NFL Nation: Tony Brown

Nick FairleYMike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesNick Fairley had 12 sacks and 56 tackles in 2010 as the dominant force on Auburn's defensive line.
Albert Haynesworth is surly. Nick Fairley is silly.

That’s the gist of a review I got from an AFC scout when I took him the idea that Fairley, the defensive tackle from Auburn who could go to the Titans at No. 8 in the draft, is like Haynesworth, the defensive tackle from Tennessee who went to the Titans at No. 15 in 2002.

Haynesworth didn’t always play hard, dealt with nagging injuries, stomped an opponent’s face and was motivated by money. But at times he was an absolutely dominant force in the middle who had a positive bearing on every player on defense and helped the Titans contend for the playoffs.

Popular thinking on Fairley now suggests a big contract could lead a collegiate one-year wonder, who took plays off during a fantastic season, to become lazy or complacent.

My scout says it’s an off-kilter comparison.

“Fairley is more happy-go-lucky, he’s not Haynesworth,” he said. “Albert played with a huge chip on his shoulder, like everybody was against him. This kid, when he hits the field, yeah, no question he’s a competitive son of a gun. But he’s not Albert …

“I think Fairley clearly has a chance to be a special player. You’ve got to remember, he’s a Southern, Southern kid. He’s a bayou-type kid. The [Titans] had a guy like [defensive end] Antwan Odom who was a bayou kid -- it can be misconstrued as not having a passion. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think this kid is a fun-loving type of kid who’s silly.”

“Yeah, he’s going to make mistakes. Are they going to be glaring or things done on purpose? His mistakes are going to come out of, pardon the expression, ignorance, just not knowing. License registration and stuff like that -- 'Oh, I didn’t even know I had to register my car.'”

Did I find one guy who doesn’t see Fairley as a concern?

Well, two other scouts also chimed in. One said he doesn't worry that Fairley could turn lazy. The other expressed apprehension, but said it wouldn't stop him from taking Fairley at No. 8 if he was with the Titans.

I knew Haynesworth at his best, and actually thought he was a bit misunderstood.

It took too long for things to click for him, but he wasn’t a bad guy in Tennessee. He wasn’t always brooding. He could be light-hearted and funny. He liked to talk about work as a travel agent and to show off his newest gadget. He got good enough that he could speak his mind without fearing the consequences, and I think a locker room needs at least one star like that.

He played his best when a contract was at stake. I was a member of the camp that didn’t care for that. I also didn't care for his tendency to need help off the field for injuries that proved less than serious. He responded very well to the Andre Gurode incident -- where he stepped on the Dallas Cowboys' center's head -- but it obviously shouldn’t have happened in the first place. He has not handled himself nearly as well in Washington, but Mike Shanahan practically poked him with a stick. Haynesworth had or has issues with anger management and fast driving.

But everyone who played with him in Tennessee wanted him on the field, doing his thing.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Haynesworth
AP Photo/ John RussellSome scouts say Nick Fairley's personality is nothing like that of Albert Haynesworth.
If Fairley can give the Titans that type of play and carries less risk of the drama, he looks like an appealing addition to a defense that needs to be revamped. After these scout conversations, I’ll offer no objection if he’s the selection.

Still, plenty of analysts continue to voice concerns.

“A lot of early round defensive tackles end up being busts,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “They are just freak human beings and even the highest levels of the college game can be easy for them. If their work ethic isn't top-notch, they often bust. Fairley seems to take a lot of plays off. He turns it off and on. That is a huge warning sign for me, especially at defensive tackle.”

Not all scouting eyes see plays off last season at Auburn, however. Charley Casserly told Jim Wyatt that playing too high and getting blocked on plays was mistaken for shutting down.

Draft analyst Mike Detillier of NFL Draft Report said he loves Fairley but has some fear of plays off. He thinks Tennessee’s new defensive line coach, Tracy Rocker, knows how to find Fairley's on switch since he coached the tackle at Auburn last season. There is risk with him, though, and work ethic after a payday is one of the hardest things to predict, he said.

That reminds me of my absolute favorite scouting maxim, one I learned from late Oilers/Titans scout Glen Cumbee: Money makes a guy more of what he is.

So good guys become better guys; bad ones become worse.

I’ve only had one interaction with Fairley, far too little to judge him on. If the Titans can plug him into their old scout's equation and not have doubt, they may have their man.

One other question about Fairley that’s come from readers is about his size. If the Titans are striving to get stouter, how does Fairley, at just under 6-foot-3 and between 290 and 300 pounds, do that when the Titans have Tony Brown (6-3, 305) and Sen'Derrick Marks (6-2, 295)?

Well, Brown's got chronic knee issues that could mean he’s only a situational player now and Marks, another Auburn guy, has not yet proven worthy of a second-round pick in 2009.

Meanwhile, Fairley has hardly maxed out.

“He’s a big, big, massive man,” the scout said. “You’ve got to realize he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s going to be physically. He’s going to get bigger and he’s going to get stronger, which is scary, and he’s got great feet. He’s a big basketball guy. He really thought he was going to the NBA as a kid.”

If there are no big surprises who fall to No. 8, I suspect the Titans will go with Fairley. They may like Washington quarterback Jake Locker, but not that high. If they find a willing partner, they could move down and still stand a chance of landing Fairley a bit later with Minnesota (12th), the Giants (19th) and Indianapolis (22nd), the biggest possibilities to take him out of need.

If the Titans moved back and Fairley disappears, they could turn to a defensive end like Adrian Clayborn or J.J. Watt, or they could look to Locker.

But no one may be a better addition than Fairley.

“Does he fit Tennessee?" the scout said. "Yeah, if everything you’re hearing is true and they want to get bigger and stronger and more physical, yeah he’s all three. You can put a check next to bigger and stronger and more physical.”
Williams/GarrardAP Photo/Phil CoaleMario Williams and David Garrard are two of the 53 players under contract in the AFC South slated to make more than $1 million this season.
After being struck recently with how the NFL's labor rift has been cast as billionaires vs. millionaires, I thought I’d look at some players' salaries.

Totaling-up career earnings is quite difficult, and bonus money can be hard to nail down and sort through.

We can still get an interesting snapshot by looking at scheduled 2011 base salaries. I suspect many readers will be surprised that the vast majority of players will earn less than $1 million this fall.

Here, according to the NFLPA, are the players from each AFC South team currently scheduled to make a base salary of $1 million or more in 2011. Keep in mind guys in line for some form of free agency are not part of things here.

Fifty-three of 216 players under contract are slated to make $1 million or more. That’s 24.5 percent of the division.

Houston Texans
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 13

Total players under contract for 2011: 49

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 26.5

Indianapolis Colts
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 11

Total players under contract for 2011: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 19.3

Jacksonville Jaguars
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 13

Total players under contract for 2011: 51

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 25.5

Tennessee Titans
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 16

Total players under contract for 2011: 59

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.1

*Young will be cut or traded, the Titans have announced.

Titans' Washburn may be Philly-bound

January, 18, 2011
Jeff Fisher critics have called for staff shuffling.

They’d have been foolish to want defensive line coach Jim Washburn to go. But Washburn, a free agent like every coach on Fisher’s 2010 staff except for Mike Heimerdinger, may be on the verge of jumping to Philadelphia, reports Jim Wyatt.

Fisher acknowledging the possibility may be an early attempt to start softening the blow.

It would be a terrible development for the organization, which has consistently seen Washburn turn draft picks and free agents, problem children and reclamation projects into productive pass rushers.

The list of guys Washburn got the best out of includes Jevon Kearse, who joined the Titans in 1999, the same year as Washburn as well as Kenny Holmes, Josh Evans, Henry Ford, Carlos Hall, Robaire Smith, Antwan Odom, Travis LaBoy, Albert Haynesworth, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tony Brown, Jason Jones, Dave Ball and Jason Babin.

In six seasons with four teams, Babin had 17. 5 career sacks before the Titans signed him for $1 million last offseason. Under Washburn’s tutelage, Babin posted 12.5 sacks -- the sixth-best total in the NFL. (Here’s a column on Babin and Ball from early in the 2010 season.)

A screamer, Washburn knows how to find and push buttons for his players, and he’s helped them make them a ton of money. By Wyatt’s count, 11 defensive linemen left the Titans over the past 12 years to sign big free-agent contracts elsewhere at a total value of more than $355 million.

I can think of only two guys who were better after they left. Juqua Thomas, who’s now Juqua Parker of the Eagles and could soon have Washburn as a position coach again, is not part of that big-money departure list. Randy Starks of the Dolphins is.

Virtually everyone who’s played for Washburn has good things to say about what he did for them.

Replacing him would be a huge undertaking for Fisher. A lame-duck coach, he won’t be able to offer his next defensive line coach any more than the one-year deal he was able to offer Washburn.

Texans put Mario Williams on IR

December, 15, 2010
The Texans and Titans have slim playoff possibilities, but they’ve waved the white flag in terms of having veterans push through injuries.

Houston put Mario Williams (sports hernia) on IR along with receiver David Anderson (shoulder) and right guard Mike Brisiel (shoulder), according to John McClain.

That means increased opportunities for Mark Anderson, Dorin Dickerson and Antoine Caldwell. No news yet on filling the roster spots.

The Titans put center Eugene Amano (neck) on IR Tuesday and defensive tackle Tony Brown (knee) followed him there Wednesday.

Fernando Velasco will take Amano’s place at center, while the Titans look to get Sen'Derrick Marks, Marques Douglas and perhaps Malcolm Sheppard, just signed off the Texans' practice squad, some time on the interior.

The Titans promoted interior offensive lineman Kevin Matthews off the practice squad. Matthews, son of Oilers/Titans Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, is an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M.

Bruce Matthews is an assistant offensive line coach for the Texans, who play in Nashville on Sunday.

“It’s a great coincidence,” Fisher said. “Kevin gives us the ability to have someone who can play both center and guard since basically that’s what we lost in Eugene. It allows us to minimize moves if we have a problem up front.”

Final Word: AFC South

December, 3, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/Henny Ray AbramsMaurice Jones-Drew has been blowing past defenses designed to contain him.
No matter the numbers: Maurice Jones-Drew has run well this season when teams have loaded up to try to stop him, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When opposing defenses expect run and bring more defenders into the box than the offense has blockers, Jones-Drew still produces. He has 37 carries under such circumstances and his 4.7 yards per carry average is tied for the third-best in the league. Since the beginning of 2008, only Thomas Jones (18) has more rushing touchdowns against the loaded box than Jones-Drew (15).

Three more TDs: Dallas has not played in Indianapolis since Nov. 17, 2002, when the Colts beat them 20-3. It will be only the third Cowboys-Colts clash of the Peyton Manning era and he’s 2-0 against Dallas. Manning already has an NFL-record 12 seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes. He needs three more TDs to make it 13. In his last two games -- losses to New England and San Diego -- Manning has thrown six touchdown passes but also seven interceptions.

Score more: The Titans were faring great in the scoring department before their four-game losing streak. Now, over the past month, they’ve scored 25, 17, 16 and 0, a total of 58 points. That’s less than half the point production from the four games before that (121). The Titans need some lengthy drives and big plays. They’ve talked over and over about the coverage WR Randy Moss is drawing. But his previous teams found a way to get him 948 catches against difficult coverages and it’s time for the Titans to figure out how. Without Moss, they scored 30 in Jacksonville on Oct. 18.

Beat up: Yes, the Jaguars are playing far better than they were when the Titans beat them up in the first game. The biggest difference heading into the rematch could be the health of the Titans’ defensive line. Tennessee’s pass pressure has dropped off and the group is dealing with injuries. Sen'Derrick Marks is probably out and Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Jason Jones and Tony Brown are all on the injury report. I expect more time for David Garrard and more room for Jones-Drew.

Run wary: The Colts might have Gary Brackett back at middle linebacker, and they could use him. Under interim coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have shown more determination to run the ball. The undersized, undermanned Colts can certainly be run on. They’ve given up 136.9 yards a game and 4.9 yards a carry this season.

Midseason Stock Watch: Titans

November, 10, 2010
Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 16. This week: No. 11.

2010 schedule/results

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Kim Klement/US PresswireTennessee's Vince Young has shown improvement in recent weeks and now has Randy Moss to throw to.
Where they stand: At 5-3, the Titans are even with Indianapolis atop the AFC South. It’s odd to be applying division record as a tiebreaker with a team that has played one division game, but the Titans are 1-0 and the Colts are 1-2, so the edge is Tennessee’s right now. While the Titans have been inconsistent, they’ve had a good pass rush and strong red zone defense, and halfway through the season they are No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 28 points a game. And now they’ve added Randy Moss to the arsenal.

Falling: Third down defense. The Titans were holding opponents to a third down conversion rate of just under 30 percent through six games and it was a defensive hallmark. But in a win over Philadelphia and a loss at San Diego they gave third-down conversions at a rate double that. It was a point of emphasis during their bye and the Titans expect the return of defensive tackle Tony Brown from a chronic knee issue will help the cause. Miami will be a good challenge in this department, as the Dolphins offense ranks fourth in the league on third down.

Rising: Vince Young. He has been showing improvement since the poor showing against Pittsburgh, in which he was pulled. Since then, he has missed a game and segments of two others because of knee and ankle injuries. But he has seven touchdowns and no picks in that span. Enter Moss. If there is a perception among some nationally that Young doesn’t throw well deep, it’s mistaken. He’s better rated throwing long than he is throwing short. Still, connecting with an all-time great who is used to Tom Brady is another new, big challenge.

Midseason MVP: We could go several different directions here with Young and the resurgent Michael Griffin each having a solid case. If we weren’t measuring Chris Johnson against last year, we might jump at the NFL’s third-leading rusher, who is second in rushing touchdowns with eight. But after much deliberation, the call is defensive end Jason Babin, who has a career-high seven sacks already and has provided relentless pressure.

Outlook: The Titans control their own fate because they’re tied for the lead and are 1-0 in division play. But they don’t have anything that looks close to a walkover left. Jacksonville at home will likely prove a tough division contest after a blowout in the first matchup. There are two against Houston and two against the Colts along with a home matchup against Washington and trips to Miami and Kansas City. Every one of those teams is .500 or better. A playoff berth is possible, but will be difficult to grab.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kerry Collins will start at quarterback as expected for the Titans today against Philadelphia at LP Field.

Vince Young looked gimpy in his warm-up with strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson and will be the No. 2 quarterback.

Two other changes for Tennessee: With defensive tackle Tony Brown (knee) out, Sen’Derrick Marks will start and Amon Gordon is active. And with receiver Justin Gage (hamstring) out and Kenny Britt not starting for disciplinary reasons, Damian Williams will start.

The Titans inactive list:

QB Rusty Smith, WR Justin Gage, CB Jason McCourty, S Robert Johnson, LB Rennie Curran, OL Troy Kropog, G Ryan Durand, DT Tony Brown.

The Eagles inactive list:

QB Michael Vick, WR DeSean Jackson, RB Jerome Harrison, CB Trevard Lindley, LB Keenan Clayton, T Jason Peters, TE Clay Harbor, DT Brodrick Bunkley.
There is room for sentiment in the NFL. Not as much in the AFC South blog.

I generally try to steer clear of the predictable storyline about a guy playing against his old team. But on occasion it does qualify as a big deal. Keith Bulluck was drafted by the Titans in 2000 and over 10 years became wildly popular with his coaches, Titans fans and Nashville media, including yours truly.

[+] EnlargeBulluck
AP Photo/Evan PinkusGiants linebacker Keith Bulluck "misses the fans" in Tennessee.
Pick one name and one face for the Tennessee defense since the franchise’s 1999 conversion into the Titans, and he’s it.

Sunday, he will line up against the Titans as a member of the New York Giants, though we don’t know for sure what his role will be. I expect way less nickel and dime than New York played against Indy, which should mean much more Bulluck.

He said his reconstructed knee feels great and he’s determined to continue to earn a big role for the Giants.

Tony Brown and Stephen Tulloch both said Bulluck was an irreplaceable invaluable leader for the Titans who helped them a great deal when they arrived in Tennessee, and they are trying to meet his standards for production.

I had the good fortune of reconnecting with Bulluck Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium after the Colts beat the Giants.

Here are the on-the-record highlights of that conversation:

Are you missing anything about Nashville?

"I miss the fans. I miss my house. I miss my friends, mostly. But all that stuff, after the season, I can get right back in touch with it. I still have my house there. I haven’t even thought about selling it yet. I put a lot of time into it, so I need to get some time out of it. Nashville is a great spot. Have a townhouse here. That was a bachelor pad for a while in Nashville, but now it’s a house. So it’s kind of weird. I went from 7,000 square feet to 2,200 square feet in New Jersey. It’s like 15 minutes from work, just like Brentwood. Same commute."

What will this game be like for you?

"It’s going to be great. I’m going to have fun. I’m going to have a great time. We just came off this not so good loss, so we’re all going to be amped up for next week… I don’t really think about those guys. I always check the score, just to see win-loss, but I know they’re going to be alright with the work they put in in the offseason and with the approach they’ve always had down there. I know Tully [Tulloch] is playing well, he’s captain and he deserves it. I saw them in the preseason against Carolina because we played them and in the game that was on TV, Arizona. He’s running around playing well. I keep my ears to the street."

Do you worry for Vince Young that he’s still not established as the unquestioned guy there?

"I just worry for him that they’re not going to let him get settled. You take him out Sunday? I don’t know. That’s their problem. We could definitely have a conversation about that."

What are you looking forward to the most about this game?

"Playing against the best running back in the league. I’ve always prided myself on getting the opportunity to play against the best players. I’ve had a chance to play against Adrian Peterson, I played against Emmitt Smith. CJ is the best running back in the league. I’m definitely looking forward to that opportunity. I’m glad Pittsburgh broke his streak of 100 yard games or we would have had to do it."

Titans should try to add Haynesworth

September, 7, 2010
If the Titans can get Albert Haynesworth for a third-round pick or less, they should jump on it. If they need to throw in a seventh, they should.

Tennessee’s old defensive tackle is hardly without sin in all that’s transpired in his relationship with the Redskins. But Mike Shanahan’s butchered things as well, often showing more concern with proving who’s boss than with attempting to get production out of a guy who can be dominant.

The Titans can handle him. Haynesworth played his best football for defensive line coach Jim Washburn. They have a good relationship and re-establishing it could help fix Haynesworth and resurrect his game and his name.

They can handle what’s left of the salary. They can handle and manage his personality. They can get him to play hard.

Bring him back, bump Jovan Haye out of the top four tackles. Give the Titans Haynesworth, Jason Jones, Tony Brown and Sen’Derrick Marks as their four interior guys and life gets easier for everyone on defense.

And the Titans would be a better football team.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 26, 2010
Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Houston Texans

While DeMeco Ryans in the middle and Brian Cushing on the strongside are fixtures, the weakside and linebacker depth rate as a secondary issue for the Texans. They could use a pick on the right guy. Gary Kubiak said early this week that Kris Brown can expect competition as the team’s placekicker starting in OTAs. That allows for the possibility the team could use a late pick on a kicker.

Indianapolis Colts

While the team was pleased with the progress of Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir and expect a second-year jump from Fili Moala, it could still look to add another bigger defensive tackle. Tyjuan Hagler was the starting strongside linebacker at the start of the season, but when an injury ended his season Philip Wheeler took over. That could be a spot Bill Polian addresses. As the team looks for better run-blocking linemen, is Gijon Robinson judged as a sufficient run-blocking H-back/tight end or might there be a better option available than Robinson or injury-prone Tom Santi?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Linebacker hasn’t gotten as much attention as defensive end and the secondary in pre-draft talk so far, but only Daryl Smith is safe from competition. The Jaguars loaded up with three wide receivers in Gene Smith’s first draft, but they lack playmakers and can use a solid guy opposite Mike Sims-Walker if they smack into one during the draft. Indications are the Jaguars will stick with a David Garrard-Luke McCown starter-backup tandem, but Jacksonville needs to develop another quarterback.

Tennessee Titans

Even presuming Michael Griffin bounces back from a very poor third season, Chris Hope will turn 30 early in the fall and the Titans primary depth at safety is Vincent Fuller, who they need playing nickel. Tony Brown, Jason Jones, Jovan Haye, Sen’Derrick Marks and Kevin Vickerson look like a reasonably talented and deep group, but Haye and Marks underwhelmed in their first seasons. Drafting a tackle wouldn’t be a surprise. If Kevin Mawae doesn’t return as a backup center, the Titans will need an interior offensive lineman to back up the three starters.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Small offensive linemen in Indianapolis: The Colts have added guard Andy Alleman and tackle Adam Terry, two players who weren’t tendered as restricted free agents by their teams. The bulking up on the line is probably not complete, and that means shuffling and potential benching of guys who don’t run-block as well as the Colts would like. Things look particularly grim for Mike Pollak and Tony Ugoh, second-round picks who weren’t starting and now see newcomers with more size arriving.


Jason Babin, DE, Titans/Eagles: No, he’s never been consistently productive. But here he is with a one-year, $1 million offer sheet from the Titans, awaiting word on whether Philadelphia will match. If it doesn’t, he gets to work with one of the league’s better defensive line coaches, and Jim Washburn helped turn Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tony Brown and Dave Ball from reclamation projects into productive players. This is likely the last chance for the journeyman, and it’s got to feel good to be wanted.
Add another reclamation project to Jim Washburn’s pile -- provided the Eagles don’t choose to match the one-year, $1 million contract Jason Babin has agreed to with Tennessee, according to Adam Schefter.

Washburn, the Titans' defensive line coach, has had his share of high draft picks – Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Travis LaBoy, Antwan Odom, Randy Starks, Jason Jones and Sen'Derrick Marks -- to work with.

But he’s also been given a share of scrap heap guys.

And before people like me jump to say we don’t expect much from Babin, who busted big time as a first-round pick for the Houston Texans in 2004, we’d be wise to review some of those names, too.

Kyle Vanden Bosch and Tony Brown turned into defensive stalwarts and Dave Ball was tendered at a second-round level with a one-year $1.8 million price tag.

So Babin is an extreme case of wait-and-see.

Perhaps he eases the pressure on the team to find a pass-rusher in the first three rounds of the draft. I would think it’d be awfully hard for them to make that assessment before the draft, though, and he won’t change their plans.

If he blossoms under his new position coach, the Titans will take the depth and experience.

Here’s the bonus review from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., who returns e-mails with lightning speed.
DE/OLB tweener who has never really found a home or position that best suits him. Had a tremendous Combine when coming out for the draft and I think that has clouded some people into thinking he is a great athlete who can really play coverage (in a 3-4 for example). But that hasn't been the case and he is more or less just an upfield 9 Technique...which is like [Dwight] Freeney or [Robert] Mathis (lining up real wide). He does have speed, but hasn't developed a real repertoire of pass rush moves and when run at, is a liability. Obviously DE is a need area for the Titans, so adding him to the mix isn't such a bad thing, but he isn't an everydown guy and in the end, you would hope that you can do better for a pure specialty pass rusher.

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
Houston Texans

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.

Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.

Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.

Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.

Tennessee Titans

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.

Our 2009 All-AFC South Team

February, 18, 2010
Chris Johnson, Antoine Bethea and DeMeco RyansGetty Images, US PresswireChris Johnson, Antoine Bethea and DeMeco Ryans highlight 2009's All-AFC South Team.
First, the faults.

Selecting an all-division team is an imperfect process. It’s somewhat uncomfortable to bestow the same honor on the league MVP (Peyton Manning) and Offensive Player of the Year (Chris Johnson) as the best of a less-than-great group of guards.

But once we committed to this, we had to see it through.

You offered a good deal of feedback through this post, in which I listed shoo-ins and a few either/or choices and left blanks, asking for your assistance. Once I had the team sketched out, I needed some help at a couple of spots and called on a couple of scouts. They offered good, if sometimes conflicting, input.

With all that in mind, here is my completed 2009 All-AFC South Team:

Proactive: Jaguars fans will crush me, I am sure. But part of the Jaguars’ lack of presence here is just bad fortune. Maurice Jones-Drew would probably be the running back on seven other all-division teams, but can’t be in front of Johnson and his 2,000-yard season here.

John Henderson and Rashean Mathis, still good players, lived more on reputation than production in 2009. Daryl Smith is a quality player, but was a clear third to me at outside linebacker behind Brian Cushing (Houston) and Clint Session (Indianapolis). Uche Nwaneri lost out in similar circumstances -- see the guards entry below. Terrance Knighton and Derek Cox are definite risers, but were not quite as good as their competition in the division this season.

And although Montell Owens was the Jaguars' leading tackler on special teams, William Middleton stood out more in some games I saw. I don’t defer to on everything; when I checked its special-teams ratings, Middleton was tied for ninth, well ahead of Houston's Xavier Adibi (next in the AFC South at 20th) as well as Owens (tied with a huge group for 377th).

Guards: One scout suggested I leave at least one of these spots blank, but I couldn’t leave Manning with no inside protection or Johnson with no interior blocking. The Colts' Ryan Lilja isn’t especially strong but he was very efficient. Although the scouts didn’t love him, both chose the Titans' Jake Scott over Nwaneri.

Defensive tackles: A lot of readers wanted Henderson here, but he was good (not great) and didn’t draw my attention the way others did, so players on the rise got ahead of him. Tennessee's Tony Brown was a consistently disruptive force and Antonio Johnson caused problems for people who presumed the Colts would be soft in the middle.

Corners: Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan started slowly and dealt with an injury. But he eventually got back to form. The bulk of readers and both scouts rated him as the best in the division, as do I. The second spot was a tough call with Dunta Robinson, Mathis, Cox and Jerraud Powers all getting consideration. I really liked Powers’ ability to fill in effectively for the Colts when they expected him to be a nickel at most in his rookie season.

Mario vs. Mathis: Is Mario Williams equipped to be a more complete player than Robert Mathis? Absolutely. Was he in 2009? No. The shoulder injury was a factor, but Williams was not his best self while Mathis was a terror who still gets downgraded as if he cannot play the run even though he is just fine against it.

Ryans vs. Brackett: One of the scouts said that as good as Indy's Gary Brackett was, Houston's DeMeco Ryans is such a consistent playmaker he has to be at the head of the line. That was more than good enough for me to break my initial tie at middle linebacker.

Pollard vs. Bullitt: I put Bernard Pollard in as a lock on my initial ballot, but some of you made a good case for Melvin Bullitt. I love Bullitt and thought he had an excellent season. But Pollard was a transforming presence after he joined the Texans.

Thanks, but...: I appreciated the push for Owen Daniels (half a season vs. Dallas Clark’s 100 catches made it no contest), the reader who rated Chris Johnson as a “one-trick pony” and the mention of Mike Pollak.

Free agency: AFC South

February, 15, 2010
AFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC South.

Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.

[+] EnlargeGary Brackett
AP Photo/Darron CummingsThe Colts would be hard-pressed to replace Gary Brackett's production and leadership.
Indianapolis Colts

Unrestricted free agents: LB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover

Key figures: Indianapolis has a long history of letting linebackers walk, but middle linebacker Gary Brackett is a special player and a special case. A great tackler and a great leader, the drop-off without him would be significant. And while the Colts surely will be looking to stick to a budget even in what’s looking like a cap-less environment, they can, and should, find a way to ensure he’s part of the 2010 team.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, TE Ernest Wilford

Key figures: Defensive end Reggie Hayward broke his left leg in the 2009 opener and was finished for the season. For a team trying to build a pass rush, maybe he still can be a valuable veteran presence. Three restricted guys are of note: linebacker Clint Ingram, defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison and receiver Troy Williamson.

Houston Texans

Unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter

Key figures: The lack of a CBA will benefit the Texans more than anyone in the division, because middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and tight end Owen Daniels will be restricted rather than unrestricted. Cornerback Dunta Robinson was ticked off at being franchised last year. Will they do it again? Receiver Kevin Walter didn’t have a great year, but is a valuable piece who could be attractive to a team looking for a No. 2 wideout.

Tennessee Titans

Unrestricted free agents: Eugene Amano, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, P Craig Hentrich, DE Jevon Kearse, C Kevin Mawae, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch

Key figures: Tennessee has more issues than anyone else in the division. Center Kevin Mawae, linebacker Keith Bulluck and end Kyle Vanden Bosch are all unrestricted. Four others will be restricted thanks to the lack of a new CBA -- running back LenDale White, linebacker Stephen Tulloch, defensive tackle Tony Brown and tight end Bo Scaife. Expect a defensive retooling.




Sunday, 2/2