I’m going to start this with a belief: I don’t think the Texans are going to make a move for any actual pass rush in free agency. I think when they signed Whitney Mercilus they valued him as a core member of the team for the next two years, and I think the obvious solution is to draft somebody in the second or third round, then let that pick, Jacob Martin, and Charles Omenihu fight to see who takes over Mercilus’ role by 2021.
But let’s approach this from a blank slate. Here’s how our pass rush splits look for Mercilus, J.J. Watt, Martin, and Omenihu over the last three years:
If you pull up a list of free agents, it’s easy to fawn over the top guys. I don’t think the top guys are going to actually make it to real free agency and that leaves me with some tough decisions about who to feature versus who to not feature. My belief is that Shaq Barrett will be franchised and that he’s a lock to stay in Tampa Bay. My belief is that Yannick Ngakoue is going to be franchised as well, though I think that situation could get ugly enough to where Ngakoue gets traded. That’s an eye-raiser to me — Bill O’Brien has shown no interest in making his draft picks and I think he’d consider Ngakoue a building block ala Laremy Tunsil. The question is simply if the Texans are willing to pay what Ngakoue thinks his market is. I’d speculate you could probably get that done if you parted with your second-round pick, and maybe a bit more.
A-List, No. 1 guys who are probably not coming here:
We all know why Jadeveon Clowney isn’t coming back. That horse is so dead that White Walkers would have trouble re-assembling the bones to re-animate it. Barrett is 27, Clowney 27, and Ngakoue is just 25.
These two players both worry me because I think they fall into blind spots for Bill O’Brien: First-round pick pedigree has tended to be a big deal for BOB, and each of them is coming off a career year. Lawson is the more preferable of the two options to me, but I have a lot of respect for Sean McDermott and would expect Lawson to have more trouble in Anthony Weaver’s scheme. Dupree’s defense popped off as soon as Minkah Fitzpatrick joined, and it led to a sack explosion for him. In the long view, these are both solid second banana rushers — but they’re going to be paid like No. 1 players in my view.
My favorite fits
Judon is a tough evaluation. On pure numbers, he’s up there with the best of the class, but Baltimore’s heavy-pressure system also means he’s not lining up and beating his man over and over again on all of those pressures. I think it’s fairly likely he draws a tag, but I wanted to mention him just in case.
Fowler and Armstead are funny to me because Armstead stays extremely close to Fowler on a statistical level and still plays inside. Because of his ability to satisfy a 3-4 end position, I think Armstead probably bumps up a notch on the Texans own preference chart, and I think that makes him an ideal fit. Armstead was also already playing well before the 49ers defense became dominant, which I think helps forecast him to being a solid fit in Houston’s defense.
Fowler is coming off the fabled 10-sack season that Jadeveon Clowney never got, but I can’t imagine he’ll come cheap enough for that to matter to the Texans. Pass rushers get paid, and the second Mercilus inked that extension, I think it ruled the Texans out of a player like this. But I love the fit, and so he’s a favorite fit.
Old players and the Texans under Bill O’Brien
Every single player that the Texans have signed as a real-dollar free agent since 2015 (or traded for, even) has been under 30. The closest to being over 30 was Matt Kalil, who at 29 was an extremely desperate move to a position of need. Vince Wilfork happened in 2015.
I happen to think that aging players are a great way to supplement the core at edge rusher — Robert Quinn is coming off a terrific season in which he led the NFL in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate. I was quite intrigued by Bill Barnwell mentioning in his look at the NFC East that Ryan Kerrigan might be traded for — I think he’d be an a-plus get for the Texans, even coming off a season where he missed four games.
But obviously I’m not going to project the Texans to wind up with anyone in this age bracket because they haven’t gone there in five years, and there’s very little happening in the front office that should make you think they’ll suddenly be changing their ways on that.
Value players I could see the Texans taking a chance on
Vic Beasley is 27 and has 37.5 sacks in his last four seasons, including a 7.9% hurry rate and a 10.1% pressure rate. Those numbers stack up pretty well with most impact free agents, yet he’s got the stink because he wasn’t a 1A rusher in Atlanta like they drafted him to be. I think he’s a good buy-low candidate.
Jordan Jenkins is just 25, but notched 15 sacks over the last two seasons despite starting only 23 games. With a career pressure rate of 10.4% and a career hurry rate of 7.5%, he’s another guy who I think is getting a bit overlooked because he’s coming from a bad situation. He’s only a former third-round pick though, so will O’Brien even dignify his presence?
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