After going 9-7 in 2014, the Texans have been widely praised for their offseason moves. Did they do enough to establish themselves as the favorites in the AFC South?
- Kareem Jackson, CB: Four years, $34MM. $20MM guaranteed.
- Derek Newton, T: Five years, $26.5MM. $10MM guaranteed.
- Vince Wilfork, DT: Two years, $9MM. $5MM guaranteed.
- Brian Hoyer, QB: Two years, $10.5MM. $4.75MM guaranteed.
- Rahim Moore, S: Three years, $12MM. $4MM guaranteed.
- Cecil Shorts, WR: Two years, $5MM. $2.5MM guaranteed.
- Akeem Dent, LB: Two years, $4.5MM. $2MM guaranteed.
- Ryan Mallett, QB: Two years, $7MM. $1.75MM guaranteed.
- Jeff Tarpinian, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit. $50K guaranteed.
- Stevie Brown, S: One year, minimum salary benefit. $40K guaranteed.
- Brandon Deaderick, DT: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Nate Washington, WR: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Chris Polk, RB: One year, minimum salary.
One of the Texans’ top priorities this offseason was retaining cornerback Kareem Jackson and they got that accomplished days before the start of free agency. Jackson landed himself at number 21 on Pro Football Rumors Top 50 Free Agents, and figured to be highly sought after as one of the top free agent corners on the market. The Texans selected Jackson 20th overall out of Alabama in the 2010 NFL Draft. He struggled during his first two NFL seasons, but improved and was considered the team’s top corner last season, surpassing veteran Johnathan Joseph. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) had Jackson rated as the eleventh-best corner in the league last season, putting him ahead of notables such as Rashean Mathis, Brandon Flowers, Aqib Talib, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Texans also got a deal done with offensive tackle Derek Newton before March 10th. The former seventh-round pick has established himself as one of the most reliable members of the Texans offense, as he’s started 46 of a possible 48 games since 2012 (the two missed games were a result of a knee injury). Newton wasn’t rated favorably by Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required) during his first two years as a starter, but the statistics favored the 27-year-old’s performance this past season. Newton ranked 19th among 84 offensive tackle candidates, and his run blocking skills earned him the fourth-best ranking for that particular attribute. However, his pass blocking rating left some to be desired, as he finished in the bottom half of the league in that ranking.
Houston’s defensive line will feature young star J.J. Watt and a possible rising young(er) star in Jadeveon Clowney. This offseason, the Texans added some veteran leadership to the mix. The Texans inked Vince Wilfork to a two-year deal in March after the Pats declined his option. Wilfork, 33, spent all previous 11 years of his NFL career in New England, playing 158 regular season games for the Pats, and starting 148 of those. Second-year pro Louis Nix may be the future for the Texans at nose tackle, but Wilfork represents a very nice stopgap option until Nix is ready to assume the role.
After going through three starting quarterbacks in 2014, the Texans badly needed to make a change under center. Coach Bill O’Brien & Co. are hoping that Brian Hoyer can be that difference maker. Hoyer, 29, saw his first extended run as a starter in 2014, and though his overall numbers – including a 55.3% completion percentage, 12 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and a 76.5 passer rating – weren’t overly impressive, he led the Browns to a 7-6 record in his starts before giving way to Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw near the end of the season.
The Texans also retained Ryan Mallett and the two signal callers will battle it out for the starting job this summer. Mallett, 26, was acquired by the Texans in a trade with the Patriots last offseason, and got a chance to start a couple games for Houston in 2014 before landing on injured reserve due to a pectoral injury. Mallett’s 54.7% completion percentage and 67.6 passer rating likely didn’t have teams burning up his agent’s phone this weekend, but Texans GM Rick Smith and O’Brien both spoke highly of him in the offseason.
Rahim Moore initially ranked as the 28th-best overall free agent and the second-best safety in this year’s class, in our estimation. However, once Devin McCourty re-signed with New England and players like Antrel Rolle and Da’Norris Searcy came off the board, Moore became the most-coveted safety on the market. The UCLA product was Denver’s free safety for the majority of the last four seasons, and was very impressive in 2014, racking up 51 tackles to go along with four interceptions.
Cecil Shorts spent the first four years of his NFL career in Jacksonville, totaling 176 receptions for the Jaguars. His best season came in 2012, when he racked up 979 yards on just 55 receptions, reaching the end zone seven times. The former fourth-round pick has been nagged by injuries over the last two years, and averaged just 10.5 yards per catch in 2014. If he stays healthy, he could be a beast for Houston. If not, he might not be much of a factor at all.
Akeem Dent spent the 2014 season with the Texans after playing for the Falcons for three years. In his first year in Houston, the former third-round pick recorded 38 tackles and a sack in part-time action, earning playing time at multiple linebacker spots.
- Tyson Clabo, T: Released
- Tim Jamison, DE
- Andre Johnson, WR
- Kendrick Lewis, S
- Thad Lewis, QB: Waived
- Danieal Manning, S: Retired
- Chris Myers, C: Released
- Ryan Pickett, DL
- Jerrell Powe, DT
- Brooks Reed, LB
- D.J. Swearinger, S: Waived
The Andre Johnson saga made headlines all offseason long in Houston until March 9th when the Texans agreed to release him. The Texans reportedly wanted the wide receiver to take a pay cut and Johnson was reportedly open to it, until he came out on the record and made it clear that he wasn’t. Whatever the case was, the two sides parted ways just prior to the official start of free agency. Johnson, who is entering his age-34 season, caught a team-high 85 balls in 2014, but that was his lowest total for a full season in about a decade. The former third overall pick also averaged just 62.4 yards per game, the third-lowest mark of his 12-year career.
While the Texans spent big to keep Derek Newton on the offensive line, they said goodbye to fellow tackle Tyson Clabo in May. Clabo, 33, signed a two-year contract last July with the Texans, but after starting each and every one of his 116 career NFL games prior to the 2014 season, he was a reserve for Houston. For the season, Clabo logged just 101 offensive snaps, with 73 of those coming in Week 16 against the Ravens. Before he joined the Texans, Clabo spent most of his career with the Falcons, earning a Pro Bowl berth following the 2010 season, and also spent a single season in Miami in 2013.
Daniel Manning, who will turn 33 next month, announced his retirement roughly one week ago. In 2011, he joined the Texans, where he played out the final four years of his NFL career. While Manning never developed into an elite defender in Chicago or Houston, he was a solid complementary piece for both teams, appearing in a total of 128 regular season games (96 starts) over the course of his nine-year career. During that span, the Abilene Christian product recorded 549 tackles, grabbed 11 interceptions, and forced 10 fumbles. Manning also contributed as a kick returner during his last few years in Chicago, averaging a league-best 29.7 yards per return in 2008.
The Texans wanted to keep Kendrick Lewis in Houston, but he was not interested in backing up Moore in 2015, so he decided to pursue a starting role elsewhere. He eventually found that opportunity with the Ravens. Lewis graded out positively in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus, leading the Texans’ secondary in snap count (subscription required).
Brooks Reed spent the first four years of his career in Houston, where he started 52 of a possible 60 games and racked up 14.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him the 26th-best 3-4 OLB in the NFL out of 46 qualifiers last season. While the Texans didn’t make a great effort to keep him, new Falcons coach Dan Quinn obviously sees something in him.
- Acquired a 2016 seventh-round pick from the Rams in exchange for QB Case Keenum.
- Acquired a 2016 seventh-round pick from the Jets in exchange for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
- Texans’ pick could turn into a sixth-rounder based on Fitzpatrick’s playing time in 2015.
- Acquired a 2015 second-round pick (No. 43; ILB Benardrick McKinney) and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 229) from the Browns in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick (No. 51; DE/OLB Nate Orchard), a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 116), and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 195; FB/TE Malcolm Johnson.
- Acquired a 2015 third-round pick (No. 70; WR Jaelen Strong) from the Jets in exchange for a 2015 third-round pick (No. 82; OLB Lorenzo Mauldin), a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 152; G Jarvis Harrison), a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 229), and WR DeVier Posey.
Out with the old, in with the new at quarterback. Having signed Brian Hoyer, the Texans didn’t have much use for QBs Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick, so they parlayed both players into late-round draft picks.
- Johnathan Joseph, CB: Extended through 2017. Total value of new deal is $22MM. $11.5MM guaranteed.
- Whitney Mercilus, LB: Extended through 2019. Four years, $26MM. $10.681MM guaranteed. Team declined 2016 fifth-year option ($7.751MM).
- J.J. Watt, DE: Restructured contract. Converted $10MM roster bonus into signing bonus.
Last month, the Texans tacked another two years onto Johnathan Joseph‘s deal. Joseph was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2012, but didn’t play at his best in 2013 due to injury. The nine-year vet was on the field for all 16 regular season games in 2014, however. Last year, Joseph pulled down two interceptions, caused two fumbles, and racked up a total of 75 tackles. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) had him as an above average corner in 2014, giving him a 5.0 overall grade good for 23rd amongst all qualified corners. The No. 23 ranking at cornerback might not put him up there with elite corners like Darrelle Revis, but it was his best showing since he finished No. 11 on PFF in 2011.
The Texans declined their fifth-year option on outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus in order to sign him to a long-term deal. The new pact keeps Mercilus in Houston through the 2019 season. The 25-year-old has played in all but one of the Texans’ regular season games across the last three seasons. Playing primarily as a starter for the last two, Mercilus has racked up a combined 12 sacks, 97 tackles, and two forced fumbles. The Texans obviously are happy with Mercilus, but the advanced metrics aren’t so wild about him. In 2014, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as just the 35th best outside linebacker in a 3-4 set out of 46 qualified players. In 2013, his overall rating of -18.1 put him dead last (42nd out of 42) amongst 3-4 OLBs.
- 1-16: Kevin Johnson, CB (Wake Forest): Signed
- 2-43: Benardrick McKinney, ILB (Mississippi State): Signed
- 3-70: Jaelen Strong, WR (Arizona State): Signed
- 5-175: Keith Mumphery, WR (Michigan State): Signed
- 6-211: Reshard Cliett, OLB (South Florida): Signed
- 6-216: Christian Covington, DT (Rice): Signed
- 7-235: Kenny Hilliard, RB (LSU): Signed
Many were surprised to see Johnathan Joseph get a lucrative extension following the selection of Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson. Even though Joseph is slated to be around for another three seasons, Johnson is clearly being looked at as the team’s future at the position. Johnson is blessed with tremendous athleticism and could have a bright future ahead of him if he can add weight to his lanky frame.
- Promoted George Godsey to vacant offensive coordinator role.
- Godsey and head coach Bill O’Brien called plays in 2014.
- Signed 10 players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed 16 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- J.J. Watt, DL: $13,969,000
- Johnathan Joseph, CB: $11,750,000
- Duane Brown, LT: $9,500,000
- Arian Foster, RB: $8,706,250
- Brian Cushing, LB: $7,891,250
- Kareem Jackson, CB: $7,453,125
- Andre Johnson, WR: $7,319,585 (dead money)
- Brian Hoyer, QB: $5,218,750
- Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB: $5,062,045
- Derek Newton, RT: $4,500,000
One of the Texans’ biggest problems last season was the quarterback position and the signing of Hoyer should go a long way towards fixing that. With defensive reinforcements like Moore, Kevin Johnson, second-round pick Benardrick McKinney, and Wilfork, it’s not hard to see the Texans as an elite team in 2015.