Does the Honey Badger return? Bob Levey/Getty Images
Going into last season the Texans had several questions about their secondary and who would fill what roles for Romeo Crennel's defense? By the end of the campaign, the team had a firm grasp of who would be there for the long haul as rookie Justin Reid established himself as a bonified starter, big hitter and above average coverage safety. The first round talent was a steal in the thirrd round and made new General Manager Brian Gaine look like a genius as he played in all 16 games, starting 12 and intercepting three passes.
Playing along Tyrann Mathieu the duo was athletic, active and hard hitting. The "Honey Badger" proved to be another bargain in his first year with the team as he signed for one year and $7 million dollars and then proceeded to take on a leadership role both on the field and in the locker room as he had 70 solo tackles to equal Reid's number for the season and added two picks.
With the revolving door of cornerbacks the team was forced to go through, the stability on the back end of the unit proved to be extremely valuable and helpful as it allowed Crennel the ability to be flexible and move players around, like Kareem Jackson who alternated between the two positions throughout the year.
That was last year, with Mathieu a free agent and looking for a bigger, long term deal, does the team commit to him or explore the free agent market and try to once again catch lightning in a bottle at the safety position? There are options out there both young and old and it will make Gaine's job that much tougher as he attempts to find a balance between the price and the player in finding the best fit for this team going forward.
If the Texans elect to move on from Mathieu and look for a more "Gaine-like" big bodied, versatile, athlete that can excel in coverage as well as at the line of scrimmage and in the open field, there may be a perfect fit in Landon Collins. Collins has quickly emerged as one of the best young safeties in the league, but the Giants don't want to franchise him and thus, he looks to be headed out on the open market to test the waters and see if he can find a long term home with a team that has the ability to make the playoffs while maximizing his talent and versatility. He has made the Pro Bowl the last three years and has grown and improved with each passing year of experience. Losing and a dysfunctional locker room seemed to take its toll on the player as he cleaned out his locker at the end of the year and sent the message that it was time to move on.
Pairing an experienced and accomplished player like Collins with the young and impressionable Reid could be a dynamic duo that could hold down the last line of defense for Houston for years to come. If he does indeed escape from New York look for Gaine to get in line with a long list of teams that would love to add Collins to their roster.
The other name I think the Texans should consider is veteran Earl Thomas. The former standout from the University of Texas has established himself as the hardest hitting safety in the game and a respected, hard-nosed, intelligent defender that has lead the legendary Seahawks "Legion of Boom" defense to a Super Bowl title and years of notoriety. After his season of turmoil that ended in injury and controversy in Seattle it was obvious a divorce was imminent and his initial thoughts had the Cowboys as his next destination.
Fortunately for Texans fans, the 'Boys have their hands full trying to sign their own big named free agents and therefore they might not have the financial flexibility to land a player of Thomas' caliber. That would leave the door wide open for Earl to stay in Texas and head to Houston where he would be a great fit with JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the crew while doing some on the job training with Reid. Thomas is a Rockets fan and frequently attends games in the offseason and he knows the city and the sporting community well. The Bayou city could be a great landing spot to mesh his talent and veteran leadership with the youthful exuberance of an up and coming young prodigy. I for one would love to see Earl hold down the fort for Bill O'Brien's defense and take his talents to H-town. Obviously, the choice is not mine but I would like to think that Thomas, Mathieu, and Collins are three very solid options and Houston would be happy to have any one of them.
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.