PROTECTING THE FRANCHISE

Texans battling Bears for key free agent

Texans battling Bears for key free agent
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski / Stringer/Getty Images

After they allowed a league-high 65 sacks in 2018, the Houston Texans have been on a mission to upgrade their offensive line to protect their quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Starting with the acquisition of LT Laremy Tunsil and drafting Tytus Howard, the Texans' line took a step in the right direction as Houston gave up a total of 45 sacks during the 2019 season.

With 20 fewer sacks when compared to the previous season, there is still some work that needs to be done to ease Watson's chances from hitting the ground in 2020, and after missing out on their year-long pursuit Trent Williams, the Texans have shifted their focus to former New Orleans Saints guard, Larry Warford, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. If the Texans can find a way to land Warford, the addition of the Pro-Bowl guard has the potential to become Bill O'Brien's best acquisition of the summer. The Chicago bears are also interested in Warford's services according to a recent report.

In 2013, Warford began his career as a third-round pick for the Detroit Lions before signing a four-year, $34 million deal with the Saints in 2017. In New Orleans, the 6-foot-3, 317-pound prodigy out of Kentucky, started all 44 regular-season games at right guard and became a three-time Pro Bowler. Despite playing a big part in their success over the past three seasons, the Saints released the guard on Friday to free up $7 million in salary-cap space. He specializes in pass protection and has allowed only seven sacks during this three-year tenure in New Orleans, per PFF.


Should the Texans lure Warford down I-10 West to sign in Houston, the potential signing may mark the end of the current starter, Zach Fulton, who is set to become a free agent following the 2021 NFL season.

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How significant Astros spring training revelation highlights even more reasons for optimism

The Houston Astros had a very successful season in 2023 which led them back to the ALCS for the seventh-straight season, but despite another deep playoff run, their pitching did regress from the prior year.

While many would point to their historic bullpen in 2022 and say they had nowhere to go but down, that doesn't paint the full picture. It was the starting rotation that really fell off in 2023. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urquidy all saw a spike in their ERAs from the previous season.

According to a recent report from The Athletic's Chandler Rome, we might have an explanation for Jose Urquidy's down year.

The Astros and Urquidy believe he was tipping his pitches. Which would explain why the slugging percentage against his fastball jumped from .482 in 2022 to .632 in 2023.

When hitters know a pitcher is tipping, they often start hunting fastballs. Also, his strikeout percentage went down last year and his walks went way up. He had 2 more walks per nine innings in 2023 than he had in 2021.

Part of that could be him aiming for corners and refusing to give in to hitters because his fastball wasn't performing up to expectations.

His WHIP in 2023 really jumped off the page as well. He finished with a WHIP over 1.4. While his career WHIP is 1.143. That's a huge difference.

Back to the big picture

Until last season, Urquidy never finished with an ERA over 3.95. He recorded a 5.29 ERA last year. So when we factor in his shoulder injury that cost him three months of the season, and the fact he was tipping pitches, we believe he's in store for a bounce-back season.

And the Astros are going to need him, especially with Justin Verlander and JP France possibly not being available for the start of the season.

What will the rotation look like early on?

The Astros haven't ruled Verlander out yet, so he could be ready to go. But if not, and we base this off what we saw last season. The rotation will likely include Valdez, Javier, Brown, Urquidy, Ronel Blanco, and Brandon Bielak.

Don't miss the video above for the full discussion!

Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) with Charlie Pallilo, Brandon Strange, and Josh Jordan every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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