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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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans lost again as their road game ineptitude continues. Former Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt helped the Cardinals to the 31-5 victory.

1. The lack of talent is getting exposed earlier and earlier each week. The Texans have seen games slip away faster and faster from them each week. The team is overmatched almost everywhere.

2. Penalties remain a problem for the Texans. It seems like clockwork the team gets an illegal motion or illegal formation each week. Jordan Akins torpedoed a drive with a chop block. Max Scharping erased a positive play with a hold.

3. Davis Mills had some solid moments, but again, this team isn't good. It is hard to assess Mills with this team. He's making quicker decisions but he doesn't have the time or the players to make big plays.

4. The offensive line stinks. The interior of the line is still a mess and with Laremy Tunsil down the edges find themselves shaky as well. The running backs don't block well. The blocking tight ends don't block well. It is bad football in what was supposed to be a much-improved unit.

5. Desmond King was the best returner in the preseason. The team elected to give Andre Roberts an opportunity for a few games, but with his departure, the duties went to King. King is the most successful returner the Texans have had in a long while. Yes, it is that clear after just one game.

6. Max Scharping was benched in favor of Justin McCray. McCray produced similar levels of success. Scharping was benched last year for a journey-man veteran as well. The former second-round pick isn't getting it done.

7. Speaking of former second-round picks, Lonnie Johnson had an interception. That was the highlight of his day. Otherwise, Johnson frequently has me asking "what is Lonnie Johnson doing?" The former second-round pick at cornerback has been less than impressive at safety. Johnson seems to frequently be out of position or making the wrong choice in coverage.

8. DeAndre Hopkins had a solid day against the team that traded him away. Hopkins hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. After he scored, Hopkins looked to bring his hands together and mimic a prayer motion. I don't anticipate this was a nod to Arian Foster but perhaps could this have been about Jack Easterby?

9. The Texans had some sacks, but little of that action came when the game was close. Jonathan Greenard added two sacks to his total. The success Greenard is having is frustrating when you consider he couldn't get on the field last season. Charles Omenihu returned to action and had some pressures for the defense.

10. During the game reports surfaced that the Panthers might be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson. It was also reported by the Houston Chronicle Watson had vetoed a trade to Philadelphia, so the Eagles will not be involved in the Watson sweepstakes. The Panthers can only trade two first-round picks. The Miami Dolphins have three first-round picks they can trade for Deshaun Watson.

11. The Texans decided on a "culture" head coach in David Culley. His team has looked lifeless on the road. While the Texans took their beating, the Lions gave it their all against a good Rams team. Detroit is winless, but they play harder and better than the Texans. It grows clearer each week "culture" is meaningless if the team can't win.

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