With the initial free-agency frenzy winding down, organizations are turning their attention to the 2012 NFL Draft. What are the biggest remaining holes for each AFC South team? Let's examine ...
Reuter: QB musical chairs
The offseason has been a big game of QB musical chairs. Who's still standing? Chad Reuter eyes draft quarterbacks. More ...
The Texans made the playoffs for the very first time in 2011, and their roster is set up for another division title next season. They did create a roster need after releasing starting right tackle Eric Winston as a cap casualty, partially due to big contracts awarded to running back Arian Foster (five years, $43.5 million) and center Chris Myers (four years, $25 million). Head coach Gary Kubiak also wants another outside receiver to complement interior targets Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels, as well as take advantage of any extra attention paid to Pro Bowler Andre Johnson.
Allowing Mario Williams to leave as a free agent and trading DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles will put ascending linebackers Brooks Reed and Darryl Sharpton on the field more regularly. But this team must add more second-level defenders, as well as a big nose tackle in the middle of the three-man front and cornerback depth with the loss of free agent Jason Allen to Cincinnati. Stocking up in these areas would help the defense continue the quick progress it made under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips last season. (Houston went from ranking 30th in yards allowed in 2010 to second in 2011, Phillips' first with the organization.)
The Colts went from perennial Super Bowl contenders to a 2-14 team last season ... and then parted ways with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning. It is, therefore, not surprising that they have a lot of position needs. Trading for right tackle Winston Justice, re-upping star receiver Reggie Wayne, replacing Jeff Saturday with former Oakland starter Samson Satele, and the likely selection of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick are good first steps, but there are many other holes to fill. Running back Joseph Addai, receivers Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez, as well as tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme, must all be replaced.
The Colts are not only starting anew on offense, but also switching to a 3-4 scheme on D under new head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Signing defensive end Cory Redding and moving pass-rushing defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to outside linebacker should help the transition up front, while new safety Tom Zbikowski will help tighten things up on the back end. Now, the team has two main priorities on that side of the ball: finding a massive nose tackle to clog up running lanes and adding more depth at cornerback.
General manager Gene Smith gave receiver Laurent Robinson a five-year, $32.5 million deal to amp up Jacksonville's offense, but there's still plenty more work to do on a team that finished 5-11 in 2011. It's reasonable for Smith to draft another receiver in the early rounds to aid the development of second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert (or help veteran Chad Henne win the starting job). In my latest Mock Draft, I had the Jags taking Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd with the seventh overall pick. Smith also gave 2011 starting right tackle Guy Whimper a $1 million signing bonus to return, but might look for more depth on the offensive line.
The Jaguars locked up their best free agents on defense, signing defensive end Jeremy Mincey (eight sacks), free safety Dwight Lowery, and linebacker Russell Allen to long-term deals. They also added cornerback help in former Giants starter Aaron Ross, an absolute must with Rashean Mathis working his way back from a November ACL injury. The team could still use more pass rushers, though, as veteran Aaron Kampman has only played 20 games over the past three seasons because he hasn't been able to stay healthy.
Despite low expectations coming into the year and a holdout by star running back Chris Johnson, the Titans nearly made the playoffs in 2011. Head coach Mike Munchak has a solid roster, but losing cornerback Cortland Finnegan to the Rams was a blow to the secondary. Finding another pass defender is definitely in the cards. Free-agent pickup Kamerion Wimbley returns to a full-time defensive end spot after playing a lot of linebacker in Oakland's 3-4 the past two seasons. Wimbley replaces free-agent loss Jason Jones.
Veteran Matt Hasselbeck and 2011 first-round pick Jake Locker played well in spots last fall, and a healthy Kenny Britt (who was lost for the season in Week 3 with a knee tear) will make them more effective. Adding another legitimate big-play threat outside to work with Britt and Nate Washington seems prudent. Johnson seems happy, and he'll benefit from new starting guard Steve Hutchinson (who probably reminds Munchak of himself when he was a Pro Bowl guard). With a solid aerial attack and a strong ground game, the Titans could be contenders in the division.