AFC South: Jason Allen

Maybe the Tennessee Titans hit it off with John Abraham, find a comfortable middle ground for a contract and add him.

Abraham
But it’s important to note as news breaks of a scheduled Thursday-Friday visit in Nashville: It’s just a visit.

The Titans had defensive end Israel Idonije, right tackle Eric Winston and cornerback Jason Allen to Nashville early this week. They all left and none has been signed.

Tennessee is serious about continuing to add to its roster.

If they could land Idonije or Abraham, in addition to Winston and Allen, they’d be a better team for sure. Heck, one of those four guys makes them better and enhances competition and depth.

Ultimately there will be at least a few more new Titans. They could arrive now. Or via cuts around the league when rookies get signed. Or during camp. Or after final cuts around the league following the preseason. We don’t know when.

For fans who tend to go wild over recognizable names, they have to like the list that’s emerged this week.

None of them will make or break this team’s chances in 2013. But I think any one of them would be a good addition.

And on May 2, the team has a lot more leverage than the player, so there may be a bargain to be had.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The NFL preaches tolerance for gays, but some players haven’t fallen in line with the policy, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

Looking back at Sam Montgomery’s media session at the scouting combine with John McClain of the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

Jerry Hughes, traded to Buffalo, will cost the Colts $2.1 million in dead money in 2013, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

A sampling of draft grades for the Colts from around the country, from the Star.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Anyone who thinks the Jaguars should rethink their stance on Tim Tebow was in denial, says Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

“In front of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the (Florida) Senate on Monday killed any chance the Jacksonville Jaguars had of getting a sales tax rebate for stadium improvements,” says Matt Dixon of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker welcomes the offseason emphasis on adding to the offense, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

In addition to Eric Winston and Israel Idonije, the Titans visited with cornerback Jason Allen, says Wyatt.
The AFC South has six additional picks in April thanks to the NFL’s formula for compensatory draft picks.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.

The Texans get a third-rounder, No. 95 overall, and a sixth-rounder, 201st overall as a result of losing Jason Allen, Mike Brisiel, Joel Dreessen and Mario Williams while signing Bradie James and Donnie Jones.

The Titans get a third rounder, 97th overall, a sixth-rounder, 202nd overall and a seventh-rounder, 248th overall as a result of losing Cortland Finnegan, William Hayes and Jason Jones. Their two prominent signings, Kamerion Wimbley and Steve Hutchinson, were cut by their previous teams. The formula factors in only players who had expiring contracts and became free agents. The Titans signed none who qualified for consideration in the league’s equation.

The Colts get a seventh-rounder, 254th overall even though they did not suffer a net loss of compensatory free agents last year. Under the formula, the compensatory free agents lost by the Colts ranked higher than the ones they signed. The formula needs annually adds 32 picks, the equivalent of a full round of picks, to the draft and the Giants and Colts got the two extra picks to fill out that number.

The Jaguars didn't qualify for an extra pick

Complete team-by-team draft orders will appear here shortly.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
12:30
PM ET
HOUSTON -- For a long time, the Texans were a popular pick to break through.

Coming off the season in which they finally did, they rank as the favorite to repeat as AFC South champs.

Houston Texans logoBut the tone in Houston hasn’t changed a bit. Steady coach Gary Kubiak has talked about starting from zero again, and although salary-cap issues and free agency dented them a bit, this confident team knows it needs to show some grit to build off last year’s experience.

“The window is open,” said quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed the team’s final six games and the playoffs after suffering a serious foot injury. “We have the talent, we have the people, we’ve got to go out and do it. It’s the next link in the chain. ...

“We’ve got the right mindset to keep everyone focused. If we see someone not focusing on the next job, we make sure he gets it right.”

Camp carried a confident vibe, and the team was fortunate to dodge long-term issues when receiver Andre Johnson (groin) and defensive end J.J. Watt (elbow) suffered injuries.

There’s been some Super Bowl-or-bust talk, and this season will present the Texans with a chance to measure themselves against the teams they could see in the AFC playoff bracket: New England, Baltimore and Denver.

If the right side of the offensive line were not being replaced and if Schaub were a bit more of a sure thing, they’d be a popular pick to represent the AFC in New Orleans.

Even with those issues, it doesn’t take much imagination to see them there.

THREE HOT ISSUES

The offensive line: The zone-blocking scheme is really what the whole franchise is built on, and last year’s offensive line was among the league’s very best, producing the NFL’s No. 2-rated rush offense.

Right tackle Eric Winston was let go to save some serious salary-cap money, and right guard Mike Brisiel left for Oakland when the Raiders offered an above-market deal. The favorites to replace them, Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, have significant time in the system, and everyone seems to think it can be a seamless transition.

Rookie Brandon Brooks, a third-round pick, brings uncommon size and could challenge Caldwell. Derek Newton, a seventh-rounder from a year ago, is on Butler’s heels. They won’t both win, but one could.

The Texans did allow 33 sacks, ranking 20th in the NFL in sacks per pass play. There is room for improvement in that area no matter who's playing.

The receivers: Johnson dealt with separate injuries to each hamstring last season, then needed offseason knee surgery, then lost camp time to a groin strain. If he’s on the field, the team has enough at receiver to supplement him. If he’s not, then it’s a question.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Andre Johnson
Brett Davis/US PRESSWIREThe Texans need Andre Johnson on the field for the rest of their receiving corps to be effective.
Kevin Walter is a fine No. 2 if Johnson is on the other side of the field, which allows Walter to run precise, shorter routes and throw quality blocks. If Johnson’s out, Walter isn’t as dynamic, and the three youngsters vying for the third spot become more important. Keshawn Martin has had the best camp to this point, but DeVier Posey and Lestar Jean are in the mix.

Johnson missed nine games in 2011. The Texans couldn’t really rely on Jacoby Jones week-to-week (and released him in the offseason). With tight end Owen Daniels and running back Arian Foster playing big pass-catching roles, the team still did fine.

Coverage: Johnathan Joseph is an excellent corner who will be asked to track the top wideouts on the other teams. The list likely will include Demaryius Thomas, Kenny Britt, Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson, Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne and Percy Harvin.

The combination of the Texans' quality pass rush, Joseph’s good work and some help may often get the job done.

But on the other side, Kareem Jackson has been more comfortable in zone coverage than man, and had a security blanket platoon system in place with Jason Allen. Allen is now in Cincinnati, and early indications suggested the new veteran, Alan Ball, won’t be as much of a help.

There is good depth in the secondary. Brice McCain is a solid nickel and Brandon Harris is an improving backup for him. Troy Nolan is a capable third safety after Glover Quin and Danieal Manning.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

This team has firepower and star power, which make it tough for plan for, tough to stop and difficult to move against.

Johnson and Foster rank in the top three in the NFL at their positions, and Daniels remains a very effective weapon. The defense is loaded with stars who’ve produced: Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, Joseph, Brooks Reed and Watt. The third outside linebacker, Whitney Mercilus, is a first-round pick.

There isn’t a bad egg or an out-of-control ego on the list.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Outside of the division, the Texans' road games are at Denver, at the Jets, at Chicago, at Detroit, at New England. I don’t think the Jets will rate as one of the league’s best teams, but those other four may well be in the top 10.

I don’t think expectations will be a problem, but a year ago they played 13 of 16 games at noon CT and just once outside of Sunday. This time they’ve got four night games and a Thanksgiving Day game, and four of those five are away from home. That’s a different deal that could prove a test.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Johnathan Joseph
AP Photo/Pat SullivanJohnathan Joseph is getting more comfortable with the Texans.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Joseph is far more outspoken on the field than he was last year. It’s a testament to his comfort level and confidence. That people on both sides of the ball listen shows how respected he is.
  • Defenses and nickelbacks won’t be able to come into a game against the Texans anticipating one particular receiver in the slot. Different plays, different motions and different matchups will mean Walter, Johnson and Martin all get looks there.
  • Something will really have to go wrong for Justin Forsett not to be the third running back behind Foster and Ben Tate. He’s really shifty and could easily be part of a committee elsewhere. In a red zone period I watched him catch a short pass in the flat, slam on the brakes and allow Reed to fly past, then accelerate to the end zone.
  • Brooks, a rookie guard, impressed me. He can really hold his ground, and although speed gave him problems a few times, he’s mature beyond his years. I think he’s got a real shot at nudging Caldwell out of the right guard spot.
  • I’d like to see the Texans throw to James Casey more. He’s not really a fullback, although he is capable of doing what they ask and need. He’s got great hands and can make more plays that he gets called for him.
  • It’s hard to envision Trindon Holliday holding up based on his history and size. If he can, and he can master ball security, he’ll be a nice weapon as a returner. If being able to contribute as a receiver in a pinch is a requirement of the job, I can’t see it. Defensive backs will relish a chance to muscle a 5-foot-5 player at the line, rendering his speed largely irrelevant on any route that involves timing -- and don’t they all?
  • Houston gets enough out of the Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell defensive tackle combination. But it still seems like one of maybe only two spots in the base defense where the Texans could actually benefit from an upgrade.
  • There are not a lot of depth questions on this roster, which saw the value of quality depth last season, over and over. Inside linebacker is an issue with Darryl Sharpton (hip) out. Cushing is close to indispensable. Left tackle Duane Brown is a guy the team might struggle without. But the Texans have won minus Schaub and without Johnson and can win without Foster. The defensive line wouldn’t be the same minus Watt (out for the preseason with an elbow injury) or Antonio Smith. That said, what would the reaction have been last year at this time if we hypothesized Mario Williams would miss all but five games?
  • Jean dropped too many passes during the three-and-a-half days I watched practices. That made me think he might do more to remind people of Jacoby Jones than the help them forget him.
  • Rookie kicker Randy Bullock has plenty of leg. Considering they picked him in the fifth round, he’d have to fall flat on his face the rest of the way for the team to choose Shayne Graham over him, right?
The Texans' first unofficial depth chart, released in advance of their preseason opener at Carolina on Saturday, contains no huge surprises.

Teams generally defer, at this stage, to the veteran over the rookie -- if not in the rotation or play time, at least on paper.

Here are a few items of note:
LX from Chuco, Texas, writes: You are soooooo defensive about the Texans' org and especially about the lunch-money-victim coaches (Kubes and Phillips). You wrote that "General manager Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak crafted and fielded a team that made a major breakthrough last season: the Houston Texans’ first trip to the playoffs." ...Well, isn't that what was expected of them last year. The entire division played horrible, Manning's injury exposed the Colts, Arian proved he wasn't a one-hit-wonder, and the Texans' Def improved (because history showed it would in Philips' 1st yr). Kubes and his people show you just enough each year to say that they improved, but they have yet to beat PHI, SD, BAL, or NYJ ever; win at IND (even if Peyton wasn't playing); or sweep the division. Speaking of history, Matt Schaub will not finish the season-again, both he and Kareem Jackson will hinder late-game comebacks, most of the rookies will be broken by the time the season starts, Phillips' D will struggle, and a guaranteed loss awaits them in Indy (possibly lose the other Colts game because they tend to drop games to rookie QBs).

Paul Kuharsky: So by your thinking, if a team is expected to win its division and does, it doesn’t count as an accomplishment because it only did what was expected?

You and I have different qualifications for being good.

Mine is that you get to and advance in the playoffs.

Houston’s defense was better because history shows it would be under Wade Phillips in his first year? So what, it was better. If you’re going to say they won it in part because Peyton Manning wasn’t playing, then are you giving them a pass for all the years they didn’t make the playoffs because he WAS playing?

C’mon.

You play the schedule you’re given and if you win your division, guess what? You were its best team. The Texans also beat Cincinnati in the playoffs, so guess what? They were also better than at least one playoff team.

And please don’t pretend like you know Schaub’s health future. He played two straight healthy seasons before a freak injury last year. Any QB who had his leg twisted by Albert Haynesworth the way Schaub did was likely suffering that injury.


Travelz from Rio de Janeiro writes: Paul, ... you’re joking right??!!??......... MJD is the entire Jags O, plus heart and soul of team!! And, as a Jax fan, I think I am ready to email ESPN and ask them to get you to submit a drug test, if you think Ras Jennings is ready to handle the load solo, and get weak weaky Gabby a nice level of comfort !!!! You have limited tape or stats at pro level to support the Jennings claim at all !!! Injured most of last year, over his head the year prior, thus he has shown that he is feature back.

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t think I said Rashad Jennings is an NFL feature back on the level of Maurice Jones-Drew. I do think the Jaguars would hand him the ball and be OK with it so long as MJD isn’t around. And trust me, when it comes time to start missing paychecks, he’ll be back. They all are.

He’s not the boss.

Why be mad at the team and not mad at him for not anticipating that the deal he signed just two years ago would be out of sync with running backs in just two seasons? And is being the eighth-best paid back really a crime for one of the league’s top five backs? (Please don’t reply with he’s the best because he led the league in rushing.) Players take their turns -- when you sign, you’re at the top. In subsequent years, you fall down the list at your position.

It’s called life in the NFL.

Boo hoo.


@indydadof3 writes: How will Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis handle the new defensive scheme?

Paul Kuharsky: Chuck Pagano is a smart guy and he knows those two guys are premier pass-rushers. He’s not going to ask them to spend a lot of time doing stuff they aren’t good at. They will move around and it will make them less predictable and create some confusion. But I envision an adjustment like the one Mario Williams was making last year before he was hurt in Houston. He was surrounded by better players, but had five sacks in five games when he got hurt.


Kevin Cunningham from Portland, Ore., writes: The Texans have four top flight players coming to free agency this summer all at premium positions. Of the four (Duane Brown, Connor Barwin, Brian Cushing, Matt Schaub) which one is the most vital to what the Texans do? I think Brown is one of the best LT in the league, and Barwin is going to cost a ton due to his sack totals and we all know Cushing and Schaub are the leaders on their respective sides of the ball. Can the Texans keep all four?

Paul Kuharsky: Cushing is under contract for 2013 -- due a base salary of $2.193 million. He’ll be in line for a new deal, but he won’t be heading for free agency just yet.


LX from CHUCO, TX writes again: A popular phrase around the NFL is "If you have two starting QB, you have no QB"; shouldn't the same apply to Kareem Jackson and the HOU CBs? Joseph, as you pointed out, seems to agree by saying ??They drafted him here in the first-round to be a fulltime corner, not to be a split-time corner." If you draft a player in the first round, he should be held to a higher standard and be expected to hold the position w/o the aid of a tag-team. This arrangement burns-up an extra spot on the ROSTER and SALARY CAP space (common excuses for cuts in HOU). Jason Babin showed early promise and was cut, Dunta Robinson and Mario Williams were used until they needed a raise, and the defensive CAPTAIN (not a 1st rounder, but just as important) DeMeco Ryans was tossed away like a soiled diaper; with such disregard for high-draft-choices (that actually did their job solo), why is Kareem so well liked? Why doesn't HOU spend a high pick on another CB? They drafted RB Tate when Arian Foster was emerging and hoard TEs as if prepping for an Apocalypse; why not invest in a caliber CB if available?

Paul Kuharsky: They aren’t burning a roster spot by having a Jason Allen or an Alan Ball. They need that cornerback depth no matter how well or how much Jackson plays. It’s just a matter of how much that third guy plays.

I agree, Jackson should be an every down guy. But if he’s not good enough to be an every down guy, then they have to do something else. It’s better than leaving him out there when he’s not good enough when they have a better alternative.

Jason Babin was ages ago and was terrible in Houston, miscast as a 3-4 OLB. They changed to a 4-3 and back to a 3-4 since then. Robinson wasn’t worth what they would have had to pay, and neither was Williams.

And it’s time to get over the Ryans trade. He played less than half the snaps last year and didn’t do a lot. He didn’t fit the system. If you like J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, who are great in the 3-4, then you have to accept collateral damage like Ryans.

He did. You can.

Finally, having Ben Tate is hardly a bad thing. You seem to be anti-depth. That’s a bad stance, because the Texans won the division last year because of their depth.


@TitanSizedJason writes: In two years time, who will be the better LB for the Titans: Akeem Ayers or Zach Brown?

Paul Kuharsky: I’m not much for such forecasts, but it’s important to note they are very different players. The Titans used to allow for their two outside linebackers to be very similar players. Not these two.

Ayers is a big, strongside guy who should be able to manhandle some tight ends and be an effective rusher. Brown is keyed around his speed and will drop to cover far more than he will go forward to get near the quarterback.

Let’s see them both work in Jerry Gray’s system before a big comparison. Ayers was limited last year as Gray didn’t install a whole lot as a first-year Titans coordinator without offseason work.

***

Thanks to everyone for the questions.

You can send more via the mailbag or Twitter. Follow me here, too.

On Kareem Jackson's weak spot

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
10:42
AM ET
LX from Chuco, TX: writes: "...Kareem Jackson makes me question the Texans' sanity. In the chat you said "Kareem Jackson looked fine" and "Yes, (Alan) Ball is in line to be (Jason) Allen. Good addition, I think." Those seem to be contradictory statements; If Kareem was really "fine" then the response to the Ball question should be that Jackson is the starter and that Ball is a backup. As much as the Texans love Kareem (or at least hate to admit an error) do you think they will ever get rid of him?"

[+] EnlargeKareem Jackson
Brett Davis/US PresswireHouston CB Kareem Jackson played in 15 games in 2011, netting 42 tackles, one FF and one INT.
Paul Kuharsky: Their feeling about Jackson and yours (and many fans’) are certainly far different. They are not anywhere close to getting rid of him, nor should they be. You don't cut guys because they affect the sanity of someone in Chuco.

And I don’t believe my statements were contradictory. It’s completely possible for Jackson to look good at OTA practices and for the team to still decide to help him with Ball.

That’s not going to be sorted out now, but will be sorted out in camp.

I’m not big on splitting a starting job in half, but the Texans made the Jackson-Allen combo work. Allen moved on to Cincinnati as a free agent, and Houston was wise to find a veteran from the outside who can take Allen’s role if the Texans need him to.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the team’s top player in the defensive backfield, Johnathan Joseph, both said good things about Jackson during OTAs. (They also said good things about Ball.)

Said Phillips: “(Jackson) was a better zone guy than he is man. The other guy was better man/press than zone. That was last year. I think Kareem is getting better at man. He played man, I don’t mean he couldn’t play man. But Jason was a good press guy, but he had trouble playing off.

“(Joseph) will play the best receiver, whoever he is, zone or man, we’ll put him on the best receiver. I don’t know if we’ll substitute for Jackson or not. But we’ve got some other guys who look like they can play.

“We have several guys that are pretty good at (man) and that’s why we brought in Alan Ball, too. Because he can play, he can play either one. When I was in Dallas, my last half year, he was one of our best players. We said, ‘OK, we’ll just put him at safety.’ He was playing corner and he was playing real good but we couldn’t get him on the field because (Michael) Jenkins and (Terence) Newman had played real good and we almost led the league in scoring defense.

“So we put Ball at safety and then Jenkins and Newman didn’t play worth a d--- and I wish I would have kept Ball at corner for those guys that half a year, because they just played terrible for a while.”

Jackson’s widely regarded as the weak link in the Texans’ defense, including by me. He got a lot better last year, in large part because of defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.

The big question is whether he will be the best option in man coverage or if the Texans will still feel safer with a platoon where someone else, like Ball, comes in for press situations.

Said Joseph: “They drafted him here in the first-round to be a fulltime corner, not to be a split-time corner. I know he understands that. I look at a player who progressed from Year 1 to Year 2, and in OTAs I’ve noticed him progressing and we expect it from Year 2 to 3 in training camp.

“He’s a smart football player overall, you can put him in man or zone. He has responded well. We don’t have any doubt in our mind at all about Kareem.”

Spots that still need attention

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
10:45
AM ET
The draft is over, the rosters are filled up.

But what areas weren’t sufficiently addressed and where can we expect to see the teams of the AFC South continue to seek help?

Some thoughts.

Houston Texans

Veteran corner Jason Allen left as a free agent. He helped the Texans cover for Kareem Jackson, who played just 55.73 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2011.

Brandon Harris was a second-round pick out of Miami last year, but didn’t show anything. The Texans look to be counting on him to contribute more. They like Brice McCain, but he's a situational guy.

But corner is a spot where the Texans need some additional depth at the very least.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts loaded their roster with offensive players -- eight of 10 draft picks went on that side of the ball.

The defensive picks were on the defensive line.

Which means the Colts still have a ton of work to do in the defensive backfield.

Jerraud Powers is a quality corner and a good leader. But after him, there are no proven corners on the roster. Is the second starter Chris Rucker? Kevin Thomas? Mike Holmes? Brandon King?

That’s not a great group to be choosing from. Look for team to give some undrafted rookies a chance and grab a veteran or two as guys come free during camp cuts.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars believe a healthy Eben Britton will help fortify their offensive line and he should.

But they don’t have sufficient depth on the offensive line and should create a situation where there is more real competition.

They re-signed Guy Whimper, who is a swing tackle at best and had some bad stretches last season. They like John Estes as a reserve center, but it would be nice to have someone to compete with him for the right to take over for Brad Meester.

Tennessee Titans

The team has sent major mixed signals about its offensive line.

Tennessee courted all the top centers in free agency but did not land one. And then they didn't draft an offensive lineman. Coach Mike Munchak said it wasn’t a dire need and the team can win with what it has.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports that among the team’s undrafted rookies is William Vlachos. Perhaps the center from Alabama can scramble the mix. But the Titans should still be adding options on the interior.

Under pressure: Kareem Jackson

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
3:50
PM ET
Perhaps no underachieving player in the division gets more, steady, public cover from his team than Kareem Jackson, the Texans’ cornerback heading into his third year.

He was the 20th pick of the 2010 draft, when I felt like the draft went off the course the Texans expected and they got a little panicky. The talked about how pro ready he was coming out of Alabama and they made him a starter from the very beginning.

[+] EnlargeKareem Jackson
Brett Davis/US PresswireHouston cornerback Kareem Jackson, a first-round pick by the Texans in 2010, had 42 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception last season.
But even in an upgraded secondary last season, he couldn’t secure a full-time job, splitting work at the cornerback slot opposite free-agent addition Johnathan Joseph with Jason Allen, who’s now gone. (Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report recently wrote about Jackson as on the hot seat in Houston.)

Jackson doesn’t play with the confidence the Texans seem to try to instill with the constant reinforcement, often appearing timid. He got better under new defensive back coach Vance Joseph, but he still qualifies as the weak link in the defense.

Perhaps Brandon Harris, a mid-round draft pick from 2011, will get in position to challenge Jackson or provide a security blanket. Perhaps the team will draft a cornerback to fill Allen’s role. Perhaps it will pick up a veteran down the road when some shake free out of training camps.

But ideally, Jackson would graduate and become the player the Texans like to say he is. If he does, the defense has the potential to be as good as it was a year ago, when it often carried Houston.

Gary Kubiak was fond of saying both Jackson and Allen qualified as starters. Jackson played 55.73 percent of the Texans’ snaps on defense, Allen played 49.05 percent.

Getting only a bit more than half-time work out of a first-round draft pick hardly qualifies as a success. It’s only Year Three. Plenty of players emerge to play their best at this stage.

Receiver Jacoby Jones was a candidate here, but I fully expect the Texans to add a wide receiver who would take playing time away from Jones. Jackson should be counted on to play more, not expected to play less.

If I am a coordinator planning for the Texans, I’m making an effort to go after Jackson until he shows me he can make plays to slow me down.

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major personnel losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got -- starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold on to players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?
Gary Kubiak conceded the early stages of free agency were rough on the Houston Texans.

They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he got to restricted free agency, and managed to keep center Chris Myers after he saw some interest from outside.

But gone through free-agent losses, cuts or trades are eight players of note.

Let’s take a look at each departure:

OLB Mario Williams (free agent, signed with Buffalo)

The team knew it was highly unlikely it would be able to keep him, and he got a giant contract from the Bills.

The glass-half-full side points out how well the Texans rushed the passer without Williams in the final 11 games and the playoffs last year and points out that he was always banged-up.

On the other side, Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed need to be part of a three-man gang at the position, and the odds of the pass rush just picking up where it left off aren’t high. Bryan Braman is an interesting player and could be a factor in his second year. Look for another outside backer in the draft.

RT Eric Winston (cut, signed with Kansas City)

A strong and technically sound right tackle who was a big piece of a line that may have been the team’s best unit and ranked among the league’s best last season.

This move was the biggest surprise of all that’s unfolded, and Winston was courted heavily before landing in Kansas City.

The team could go with backup swing tackle Rashad Butler, who missed much of last season with an arm injury. But he didn’t fare great when subbing for left tackle Duane Brown on the left side for four games a year earlier.

ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded to Philadelphia)

A beloved member of the team, Ryans hasn’t returned all the way to form after a serious Achilles injury. Plus, in the 3-4, he was barely a two-down player until Darryl Sharpton got hurt.

The Texans may not have gotten quite enough in the deal and they may have to smooth things out in the locker room, but a healthy Sharpton is a capable second inside guy to go with Brian Cushing.

RT Mike Brisiel (free agent, signed with Oakland)

The team played better with him in the lineup than when he was out and Antoine Caldwell filled in. Brisiel did tend to miss a couple games a year. The spot should be Caldwell’s to lose now and he should still be getting better.

TE Joel Dreessen (free agent, signed with Denver)

He seriously considered Houston’s offer before leaving to play with Peyton Manning. He was a valuable player for the Texans, the kind of smaller piece that glues together a team while being overlooked by many.

James Casey is the lone fullback now, but he’s technically more of an H-back and can do tight end things. Depending on how he’s deployed along with Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, Houston could be OK.

FB Lawrence Vickers (cut, signed with Dallas)

He only played 31.06 percent of the Texans’ plays. Are they dead set on being a fullback team? Call Casey a fullback if you want, but you can run out of anything with Foster and shouldn’t feel desperate to restock.

CB Jason Allen (free agent, signed with Cincinnati)

An unsung player who the team counted as a co-starter with Kareem Jackson, a first-round draft pick who has not lived up to his draft status. They lost a security blanket with Allen, and need to ensure they have a fallback for Jackson on the team, whether it’s a veteran later, second-year man Brandon Harris or a draft pick.

QB Matt Leinart (cut)

T.J. Yates flew by him on the depth chart with his performance down the stretch, and the Texans couldn’t afford Leinart as a third.

Addition and subtraction

March, 18, 2012
3/18/12
1:29
PM ET
A free-agency roundup for the AFC South so far. We're not including a team's own free agents that it has re-signed:

Houston

Additions: None

Subtractions: OLB Mario Williams (Buffalo); RT Eric Winston (cut, Kansas City); CB Jason Allen (Cincinnati); G Mike Brisiel (Oakland); QB Matt Leinart (cut); Lawrence Vickers (Dallas).

Indianapolis

Additions: DL Cory Redding (Baltimore); RT Winston Justice (trade, Philadelphia); S Tom Zbikowski (Baltimore); C Mike McGlynn (Cincinnati).

Subtractions: WR Pierre Garcon (Washington); WR Anthony Gonzalez (New England); QB Dan Orlovsky (Tampa Bay); QB Peyton Manning (cut); LB Gary Brackett (cut); S Melvin Bullitt (cut), TE Dallas Clark (cut).

Jacksonville

Additions: WR Laurent Robinson (Dallas); QB Chad Henne (Miami).

Subtractions: ST-WR Kassim Osgood (cut).

Tennessee

Additions: G Steve Hutchinson (cut, Minnesota).

Subtractions: CB Cortland Finnegan (St. Louis); DL Jason Jones (Seattle).

Looking at needs with Scouts Inc.

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
1:08
PM ET
Our exclusive peek into the Insider file of Scouts Inc.’s Gary Horton running through team-by-team needs :

Texans

Horton says: Corner, receiver, defensive end.

On corner:Johnathan Joseph was a terrific shutdown corner for the Texans in 2011 and a big part of their defensive resurgence. Kareem Jackson is OK on the other side, but he lacks elite speed and ball skills and rotated with Jason Allen, who might leave in free agency. Brice McCain shows some promise as a nickel corner, but, in this blitz-oriented defense, turn-and-run cover corners are critical.”

Kuharsky: I’d like to see them upgrade. It’s time for a more honest assessment of Jackson. But they did draft Brandon Harris last season in the second round and they surely hope he’s ready to push for playing time in his second season.

Colts

Horton says: Quarterback, center/guard, cornerback.

On center/guard: “The left tackle position is decent on this line, but there are all sorts of problems on the interior and at right tackle. Offensive guard was a revolving door in 2011, and center Jeff Saturday is near the end of a terrific career. With not much behind the current starters, there is a lot of work to be done with this unit. Center Carl Nicks might be too expensive for New Orleans, and he would be a huge get.”

Kuharsky: I don’t know how the new regime’s philosophy will be about big-money free agents, but odds are the team won’t be able to afford a guy the quality of Nicks.

Jaguars

Horton says: Wide receiver, defensive end, cornerback.

On receivers: “This offense has lacked a go-to guy in the passing game for years, and it is by far the weakest position on this team. The Jaguars' only dependable guy, Mike Thomas, is ideally suited for the slot, and that means the team could use two starters on the outside. The depth in this unit is nonexistent. If they leave in free agency, DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson and Steve Johnson might be attractive guys. If Jacksonville goes the college route, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon would be great.”

Kuharsky: They’ve got money to spend and have indicated they’ll use it. There is no reason they should not land a premier receiver in free agency.

Titans

Horton says: Cornerback, safety, center/guard.

On center/guard: “The Titans like their bookend tackles, but the interior of this offensive line needs an influx of veteran depth and talent to boost a run game that underachieved in 2011.”

Kuharsky: I think Horton underrates what the Titans have at corner even without Cortland Finnegan. They’ll make a move on the inside of their line, but how big a move?
Early thoughts on the Texans scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

Running back Derrick Ward -- A third-stringer who has good experience and could be important if Arian Foster is lured away with an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

Tight end Joel Dreessen -- Though largely underrated from the outside, he’s been a nice contributor and certainly has value for the Texans.

OG Mike Brisiel -- A solid starter they’d surely like to keep in order for their very good offensive line to remain intact.

C Chris Myers -- A very valuable cog in the machine and a great system fit, he may have been the best center in the NFL in 2011.

Wide receiver Bryant Johnson -- He was a non-factor as the team’s fourth receiver and they need to upgrade the spot.

Linebacker Tim Dobbins -- Played well when he got on the field, but may find better opportunity elsewhere.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams -- If the Texans can’t lock him up before March 13, he will become the biggest prize of the free-agent class. It would be a huge accomplishment to find a way to re-sign him.

Cornerback Jason Allen -- He’s been a virtual “co-starter” with Kareem Jackson and has typically outplayed him. But based on this list, he’s not close to a priority.

Kicker Neil Rackers -- Rackers has been a steady guy for the Texans, who surely would like to keep him rather than shopping for a replacement.

Also UFAs:
HOUSTON -- A couple halftime thoughts from Reliant Stadium, where the Titans lead the Texans 13-10.
  • The Titans smartly came out with something different, using shotgun with an empty backfield. They had great success with it early, but seemed to sag when it didn’t lead to a touchdown drive right out of the gate. An injury to receiver Damian Williams that’s knocked him from the game may force them to use it less than they’d like the rest of the way.
  • Houston’s front is great. The Texans swarmed against a good pass-protecting offensive line and produced two Antonio Smith sacks of Matt Hasselbeck. The linemen and linebackers just come from a different spot on every play. I think that pass rush is going to key them in the playoffs.
  • Jake Delhomme got away with a very bad throw late in the second quarter. Cornerback Jason McCourty would have probably gone for a touchdown if he didn’t flub the pass like a man who had casts on two broken hands.
  • Receiver Donnie Avery benefitted from Williams’ injury and caught the Titans' touchdown on a smartly designed play. Tennessee bunched three receivers right, then had Hasselbeck throw to Avery against Jason Allen on the left from the 1-yard line. It was Avery's first catch of the year.
  • The Texans should pound it with running backs Ben Tate and Derrick Ward in the second half. I think they can break the Titans' defense that way, and that the Titans could be frustrated they aren’t having an easier time considering Houston didn’t dress Arian Foster, Johnathan Joseph or Owen Daniels.
  • I thought rules dictated teams announce in-game injuries. But the Texans have not said what prompted T.J. Yates’ trip to the locker room and exit from the game. And the Titans took a long, long time before finally revealing at the half that Williams has a rib injury and his return is questionable.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider