Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» 2018 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Is Kirk Cousins the best free-agent quarterback in recent memory? Should Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler have gotten the larger contract? And what makes a free-agent contract good or bad, anyway?

03 Mar 2017

Four Downs: AFC South

by Tom Gower

Houston Texans

Biggest Hole: Quarterback

It was tough to find many people who really liked Houston's big commitment to Brock Osweiler last season, but Osweiler had at least been significantly better than Peyton Manning (-3.2% vs. -25.8%) in Denver the year before. Houston head coach Bill O'Brien had managed to cadge acceptable play out of Brian Hoyer in 2015 (-3.0% DVOA) and career-best level performance from Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2014 (6.7%). Given that, our projection in Football Outsiders Almanac 2016 that the Texans would have the third-worst offense in the league seemed excessively pessimistic.

Alas for Houstonians, that projection turned out to be spot on. Osweiler was a big reason why. He posted the second-worst DVOA in the league among qualifying passers, ahead of only Jared Goff.

Unfortunately, his contract means Osweiler's roster spot is guaranteed for 2017, so the Texans cannot move on from him the way they moved on from Fitzpatrick and Hoyer. Their options are limited. They could give more reps to Tom Savage, who looked better than Osweiler in a small sample size last year (-5.1% DVOA on 78 attempts), but that would be no more than a lottery ticket. They could spend a high pick on a quarterback, but with so many coming out with limited experience, being stuck with Osweiler might be a good thing. Or they could punt as they did in 2015 when they brought in another obvious non-answer in Hoyer, improving the offensive line to help Osweiler but kicking the can to next year, hoping the defense continues to be as good then. Maybe QB Purgatory featuring Matt Schaub was not so bad after all.

Major Free Agents: A.J. Bouye, CB; Quintin Demps, S; John Simon, OLB; Shane Lechler, P; Nick Novak, K.

A.J. Bouye came into the year as an odd man out behind a trio of former first-round picks in Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson, and Johnathan Joseph. But he took advantage of the opportunity created by Johnson's injury and had an outstanding season. Longtime Houston writer John McClain expects him to re-sign with the Texans, but wherever he winds up, expect Bouye to get a lot of money at a position everybody needs. Quintin Demps would need to be replaced if not retained, but is relatively fungible. John Simon was behind Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus but is still somehow one of the top edge rushers available with all the franchise tags given out.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Hole: Cornerback

The Titans went into 2016 with better cornerback depth than they had seen in seasons. That represented less a testament to Jon Robinson's work than the malign neglect with which they had operated in the past. The results, again, were not good. The Titans finished 26th in pass defense DVOA and were one of the two worst teams against opponents' second wide receivers for the third straight season.

Personnel-wise, they needed more answers than they had. Starting corner Perrish Cox was cut during the season, but still led the team in interceptions and was the only corner with good ball skills. Jason McCourty lacks lateral quickness. Brice McCain should be limited to the slot. Fifth-round rookie LeShaun Sims started late in the season. Valentino Blake (FKA Antwon) should not be more than your fourth or fifth corner. Dick LeBeau playing much more man coverage than he had historically did not help matters much.

The solution is simple: the Titans need to throw resources at the position, especially if they are going to continue to play so much man coverage. They have the cap room to throw money at Bouye if he makes it to free agency and also to Logan Ryan, a player general manager Jon Robinson scouted for the Patriots. Though LeBeau has never been associated with a first-round corner in 27 years as an NFL head coach or defensive coordinator, it would make sense for the Titans to consider a premium corner prospect like Marshon Lattimore if they miss out on Bouye. Either way, cornerback should be a position they prioritize this offseason, and with multiple major additions.

Major Free Agents: Anthony Fasano, TE; Kendall Wright, WR; Chance Warmack, G; Rashad Johnson, FS; Daimion Stafford, SS.

Mike Mularkey's offense requires a tight end who can be a quality in-line run blocker for their 12 and 21 personnel sets, and Anthony Fasano's departure creates a void there. Kendall Wright was a healthy inactive for the season finale, but should draw interest as a slot receiver elsewhere with the potential to be more. Chance Warmack was a disappointment as the tenth overall pick, but some teams will invest in even average starting guards. Rashad Johnson and Daimion Stafford were part of rotations at safety. Kevin Byard should assume a larger role in 2017, making Johnson's role surplusage, while Stafford could return at the right price.

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Hole: Edge Rusher

In last year's post-draft series of Four Downs, we did not highlight outside linebacker as the Colts' biggest need because they had the players they needed to line up and play in 2016. But Indianapolis cannot go into another season relying on Trent Cole, Robert Mathis, and Erik Walden to provide the pass rush, and not just because Mathis retired and Walden is a free agent.

More pressure in 2017 is a must. Though the Colts finished 13th in adjusted sack rate, subscribers to our Premium Charting database would know the Colts defense posted by far the worst pressure rate in the league, just 15.0 percent compared to Cleveland's second-worst total of 18.9 percent. Erik Walden's 11.0 sacks, nearly matching his combined total from the first three years of his deal, was not a sign of a healthy pass rush.

Mathis, as noted, has retired. Walden is a free agent. So is Cole, who missed nine games with a back injury. If the season started when the new league year began, Akeem Ayers and Josh McNary would seem to be the Colts' starting outside linebackers. That cannot be the case come Week 1, 2017. The best available pass rushers all got the franchise tag, but new general manager Chris Ballard may have no choice but to dive into that market anyway, as well as hitting the deep class of edge rushers in the draft.

Major Free Agents: Jack Doyle, TE; Erik Walden, OLB; Darius Butler, CB/S; Mike Adams, S.

The Colts have shown interest in bringing back Jack Doyle, but the tight end seems likely to test the market for a better offer. He ranked ninth in DYAR and tenth in DVOA last year and fits best as a move tight end. Darius Butler began last season in the slot, but played safety out of necessity due to injuries and inexperience last year. He will find a role as a versatile defender, whether in Indianapolis or elsewhere. Mike Adams turns 36 on March 24, and you do not find many defensive backs that old.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Hole: Edge Rusher

Jacksonville's pass rush was part of their general defensive improvement last season, as they finished 17th in adjusted sack rate and 19th in defensive pressure rate. But two years into his career, after an injury wiped out Year 1 and he had 4.0 sacks last year, Dante Fowler is looking more like the disappointment SackSEER projected and less like the sort of transformational talent you hope to find with the third overall pick. 2016 third-rounder Yannick Ngakoue tallied a respectable 8.0 sacks to lead the team, but overall Jacksonville needs more help.

The biggest question is where to find that help. Myles Garrett will likely go before they pick fourth overall. Unless you consider Jonathan Allen an edge rusher or love Solomon Thomas, there may not be one worthy of taking at that spot. There may be a run on the position late in the first round. What Jacksonville could really use is a veteran, but Indianapolis and plenty of other teams have the same sort of need and the free agent crop is Nick Perry, Jabaal Sheard, and a bunch of guys. Missing out on Olivier Vernon last year hurt a lot.

Another team would consider alternatives to Blake Bortles after he disappointed in his third season, but Dave Caldwell and company appear committed to him for at least this coming season. A late-round pick or change at backup quarterback from Chad Henne might happen, but a major investment would be an even bigger surprise than the Bortles pick was.

Major Free Agents: Prince Amukamara, CB; Kelvin Beachum, OT; Johnathan Cyprien, SS; Luke Joeckel, T/G.

Prince Amukamara suited up for most of 2016 after being hurt by injuries the previous couple seasons, but did not make many plays on the ball and will likely be playing elsewhere. The Jaguars picking up Branden Albert would seem to rule out Kelvin Beachum's return after they declined his team option, but Caldwell recently said he could still return. Johnathan Cyprien's 2016 was better than his first three seasons in the league, especially because Tashaun Gipson's presence meant he could be play closer to the line of scrimmage. Some other team may put more value on his upside. Luke Joeckel will get a chance elsewhere, without the burdens of expectation that come from being the second overall pick.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 03 Mar 2017

21 comments, Last at 22 Mar 2017, 4:09am by Bright Blue Shorts


by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 03/03/2017 - 11:11am

Best thing O'Brien can do is declare it open competition in training camp for the starting QB job. Of course, Osweiler's ego won't like that but at least if Savage is given equal reps in practice the coaching staff will know who their best option is.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 03/03/2017 - 12:21pm

I just wonder how much ego Osweiler can have left at this point. It's not like an open competition in camp could be much more humiliating than basically everything else that happened over the last year.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 03/03/2017 - 12:54pm

True but when you have that much ego, there's usually lots left in reserve!

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 03/03/2017 - 2:43pm

I don't think the Texans are actually as constrained in their options as you appear to imply. Cutting Osweiler now might not save any money compared to doing it in a year's time, but it is a thing they can realistically do if they think he is genuinely worthless and the team would psychologically benefit from a clean break. They also have enough cap room to plausibly make a play for Romo; that might involve letting some players they'd like to resign walk (like Bouye) and/or cutting some expensive veterans like Cushing and Joseph, but it's a thing they could do if they chose to go down that route.

by Bucs_Rule :: Fri, 03/03/2017 - 7:07pm

The other option for Romo would be a low base salary in 2017 combined with a large signing bonus or large guaranteed 2018 base. This will keep his salary hit down for 2017, but they will be stuck with him for 2018.

by Tom Gower :: Sat, 03/04/2017 - 1:40am

They could, but I think it would be a pretty bad idea. They pick up an extra $6 million in dead money if they don't designate Osweiler as a post-June 1 cut. But even if they do designate him, they wouldn't have the extra money until June, after FA and whatnot, likely forcing them to make some unwanted just to get rid of Osweiler. Best to let Osweiler and Savage battle it out, and potentially draft a guy to develop for 2018 if they like somebody.

by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 03/04/2017 - 12:06pm

Actually, no, June 1 is perfect in case. Osweiler would continue to count 19m against the cap until June 1 -and he would count 19m afterwards-, but he would not at any point count the extra 6m that he would if they released him outright. At least that's the way I think it works.

In any case, it won't happen. If you already invested such a huge amount you want to try to get something out of it. NFL people are not that fluid. And even if they wanted to, Romo will be costly both in salary and whatever you have to pay the Cowboys.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 03/04/2017 - 4:18pm

I think it would be pretty criminal to waste another season of this defense on those two guys. That doesn't mean they have to pursue Romo, but I think looking for a way to add someone who could at least be serviceable would be a very good idea.

by Alternator :: Fri, 03/03/2017 - 3:37pm

Indianapolis Clots

Biggest Hole: Jim Irsay's chair at rehab

Teams need all-time greats to overcome bad ownership, and nobody on the Clots comes close.

by theslothook :: Sat, 03/04/2017 - 3:03pm

Jim Irsay gets a lot of flak, but I'm not sure hes a detrimental owner. He did let Polian run the team. He let Grigson run the team. Sure he makes dumb twitter comments, but the team is bad because the talent is bad and the talent is bad because of poor drafts and poor free agent decisions. That's on the GM

by CaffeineMan :: Sun, 03/05/2017 - 8:01pm

Yeah, setting aside the fun of throwing rocks at one's favorite team's rivals, I don't think Irsay's personal problems are the issue for building the team in Indy. I think Grigson was over his head and although Pagano seems a decent guy, I'm not sure how good he is at designing an offense/defense to maximize the team's strengths and work around the weaknesses.

by Ryan :: Mon, 03/06/2017 - 3:46pm

Not to mention effectively gameplan based on opponent or situation....

by turbohappy :: Mon, 03/06/2017 - 2:20pm

I mean, he did hire Grigson. And kept him on for at least 1 year past when every fan was saying WTF. But beyond that I mostly agree. He's not a meddling owner fucking stuff up. He just hired a meddling GM who fucked stuff up.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 03/06/2017 - 3:41pm

Not sure when he came into power but he's only on his 4th HC since 1998. Yes it helps when there's some success but consider the 49ers are currently on their 4th in four years and got rid of the coach who had a 44-17-1 record and had been to three straight NFCCGs (plus a SB) from a tough division.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 03/06/2017 - 7:50pm

Totally agree that the Niners' owner situation is worse than the Colts right now. Jets fans will gripe about Woody Johnson, not realizing he's middle of the road. Not sure who the worst owner in the NFL is right now, but York has to be up there.

by Sixknots :: Mon, 03/06/2017 - 8:02pm

Snyder is in the running for that award.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 03/07/2017 - 7:26am

Snyder's bottom-quartile.

He's improved a bit since his early 2000s of four coaches in five years. Perhaps having experienced coaches like Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan hanging round the complex for a few years taught him that he didn't know as much as he thought.

Gruden has just been handed a 2-year extension after finishing 3rd in the division. Don't think that would have been good enough in the past.

by theslothook :: Tue, 03/07/2017 - 1:10am

Haslam??? He fires whole regimes within one year at the helm. Its a minor miracle the current regime survived.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 03/07/2017 - 1:09pm

We have a winner!

by Bobman :: Wed, 03/22/2017 - 1:11am

BBS, One of the things a lot of people forget about Irsay is that he was his own GM for a year or two and did pretty poorly. What makes him great as an owner: He learned that he can't do that job and it's better to hire better football guys to do it. Polian was a great hire, of course. Dungy as well. Mora, not terrible. Caldwell was one of those "loyalty mistakes." Irsay has lived his whole life as a Colt, played in college (once hired Frank Kush, his former coach... ugh!) so he's knowledgeable and a dedicated football guy, but knows better than to meddle with the GM. He is too nice a guy, too loyal IMO and gave Grigs and Pagano (IMO) too much rope. I thought they both should have gone last year, so it looks as if Irsay and I agree on half that issue. So as poorly as he has managed his own life in the past (and he seems to be stable right now) that's a non-issue as far as managing the team goes. Thanks God!

Yeah, I wish he'd stop with the social media stuff (what is he, in 8th grade?) but then again I wish a lot of powerful people would stop that crap and do their jobs. ahem.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 03/22/2017 - 4:09am

Thanks Bobman - interesting extra. I didn't know he was his own GM.