After a half-decade as the NFL's doormat division, the AFC South has finally climbed out of last place in Around The NFL's offseason power rankings. With intriguing young quarterbacks in place, three of the four organizations made our list of franchises on the rise in 2016. The only team not on that list is Indianapolis, a perennial playoff contender.
"Everybody's getting better. Everybody made acquisitions in the offseason to improve their football teams," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said late last month. "There are four young, legitimate quarterbacks in our division who are all outstanding football players ... and everybody's got a shot to win this thing."
Before the AFC South follows the NFC West from the deepest valley to the mountain top, the four teams still have to round out their rosters with a strong draft later this month.
» The Texans and Hoyer are headed for a divorce now that Osweiler is the face of the offense and Brandon Weeden has been brought back as the No. 2 QB. With four quarterbacks and gadget player B.J. Daniels under contract, interested teams are likely to await Hoyer's release rather than offering up a late-round pick on draft weekend.
» Houston boasted the NFL's best defense in the second half of last season, but reinforcements are needed on the defensive line. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork turns 35 during the 2016 season and is unsigned for 2017. The Texans could also use another pass rusher opposite perennial Defensive Player of the Year favorite J.J. Watt at defensive end.
» General manager Rick Smith will obviously pick up the fifth-year option on Hopkins' contract after the Pro Bowl wide receiver became the first player in NFL history with 100-yard performances under four different quarterbacks in the same season. The better question is whether the Texans will reward Hopkins with a new long-term deal that will surpass those signed by Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and A.J. Green in 2015.
The Colts took a more conservative approach to free agency after the shopping sprees of recent seasons paid few dividends. Rather than chasing marquee names this year, the organization is counting on new brainpower to maximize the roster's potential. Former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was hired to fix the offensive line. Interim offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was retained after pulling out a pair of late-season victories with fourth- and fifth-string quarterbacks. Chuck Pagano lured Ravens linebackers coach Ted Monachino away from Baltimore to fix the Colts defense following the dismissal of Greg Manusky.
The roster changes were cosmetic, with Patrick Robinson signed to replace cornerback Greg Toler and second-year safety Clayton Geathers ready to step in for the departed Dwight Lowery. Armed with a new contract, Dwayne Allen is expected to be featured more in the passing game now that Coby Fleener is in New Orleans.
The pressure is on coach Gus Bradley, armed with a one-year extension after owner Shad Khan acknowledged that a winning record is "everybody's reasonable expectation at this point."
To that end, general manager Dave Caldwell scored an impressive free-agent haul. The Jaguars added a handful of above-average starters in defensive lineman Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson, cornerback Prince Amukamara, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and running back Chris Ivory. The roster might still be sorely lacking in difference makers, but it's grown steadily stronger since the 2014 draft.
The team's brass has a new look. While interim coach Mike Mularkey was retained, there's a new offensive coordinator (Terry Robiskie), offensive line coach (Russ Grimm) and defensive coordinator (Dick LeBeau). Former Buccaneers director of player personnel Jon Robinson was hired to replace Ruston Webster as the general manager.
Robinson's first major move was a trade for DeMarco Murray as the linchpin of the Mularkey-Robiskie smashmouth attack which figures to feature plenty of play-action looks and more designed runs for Marcus Mariota. Although center Ben Jones was signed away from the Texans, the offensive line overhaul remains in limbo with Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil a possibility with the first pick in the draft and free-agent guard Louis Vasquez still on the radar.
» Is there a new contract in the works for Kendall Wright, who is due $7.32 million in the option year of his rookie contract? Wright has taken a step back the past two years after racking up 94 receptions in his second season. The Titans sorely need a legitimate No. 1 receiver whereas Wright is more of a slot receiver in the Randall Cobb mold.