Roster building

Fred Faour: A look at free agency so far and what still needs to be done for the Texans

Bill O'Brien and Deshaun Watson should have a lot more help on the offensive line this season, but Watson still needs a backup at QB. Getty Images

Until Friday night, the Texans had been relatively quiet in free agency, making solid, under the radar signings to bolster a squad that had a lot of holes. Then they made the big splash, signing safety Tyrann Mathieu.

While this is the kind of high-profile, big-name move that gets fans excited, the team has quietly plugged some major holes in addition to adding the playmaking safety. Entering free agency, the Texans had two major needs: Offensive line help and secondary. They filled most of those, but there is still work to be done. A look at what they have done at each position group so far and what still needs to be done:

Offensive line

Additions: Senio Kelemete, G; Seantrel Henderson, T; Zach Fulton, G. The Texans essentially added three new starters to their line, which needed four. Henderson should compete for the starting right tackle position. Fulton and Kelemete should join Nick Martin or Greg Mancz on the interior of the line. Veteran Jeff Allen, a free-agent failure, is still on the roster for now, but he might not survive. The same goes for Derek Newton, who has not played in two years. Neither should be counted on for depth, but Kyle Fuller and Chris Slade showed some promise in late-season appearances and a draft pick should be added as well. The gaping hole remains at left tackle, where the Texans -- who struck out on Nate Solder -- have no one. It will be hard to get a starter in the draft without a first or second round pick, so the Texans made need to go the trade route or hope for a veteran cut after the draft.

They have improved the line significantly this offseason, which was a major goal. Kelemete and Fulton are serious upgrades over Allen and Xavier S’ua-Filo. If they can find a left tackle between now and the start of the season, this could be the most improved unit on the team.

Tight end

Additions: None. C.J. Fiedorowicz retired due to multiple concussions, leaving the Texans with just Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson at the position. Neither is a longterm answer, but then this has not been a position of strength in a while. The Texans will need to draft or sign another TE to give Deshaun Watson another weapon.

Wide receiver

Additions: Sammie Coates. The team also brought back Bruce Ellington, so there is some OK depth here. DeAndre Hopkins is a clear No. 1, but it is time for Will Fuller or Braxton Miller to emerge. Coates still has some upside and Ellington was solid for the Texans last year. Another draft pick would not hurt, but not an area of need.

Running backs

Additions: None. With D’Onta Foreman a question mark after blowing his Achilles and Alfred Blue a free agent, the Texans need help behind Lamar Miller. Tyler Ervin has yet to develop and is also coming off an injury. Expect the Texans to invest at least one draft pick at this position.

Quarterback

Additions: None. Deshaun Watson is the man now, but we saw what the Texans were without him last season. Taylor Heinicke is the only other QB on the roster. The good news is whoever they bring in as a backup will be an upgrade over Tom Savage, but they still need a No. 2 QB, either through free agency or the draft. They might wait until after the draft, when other teams might dump veteran QBs.

Defensive line

Additions: None. The Texans were pretty solid here, but another big nose tackle would not hurt. The Texans should get J.J. Watt back healthy next season and if so will be strong again on the D line.

Linebackers

Additions: None. Another area where the Texans really do not need help. Whitney Mercilus should return healthy, and Zach Cunningham and Bernardrick McKinney are solid if used correctly, which they should be with Romeo Crennel returning as DC. Depth players like Brennan Scarlet and Dylan Cole should contribute as well.

Secondary

Additions: Tyrann Mathieu, S, Aaron Colvin, CB, Johnson Bademosi, CB. Like the OL, this was the biggest area that needed to be addressed. Mathieu is a legitimate star and a playmaker at three levels and will make a huge impact if healthy. Colvin will be a strong slot cover corner. Bademosi adds depth and is a special teams star. The team also brought back Jonathan Joseph, who has slowed with age but is still solid. They still lack a true No. 1 corner, and must get much better play out of former first-round pick Kevin Johnson, but overall this group should be much improved.

Special teams

This has been a mess for years. They re-signed veteran punter Shane Lechler and special teams contributor Brian Peters. Johnson can play some corner, but his primary value is on special teams coverage. They still need a decent return man and more help in this area.

The bottom line

The Texans improved their two weakest position groups with the offensive line and secondary. They were not going to be able to fix everything at once, but they did about as well as expected. Now they need to find a starting left tackle, a backup QB, another tight end and a running back. The good news is other than the tackle, they can address those needs in the draft, even without a first or second round pick.

It has been a productive free agency period for the Texans, who now are at least close to having a complete roster.

 

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Framber Valdez injured his ring finger on Tuesday. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That sure escalated quickly. The news on Framber Valdez went from bad to vastly worse for the Astros with the fractured ring finger on his pitching hand concerning enough that season ending surgery is on the radar. Valdez is/was no sure thing to have been a first time quality full season starting pitcher, but seemed a decent bet after his maturity-driven albeit short season breakout 2020.

37-year-old Zack Greinke is the only member of the Astros' starting rotation to have thrown even 130 innings in a big league season. Greinke showed notable slippage in 2020. A by-product of the funky short season, or Father Time making a move? If Greinke further erodes, uh oh. It's all question marks behind him.

Lance McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. Six years later McCullers has zero seasons under his belt in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. If he hits that exacta in 2021 it's great for the Astros of course, greater for McCullers with free agency arriving at season's end. Particularly confounding with McCullers is that over his career he's been outstanding at Minute Maid Park, and basically sucked on the road. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. That's absurd. It's certainly not as if MMP is some great pitchers' park.

"Crafty" is typically applied to left-handed pitchers. Jose Urquidy seems a crafty right-hander. But since missing the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery Urquidy has topped 100 innings worked once. Cristian Javier has some electric stuff and showed very well as a rookie. Javier has never thrown 115 innings in a professional season.

The odds are long against McCullers, Urquidy, and Javier all pitching well and staying healthy all season. Valdez didn't come close to making it to Opening Day. The best internal candidates to replace Framber (or anyone else) are Luis Garcia and the extremely-hyped thus far dud but still just 23 years old Forrest Whitley.

Woeful Rockets

It certainly isn't paying homage to James Harden that has the Rockets on a 13 game losing streak as they mercifully take their All-Star break. They're just that bad. Watching them is like watching a helpless fly tossed into a spider web game after game. Out of the break the Rockets play at Sacramento Thursday. The Kings are no good, but the Rockets are worse. A loss there all but guarantees matching the Houston Rockets' longest ever losing streak of 15 since the following night they play at Utah. If you care about them the Rockets are painful to watch. Hapless, helpless, hopeless. Their best shot at accelerating what might be a years long path back to relevance is to keep on stinking. The Rockets have the third worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have equal chances at getting picks one through four in the draft. It's a 14 percent shot at number one, a 52 percent shot of being in the top four. The fourth worst team has a 48 percent chance of picking in the top four. If the Rockets are not in the top four, they lose their pick to Oklahoma City as a payoff of the awful Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade.

Watt signs with Cardinals

J.J. Watt could have least acknowledged "Of course the money the Cardinals offered had plenty to do with me picking them!" Off an 8-8 season in which they faded down the stretch the Cards have an interesting squad with some serious upside, especially if Kyler Murray makes a leap in his third season at quarterback. But no way are the Cardinals presently a first tier Super Bowl contender. We don't know for certain who Watt's other "finalists" were and what they offered. Seems a lock that none of them offered 23 million dollars guaranteed or two years 31 million total. Money is another scoreboard and J.J. is a huge winner on it. No one should ever blame a player for going for every dollar he can get. But Watt can't honestly say the best shot at a Super Bowl was his top priority then sign with a team which last had a winning season in 2015 and in Kliff Kingsbury has a guy who has accomplished nothing meaningful as a Head Coach at either Texas Tech or Arizona. Doesn't mean it can't happen in the desert, but there had to be better teams interested if a ring shot was of paramount importance.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Les Miles, what a slimeball. LSU, what a slimy institution in its handling of serial sexual misconduct in its football program

2. NBA All-Star Game Sunday. In 1993 more than 22 million people watched. Last year, 6.8 million. Not sure 5 mil watch Sunday.

3. Greatest ever NFL free agent signings: Bronze-Packers, Reggie White Silver-Buccaneers, Tom Brady Gold-Saints, Drew Brees

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