Needing to make up for a bad offseason last year the Houston Texans could make these five big moves in 2017 NFL free agency
Will the Houston Texans be the talk of 2017 NFL free agency? It’s a fair question since they have been the talk of the offseason for two-straight years. In advance of the 2015 season, they were featured on the HBO series Hard Knocks. The camera followed them around as people saw quarterback Ryan Mallett quickly assert himself in head coach Bill O’Brien’s doghouse.
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They then went 9-7 that season, winning the AFC South. They did so despite issues at quarterback. Mallett was eventually released and veteran Brian Hoyer took over. There were several other starters as Hoyer suffered some concussion issues, but they prevailed. Well, prevailed until they were embarrassed in the post season thanks largely to Hoyer’s awful play.
Intent on fixing the quarterback issues that were so publicly played out in 2015, the Texans then signed Brock Osweiler to a massive deal in free agency. He was even worse than Hoyer and eventually was benched for backup Tom Savage. Of course ,Savage got hurt and Osweiler was back in the lineup for their two playoff games.
Now the Texans are in a familiar role. They need a quarterback and are hoping a good offseason allows them to take the next step. Here we predict the five biggest moves they can make in free agency to help them take that step.
Dec 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) reacts to breaking up a pass against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
5. They Say Goodbye to A.J. Bouye
This one seems obvious, but it shouldn’t be. The Houston Texans have devoted a lot of resources to their cornerback position in recent years. Before the 2015 season Kareem Jackson was signed to a heft four-year deal. They then followed that move up by using their first round pick in the draft on Kevin Johnson, a corner from Wake Forest. Later that same offseason they re-signed Johnathan Joseph, adding two more years to his big contract which keeps him in town through this 2017 NFL season.
Unfortunately all those moves have made it to where they could lose their best player at the position. When the highly-touted Johnson went to IR last year, Houston turned to their former undrafted signing from 2013, A.J. Bouye. All he did was become known as a sensational cover corner and in the process earn himself a lot of money.
Without making some sacrifices, Houston won’t be able to bring him back. Considering the faith they have shown in recent seasons with players like Joseph and Jackson, they probably won’t. They arguably should because Joseph is on the backend of his career and Jackson is quite over-rated, but in the end they won’t. Bouye will go somewhere else and probably will be starting for years after Jackson and Joseph are no longer in Houston.
Nov 20, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) points to a fan on the sidelines during warm ups before a game against the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
4. They Take Up Salsa Dancing
The one thing the Texans haven’t devoted much resources to in recent years is a slot receiver. DeAndre Hopkins is excellent on the outside, but he rarely lines up in the slot. 2016 first-round pick Will Fuller can line up there, but he isn’t your typical slot guy that makes plays over the middle. Fuller instead is a deep threat that can burn defenses for the big plays.
What they can use is a guy to make the clutch third-down receptions when mismatched against a backup corner or safety. As luck would have it, one such player is sitting there waiting to find a home. That would be former New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz.
Although Cruz is nothing like his former self following nearly two seasons missed due to knee problems, he still can be effective. In his first year back for New York he averaged 15 yards per receptions ad had 39 catches on the year. Those numbers may not scream big time player, but Cruz wouldn’t command big money either. He was cut this offseason by the Giants due to his large contract—which he earned during his better days.
For Houston, he wouldn’t be expected to be the focal point of the offense. Instead, he could be a fair-priced veteran who serves as a nice slot weapon, but also as a mentor to this incredibly young group of receivers.
Aug 28, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Jaelen Strong (11) makes a touchdown reception during the second quarter as Arizona Cardinals corner back Ronald Zamort (38) defends at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
3. They Release Jaelen Strong
In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans looked like absolute winners. They landed Kevin Johnson, who was considered by many to be one of the more technically sound cornerbacks in the draft in round one. They then jumped up some in round two for middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who was praised as one of the best middle linebackers in the draft coming out of Mississippi State. Then they moved up again and grabbed Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong in the third round—a player once though of as a late-first or second round talent.
Johnson so far looks to have been as advertised. He quickly became the nickel corner for the team and started ten games in his rookie season. Johnson was in the same role in 2016 before a broken foot ended his year prematurely. McKinney also looks to be a worthy selection. He was a bit over his head as a rookie, but by Year 2 he led the team in tackles. In fact his 129 take downs nearly doubled the number two tackler on the team, linebacker Brian Cushing, who had 65 tackles.
The third player selected in that draft hasn’t been as much of a success story. Jaelen Strong has just 14 receptions in each of his first two seasons and despite being healthy, he has been inactive for 14 games. He has been passed up by several players, including 2015 fifth-round pick Keith Mumphery. While Mumphery has four less receptions than Strong, he has been active in 27 games compared to 18 for Strong. The reason for that is Mumphery is able to play in the slot and also has value as a special teams player.
With the earlier prediction that Houston grabs a veteran receiver Strong’s inability to contribute on special teams will eventually lead to his downfall. Houston keeps Mumphery, the veteran and possibly a rookie to develop along with their starters and says goodbye to Strong.
Oct 30, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Zach Brown (53) watches as New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) runs the ball during the second half at New Era Field. The Patriots beat the Bills 41-25. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
2. Sign Marty B
The Houston Texans are floating at 9-7 year after year. Eventually though they have to get better. General manager Rick Smith and head coach Bill O’Brien know they need something to light a spark for this offense in order to do that and while the earlier prediction of a slot receiver would help, so too would bringing in former Texas A&M star Martellus Bennett.
Bennett was not just an A&M star, but also played high school ball in Houston, so perhaps a homecoming would appeal to him? Ok, anyone who knows Bennett knows that isn’t what drives him. He made it very clear that he wants to be paid, and at 30-years of age this March, he knows this is his last chance to do so.
While it’s true that the New England Patriots won’t be the team to pay him, the Houston Texans could be. Despite winning the AFC South title twice, and overpaying Brock Osweiler, Houston is in pretty good shape financially and could afford to make the splash-signing. Of course there’s going to be a question about Marty B’s attitude and locker room character, but that’s one Houston can figure out pretty easily.
There is a close relationship between New England head coach Bill Belichick and O’Brien, so there could also be a lot of insight to what kind of a person the Texans would be getting. If O’Brien likes what his former boss has to say, this is a pairing that makes perfect sense for both sides.
Jan 1, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) looks for a receiver against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
1. They Trade for Tony Romo
The final prediction for the Texans’ 2017 NFL Free Agency moves is that they trade for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. While many reports exist that Romo will be cut, the Cowboys will still certainly try and trade him away. The Texans have been considered a likely landing spot by many, and the reasons all make sense.
Heading to Houston means Romo won’t have to move his family far. At 37 years old, he won’t have much longer to play and staying in the state he has called home his entire career has to be appealing. It also gives him a great chance to make some post season noise. Houston has an elite defense and some great weapons that would be at his disposal. So why trade rather than let Dallas cut him?
Easy. Houston doesn’t want another bidding war. Last year they overpaid for Brock Osweiler as they had to one-up his former team, the Denver Broncos. Should they work out a trade with Dallas, any contract renegotiation happens between Romo and Houston without any outside interference. It also wouldn’t take a lot to pry him from Dallas.
The Cowboys currently are without a fifth-round selection in the upcoming draft. Surely something as simple as helping to fill their void in that round can be worked out, with maybe some incentives worked in should Houston make the Super Bowl. In the end, Romo to Houston makes too much sense for it not to happen.
Sure, Osweiler will make a ton as a backup since they’re stuck with him for at least another year thanks to his guarantees, but he can be cut the following offseason at an affordable hit. Houston has the cap room to get by for one year with two high priced quarterbacks, and should Romo get them over the hump, they would be more than happy paying that out.