It's time for the Texans to push all their chips in the middle for 2019
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.