AFC South offseason advice: Should Colts, Texans make big moves?
With free agency starting on March 9, USA TODAY Sports is taking a look at all eight NFL divisions and what could be in store for teams this offseason, as well as the moves they should make. First up, the AFC South ...
Prominent free agents: CB A.J. Bouye, DT Vince Wilfork (considering retirement), P Shane Lechler, S Quintin Demps, LB John Simon, K Nick Novak
Cap situation: Projected to have $24.4 million of cap room, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: The Texans thought they solved their biggest question a year ago when they signed QB Brock Osweiler. But after he struggled (and was eventually benched late in the year), quarterback might be an even bigger issue now. The problem Houston faces now is the financial commitment to Osweiler in 2017, without any sign that he’ll be a better player. Do the Texans stick with him, or do they make Osweiler an extremely high-paid backup to Tom Savage? Or does Houston make a big splash and try to sign Tony Romo?
Our advice: Cutting Osweiler right now doesn’t make financial sense, so the Texans must focus on other important contracts to ensure they can be a playoff contender as they work through their quarterback issues. The priorities must be on re-signing cornerback A.J. Bouye, who had a breakout season in 2016, and extending the contract of No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins. And offensive line must be a focus in free agency and the draft, with an aging left tackle (Duane Brown) and questions at right tackle as Derek Newton tries to return from a devastating knee injury.
Prominent free agents: TE Jack Doyle, S Mike Adams, OLB Trent Cole, CB Darius Butler, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, OLB Erik Walden
Cap situation: Projected to have $54.2 million of salary cap space, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: The Colts took care of QB Andrew Luck’s contract last year and invested heavily in the offensive line. But that didn’t fix all of their issues. New GM Chris Ballard must try to quickly rebuild the defense after years of free agent misses and draft busts under predecessor Ryan Grigson. It won’t be easy, as the Colts need upgrades at every level.
Our advice: Having a quarterback that eats up so much of the cap (Luck counts $19.4 million against it this year) makes things a bit more challenging for Ballard during free agency. Still, the emphasis must be on defense, and especially at pass rusher now that Robert Mathis has retired. That will make Ballard’s first draft even more important as he needs to find young players that can contribute immediately.
Prominent free agents: G Luke Joeckel, CB Prince Amukamara, DE Tyson Alualu, S Johnathan Cyprien, T Kelvin Beachum, DE Jared Odrick
Cap situation: Even after a spending spree in 2016, the Jaguars still are projected to have $75 million in salary cap space, third-most in the NFL, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: Is Blake Bortles the long-term quarterback? That’s the biggest question the new regime of head coach Doug Marrone and executive vice president Tom Coughlin need to answer this offseason. The Jaguars have built a good young defense, but Bortles’ development — or lack thereof — will truly determine if they can be competitive in 2017. He can’t do it alone, of course, and Jacksonville needs to improve the offensive line and at running back.
Our advice: The Jaguars should give Bortles one more year — yet with a short leash and high expectations that he show real improvements. Perhaps drafting another developmental passer would give him a push in the right direction. Jacksonville made significant investments on defense in recent years, but that doesn’t mean GM Dave Caldwell and Coughlin should be done spending there. The Jags could use another pass rusher to help Dante Fowler and 2016 rookie Yannick Ngakoue. With money to spend, an interesting name is Jason Pierre-Paul, who played for Coughlin in New York.
Prominent free agents: WR Kendall Wright, G Chance Warmack, LB Sean Spence, TE Anthony Fasano, S Rashad Johnson, QB Matt Cassel
Cap situation: The Titans have plenty of money to spend, with a projected $62.4 million in cap space, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: The Titans were a nice surprise in 2016 as they pushed for the division title, but now they find themselves having to spend most of the offseason without QB Marcus Mariota, who suffered a broken leg in late December. That’s a major setback for an offense that will likely feature several new wide receivers this season. How much can the Titans continue to progress while their franchise quarterback is on the sideline?
Our advice: Thanks to last year’s trade with the Los Angeles Rams, the Titans own two first-round picks at No. 5 (from the Rams) and No. 18. GM Jon Robinson should again try to trade one of those picks — and he could get a nice haul in return. The Titans should also be aggressive in free agency to upgrade the receiving corps to give Mariota a more consistent top target outside of TE Delanie Walker.
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.
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