Four Downs: AFC South
Biggest Need: Firing Jack Easterby
As an analytics website, Football Outsiders generally is not focused on who is in charge of a team so much as prescribing wisdom for what that person should do. The problem is that the Texans are an empty shell of an organization without Deshaun Watson, a crime scene that happens to play 16 football games a season.
While firing Easterby, Houston's executive vice president, would be but a start towards keeping Watson (depending on who you ask, the quarterback is as mad at team owner Cal McNair as he is at Easterby), it's going to be impossible to run a typical free agency program with the man having any say in football operations. Nobody on the team trusts him. Sports Illustrated reports have him doing things like spying on players. The front office continues to be stacked with loyalists.
Like most of our prescriptive bold advice, we don't expect the Texans to actually do anything about this. Just, you know, this time instead of it being about solving a problem on the team, it's solving a problem that is beyond the scope of the roster.
Major Free Agents: WR Will Fuller, CB Gareon Conley, LB Tyrell Adams, OT Roderick Johnson
Fuller's free agency is a fascinating one. He may be the most talented wideout available. He also has never played even 13 games in a season between injury and suspensions. How do you value someone who is dominant on the field but has major issues staying there? Many NFL teams devalue players like this. Then there's the cap, which should decrease from last year, tightening everyone's wallet. We could see Fuller franchised. We could see Fuller signing a huge deal elsewhere. We could also see Fuller signing a smaller deal. As always, Fuller's possibilities range the full spectrum. The rest of the Texans free agents honestly aren't all that appealing, but there could be some bargains out there.
Biggest Need: Quarterback (yes, still)
When the Philip Rivers retirement came down, this write-up became a fait accompli. Rivers had a nominally successful season in a game manager role for the Colts—a 60.2 QBR that ranked 20th, a 9.9% passing DVOA that ranked 12th. Even had he stayed, however, quarterback of the future would have been a question. Now that he is gone it becomes a question of what the Colts do in the long term.
Asked about this after the season, general manager Chris Ballard gave the most honest answer you can give:
Look, taking one will get y'all off my ass for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn't play well, I'm gonna be the first one run out of the building. I promise you we get the importance of the quarterback position. But the difference between just taking one and taking the right one is the key in our minds. We'll explore it. We'll examine it. We'll go A to Z on it, I promise you. That position never leaves my mind, and it's something we want to get fixed.
The Colts have already taken a step in this direction by trading for Carson Wentz, but he was awful last season, and they probably shouldn't have a lot of faith in him as the quarterback of the present. They probably need to continue exploring trading up for someone like Trey Lance or Justin Fields.
Major Free Agents: EDGE Justin Houston, WR T.Y. Hilton, DL Denico Autry, DL Al-Quadin Muhammad, CB Xavier Rhodes
Nineteen sacks in two seasons for Justin Houston. At 32, he's less a complete player and more of a situational pass-rusher, but he's still got plenty of juice. Muhammad and Autry actually notched more pass pressures per SIS charting than Houston, albeit in larger playing time samples. Autry had 23 and Muhammad had 22, both behind DeForest Buckner's 30. Rhodes had a bounce-back season in a defense that bases out of zone, but probably can't find a better fit for his talents. Hilton had a rough early season as he adjusted to Rivers, and now is finding a pretty strong free-agent market for receivers. He, like Fuller, will be an interesting free agency value case.
Biggest Need: Defensive playmakers
We're all assuming that Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 overall pick. I don't think there's any reason at this point to pretend otherwise, right? So let's leave that as it is. The Jaguars defense was one of the worst in the NFL last year. 31st in defensive DVOA, 31st in pass defense DVOA. Tight ends and slot receivers roasted this defense last year. Allowing a 25.6% DVOA to tight ends (30th), and 19.5% DVOA to "other" wide receivers (28th) were major blind spots.
New defensive coordinator Joe Cullen has never called plays in the NFL before. Mostly a defensive line coach, the last time he coordinated a defense was 2004, when he led the Indiana Hoosiers to a sterling—wait, never mind, that actually predates FEI and SP+. When you type "2004 Indiana Hoosiers" into Google it autocompletes with "basketball." Cullen's Hoosiers allowed 31.2 points per game, which honestly doesn't sound all that bad in comparison to Hoosier football history.
With more cap space than any other team in the NFL, we expect the Jaguars to try to reel in some defensive playmakers to go alongside Myles Jack and Josh Allen. Perhaps it would be an easy transition for Shaq Barrett to go across Florida for some big bucks. We could also see the Jaguars bringing in a veteran corner or safety to help out. Justin Simmons would make a lot of sense here if he escapes being franchise-tagged.
Major Free Agents: LT Cam Robinson, CB Tre Herndon, WR Keelan Cole, CB Sidney Jones, C Tyler Shatley
Robinson has been more name than game as a starting outside tackle; Sports Info Solutions has charted him with 52 blown passing blocks in the last two seasons alone. But there will be teams that look at his size and strength and believe they can play him better than that. Shatley played fairly well as a reserve and could get some looks elsewhere. Sidney Jones had some impressive interceptions last season and could be a bargain if—as always—he can stay healthy.
Biggest Need: Edge rusher
You've heard of month-long events like Movember, where you're supposed to grow a moustache? The Titans celebrated Defensive Nap December. Over the course of four games, the unit produced a grand total of one sack. They finished with the third-fewest sacks in the NFL, ahead of only the Jaguars and Bengals. Harold Landry has been more Derrick Morgan than Derrick Thomas, racking up hurries but not finishing any of them. Jadeveon Clowney was hurt and played like it, and STILL led the team's defensive ends with 17 hurries in only eight games.
Clowney's failure doesn't hurt the Titans much in the long term because his money vacates pretty quickly, but it remains concerning that this team hasn't found much to surround Jurrell Casey and, later, Jeffrey Simmons with up front. The Titans allowed the highest third-down conversion rate in the NFL, they were 30th in the NFL in defensive DVOA and 29th in pass defense DVOA.
The Titans are actually producing a number of good free agents this year, and unlike the Colts and Jaguars they are notably cap-strapped. They will have to do a lot of maneuvering with Ryan Tannehill's contract, perhaps a Malcolm Butler release, and a few other moves to bring back who they want. Maybe that's Clowney, maybe it's not. The point is that while it's possible for the Titans to be players in the defensive disruptor market, they will need to do more finagling than the Jaguars will to play in it.
Major Free Agents: LB Jayon Brown, WR Corey Davis, TE Jonnu Smith, CB Desmond King, DL DaQuan Jones, EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
Brown's ability to defend the pass is a rarity among linebackers and, particularly, among free-agent linebackers not named Lavonte David. That might get him paid handsomely. King was a great mid-season get for the Titans and played well on the interior. Jonnu Smith is somehow the best player in the NFL when the ball is thrown to him and also never gets the ball enough. Corey Davis had his fifth-year option declined but had a stellar season and does just about everything but win deep one-on-one. This is a deep class of free agents and the Titans may lose some interesting pieces.