A. Wade from Orlando writes: Assuming the NFL CBA issue doesn't resolve before the draft in April, how does a team determine its draft needs? Do NFL teams operate on the assumption that all free agents will be lost, or do they assume the free agents will be retained, or is it a case-by-case basis? Or do teams draft without regard to their needs? Thanks for the insight.

Paul Kuharsky: I would think they‘d expect there will be some form of free agency at some point.

So it’ll be an interesting flip -- for years if you didn’t get something in free agency, you’d say, “Well, we address it in the draft.” Now you’ll say, “If we didn’t get it in the draft, we can get it in free agency.”

The wrench this time is a team may not have worked real hard to retain its own guys in February because it didn’t want to give out bonuses heading toward a lockout.

But in a league where more and more of the quality programs are draft builders, it almost seems to make more sense with the draft first, particularly if those salaries are in line to wind up more manageable.

I think bad, panicky teams will panic and force need in the draft, while better non-panicky teams won’t, and will get even better.


Cory from Denver writes: If there is a lockout and the NFL season is lost, what happens to Indianapolis hosting the Super Bowl? Do they host the following year or lose out completely? Thanks.

Paul Kuharsky: Can’t take away New Orleans’ Super Bowl in 2013 or NY/NJ’s in 2014. Presumably Indy would go to the back of the line and get the game played in 2015.

But the season won’t be lost. Players won’t be able to hold out that long.


Jim in Greenville, S.C., writes: With the draft so full of DTs in the first 2 rounds, could you see the Titans going to a 3-4 by taking someone like Marcell Dareus in the first and Drake Nevis (LSU) in the second or is it far more complicated than that? I'd love to see Jason Jones on the outside of a 3-4. Would he fit there? Would he stay healthier in that rather than the current circumstance?

Paul Kuharsky: It’s amazing how many people like to suggest the Titans should go to a 3-4. Even if they intend to go bigger at defensive end and part with Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, all free agents, they still have some of their best players on the defensive line -- Jones, Derrick Morgan, William Hayes. Their three linebackers last year were unproductive, and Stephen Tulloch is a free agent to be. So you want a team with two starting linebackers who were unproductive, Gerald McRath and Will Witherspoon, to change to a defense that calls for more linebackers? I’m not following the logic no matter who they can draft. It’s a two-year transition minimum, and they’ve got personnel that can be effective in a better 4-3.


Jeff in Nashville writes: Are we going to get a follow-up article to your "Cocky Mallett..." article that details how impressively he threw the ball today? His on field performance has garnered rave reviews across the board and one person even said it was the best QB performance at the combine in the last 10 years. When should we expect that article?

Paul Kuharsky: So defensive. Are you related to him or just a passionate Arkansas fan? Apparently you stopped paying attention right after you read the entry you didn’t like.

Here’s a piece I did less than 24 hours later on how the interviews can be over-interpreted. Did you also miss this one highlighting Mallett’s workout?

Also you do know that he SHOULD dominate a workout with no defenders or decision-making involved, right?


Chris in Phoenix writes: What are the odds that the Colts look into the recently released Tommie Harris since both Antonio Johnson and Dan Muir are currently FA's as well? I would also like to know your thoughts on the impact he would have with his unique speed at the defensive tackle position playing alongside Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t think the Colts are in a panic over the contract status of Daniel Muir or Antonio Johnson. I could see the Colts drafting a guy to be a front-liner with Fili Moala.

I would have been very surprised to see the Colts active cutting players before free agency.


Logan in Duluth, Minn., writes: In regards to the NFL schedule length, I was wondering why they have to have either 16 or 18 games. Would it not possible to drop two preseason games and add one regular season game? Is it because of playoff tie breakers?

Paul Kuharsky: An odd number of games is sloppy. Then some teams have an extra home game, others have one fewer. How does that affect competitive balance as teams vie for the same division crown or playoff berth?

And they would never drop two preseason to add one regular season. They have to have the same number of total gates or more, otherwise they are giving up money and they won’t be doing that.


Titansfan from Dover, Del., writes: What is the situation with Chris Johnson's contract?

Paul Kuharsky: He’s under contract. They can’t talk about an extension until July, presuming a new CBA is in place by then. A player/team can’t renegotiate the same deal twice inside a year.


Jesse in Muncie, Ind., writes: I am trying to find the complete draft order, but I can only get the first round. Are all seven rounds not yet determined? If that's the case, when will they be set?

Paul Kuharsky: Three rounds are set. Compensatory selections are announced in late March, and they start at the end of the third round and are tacked on to the end of every round after that. That’s why there isn’t a seven-round order yet.


Brent H. at Columbia, Tenn., writes: With the Broncos turning to Kyle Orton as the starter to open camp, could the Titans target Tim Tebow as a possible trade candidate as the QB of the future? He may not have the skills to be the answer immediately, but will be as ready as any rookie QB that we draft, and possesses great intangibles and leadership that the Titans have lacked from their QB position in the past (see Vince Young).

Paul Kuharsky: The Broncos have no idea who will start. John Fox and his staff have not been on the field with those guys. It doesn’t matter what they say right now.

If the Titans scouts weren’t high on Tebow a year ago, why are the high on him now?

They don’t need a quarterback with physical gifts OR with intangibles. They need one with both. Who cares if Tebow can lead if he can’t throw?


Jwill25 from Columbia, S.C., writes: Now that it seems like the Raiders will not be able to sign Nnamdi Asomugha, would it make since for the Colts to cut Kelvin Hayden? Hayden is scheduled to make a little over $9 million next season and for $4-5 million more we can get a top-notch cornerback in his prime that can hold up a hold season. Not to mention the numbers he produces turnover-wise is worth that much alone. I really believe he could do for us what Charles Woodson does for Green Bay. What are your thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: That’s not what Hayden is scheduled to make, it’s what he’ll count against the cap. He’s scheduled to make $6.015 million. Asomugha will cost a lot more than that.

And Jim Irsay has publicly said they won’t chase Asomugha. So that basically ends that.


Jonathan in Nashville writes: Chris Johnson Trade!?!?I happened to catch the tail-end of a conversation on XM Radio this morning that the Titans were going to "Shop" CJ around for a QB trade, is this true and if so why would they give up their best offensive player?

Paul Kuharsky: Not true. If it was true, why would the team be talking about it?

A top three running back is not worth a top 10 or 15 quarterback. Who’s trading a good quarterback for a good running back, when the rushing champ was undrafted and the good quarterbacks are almost all high picks?


Drew from Richmond, Va., writes: Any info on this DeMario Pressley? I mean from what I can put together he is essentially a second year player when it comes to playing time who has not proven that he is a playmaker much less a starter. The Colts already have six men listed at defensive tackle. Can we expect a few guys getting cut off that list, and how did this guy grab attention when there are bigger names on the market at that position? I agree that the Colts need to strengthen the run defense and start with the middle of the line but is this guy close to an answer?

Paul Kuharsky: I wouldn’t get excited about Houston’s toss-offs. Maybe he’s a serviceable, back-of-the-rotation guy.

Claiming a guy off waivers is a much cheaper and lower-risk option than signing Shaun Rogers or Tommie Harris or Marcus Stroud. They never said Pressley is a big answer. Such an addition means they think he’s worth bringing in and working with. He could easily be cut two weeks after coaches get to know him. Having him means nothing about their willingness to draft or look at a free agent later.

That said, don’t get caught up in big names. Did you know a lot about Antoine Bethea before they brought him in? Robert Mathis? Jerraud Powers?


Joe in Murfreesburo, Tenn., writes: Mel Kiper Jr. has the Titans taking a DE at #8 in the draft. I don't know if Mel remembers, but the Titans are fine at defensive end. They don't need to re-sign Jason Babin. In fact, they might be better off avoiding a big deal if it turns out he was just a one-year wonder. Derrick Morgan will be back, and he will be ready to go with Dave Ball OR Babin on the other side. Either way, they have much bigger needs than to draft another defensive end, when they will basically have a first-round rookie in Morgan next year. Talk some sense into the man Paul, we need a QB.

Paul Kuharsky: Of course they need a quarterback. But if they don’t like an option they have at No. 8, they’d be dumb to force it.

Babin, Ball and Ford are all en route to unrestricted free agency, they are all undersized and they all faded down the stretch. There is great defensive end talent high in this draft and the Titans have indicated they’d like to have more well-rounded, sturdy guys at the spot.

I’d have no problem with the Titans taking an end to go with Morgan and Hayes. A sustained pass rush that can defend the runs makes everyone better -- including a second-round quarterback.


Jarell from Atlanta by way of Gary, Ind., writes: I read a piece you linked the other day about the Colts free agents. I was shocked to realize how many of our guys are going to be up for free agency, who do you think we keep, specifically between Joseph Addai and Melvin Bullitt? I think Charlie Johnson is a talent, though not the best option at tackle, but the only option we have right now. And what about the tackles... Antonio Johnson came on last season at the end, and can be the reason why the rush defense fell behind while he was out in the playoffs. And Daniel Muir has become a staple in our community...what do you think?

Paul Kuharsky: Well first, I think being a staple in the community doesn’t mean much if you’re a middling player looking for a contract.

I don’t see them choosing between Addai and Bullitt and don’t know why you do.

Think they’d like to have Addai, Bullitt, Johnson, Johnson, Muir and Clint Session all back. They generally work hard to keep their own. I don’t think Addai, either Johnson or Muir draw a lot of interest from other teams. They are all tailored to the Colts, a team that works hard to keep core, valuable guys they drafted or brought in as rookies.

A quality O-line pickup could mean Charlie Johnson is moved to guard or sixth man. A quality defensive tackle in the draft or free agency could mean the end of Antonio Johnson or Muir.

Bullitt may be the toughest to retain because there is a lot of safety need around the league. The Texans and Jaguars would both be wise to chase him.

***

We’re Colts and Titans heavy, so I tweeted a request for Texans and Jaguars questions and did a rapid fire Twitter session. (I’m @ESPN_AFCSouth.)

@JoeDowntownVS2 so have the texans still decided safety dosent matters even after last year?

PK: Should have looked at available guys. But they still have draft and real free agency. If they don't act then, they're nuts.

@TheMizellGroup being that Garrard never seems to close out the season we know have consecutive seasons in the "L" are we drafting a QB

PK: Absolutely they'll look hard at a developmental QB.

@DustyGmoe With the signings yesterday from #Texans, can you tell where they will go in the first two rounds?

PK: Defense, defense, defense. OLB, FS, SS, CB and despite what they say, DT.

@baron_von_brad any other team make a play for Hawk?

PK: Don't think there was time and he may not have been interested knowing they were working on a new deal.

@HoustonDiehards is gerald sebsabaugh's history w/ Wade going to land him in Houston once free agency happens? Or are we counting on Nolan?

PK: Nolan in the mix. I hope they do better than Sensabaugh.

@tntitansfan10 how much long will Garrard be Jags QB?

PK: Five or six games if they aren't good ones.

@JasonEmbry With Texans' defensive changes, what does future hold for Okoye? And should Texans upgrade No. 2 WR?

PK: Will get a chance to play 3-4 end for Wade. I'd like to see another option at No. 2, though they invested in Walter.

@Hodari11 Does Rahean Mathis have any trade value?Trade now instead of getting nothing when he leavesWants alot more than he is worth

PK: It's not baseball, where you trade a vet for prospects before he's done. They need Mathis, too young in secondary without him.

@AnnaMegan Is getting a new deal for Vonta Leach a must for Texans?

PK: He was very good last year and I wouldn't mess with the formula. But FBs are generally replaceable.

@eggsngrits Not a #Texans fan, but I have to ask: Why would Arian Foster report to camp for a one-year $480k tender offer?

PK: Because he's under contract to do so. I think they'll try to reward him, but they get a financial reward for grabbing him.

@sumpteravada if we had had the social network we hve now n the 80s...wud Marino/Montana/Moon/Elway been held under the microscope?

PK: Their lives would have been different for sure.

***

Hate the contents of this mailbag? Change the next one by writing me here, via Twitter @ESPN_AFCSouth or via Facebook at Paul Kuharsky ESPN.
The Titans and Texans have doled out their tenders offers to players who could wind up restricted free agents.

But if a new CBA reverts to a formula in which players with at least four years of service and an expired contract are unresticted free agents, only four of 13 contract offers made by the two teams will wind up having any meaning.

Mark Berman says Houston didn't tender linebacker Zac Diles and strong safety Bernard Pollard. That means even in a scenario most favorable to the team in which it could maintain control over their fates, the Texans don't want them.

So Houston doesn't view Diles as a fit in its new 3-4 front and will be looking for two new safeties -- it recently cut incumbent free safety Eugene Wilson.

Among the tenders that would stick in even the players' best-case scenarios, leaving them restricted: Houston guard Mike Brisiel, Titans linebackers Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw and Titans tackle Mike Otto.

Other Texans tendered who are likely to wind up unrestricted based on service time: tight end Owen Daniels, quarterback Matt Leinart, defensive end Mark Anderson, offensive tackle Rashad Butler and receiver Jacoby Jones. Along with Pollard and Diles, the Texans didn't tender offensive lineman Kasey Studdard or defensive end Tim Bulman.

Other Titans tendered who are likely to wind up unrestricted based on service time: Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, fullback Ahmard Hall, defensive end Jacob Ford and guard Leroy Harris.

John Glennon reports the Titans passed on tendering linebacker Colin Allred, a played they could have held onto.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Donald Brown starts at running back for the Colts tonight with Joseph Addai and Mike Hart both out, though we’re sure to see some Javarris James and maybe Dominic Rhodes in the first game of his third stint with the franchise.

The Colts have three other subs, who are not surprises: Kavell Conner starts for Clint Session at weakside linebacker, Jacob Lacey starts at left corner for Kelvin Hayden and Justin Tryon starts at left corner for Jerraud Powers, who went on IR this week.

For the Titans Dave Ball (concussion/ hip) is inactive and will be replaced at right end by Jacob Ford.

The whole list of inactives:

Titans: QB Rusty Smith, S Robert Johnson, T Troy Kropog, CB Ryan Mouton, LB David Thornton, DT Sen’Derrick Marks.

Colts: WR Austin Collie, CB Kelvin Hayden, RB Joseph Addai, RB Mike Hart, LB Clint Session, OG Jacques McClendon, DT Ricardo Mathews.

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