The Texans finished 11-5 last season and won the AFC South before getting bounced by Indy in the first round of the playoffs. There were a lot of close wins and a soft schedule that certainly contributed to their success.
So the question is how close are they really? They are set at quarterback for the foreseeable future. They have a legitimate No. 1 receiver. They have talent on defense, but at times they did not play to their abilities.
Realistically, as of today, they are behind at least Kansas City, New England and Indianapolis in the AFC pecking order. Depending on what happens in Pittsburgh, they might be behind the Steelers and Ravens, too. If Jacksonville adds a Nick Foles and a couple offensive playmakers, the Jags could be back in the mix as well.
That is if the Texans trot out the same group we saw last season. They might even be a better team and have a worse record, because the schedule on paper looks much tougher.
But they should also take their shot now. How many years does J.J. Watt have in him to play at an elite level? Two years ago, the Jaguars won free agency, then made it to the AFC Championship. The Astros were close in 2017, went all in on Justin Verlander and won a World Series. The Rams did it last year and made it to a Super Bowl.
It's time for the Texans to follow suit. They can't fill all their holes in the draft, and free agency is always a crap shoot; you are paying players more for what they have done than what they will do in most cases. But if they want to take the next step, free agency is a must.
The obvious needs
The offensive line was a complete joke last season. Anyone can see there needs to be upgrades at tackle and guard. The problem is most teams don't let go of quality tackles. Trent Brown will be the best name likely available. They will have to overpay, and Brown would be going from a legendary line coach and superior coaching staff to...well, the Texans. It's rare when a player leaves the Patriots and performs at the same level. But he would be an upgrade. Guard Roger Saffold or center Matt Paradis would instantly upgrade the interior. Ja'Waun James or Daryl Williams would instantly upgrade the right side. The Texans will have plenty of cap room to add at least two and maybe three players here and still fix some other issues. There is no guarantee they will all be available, but the Texans should be pursuing every one that is on the market.
Cornerback also needs an upgrade. Aaron Colvin was a free agent failure last season, but maybe if healthy he can contribute. But there is no shortage of decent CBs that would not break the bank. This needs to be addressed with at least one signing, possibly two.
The players to bring back
Jadeveon Clowney will be franchised tagged. You can do worse than to let him play it out and make your run in 2019. But if there is a big time package on the table, exploring a trade is not the worst idea, either. Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson are free agents. One needs to be brought back to play alongside Justin Reid. Mathieu will cost more but is younger and has more upside.
The other needs
The Texans have been linked to Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, which would be a massive upgrade. But he will command a massive deal. The Texans have the cap room to do it, but it might limit what they do elsewhere. Lamar Miller is functional and might be better with an improved line. The Texans could also use another wide receiver. If everyone is healthy, they are fine, but Will Fuller has never been healthy. Keke Coutee missed much of last season. A reliable fill-in is a must. They also could use an upgrade at backup quarterback. If they were to trade Clowney, pass rusher would be a need as well. But if the team spends some money in free agency at these positions, they could draft the best available players and not have to force a need.
The cap impact
According to overthecap.com, the Texans have over $77 million available in cap space. They could add another $15 million by cutting Kevin Johnson and Whitney Merclius. If they did make a splash with Bell, cutting Miller would add another $6 million.
So the money is there. The players are there. The needs are there. The Texans could stay the course and try to upgrade a little at a time. But will that close the gap on the Chiefs, Patriots, Colts and Chargers?
No. It's time to push all the chips in the middle. It might not work, but if it does, the team might finally take a big step. Could it set them back a couple years? Absolutely. But that's why they call it gambling.
And it is time for the Texans to ante up in a big way.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.