NFL Nation: 2013 AFC South plan

My plan for the Tennessee Titans as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:

Finances: There are contracts here that need to be dealt with, but the team has about $18 million in cap room at the start and there's no need to make any moves right away. Guard Steve Hutchinson ($5.25 million base in 2013) and center Eugene Amano ($3.935 million) can't be on the roster at those salaries, and won’t be. Safety Jordan Babineaux ($1.6 million) could be in a similar situation. But the Titans have said they won’t make cap moves until replacement players arrive, and that’s sound thinking.

Continuity: Keeping kicker Rob Bironas would be nice, but you can only spend so much on a kicker considering how we’ve seen some kids come out of nowhere and do big things. Tight end Jared Cook was enough of a problem that the Titans didn’t tag him, so they must move on from the headache. Center Fernando Velasco should be fine if he’s between better guards; the Titans should tender the restricted free agent so that he’s sure to remain. It’d be nice to keep Darius Reynaud, but if Marc Mariani returns healthy, Tennessee doesn’t need both returners.

Turnover: Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks is probably not worth what he might draw on the market, so be ready to move on there. Will Witherspoon wasn’t a good enough backup for injury-prone Colin McCarthy at middle linebacker, and an upgrade is needed.

Additions: It’s time to be aggressive. Chase Buffalo’s durable guard, Andy Levitre, and lure him by telling him how much better he can get with the polish two Hall of Fame coaches can apply. The other big fish needs to be Michael Bennett, the Tampa Bay defensive end. He’s a big, ascending player who can play every down and would give the pass rush the boost it needs. Dustin Keller was hurt last year, but he played in every game in his first five seasons. He can be the reliable tight end working underneath for Jake Locker that Frank Wycheck was for Steve McNair. To replace Marks, roll the dice on Kansas City defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who should be affordable and might fare well in a second act with lower expectations.

Draft: If Alabama guard Chance Warmack is on the board at No. 10, he would complete the interior line rebuild. I want a corner who can provide another option outside, a safety to groom behind George Wilson and one of the big running backs in the middle rounds who can complement Chris Johnson.
My plan for the Jacksonville Jaguars as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:

Finances: The Jaguars have about $24 million in salary-cap room, so they don’t have a huge issue. But they are carrying several contracts that are too hefty. Laurent Robinson is overpaid, but a year into his deal they are unlikely to bail. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and guard Uche Nwaneri are too costly, both due base salaries of more than $4 million this season. Linebacker Paul Posluszny ($6.5 million base), Dawan Landry ($5.4 million) and cornerback Aaron Ross ($3.75 million) are also costly. I’d make no money moves until my coaches have time with the team on the field for a thorough assessment and see some of the alternatives brought in.

Continuity: Re-sign outside linebacker Daryl Smith. He’s been a very solid player for the franchise, and because he was hurt for 14 games last year, his price is going to be discounted. Re-sign cornerback Derek Cox, ideally to an incentive-laden deal tied to his availability. Hope he’ll give you a chance to match if someone else gives him a better offer. He’s a great player but it’s hard to invest in a guy who misses so much time.

Turnover: Allow the rest of the free-agent class to hit the market and wish it well. If a player like defensive tackle Terrance Knighton or fullback Greg Jones doesn’t find what he wants out there and remains available later, consider an offer down the road.

Additions: I’d shop more aggressively than I expect the Jaguars will based on how they’ve spoken about free agency, but I will try to stick to their parameters here. Seattle defensive tackle Alan Branch was a key piece of the defense Gus Bradley ran for the Seahawks, and new coaches typically like bringing in a guy or two who know how they will operate. I want to make at least one statement signing that addresses a big area of concern. If Sebastian Vollmer’s back checks out, he’d be my guy. He’s a top right tackle who’s been part of a successful franchise in New England. From there, I’d pursue a few more affordable types: one of two cornerbacks, Greg Toler from Arizona or Bradley Fletcher of St. Louis and a defensive end who’s still young and has some versatility, St. Louis’ William Hayes.

Draft: The No. 2 spot is a toughie, because clear choices at the top of this draft have not emerged. There is defensive line talent, however, and the pass rush is a longstanding issue the new regime is inheriting. That first pick needs to be able to rush the passer or be a long-term fixture on the offensive line. Needs are so wide ranging, there are few spots the Jaguars need to avoid. Although I'm not happy with the quarterback situation, I would not feel I had to have one unless I felt I saw a real value in the second or third round.

My plan for the Houston Texans

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
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My plan for the Houston Texans as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:

Finances: Cut wide receiver Kevin Walter, saving $2.5 million in cap space. Restructure the deal of wide receiver Andre Johnson, reducing his base salary from $10.5 million to $940,000 (giving him the rest now as a bonus), resulting in a salary cap savings of $7.17 million. Restructure the deal of cornerback Johnathan Joseph, reducing his base salary from $7.5 million to $940,000 (giving him the rest now as a bonus), resulting in a salary cap savings of $4.373 million. Extend defensive end Antonio Smith, reducing his 2013 base salary of $6 million and his cap charge of $9.5 million significantly.

Continuity: Re-sign safety Glover Quin. The Texans didn’t use the franchise tag on him but would face a tough hole to fill if they let him depart. He’s carved out a good role on this defense, and it would be mutually beneficial for him to stay. In addition to extending Smith and saving money, invest in inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who counts $4.643 against the cap in the final year of his initial deal and is due $3.143 million in base salary.

Turnover: Allow outside linebacker Connor Barwin to leave as a free agent if he gets a good deal. Although it would be nice to keep him, the team is equipped to move on without him and should be able to draft a player who can be the third guy at the position behind Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus. Brice McCain can be a nice nickel but should be replaceable if he finds an opportunity he prefers. Be done with nose tackle Shaun Cody.

Additions: Sign a free agent defensive tackle like Roy Miller from Tampa Bay. He’s a good run stopper who could replace Cody and be better in tandem with Earl Mitchell in Wade Phillips' 3-4 front, which allows for a smaller nose. Mike DeVito (New York Jets) could also work and wouldn’t have to transition to 3-4 thinking.

Draft: Swing big for a wide receiver who can line up opposite Johnson and pose a matchup threat. Perhaps Cal’s Keenan Allen or Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins fits the bill. Tavon Austin from West Virginia, who is smaller and quicker, could give the Texans the sort of weapon they don’t have. Use other early picks on inside linebacker, safety depth and corner/nickel depth. Emphasize linebacker with late picks, looking to boost special teams coverage and blocking.

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