The Pallilog

Texans have work to do in free agency

Texans Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson (right) was released by the Texans. Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

The bell rings to start NFL free agency Wednesday at 3 p.m. Central Time. Among the 32 teams the Texans enter the weekend with the fifth most salary cap space. Having more than $60 million dollars to spend doesn't mean the Texans can fill all their needs.

They better be aggressive after an offensive tackle and a cornerback. Ideally this offseason they add two quality starters of each. With their first round pick (#23) and two second rounders (picks 54 and 55 overall) this year they should nab at least one at each spot. In free agency, Trent Brown would seem to be one sensible tackle target. The largest player (about 6'8" 370!) in the NFL is good, only 26 years old starting next season, and adding him would also be subtracting from the Patriots. But it's fair to wonder how much better Brown is with superior Patriots coaching and in Tom Brady's quick pass offense than he would be as a Texan. The cornerback pickings are slim. ESPN's free agent rankings have Kevin Johnson as the third best corner available. The same first round draft pick bust Kevin Johnson the Texans cut this week, freeing up another nine million bucks in cap room. Pierre Desir would seem a worthy pursuit. A la Brown from New England, adding the 28 year old Desir would be the Colts' loss.

General Manager Brian Gaine's first crack at free agency a year ago produced a mixed bag. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was solid on his one year contract, corner Aaron Colvin a huge flop in the first season of his four year deal. Among the offensive linemen signed Zach Fulton was OK, Senio Kelemete middling at best, Seantrel Henderson was a question mark lost opening day to a broken ankle.

Franchise-tagged free agents hardly ever get offers from other teams, the cost being a huge contract and two first round draft picks. The Colts have the most cap space in the league. Landing Jadeveon Clowney would be a substantial boost to their rising defense, and a huge blow to the Texans. The Colts could make a massive offer to Clowney they're comfortable with, forcing the Texans to spend more to keep him. If the Texans found a Colts' offer too pricey, the alternative to matching is taking the Colts first rounder this year (26th pick) and first rounder next year.

Big game coming

The 12th ranked Houston Cougars are 28-2 as they head for a Sunday showdown at Cincinnati. With the Bearcats loss at Central Florida Thursday night (the same UCF that won at the Fertitta Center last Saturday), UH has clinched at least a share of a conference championship for the first time since it won the Southwest Conference in 1992. Not one SWC team cracked the top 25 at any point during that season. Sunday should be ferociously contested. The Coogs take aim at an outright league title. The Bearcats earn a share of the crown with a win. In the season's first meeting at the Fertitta Center, UH pitched a shutout over the last six minutes and won by seven. The Cats have won 16 straight at home, and in their last 51 home games are 49-2.

Tearing it up

Wednesday night LeBron James went past Michael Jordan for fourth place on the all-time scoring list. 32,311 points. LeBron up to fourth came the night after James Harden became the 73rd player in NBA history to reach 18,000 points. Which makes one think, how high on the scoring list will Harden climb? Barring an injury that knocks him out for several games, before this season is over Harden will vault into the top 70, passing Hall of Famers Tracy McGrady, Dave Bing, Rick Barry and Dr. J.-Julius Erving.

This summer Harden turns 30. While I'm generally a never say never guy, there is basically no chance Harden will have another season scoring the way he is in this one. After this season he has four years left on his contract.

Let's be conservative, saying Harden plays 70 games per season over the next four. Except for a lockout shortened season he has never played fewer than 72. Let's say next season he scores "only" 27 points per game…then in subsequent seasons 24 per game, then 22, then at age 33 20 points per game. That would vault Harden over 25,000 points. In NBA history only 22 players have massed 25K. The only other guy who'll gain admission to that club before Harden is Kevin Durant.

Whether James Harden wins a second MVP Award is up in the air. This is not: If Harden retired today, he's a lock Hall of Famer.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Daylight Saving Time kicks in tomorrow night. Yes! 2. My Colts/Clowney hypothetical: would you match and keep him or take the picks? 3. Most distinctive college basketball homecourt settings: Bronze-Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt Silver-Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke Gold-Carrier Dome, Syracuse

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Braves beat Houston in extra innings, 5-4. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Marcell Ozuna hit his major league-leading eighth homer and Orlando Arcia’s RBI single in the 10th inning lifted the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros on Wednesday.

It completes a three-game sweep of the struggling Astros and is Atlanta’s fourth straight victory.

The Braves scored two runs in the eighth inning to tie it at 4-4. Michael Harris II started the 10th as the automatic runner on second and there was one out in the inning when Seth Martinez (1-1) intentionally walked Matt Olson.

Ozuna lined out to right field to send Harris to third base. Arcia then singled on a ground ball to left field to score Harris and put the Braves on top.

Pinch-runner Jake Meyers was on second when Kyle Tucker walked with no outs in the 10th. Meyers moved to third on a fly out by Yainer Diaz but Jeremy Peña grounded into a double play to end it.

A.J. Minter (3-1) got the last two outs of the ninth for the win and Raisel Iglesias earned his fifth save.

Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. added his first homer of the season to help the Braves to the victory. Ozuna also leads the majors with 23 RBIs and he extended his hitting streak to 16 games, which ties his career best and is the longest active streak in the majors.

Yordan Alvarez and Mauricio Dubón both homered for the Astros, who fell to 6-14 and are last in the AL West.

There was one out in the first when Alvarez connected on his homer to the seats in left field to put Houston up 1-0.

Ozuna opened the second with his 432-foot shot to left field, which bounced off the wall and tied the game.

Acuña put the Braves up 2-1 when he sent the first pitch of the fifth inning to straightaway center field.

The Astros tied it on an RBI single by Alex Bregman in the fifth and Kyle Tucker’s RBI double came next to put the Astros up 3-2.

Dubón hit his first home run of the year off Jesse Chavez to start Houston’s sixth and push the lead to 4-2.

Harris singled to start the seventh before a ground-rule double by Austin Riley. Olson reached, and Harris scored on a fielding error by first baseman José Abreu when he couldn’t grab a routine ground ball.

There was one out in the inning when Riley scored on a sacrifice fly by Arcia to tie it at 4-all.

Houston starter J.P. France allowed four hits and two runs in five innings.

Max Fried gave up seven hits and three runs in five innings.

UP NEXT

Braves: Atlanta is off Thursday before opening a series against Texas on Friday night with LHP Chris Sale (1-1, 4.58 ERA) on the mound.

Astros: Houston is also off Thursday before ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night against Washington. The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder.

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