A.J. Hoffman: The Texans top 5 needs heading into free agency and the draft

The Texans need a much better backup QB than Tom Savage. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Texans have a lot of holes to fill this offseason. A LOT. Unfortunately, they don’t have unlimited draft picks, and it’s hard to get 40 new players in a single offseason. So I decided to try and prioritize the needs of the Texans and rank the Top 5 needs. 

5. Tight End

This may be the least likely group that the Texans will look to fix. They have made investments in the position, it just hasn’t worked out. They took C.J. Fiedorowicz in the third round in 2014. He finally started to look like a player, but now his career is in doubt due to multiple concussions. Ryan Griffin got a 3-year, $9M contract, but has not looked worth the money and the Texans could cut him this offseason with no salary cap repercussions. Stephen Anderson has shown flashes, but can’t be depended on as a key guy just yet. You will hear Texans fan clamoring for Jimmy Graham this offseason, but it seems unlikely they would want to pay the brand-name markup at a position where they have been swinging and missing so frequently. 

4. Backup quarterback

The Texans have one quarterback under contract, and he is coming off a torn ACL. Watson is obviously the man in Houston for the foreseeable future, but health concerns mean it is imperative that the Texans shore up the backup role. The smart move would be to find a veteran backup quarterback in free agency and pick up another late in the draft. There is no lack of quarterback play in the free agency market this season, as established vets like Josh McCown, Matt Moore, Teddy Bridgewater and A.J. McCarron are available. The question becomes if these guys will want to hold out for a starting job, or are willing to backup a rising star like Watson. 

3. Cornerback

Once considered a strength in Houston, the cornerback play has declined sharply in the last year. In hindsight, it was clearly a mistake to move on from A.J. Bouye and instead keep Jonathan Joseph, who is likely on his way out now. There was much belief that Kevin Johnson was ready to take a big step forward and become a No. 1 corner. If anything, he took a step back last season and injury concerns are mounting with him. Kareem Jackson no longer looks like a guy you can trust in coverage. Malcolm Butler is the top free agent cornerback in this class, but will likely come with a massive price tag. There are cheaper alternatives though, such as E.J. Gaines, Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller and Trumaine Johnson. It would make sense for the Texans to bring in a free agent and invest a draft pick in cornerback. Another hole is strong safety, and they may look to shuffle around some bodies to fill that need as well.

2. Guard

Let’s just lay it out there. Xavier Sua-Filo was a complete bust as a second round draft pick. Jeff Allen has ben a complete bust as a free agent. The best offensive linemen that the Texans have right now are Nick Martin and Greg Mancz. Unfortunately they both play center. Martin has the versatility to fill one of the guard spots, but he has also missed more than half of the team’s games in his two years as a Texan. The best free agent guard available is Andrew Norwell, but like we discussed with Malcolm Butler earlier, that will come at a hefty price. Justin Pugh, who played last season at right tackle for the Giants, would benefit from a move back inside. Josh Sitton is 32 years old, but would be a massive upgrade and probably has 2-3 good years left in him. Guard, like corner, will need to be hit in free agency and the draft

1. Tackle

You probably guessed this when we were discussing the disastrous offensive line above. The Texans decision to move Duane Brown clearly wasn’t based solely on football, because they had no serviceable replacement in-house and the free agent market doesn’t have anyone better than him. Derek Newton is still recovering from his double patella tears, and it seems unlikely he will ever be the same. Unfortunately for the Texans, when teams have great tackles, they typically don’t let them get to free agency, so the cupboard is somewhat bare. Nate Solder is the biggest brand name, but he is 30 and not coming off his best year. Another free agent out of New England, Cameron Fleming, is appealing to me. He is only 26 and filled in nicely at right tackle for Marcus Cannon last season. Ja’Wuan James was the lone bright spot on a horrific line in Miami, and may be the best available tackle, but is better suited for the right side. Chris Hubbard has been the swing man in Pittsburgh and looks like he could handle a starter’s workload. There are also guys like Andre Smith and Greg Robinson, once highly thought of and now tossed aside, that could be looked at as reclamation projects. 

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The Coogs play Miami on Friday night. Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images.

Number one seed University of Houston is favored by 7.5 points over No. 5 Miami, and No. 2 University of Texas is favored by 4 over No. 3 Xavier Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals in Kansas City.

Talk about opening acts. If both UH and UT win, they’ll meet Sunday in a good ol’ WWE-style Texas death match for a berth in the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston. Thank you, Mr. Schedule Maker.

How much do you think Cougar fans would love for UH to get their hands on the Longhorns with so much at stake?

For one example, let’s go back to the future, Oct. 21, 2023, when Big 12 rivals UH and UT meet in football at TDECU Stadium on the Houston campus. The game already is a lock sellout with tickets in the upper deck commanding $141 per ticket on the secondary market. It will be UH’s first year in the big boy Big 12 and UT’s last go-around before heading to the SEC.

One last opportunity for lasting bragging rights.

That’s for a UH football game. At home. Where the Cougars typically have trouble packing half the house. For example, the Cougars will be hosting the Sam Houston Bearkats at TDECU Stadium a month earlier. Tickets for that game, the same exact seat going for $141 against UT, can be had right now … $17.

Yeah, there’s something special about UH getting the opportunity to face UT. In anything. Anywhere. And it’s been a long time since the two teams, once co-members of the Southwest Conference together, have met on the basketball court. A full decade, in fact. The last time they played was March 20, 2013 with the Cougars prevailing 73-72 in something called the College Basketball Invitational. The UH coach was James Dickey. UT was coached by Rick Barnes. Joe Young led the Cougars with 18 points. The Horns’ leading scorer was Julien Lewis with 28. UH finished that season with a 20-13 record. UT limped home at 16-18.

That was then, this is now. The UH-Miami game will air at 6:10 p.m. Friday on CBS with UH grad Jim Nantz calling the play-by-play. The game will alsO stream on Hulu +++. ESPN’s BPI (basketball power index) gives the Cougars a 90 percent chance of winning. We’ll take it.

The UT-Xavier game will follow at 8:45 p.m. on CBS. The Horns have a 70 percent chance of beating the Musketeers. If both chalks come through, they’ll meet Sunday afternoon with the game on CBS.

The Cougars have made six Final Four appearances: 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984, 2021. The Horns have made three Final Fours, the last time two decades ago.

Here’s the only sure bet if UH and UT meet Sunday - get to your sports bar early if you want a seat. This could be memorable.

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