With free agency beginning Monday afternoon, the Houston Texans did nothing.
OK, they re-signed Angelo Blackson, tendered some people and kept their exclusive right free agents. But generally, there was no splash signing. The big Tyrann Mathieu re-signing didn’t happen — he’s off to Kansas City for three years and $42 million. Kareem Jackson also fled, to Denver, as I think we mostly expected. There was no play for Trent Brown, nor did they sign a running back, any offensive lineman, or anything that would qualify as a “major upgrade.”
The first day of NFL free agency is always wildly aggressive, with players coming off at the top of their market. Additionally, the NFL doesn’t have many true difference-makers that make it to free agency. While I don’t think it’s always stupid to be in the hunt for the biggest free agents, Houston’s top two needs are on the offensive line and at cornerback, and only a couple of the best linemen came off the board on Day 1. Brown, who became the highest-paid lineman in NFL history off of one good year under Dante Scarnecchia. Mitch Morse, who signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Bills — I don’t think the Texans were ever interested in Morse or any other center, despite my desire for them to be. Then, later in the evening, JaWaun James inked with the Broncos later in the evening, for $32 million guaranteed. The optimistic view on James is that he developed in the past couple years, but he’s had a bit of an uneven career to this point. Houston doesn’t need a Jamison Crowder or anything like that.
On a divisional level, the Titans and Jaguars both spent big and may or may not regret their moves. Nick Foles is definitely better than Blake Bortles, but is far from a sure solution and made way more than he had to because the Jaguars got involved in “leadership” or something like that.
The Titans splashed out on Adam Humphries, a former UDFA slot receiver who scrapped his way up to a huge contract. Humphries is a solid slot, and solid slots can make a difference in today’s game if you can’t cover them — but you can find those guys in the draft if you’re smooth, and not even with an early pick. This was a guy they picked up for certainty. It’s a contract that doesn’t keep you from winning, but also doesn’t actively help you win. The Titans had money to burn, so it made some sense.
The Colts took a one-year flier on Devin Funchess. They entered with more cap space than any NFL team and will not use it all, so the fact that it’s $10 million is basically irrelevant. Funchess in a new system is an interesting gamble and I sort of like him for how Indianapolis plays if he lives up to his tools — the problem has been he doesn’t always do that.
As for the Texans signings, the only thing I’d quibble with is Ka’imi Fairbairn getting a second-round tender — he just isn’t that important in my opinion — but it amounts to an additional one million and I doubt the Texans will finish free agency stuffed to the gills on cap space. Brandon Dunn and Angelo Blackson were both serviceable run-stuff linemen, and Blackson’s contract amounts to a one-year, $4 million contract with two $4 million option years. To put that into perspective, $4 million is about two percent of the cap.
The overall effect of all this is kind of stunning only because the Texans have Deshaun Watson, a quarterback on a rookie contract. These are, we’re told, the type of contracts that are supposed to give teams the ability to be aggressive in free agency and signing their own free agents. We’re (as I post this) 12 hours into free agency, so I’m not going to pretend we know the results, but I think you can couple this with last year’s free agency and forecast the Texans as a fairly conservative team with free agents, even if they did just narrowly get outbid for Mathieu.
I understand that we’re not only, to use Scott Pianowski’s nomenclature, a “hype-hate” society now, but also a “joy-panic” society. There’s not much joy to extract out of your favorite football team looking at their pile of cap space and shrugging their shoulders, so it must be time to panic. I’m not at panic, but I also haven’t seen any questions answered how I’d like them to be just yet.
Every column like this needs some small notes for some reason
— The Texans are being linked by credible sources to Bradley Roby, who I did not cover in my defensive preview. Roby fits the big-bodied cornerback ideal, but is younger than my preferred target, Morris Claiborne. He also is coming off an incredibly disappointing season in Denver. I understand the youth is part of the appeal, and i’d dig some tape on Roby’s 2018 season before I went shouting from the hills my feelings on it. But I would think this lends credence to the idea that Brian Gaine’s Texans are tools-focused.
— I think Tyrann Mathieu’s reported $9.5 million a year offer was more than enough from Houston, and with the glut of starting safeties on the market, I have no hesitation in waving goodbye if he found a better deal. I think Mathieu’s a good player and sensed that the Texans value him even more than a good one, but I don’t think he’s someone you break the bank for.
On the other side of things, I think Earl Thomas is absolutely worth rolling up the Brinks truck for, and would have no problems paying him $12+ million a season. I don’t think Houston will go for it because they want more versatility for Romeo Crennel underneath, and I’m not sure if they view Justin Reid as a player who could come down and play underneath as effectively as someone like Mathieu. Tony Pauline linked Thomas to the Texans after the Mathieu news broke.
— One deal I did really like, and think the Texans may regret not being in on, was the move that sent Kelechi Osemele to the Jets for a pick-swap. Osemele was bad last year, yes, but he’s also got a long history of being a stellar offensive lineman, and the entire Oakland offensive line sunk under Tom Cable this season. That would have been a move with little risk for the Texans — they have money to burn and the two years and $20 million on Osemele’s deal is chump change to them.
But the Texans are never active in these sorts of things — they seem to take a view that if a team doesn’t want a player, there’s something wrong with the player. A little aggression in something like that is the difference between the team that winds up with a solid veteran to fill a hole like DeSean Jackson or Michael Bennett and a season of watching Julien Davenport get beat over and over again.