Antonio Brown, Golden Tate and Michael Crabtree.
The Texans head into the offseason with plenty of holes to fill. General Manager Brian Gaine has a full complement of draft picks and a good chunk of money to spend but his biggest challenge will be deciding how much money he can allocate to each position of need. If he overspends on one player or group, will he have to under deliver on other areas of need?
If he goes after some big names in free agency will he be able to find college athletes capable of starting in the NFL to fill positions that under delivered or fell short last season? The challenge of balancing draft picks and cap space is extremely daunting and if Gaine doesn't get it right it could set the franchise back for years to come.
For example, a year ago Nate Solder was the top offensive lineman available in free agency and everyone wanted the Texans to be first in line to swoop in and sign the super bowl champion that protected Tom Brady for years. Houston kicked the tires on the veteran tackle but felt his price tag was too high for their liking as the Giants signed him to a huge four-year, $62-million dollar contract with $35 million in guaranteed money. His first year in New York was less than impressive as the line struggled as much as the team did. Solder did start and play in all 16 games but it's safe to say Houston dodged a bullet by avoiding that big contract for a lineman over 30 years old. This year the team will have the fifth most cap space in the league at their disposal, but they need to spend wisely with several key positions to fill.
It's universally known that Houston needs to upgrade their offensive line this offseason but the Solder situation of a year ago hopefully has taught the team a valuable lesson about quality lineman. The best blockers in the NFL are developed through the draft and if a team finds a quality player in the trenches they will more than likely make sure to hang on to him and keep him in the fold for the majority of his career. Guards and tackles that hit free agency are looking for a big payday and rarely live up to their cap hit when playing for their new squad. Therefore, it is probably a safe bet that the Texans will address their deficiencies up front by drafting a few linemen on the first few rounds of the draft. If that indeed turns out to be the case, what else do the Texans need and where will they turn to get better?
One seemingly sure bet is that the team will look to upgrade and improve the second wide receiver spot next to all-pro DeAndre Hopkins. Last year was another frustrating and injury-plagued year for the players trying to take heat off of Hopkins. Will Fuller was hurt again, this time suffering a torn ACL that ended his season before it ever really got started and rookie KeKe Coutee also struggled with leg injuries throughout the campaign.
Desperate for quality and depth late in the regular season and in preparation for the playoffs saw the team trade for veteran Demaryius Thomas. The former pro-bowl wideout struggled to learn the playbook and eventually was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
With all the uncertainty surrounding these players and their health heading into next year, it would behoove Gaine and his staff to address the position group with free agency offering up several interesting names to consider. If they really wanted to make a splash they could call the Steelers and inquire about Antonio Brown but that would cost the team at least one high draft pick in the first 3 rounds as well as forcing them to eat up valuable cap space by absorbing his 17 million dollars a year salary for the next 3 years. If those numbers prove to be too rich for the team's blood, there are a few other names out there that will be less expensive and still would provide the team with a quality veteran option opposite Hopkins.
Golden Tate is a free agent receiver that would provide Houston with a durable and tough wideout that can still pop the top on defenses with his deep speed, as well as using his reliable hands to secure the tough catches over the middle and in the slot. He split time between the Lions and Eagles in 2018 and caught 74 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns. He has only missed seven games in his nine year career and last year was the first time in the last five years he didn't catch at least 90 balls in a season. Tate made an average of $6.2 million dollars per year on his 5-year deal that just expired. Even if you had to pay him a little more than that on a short term contract of 2 or 3 years, he would be a nice upgrade over any receiver on the roster not named Hopkins.
Another option that the Texans could consider is Michael Crabtree who was released yesterday by the Ravens. He had signed a $3 year, 21 million dollar deal with Baltimore last season and struggled to find chemistry and productivity with the unstable QB situation of Joe Flacco and then rookie Lamar Jackson under center.
He had 54 receptions for 607 yards and three touchdowns while playing in all 16 games last season. He has only missed two games in the last five years and last year was the first time in four years he didn't tally at least eight TDs in a campaign. He has struggled recently with drops but some of that can be attributed to the uncertainty at QB in Baltimore.
Crabtree probably can be had for a contract in the $5 million dollar range for next season and might welcome a chance to play for a winner with an up and coming quarterback like the situation in Houston. Crabtree, like Tate, would be a substantial upgrade for the Texans and give the team a much needed additional weapon in the passing game. If Brian Gaine is able to add one of these two veteran wide receivers it would go along way towards upgrading the passing game as well as the overall productivity of Watson and the offense.
With a new season on the horizon, the Astros have high hopes for 2024 after coming just one game shy of being in the World Series for three consecutive seasons.
If Houston wants to get back to the Fall Classic in 2024, they're going to have to rely on their pitching. Owner Jim Crane believes the club has 8 starting pitchers when Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. return mid-season.
Which allows several of the starters to move to the bullpen and provide even more depth. Add those guys to Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader and you have a recipe for success.
Check out the video above as ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham goes through the entire staff and makes his case for the Astros having the best pitching staff in baseball.
You can listen to The Killer B's with Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank every weekday on ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 from 3 pm - 6 pm!