With both Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson walking away from the Texans on Monday, the Texans had to do something about depth at safety unless they were satisfied with Andre Hal as a starter.
What came together on Tuesday morning in a hurry was a deal with former Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson. Gipson was released by the Jaguars as an antecedent to signing Nick Foles, even though the Jaguars could have just released Blake Bortles to pay for it. I … look, it’s very important that we all pay tribute to the importance that Bortles paid to Jaguars franchise history, I guess.
Gipson is not exactly the same kind of player that Tyrann Mathieu is, but I do think he has some untapped versatility that the Jaguars didn’t get to show off much. Barry Church, Jacksonville’s other safety, was a bit too limited and I think the Jaguars reacted to his failures by primarily using Gipson as the deep cover.
Where I think Gipson can be an upgrade in some ways on Mathieu is that he’s a bit better against bigger targets. Take this play against Rob Gronkowski in Week 2 of last season where Gipson was able to use his length to disrupt the route:
Against the Chiefs in Week 5, Gipson made a number of big plays, including this undercut of a Travis Kelce middle-of-the-field route:
I think where Gipson does his best work is over the middle of the field. He likes the outside leverage a lot, and he’s got good instincts and read-and-react ability. In that vein, I think he’s a good fit for a lot of what the Texans like to do with zone coverage. I don’t know that he offers quite the same amount of versatility that Mathieu does, but he’s not far off. Gipson’s broken tackle numbers were never a huge problem with the Jaguars, so he can do some box work. I’ve got four in 2016, six in 2017, and seven in 2018 per Sports Info Solutions. Think of him as a bigger, slightly slower version of Mathieu.
In looking back at his 2018, I mostly wanted to focus on games where the Jaguars went against top-notch offensive competition, and then also the games where they got completely exposed. I didn’t come away from the exposure games thinking that Gipson was a main problem for the Jags. Single-high safeties don’t often have much to do about getting bowled over for 200+ rushing yards like the Titans did to Jacksonville. In getting destroyed by Cole Beasley in Week 5, I didn’t see much that Gipson was responsible for. He did clearly blow one coverage when both he and Jalen Ramsey carried the outside receiver up, leaving Beasley open underneath. But mostly he was away from the play.
To me the weakest points of Gipson’s game are comebackers. He’s got good positioning and recovery speed, but he’d rather give those up than get beat deep. I think he’s kind of overrated as an interception-creator — he makes reads well, but a lot of the plays that got him picks in Cleveland were broken, out-of-structure issues where he happened to be in the right place at the right time and make a good play on the ball.
The real coup, of course, is the price. Gipson signed a three-year, $22 million deal. That’s about half of what Mathieu will make for the Chiefs this season, and a remarkable bit of sanity that ranks right next to the Eric Weddle contract in the sea of overpayments early in free agency. We don’t have a full dollar breakdown yet but I’d assume the Texans probably get out after two years easily if they want to.
The other part of this is that Gipson, who was released, will not count against the compensation pick formula. The Texans have racked up two big free-agent losses to zero signings that count under that formula so far. It’s not worth digging too deep into this until we’re deeper into free agency and see all the moves Houston will make, but it would not surprise me at all to see them fade the expensive part of free agency and try to capitalize on the compensation pick formula.
This signing isn’t going to excite anybody, but I think it’s a good one. In fact, I prefer it to the deal that Mathieu got. If you told me that the Texans were going to bring in a cornerback or two via trade and really push the limits of the compensation pick formula, I’d be even more into it. But the full context isn’t quite laid out for us yet.
By the way, Deshaun Watson’s first interception went straight to the arms of Gipson in a coverage disguise: