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.