Last offseason marked a time of upheaval for the Texans. This year should be less rocky in Houston, with the most pressing question centered on the team's most important position: Quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick served as a mediocre-at-best bridge passer last autumn before giving way to Ryan Mallett. After passing up on Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater in last May's draft, coach Bill O'Brien is still looking for his long-term starter. The lead horse is Mallett, but Houston must decide what type of contract they want to hand to a 6-foot-6, 240-pound signal-caller with just two NFL starts under his belt.
Biggest free agents
» QB Ryan Mallett: We suggested last week that the quarterback-needy Browns make a run at Mallett. In a ghastly class of free-agent passers, that's the hazard for Houston. Mallett might draw interest from teams intrigued by his mysterious ceiling, but we expect O'Brien to lure Tom Brady's former understudy back to town with the promise of a potential starting gig.
» OT Derek Newton: Newton led the entire offense in snaps and showed improvement at right tackle. "That's a guy that we would look forward to working with in the future," O'Brien said in December, hinting that the Texans have seen enough from their 2011 seventh-rounder to bring him back.
On the way out?
What they need
Sorry to beat a dead horse, but the Texans must find their quarterback. With Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage and Thad Lewis on the roster (Case Keenum is an exclusive-rights free agent) O'Brien is bound to look elsewhere for a starter. The draft is a wasteland beyond Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, bringing us back to Mallett. Look for the Texans to re-sign him in a hurry. ... With Ryan Pickett potentially set to retire, Houston could use help at nose tackle, where Jerrell Powe was better suited for limited snaps. ... Depending how free agency pans out, the defense might need new bodies in the secondary. ... Back on offense, it isn't too early to think about developing another young wideout as Andre Johnson nears the end. ... And O'Brien -- hailing from New England -- would love to pad the roster with one or more pass-catching tight ends.
Offseason crystal ball
O'Brien deserves credit for squeezing out nine wins from a team that danced around the quarterback position from wire to wire. Houston will re-sign Mallett, anoint him starter, and mine the draft and open market to patch up holes and add depth at linebacker and throughout the secondary. A clean bill of health for Jadeveon Clowney is the X-factor, with the pass rusher looming as a potential terror when paired with Watt.
The Texans aren't far away from contending for a playoff spot -- they nearly nabbed one last season. Still, it's hard to put much faith into a team that doesn't have a franchise passer, and that remains O'Brien's Holy Grail.