Dameon Pierce

AFC South Rumors: Lawrence, Pierce, Skowronek

Many are under the impression that Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence could be the next NFL passer to sign a big extension. Jacksonville is on board with that opinion as talks with Lawrence continue to progress. ESPN’s Michael DiRocco believes that, when a Lawrence extension does occur, it will look a lot like that of recently extended Lions quarterback Jared Goff in many regards.

This prediction comes from talks with NFL front office executives from outside of Jacksonville, who expect Lawrence’s average annual salary to just outpace Goff’s figure of $53MM per year. They also expect the deal to resemble the structure of Goff’s deal, which spans four years and included a $73MM signing bonus, spreading that amount over five years. Like most long-term contracts, the deal also guarantees two lower-paid salaries at the start of the deal while incentivizing future talks as salaries skyrocket in Year 3 of the contract.

Essentially, this executive is under the impression that, as of right now, Lawrence has done enough to help push the ever-growing value of quarterback contracts but has not done enough to eclipse Bengals passer Joe Burrow‘s league-high AAV of $55MM per year.

Here are a few other rumors from around the AFC South:

  • Texans running back Dameon Pierce put up an impressive rookie season as a fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2022 but saw an unprecedented drop off during a sophomore slump last season. After nearly breaking the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his first season, Pierce watched his starting job get stolen by veteran free agent Devin Singletary midway through his second season. Now, in Year 3, Pierce will have to compete with another veteran free agent addition in Joe Mixon, who is widely expected to start for Houston in 2024. Head coach DeMeco Ryans claims that, despite Pierce’s nearly cemented status as RB2, we can expect to see a fairly healthy dose of the third-year rusher as part of a one-two punch with Mixon next season, per Michael Shapiro of Chron.
  • Lastly, the Texans recently traded for Rams wide receiver Ben Skowronek, making yet another trade addition to their receiving corps this offseason. Already rostering, Stefon Diggs, Nico Collins, Tank Dell, Robert Woods, Noah Brown, and John Metchie, adding another receiver hardly seemed like a priority. Well, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2, Skowronek not only adds some much-needed size to the room, but he also emerged as an effective special teams contributor in Los Angeles. Skowronek’s special teams prowess should help him to potentially hold on to a roster spot come September.

Texans Offered Saquon Barkley Over $11MM Per Year; Team Pursued Tony Pollard, D’Andre Swift

With C.J. Stroud locked into rookie-deal money through at least 2025, the Texans have a rare opportunity. They can build around a low-cost quarterback who showed star potential as a rookie. The team made some moves to capitalize this offseason, deviating from a conservative first three years — with regards to free agency — under Nick Caserio.

The Texans added the likes of Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Azeez Al-Shaair and Denico Autry. Houston hoped to bring in a higher-salary target at running back as well, but mutual interest between the team and Saquon Barkley did not produce a deal. Despite rostering Jalen Hurts on a $51MM-per-year contract, the Eagles landed Barkley on a three-year, $37.75MM deal that includes $26MM guaranteed at signing. Barkley sits as the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid RB, cashing in after Giants negotiations produced a lesser offer and a franchise tag last summer.

Houston was willing to go into this neighborhood for Barkley, according to KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson, who reports the team offered the two-time Pro Bowler a three-year deal worth just north of $33MM. The AAV here checks in just south of Barkley’s $12.58MM Philly number, but given the guarantee at signing the Eagles authorized, it is unsurprising the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year made the choice he did.

The wave of RB contracts authorized in the early 2020s have led to a few high-profile releases, pay cuts or trades. Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry are no longer attached to eight-figure-per-year accords. The Browns slashed Nick Chubb‘s pay last month, as the perennial Pro Bowler is coming off two knee surgeries, and Josh Jacobs‘ Packers deal only includes $12.5MM guaranteed at signing. Given the state of the RB position, Barkley did well to score the guarantee did he going into his seventh season.

Barkley, 27, said he was drawn to the Texans before considering the Eagles. But the Penn State alum certainly has Pennsylvania ties; much of his family is from the area. Although the Texans had the Eagles beat for cap space, they stood down on Barkley. The team soon gave Hunter a near-fully guaranteed contract and made an interesting commitment to Mixon. Just before the Bengals were set to release their seven-year starter, the Texans agreed to send a seventh-round pick for the veteran back. Mixon soon agreed to new terms with the Texans — two years, $19.75MM ($13MM guaranteed).

The Texans ended up giving Mixon a better deal than they proposed Devin Singletary, per Wilson, who adds the team offered its primary 2023 starter a contract averaging $4MM per year. Singletary agreed to a three-year, $16.5MM deal (with $9.5MM fully guaranteed) to reunite with Brian Daboll in New York.

As a Wilson pre-free agency report suggested, the Texans did discuss terms with Tony Pollard and D’Andre Swift. Pollard ended up with the Titans (three years, $21.75MM) and Swift became the first UFA from this year’s class to commit to a team, signing a three-year, $24MM deal with the Bears.

Only Barkley and Swift ($14MM) scored more fully guaranteed money among this year’s free agent RBs than Mixon, who is coming off his fourth 1,000-yard rushing season but has 1,854 career touches — third-most among active backs. Charged with elevating a Texans rushing attack that ranked 22nd last season, Mixon is going into his age-28 slate.

The Texans will count on Mixon, but Caserio said (via SI.com’s Coty M. Davis) Dameon Pierce — who followed up an impressive rookie season with a down 2023 — remains a “big part” of the team’s 2024 plan. The 2022 fourth-rounder averaged just 2.9 yards per carry last season, seeing Singletary usurp him as the Texans’ lead back down the stretch. The younger back will have a chance to rebound, albeit in a now-Mixon-fronted backfield.

Texans Eyeing Free Agent Running Backs?

After Dameon Pierce struggled during his sophomore campaign, the Texans could be in the market for a new starting running back. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, there’s buzz around the NFL that the Texans could try to improve at the position as they look to take some of the load off quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Pierce appeared to be the team’s RB of the future following his standout rookie campaign. The 2022 fourth-round pick finished his first season in the NFL with 1,104 yards from scrimmage, the third-most among rookie RBs (behind Kenneth Walker and Tyler Allgeier).

However, Pierce couldn’t replicate that production in 2023. He didn’t top four yards-per-rush in any of his first seven starts, and following a three-game inactive streak, he was firmly behind Devin Singletary on the depth chart.

Over those final seven games, Pierce only garnered 36 carries, and he was limited to only six offensive snaps in the postseason. In total, Pierce finished this past season with 517 yards from scrimmage on 158 touches, good for an average of 3.3 yards per touch. Pro Football Focus ultimately graded him 47th among 59 qualifying RBs.

Singletary topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage for a third-straight season, but the veteran is set to hit free agency. While there’s a chance he could look to extend his stay in Houston beyond one season, there’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Dare Ogunbowale is also an impending free agent, so the Texans will need to add some depth at the position.

While the organization could look to reset the position at the draft, it sounds like they’re considering using a chunk of their $60MM-plus in cap space at the RB position. Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Tony Pollard, and Austin Ekeler lead the list of free agent RBs heading into the offseason.

Texans Place RB Dameon Pierce On IR

Dameon Pierce‘s season has come to an end. The Texans have placed the rookie running back on injured reserve, reports ESPN’s Field Yates (via Twitter).

Pierce suffered a high ankle sprain during Houston’s Week 14 loss to the Cowboys, although initial reports indicated that the injury was mild. It was believed that the rookie RB may only have to miss a game or two, which wouldn’t necessitate a move to IR. Instead, the Texans decided to shut down Pierce for the year.

The fourth-round rookie has quickly established himself as an offensive focal point in Houston. He’s started all 13 games for the Texans, and he leads all rookies with 939 rushing yards. In total, the Florida product has contributed 1,104 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. With Pierce out for the final four games, the Texans will likely turn to Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale to lead their RB room. Royce Freeman will also be signed to the active roster, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com (on Twitter).

Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth are also heading to IR, per Yates. Stingley, the third-overall pick in this year’s draft, hasn’t played since Week 10 while recovering from a hamstring injury. He started each of his nine appearances for the Texans this season, collecting 43 tackles and one interception. After starting the season in Kansas City, Stallworth got into one game for Houston in 2022.

There is some good news on the injury front. According to Wilson (on Twitter), the Texans have also activated defensive lineman Jon Greenard from IR. Greenard had eight sacks in 12 starts last season, and he started each of Houston’s first four games this year before landing on IR. To round out their moves, the Texans signed defensive back Jacobi Francis to the 53-man roster and have promoted defensive back Will Redmond and tight end Mason Schreck from the practice squad.

Texans RB Dameon Pierce Expected To Miss Time

Week 14 nearly saw the Texans pull off a major upset of the Cowboys, but the more prominent storyline from the game was the exit of running back Dameon Pierce. The standout rookie is likely to miss time as a result of the ankle injury he suffered during the contest.

Pierce went down with a high ankle sprain, as detailed by Aaron Wilson of KPRC2. The injury is believed to be relatively mild, which could shorten his recovery time. Wilson reports that Pierce could miss one or two games, which would of course constitute a significant portion of the remaining schedule, but still less than the usual timeframe for high ankle sprains. A three-game absence should not be ruled out, per Fox 26’s Mark Berman (on Twitter). That would introduce a shutdown into the equation, given that four games remain.

Any missed time from the Florida product would be acutely felt by the Texans. Pierce leads all rookies with 939 rushing yards, having started each contest this season and quickly establishing himself as Houston’s most consistent offensive contributor. Despite missing some of the game against the Cowboys, the fourth-rounder still managed to record 78 yards on the ground and score his fourth touchdown of the campaign.

Head coach Lovie Smith declined to provide specifics on the extent of Pierce’s injury when speaking to the media. “It will take an awful lot for him not to play, but, if it’s an injury, of course it can,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s short-term. We’ll see.”

Sitting at 1-11-1 on the year, the Texans have no reason to rush their top producer back in the waning stages of the season. They also made a pair of moves relating to the tailbacks which will fill in for him should he miss time. One is the decision to waive Eno Benjamin, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). That comes as somewhat of a surprise, given the fact that Houston claimed the former Cardinal less than one month ago, seemingly giving him a chance at increased playing time. Instead, Benjamin saw the field for just 12 snaps in his two games as a Texan.

Meanwhile, Houston is adding another back in Gerrid Doaks (Twitter link via Wilson). A seventh-round pick of the Dolphins in 2021, the Cincinnati alum has yet to appear in a regular season game. He will join veteran Rex Burkhead and journeyman Dare Ogunbowale in the backfield until Pierce is able to return.

Latest On Texans’ Running Backs Room

The Texans finished the 2021 NFL season ranked dead-last in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards per carry. Houston has made some moves to address the position and the room will look fairly different at camp this summer. 

Last year saw four Texans’ running backs start games. Three of those running backs are no longer on the roster. Mark Ingram returned to New Orleans midway through last season, Phillip Lindsay signed this offseason with the Colts, and David Johnson hit the free agent market and has yet to sign with a new team. While losing three players who started games may sound significant, the three backs combined last year to rush for only 652 yards and 2 touchdowns while averaging only 3.12 yards per carry.

Houston returns their leading rusher last year, Rex Burkhead. Burkhead, who turns 32 next month, racked up the highest rushing total of his career last year in his ninth season, totaling 427 yards on the ground. Burkhead has been a third-down type of running back throughout his career, recording more receiving yards than rushing in tw0 of his nine years. The Texans also return Royce Freeman, who was claimed off waivers in early-November last year.

To address the struggling run-game, Houston made two big moves. The first move they made was to sign free agent running back Marlon Mack in the weeks leading up to the Draft. Mack spent five seasons in Indianapolis, starting as a backup to Frank Gore. Once Gore left in free agency, Mack took the starting job and, despite missing six games in the next two years, was 92 yards away from two-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. In 2020, a torn Achilles in Week 1 ended Mack’s season and opened the door for then-rookie Jonathan Taylor to take the reins. Taylor quickly took over, finishing second in Offensive Player of the Year voting last year. In his final year with the Colts, Mack took a backseat to Taylor and Nyheim Hines as he was only active in six games.

The second move Houston made was drafting Florida running back Dameon Pierce in the fourth-round of the Draft. Pierce had the best year of his career in his senior season while splitting carries with Malik Davis and Nay’quan Wright. Pierce only rushed for 574 yards in his final season as a Gator, but his physical playing-style led to him leading the team with 16 touchdowns from scrimmage, 13 of those being on the ground.

So who is taking the lead for Houston next season? According to Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, the Texans will have a committee-approach at running back this year. They have built a room that holds quite a few skill sets necessary for a successful position group. Mack is expected to take the lead back role, as he’s the only one with experience and success in that role. Although Mack runs with the same physical, attacking style as Pierce, Pierce’s presence should allow Mack a bit of a reprieve in those short-yardage and goal-line situations. Burkhead should be able to return to his role as a receiving, third-down back. Freeman has experience spelling starters as a reliable backup, and can continue to do so in any role asked of him. Houston also brought in former-Jaguar Dare Ogunbowale who has plenty of experience as a backup, as well. They also roster Darius Anderson, who will likely serve as a camp body this summer.

With Mack, Pierce, and Burkhead, Houston has specialists for three different situations. If they need or want more bodies on the 53-man roster, Freeman, Ogunbowale, and the young Anderson can compete for that fourth slot. The improvements needed for the run-game need to come from several areas: offensive line make-up, success in the passing-game to take pressure off, down-field blocking from receivers and tight ends, etc. The first-step, though, is to have players who can run, and Houston has drastically renovated their running backs room in an attempt to get out of the basement of rushing offenses.


Texans Finish Signing 2022 Draft Class

The Texans wrapped up their nine-man draft class today when they were able to reach an agreement with third-round pick Christian Harris. The Power Five-heavy class includes a plethora of Day 1 and 2 picks and brings home three Houston-natives in guard Kenyon Green, safety Jalen Pitre, and offensive lineman Austin Deculus

The Texans started their haul with four selections in the 2022 NFL Draft’s first 44 picks. Their first addition was cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who will immediately improve a group that currently includes Steven Nelson, Lonnie Johnson Jr., and Desmond King II. The Texans’ secondary struggled greatly at times last year, and defensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach Lovie Smith decided that addressing that weakness was a top priority. Their addition of Pitre in the second round further addresses that need. While listed as a safety, Pitre spent the majority of his career with the Bears in the slot. Whether at safety or slot cornerback, Pitre is a strong addition alongside Stingley to a struggling defense.

Green was the next selection, midway through the first round, and his ability to play on the inside of the line should allow Houston to establish Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard at the tackle positions. The later addition of the swing tackle, Deculus, continued the Texans’ efforts at improving the protection in front of second-year quarterback Davis Mills.

In terms of weapons for Mills, after extending leading receiver Brandin Cooks, Houston added another weapon in slot receiver John Metchie III. The Alabama alum tore his ACL in December, but is assumed to be ready to return to the field sometime this summer.

From there, Houston added linebacker Christian Harris, who is a menace in opposing teams’ backfields. They followed that by addressing a league-worst 3.4 yards per rush and 8 rushing touchdowns by bringing in Gator running back Dameon Pierce. Thomas Booker adds some depth to the defensive line. Teagan Quitoriano will compete to back up second-year tight end Brevin Jordan with Pharaoh Brown and Antony Auclair.

Here are the draft picks the Texans will take into camps this summer:

Round 1: No. 3 Derek Stingley Jr., CB (LSU) (signed)
Round 1: No. 15 Kenyon Green, G (Texas A&M) (signed)
Round 2: No. 37 Jalen Pitre, S (Baylor) (signed)
Round 2: No. 44 John Metchie III, WR (Alabama) (signed)
Round 3: No. 75 Christian Harris, LB (Alabama) (signed)
Round 4: No. 107 Dameon Pierce, RB (Florida) (signed)
Round 5: No. 150 Thomas Booker, DT (Stanford) (signed)
Round 5: No. 170 Teagan Quitoriano, TE (Oregon State) (signed)
Round 6: No. 205 Austin Deculus, OL (LSU) (signed)

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/12/22

Thursday has featured several rookie deals finalized. Here are the mid- and late-round draftees to sign their four-year contracts today:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Buffalo Bills

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

  • WR Montrell Washington (fifth round, Samford)

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • RB Snoop Conner (fifth round, Ole Miss)
  • CB Gregory Junior (sixth round, Ouachita Baptist)
  • CB Montaric Brown (seventh round, Arkansas)

Las Vegas Raiders

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans