AFC South: Robert Meachem
I’m steering clear of the huge guys on the incoming category, as it’s easy to say a team should covet the best/most expensive player at a position of need.
Outgoing: Mario Williams, outside linebacker/defensive end. Maybe they can make him a semi-attractive last-minute offer. But there is no reason for him not to see what the market has to offer, and what it has to offer is going to overwhelm him in comparison to what the Texans can offer. He’s a phenomenal combination of size and athleticism. But he also tends to be injured.
Incoming: Robert Meachem, receiver. Marques Colston gets all the attention as the Saints receiver who can leave. Meachem will be less pricey, and has the sort of speed that could help the Texans stretch the field and provide a playmaker in the receiver group beyond Andre Johnson. I don’t think they will do anything in free agency, at least not early, because of financial constraints.
But I’ve got a good sense of your team. We've looked at the free-agent list.
And here’s what I’d try to do with your major issues:
1) Land at least one premium free-agent wide receiver. I’d stack them something like this: San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, Buffalo’s Steve Johnson, New Orleans’ Marques Colston. If you’re bold and will take two, I like Indianapolis’s Pierre Garcon or New Orleans’ Robert Meachem.
2) Re-sign safety Dwight Lowery. Just a year ago, you were a mess at safety. You did fine work signing Dawan Landry and trading for Lowery and shifting him from corner to fix it. You have to keep it fixed. Hopefully he realizes what a great fit he is in a top-flight defense. But there are a lot of safety-needy teams out there, including your AFC South rival Titans. Lowery needs to be in your lineup in 2012.
3) Be a player for Mario Williams. If Houston’s outside linebacker/defensive end becomes a free agent as I expect, you can afford to make a huge splash with him. And you’re a premier pass-rushing defensive end and a cornerback away from being a premier defense. If Williams goes elsewhere and the Colts’ Robert Mathis comes free, he should be the second target.
4) Shop free-agent quarterbacks to upgrade the backup plan for Blaine Gabbert. Chad Henne probably finds a better situation. Kyle Orton too. How about Jason Campbell? The new backup needs to have the right disposition -- sit back, offer guidance, run a good scout team. But he also needs to be able to play, because if Gabbert is bad again, you can’t just sacrifice the season. You have to have a better backup than Luke McCown.
5) Let defensive end Jeremy Mincey explore the market. He’s a supreme effort guy you’d like to have back. But he’s not worth the kind of money I imagine he’s looking for. If the rest of the league agrees, you’ll have a chance at him later. If he gets swept up, then someone likely overpaid.
6) Monitor your defensive tackles closely. Tyson Alualu's knee surgery wasn't said to be major, but the knee kept him from peak performance last season and they need to get it right. And Terrance Knighton's weight cannot continue to be an issue going forward. Ultimately it's on him, of course, but the new staff needs to find the best, most helpful approach.
7) Wait on Rashean Mathis unless he's cheap right away. The corner will be an unrestricted free agent but is coming off a torn ACL. He's a great team guy and can still play, but the end is in sight. You want him on a cheap, short deal and hopefully you draft the guy in April who replaces him in 2013.
8) While you have plenty of cap room, you still want to be conscious of paying reasonable prices. You can wait to decide on them later. But even a healthy Aaron Kampman isn’t worth a $4.97 million base. And fullback Greg Jones played only 38.7 percent of the team’s snaps last season but is schedule to make $3.4 million. Too much.
Houston Texans: Wide receiver
McCown: “The Texans enter free agency as a team with a promising amount of depth at many key areas, but Andre Johnson's injury last season exposed the fact that Houston's wide receivers simply aren't up to snuff without him ...
“The Texans will look hard at receivers in free agency and the draft. It's unlikely that they'll land a top-tier wideout like Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson because they still need to budget money carefully for players like Mario Williams, Arian Foster and Chris Myers. But a mid-level receiver like Steve Johnson, Reggie Wayne or Robert Meachem could potentially be brought in.
“More likely, however, the path for improvement will come through the draft.”
Paul Kuharsky: I think the Texans like Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones better than most analysts, but the long stretches without Johnson made them overly reliant on Foster as a target showed they don’t have enough at wideout.
Indianapolis Colts: Wide receiver
McCown: “Of the top five receivers on the Colts' depth chart going into last season, only Austin Collie and Blair White are under contract for 2012. Reggie Wayne, who will turn 34 during the 2012 season, is likely on the outs as this team begins a rebuilding phase. The Colts have expressed interest in re-signing free agent Pierre Garcon, who has generally fared very poorly in our receiving numbers. Garcon came out as below-replacement value last year, but he has ideal deep speed, and playing with Dan Orlovsky or Curtis Painter will make any speed receiver look worse than he really is. Anthony Gonzalez is also finally out the door after a disappointing, injury-plagued career in Colts blue.
“Again, given the direction of the team, it's rather unlikely that the Colts will be players for an elite free-agent receiver, but they could probably be in on the mid-tier targets with an eye toward youth. Players like Laurent Robinson, Harry Douglas or Andre Caldwell could make sense here. The Colts could also spend their second- or third-round picks on a receiver who could compete for snaps.”
Kuharsky: McCown writes he skipped past quarterback knowing it will be addressed with the No. 1 pick. Receiver is certainly a concern, but I think cornerback may rate as even bigger for a team that hired a defensive head coach in Chuck Pagano. If the new regime likes Jerraud Powers, the team still ranks as thin in coverage guys after him.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Wide receiver
McCown: "Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson summed it up best when he said: 'Those guys couldn't get a [expletive] receiver if it hit them in the head. They haven't had anyone since Jimmy Smith. ...'
“There are two ways to (upgrade). The Jaguars could make a play for Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson or DeSean Jackson. They certainly have the cap space to accomplish such a goal and could even bowl over someone who is iffy about Jacksonville with extra money. Or they could see if Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon falls into their laps at No. 7 overall, which would certainly be a more cost-conscious, if risky, move.”
Kuharsky: We are certainly talking about more than one guy. The Jaguars could aggressively shop in free agency and get a first-tier and second-tier guy. Or they could grab one veteran and spend a premium pick on another receiver. Upgrading the weapons for Blaine Gabbert is definitely priority No. 1.
Tennessee Titans: Defensive end
McCown: “Assuming that the Titans continue to handcuff themselves to the declining Chris Johnson, the biggest need in Nashville is an elite pass-rusher. When Jason Babin joined former Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn in defecting to the Eagles, the Titans' adjusted sack rate fell from 13th in the NFL in 2010 to second-to-last in 2011. Moreover, only two teams generated fewer quarterback hits from their top pass-rushers than the six the Titans had from Dave Ball: the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills ...
“If they can't address defensive end in free agency, then a pass rusher will likely be a top priority for the Titans with their first-round pick. If they do pick up a premier sack artist, then it would give them an opportunity to spend the pick on a safety or wide receiver, which are also positions that could use reinforcement in Nashville.”
Kuharsky: The Titans need immediate impact at the spot. I don’t expect them to overpay Williams if he's free. The free-agent crop behind him could be thin if guys get franchised. Can they find a reclamation type like Babin who will be an upgrade on opening day? Will a guy who can consistently get into the backfield still be on the draft board at No. 20?
“We were told what the expectations were for coming to the Pro Bowl and I don’t know -- I got to fly on a private plane with six of my best friends and teammates, we had Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, took a private escort right into Miami, shook a few hands, had to wave, did one interview and we made $45,000. I can think of some worse things to put yourself through. ...
“We’re glad everybody’s here now and we’re ready to go.”
The popular topic was Dwight Freeney. You see a Chris Mortensen report in the post before this one and here’s the news story on what was said.
Some other highlights that don’t quite match up to that, many on familiar themes:
- Pressed for a difference between Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell, Kelvin Hayden came up with: “No eating in the meeting rooms. Coach Dungy felt like if guys were relaxed and comfortable in the meeting rooms, they’d pay attention a little more. But coach Caldwell, I guess he didn’t buy into that and he shut it down, so no eating in the meeting rooms.”
- Asked about reconciling giving up so few sacks and blocking for the 32nd-rated running team, right tackle Ryan Diem said: “I think a lot of that can come to rhythm in a game. And once you start throwing a lot, you kind of get out of that run rhythm obviously and it’s hard to get a rhythm when you only run 12-15 times a game. So I guess that’s really the only way I can explain it is that we don’t run the ball often enough to kind of feel that run rhythm that some other teams do.”
- Someone asked Gary Brackett, does anyone do as much as the Saints in terms of offensive formations and packages? “A few teams try but I don’t think they have quite the talent level that the Saints have that can spread out. Obviously Reggie Bush can play several positions. Robert Meachem is another speed guy. [Marques] Colston has the ability to be that matchup problem. They do a good job of opening up the playbook.”
- Manning was asked about another championship further validating his career: “I have the same excitement that I had three years ago. ... Your question had a lot of 'I's phrased in it. I really think of it as a we. This is our opportunity and I feel fortunate to have a number of guys on my team that you’d feel fortunate to go into any type of battle or game with. That’s kind of my approach to it and I’m sticking to that.”
- And as for the team staying in the same hotel, working on the same practice field out of the same facility as they did when they won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season, he said: "I don’t think staying in the same hotel or practicing on the same field, I certainly don’t think it helps you stop Drew Brees’ offense or figure out where Darren Sharper’s going to be.”
HOUSTON -- Lightning in the area forced the Texans and Saints inside for their second practice Wednesday. Bummer, I thought. It'll be cramped in there and we'll see them do far less.
But in terms of focus and watchability, it was actually better than the morning.
Outside of some special teams work, both teams drove the ball from just over midfield against the defenses for much of the practice. There was also a section of alternating possessions where the offenses tried to string together longer drives, at least some of which were 2-minute drills.
Some highlights and thoughts:
- Saints cornerback Randall Gay made a nice play in coverage of Jacoby Jones, prompting a fumble after a nice catch of a Dan Orlovsky pass. Side Judge Jeff Lamberth told the assistant coaches and players to in range of him on the sideline that Gay played it just right, that a hand on the back was not an issue because he wasn't clutching, twisting or pushing with it. Lamberth told me it was a catch and fumble.
- When the teams were driving the longer field, Matt Schaub was intercepted deep while aiming for Andre Davis but New Orleans' first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins, who sprinted with it for what would have been a return touchdown. The Texans defense answered back in a hurry, as Fred Bennett got under a less than great deep ball intended for Robert Meachem from Joey Harrington. The response produced some major hoots and hollers from the Texans along the sideline.
- Ryan Moats had a drop but got a lot of carries when the Texans handed the ball off and caught several check downs -- too many, I felt like, even some in seven-on-seven work. Chris Brown is lined up to be the primary compliment to Steve Slaton, but Moats got the bulk of that work in both practices Wednesday. He's a darter with potential, but on a team that needs a bigger back as the second guy, if the Texans have to turn to Moats I wonder if he doesn't qualify as more Slaton-Lite?
- Mark Brunell threw a TD pass to tight end Buck Ortega that linebacker Kevin Bentley could have deflected with a small move of his outstretched arm had he seen it sooner. It's the kind of play that could have had a different outcome had Ortega had to fear or absorb a shot that was lined up for more than one defender,
- Schaub was picked on a deep ball, but was not at fault. Owen Daniels couldn't pull it in, and when it bounced off his hands linebacker Scott Fujita snatched it.
- In seven-on-seven red zone work, Schaub twice hit David Anderson over the middle at the goal line. A bit later, he rolled right and -- intending to pump fake or changing his mind about throwing it and attempting to pull it down -- he let the ball slip out of his hand and fall awkwardly incomplete only a few yards in front of him.
Continuing our periodic look at the history of the AFC South-relevant first round draft slots ...