They have won the AFC South two years in a row and advanced to the Divisional Round this year, but the Houston Texans still have holes to fill in 2017 free agency.
No one took the Houston Texans seriously this season, regardless of their record. At one point they were undefeated at home, but their porous road performances were all anyone noticed. They also had the AFC South wrapped up before Week 17, clinching the title for a second year in a row. But no one considered them a threat.
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Then they beat the Oakland Raiders in the first round, but that was widely believed to be because Oakland had lost their starting quarterback to a broken leg. In the end, the talk was right and when Houston faced off against a good team in the New England Patriots, they were handled easily.
The reason Houston never got much love is they have too many holes. The biggest being at the quarterback position. Last offseason they signed Brock Osweiler to a mammoth contract, and he didn’t live up to those expectations. Heading into 2017 they are pretty much stuck with him on the roster, and thanks to his deal there’s no hope of signing his replacement just yet.
So instead they need to focus on re-tooling the people around him. Should they do that, their quarterback could have a better chance at succeeding. Whether that be Osweiler, Tom Savage (who replaced Osweiler late in the year before being sidelined due to injury) or a rookie to be drafted.
Here are five players they can target to help them take the next step.
Set to become a free agent for the second time in his career, wide receiver Pierre Garcon is coming off yet another productive season. He began his career as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, but left for Washington to become a No. 1 target after serving as Reggie Wayne’s understudy.
Garcon caught 376 passes in his five seasons in D.C., including 113 in 2013. Last season he continued to prove his worth hauling in 79 passes for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second time in his career he had over 1,000 yards receiving and doesn’t look to be slowing down.
Houston should be interested because they have no one outside of DeAndre Hopkins. They spent a first round pick on Will Fuller this season, but he fizzled out after a hot start. They also seem to have trust issues with 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong and 2016 third-round pick Braxton Miller is still learning the position after playing quarterback for most of his time at Ohio State.
In his 30s now, Garcon won’t be a long term answer. What he would be is a guy who could come in and help take some pressure off Hopkins while also being a good sized target for whoever is throwing the ball for the Texans.
Another area the Texans struggled on offense was whenever running back Lamar Miller was on the sidelines. Backup Alfred Blue was up-and-down and third-down back Jonathan Grimes wasn’t spectacular.
They can use an upgrade here and while the draft is the most ideal place, they should also do their due diligence on someone like Jacquizz Rodgers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rodgers was originally a fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons out of Oregon State in 2011. He spent three seasons with Atlanta before going to Chicago for a season and finally with Tampa last year.
When called upon to spell injured starter Doug Martin this season, Rodgers delivered. He had 255 yards combined in back-to-back starts, going over the century mark in each. On the season, he averaged a career high 4.3 yards per carry en route to 560 yards. He also has shown a knack for receiving out of the backfield with 169 career receptions. His career high came back in 2012 when he brought in 53 passes.
Listed at just 5-6, Rodgers is often thought of as primarily a speedy scat back. But weighing a solid 210 pounds, he is actually more than capable of being an every down back should an injury occur to the starter. He is definitely worth a look for the Texans.
The biggest weakness for the Texans in the eyes of most was Brock Osweiler. However, he had no help from his offensive line. This whole unit was bad and needs to be revamped. One player out there who can help would be current Dallas Cowboys left guard Ronald Leary.
Leary is a 320-pound road-grader who is known for his great strength and exceptional run blocking. He went undrafted out of Memphis due to a degenerative knee condition, but so far that has not plagued him during his career.
In 2014 he helped pave the way for DeMarco Murray to lead the NFL in rushing, but he then lost his job during the 2015 season. This was due more to the player behind him than Leary himself. Dallas was able to land La’El Collins following the 2015 draft and the first round talent ended up supplanting Leary.
Coming into this season Leary wanted out of Dallas so he could start, but as fate would have it a foot injury sidelined Collins and Leary started 12 games for the Cowboys. Once again he was a vital part of them featuring the NFL’s leading rusher, this time rookie Ezekiel Elliott.
Snagging Leary would allow them the opportunity to find even more holes for Lamar Miller to work through. It would also give their quarterback slightly longer to get through his progressions.
In 2014 the Houston Texans selected defensive end/outside linebacer Jadeveon Clowney to pair with J.J. Watt, their stud defensive end. Since then Clowney has struggled to stay healthy until this season when he finally broke out at the end of the year and in the playoffs. Sadly, Watt spent the majority of the season on IR thanks to back surgery.
They have really struggled to keep their line healthy in recent years, so maybe picking up some free agents will help in this area. The best fit for them currently would be Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals.
Playing in Arizona, Campbell has experience in the 3-4 system, which the Texans run a version of under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Campbell has the perfect size for that as well at 6-8 and 300 pounds. He can not only play end in a normal set, but can slide inside as well and be an interior pass rusher for the Texans.
In nine seasons Campbell has 501 tackles and 56.5 career sacks. He is now over 30 years old, but still going strong. In 2016 he recorded 53 tackles, eight sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Houston had the number one ranked defense in 2016, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t look to improve.
Disclaimer: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is still not a free agent, but he could and likely will be. Also, the Houston Texans cannot afford him currently, but they could. They may be cap-strapped thanks to the awful deal given to Osweiler, but the cap is a fluid thing and thy can find a way to work around this for a season as most of Osweiler’s guaranteed portion will be gone after 2017.
If there is any way to make this one work, they need to. Romo is one of the most under-appreciated quarterbacks of all-time. He was undrafted out of a small Eastern Illinois school and rose to become the face of the most visible franchise in the NFL. Now thanks to the rise of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott he will be gone in just a matter of time, and most likely due to his large salary he will be outright released and free to go where he chooses.
He will be leaving Dallas as the leader in every major passing statistic, but most still want to bash him for making a mistake in a playoff game in 2006 while holding for a field goal attempt. Don’t let the loud talkers fool you, Romo is an amazing player, as long as he is healthy.
In Houston he would finally have a great defense and won’t have to take the chances that get him the un-relenting criticism. He would also have a decent running game to fall back on and be in a terrible division in which Houston has won with a revolving door of quarterbacks. Plus, should Romo return to his 2014 form, the fans in Houston would forget the Osweiler debacle in no time at all.