Touring the AFC South: 3 offseason moves to improve Titans, Texans, Jaguars, Colts
The Colts surprised by emerging as a contender and winning a playoff game. The Jaguars surprised for the opposite reason. The Titans had a decent run in Mike Vrabel's first season as coach, and the Texans used a nine-game winning streak to reach the postseason.
Now it's on to 2019.
Here are three offseason moves to improve each team in the AFC South:
Draft an edge rusher
Brian Orakpo is now retired. Derrick Morgan is now a free agent. That leaves the Titans in the market for an edge rusher to spark a defense that ranked 16th in the league with 39 sacks last season. The Titans helped themselves in the second round of last year’s draft by grabbing outside linebacker Harold Landry, and finding a complement to him on the opposite side is atop their list of priorities this offseason.
Florida’s Jachai Polite, Florida State’s Brian Burns and Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat (if he drops) are all potential targets for the Titans at No. 19th overall in the 2019 NFL draft in Nashville.
Sign a veteran wide receiver
With a young, still-developing receiving corps, the Titans best route to improving the position may be to add a veteran. Marcus Mariota is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, after all, and providing him another set of reliable, productive hands will help Titans brass measure exactly what they have in their quarterback as a decision about his future with the franchise looms next offseason.
Some free agent wide receivers for the Titans to consider include Nashville native Golden Tate, deep-threat John Brown and slot-extraordinaire Adam Humphries.
Bolster interior offensive line
The Titans' goal should be to give Mariota every benefit possible in order to best evaluate their quarterback in a contract year. That has to include improving the interior of the offensive line, arguably the weakest position group on the roster.
The Titans could look to add a free agent like former Rams guard Rodger Saffold, who, despite now 31, is the top free agent at his position on the market. But they might best address the issue through the draft, where guards like Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom and Ohio State's Michael Jordan will be available in the second round.
2019 NFL DRAFT:There's history of success at Titans' 19th overall pick, but less of late
Improve at wide receiver with... Antonio Brown?
T.Y. Hilton is a top-tier threat, but the Colts need to give him a proper accomplice. Though they got the most out of Dontrelle Inman a season ago, he isn’t a true No. 2 option. They could certainly look to improve the position through the draft, but with a boatload of cap space at their disposal — the Colts have $107,739,175 available in cap space this offseason, the most in the NFL, according to overthecap.com — they can afford to go on a shopping spree. Brown, Tate and Devin Funchess all seem like potential targets.
Oh, and there’s also Antonio Brown, whose addition would give the Colts the top 1-2 punch at wide receiver in the NFL. Brown and the Steelers have reached an impasse, and the Colts look like a plausible suitor in a trade.
Re-sign Pierre Desir
The Colts gave Desir $1.75 million to prove something in 2018. And he did, racking up 79 tackles, eight pass deflections, two forced fumbles and an interception on a one-year deal. In the Wild Card round, Desir stifled Texans star DeAndre Hopkins as the Colts comfortably beat Houston.
Desir will command a bit more of a financial commitment this time around, but the Colts should be looking to re-sign the 28-year-old cornerback to a multi-year deal.
Pick up Ryan Kelly’s option
For the first time in years, the Colts’ offensive line was a strength. Both the passing and running attack benefited tremendously.
From year to year, Kelly’s improvement was a key part of the line's improvement. The center has been banged up of late, missing 13 games over the past two season. But he’s established himself as a cog on a surging O-line, leaving the Colts in a position where they need to pick up his fifth-year option.
Find Blake Bortles' replacement
It's time to move on in Jacksonville. Most fans have felt that sentiment for some time now, but the Bortles ship has officially sailed. After signing him to a three-year extension last February, the Jaguars will need to designate him as a post-June 1 release, which will force them to absorb a minimum of $10 million in dead money.
All options should be on the table as far as finding a replacement. The Jaguars could look to scoop a free agent like Nick Foles, Tyrod Taylor or Teddy Bridgewater, who aren't necessarily top-tier quarterbacks but would still represent an upgrade over Bortles. They could also look to find their next franchise quarterback via the draft. With the No. 7 pick and only the Giants in the market for a QB in front of them, Dwayne Haskins or Kyler Murray could wind up in Jacksonville.
Bring back Jalen Ramsey
Three seasons as a pro, three seasons playing all 16 games, three seasons as one of the most elite cornerbacks in the game.
Ramsey has put together a sparkling resume since the Jaguars drafted him fifth overall in 2016; it's all the off-the-field stuff — whether it be throwing shade at opposing quarterbacks or Taylor Lewan, or loudly tooting his own horn — that has him the focus of trade rumors.
Simply put, Ramsey is an irreplaceable talent that Jacksonville needs to secure. The Jaguars should be looking to pick up the Nashville native's fifth-year option for 2020 before eventually progressing toward thinking of an extension with him.
Target a TE in the NFL Draft
The Jaguars first-round draft pick could very well be a quarterback. Beyond that, though, they should be looking to improve a position where they've gotten very little production.
James O'Shaughnessy, the Jaguars top tight end a year ago, hauled in just 24 catches for 214 yards. With the 39th overall pick, an upgrade at tight end makes a lot of sense.
Iowa's T.J. Hockensen likely won't be around at that point, but former teammate Noah Fant could be. So too might Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. Either would be a sensible option in the second round.
Keep Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney is an impending free agent, and the Texans can't afford to let him get away.
A multi-year extension for the 26-year-old former No. 1 overall pick could net three figures. But if the Texans and Clowney can't reach terms soon, designating him with the franchise tag would buy them more time to negotiate. The deadline to use the tag is March 5.
If Clowney is designed as a defensive end, his franchise tag bill would be roughly $17.144 million.The projected linebacker designation is $14.953 million.
Strengthen the secondary
It has to start with re-signing safety Tyrann Mathieu, who provided great value for the Texans on a one-year, $7 million deal last season. But even with Mathieu as a cog in the secondary, Houston struggled mightily against the pass, finishing 28th in the league.
Houston will be looking for better seasons from Kevin Johnson and Justin Reid, but they still need to add an outside corner to improve the unit. Vanderbilt corner Joejuan Williams is a potential target for the Texans with the 23rd overall pick.
Give Deshaun Watson more protection
The Texans need to get better at offensive tackle. They could look to spend an early draft pick to improve the position, or look to free agency. A pair of 26-year-olds in Donovan Smith and Trent Brown are among the top options on the open market.
Reach Erik Bacharach at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.