FREE AGENT FRENZY

Fred Faour: Texans trying to sign Solder comes with questions, but do they really have a choice?

Nate Solder is a big free agent target. Bob Levey/Getty Images

It is a big day in the NFL, where teams can officially begin pursuing free agents. The Texans will be in the market at several key positions, and as Joel Blank wrote today, it will be a big test for new Texans GM Brian Gaine.

The Texans enter free agency with plenty of cap space (overthecap.com has a nice breakdown here) and the potential for more if they rid themselves of guard Jeff Allen, who has been a free agent bust.

And that is the biggest concern heading into free agency. You have to overspend and pay somebody big money for something they did for some other team. It’s worked out for the Texans in the past with Jonathan Joseph, Danieal Manning and more recently Lamar Miller.

It has also failed miserably. Ahman Green, Ed Reed, Allen...And the late, not so great Ostrich, Brock Osweiler -- the gold standard for free agent failure. And while this will be Gaine’s first rodeo with the Texans as the main guy, those past failures and successes should be learning experiences.

Teams that “win” free agency rarely win on the field. Remember the Giants spending money like crazy a couple years ago? The Dolphins? The Jaguars did it last season, and it finally paid off. But they drafted well, then added key pieces over a two-year span. The Texans should be in a similar situation, so adding the right pieces could pay off for them, too, if those pieces come at the right price. You can overpay for one or even two free agents if you add some quality players at more affordable deals as well. The Texans most glaring needs are on the offensive line and in the secondary. There are many viable bargains to be had in the secondary, but the offensive line group is much thinner, which is why Allen is probably still on the roster as an expensive and ineffective insurance policy.

Which brings us to the player everyone keeps linking to the Texans: Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, the sexiest name among available tackles.

Would it be the right move to sign him? Let's assume the Texans actually have a chance to lure him, which is a strong presumption, as he could easily wind up back in New England or elsewhere. But if they do have a shot, there are reasons for pause. He is about to turn 30 years old and will command top-five-at-the-position kind of money. This despite the fact that he has never even made the Pro Bowl. That and the rarity of players leaving New England and actually improving on their production makes signing Solder a serious question mark.

However, he would be a significant upgrade over the revolving door of garbage the Texans trotted out last year. They were reluctant to spend money at the position in free agency in 2017, because the available tackles were all overpriced. Guess what? New year, same issue.

Realistically, the Texans need a minimum of three new offensive linemen -- two new starting tackles and at least one new guard, preferably two. If they can get three quality players and have to overspend to do it, so be it. They can find bargains in the secondary, and the second-tier signings can often turn out to be just as critical as the flashy ones.

But with all that to do, does paying Solder top five money make sense? If you can get fellow Patriot free agent Cameron Fleming at a more viable price, would it make more sense to go that direction? Fleming is only 26 and has upside. But he is also probably the No. 2 tackle available, which means that “more viable price” is not very likely. And it is doubtful New England would let both walk.

Once you get past the two Patriots and Chris Hubbard of the Steelers, the drop-off is precipitous. The reality is you just will not find star tackles in free agency. You can find pretty good/above average that you have to pay like stars. The Texans find themselves in that position. Again. And while Solder might not be the answer, the Texans are pretty much committed to trying.

It might not be a smart move, but it is undeniably necessary to make the effort.

On to the dance

The Houston Cougars gave Cincinnati all it wanted in the finals of the AAC Tournament, ultimately losing 56-55. But the Cougars are still in the NCAAs. We wrote about Kelvin Sampson and this group last week, and nothing has really changed since then with the exception of adding a second win against Wichita State in a run to the conference title game.

Their bracket is interesting. They are a No. 6 seed and face San Diego State in Round 1, which is a sneaky tough matchup. If they get past that, it would most likely be against a beatable Michigan in Round 2. So the stage is set for UH to make some noise and at least win a tournament game for the first time since 1984.

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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