If the 2021 NFL free agency period is anything to go by, Nick Caserio will be aggressive when making moves for the Houston Texans. After a whirlwind couple of weeks, who have the Houston Texans signed in free agency, and what impact will they have on a team in the middle of a rebuild?
The Houston Texans went all-in during free agency to add defensive talent
For those who have turned on notifications for NFL news, free agency has likely made you want to throw your phone into the abyss with all the moves Houston made. On the opening day alone, GM Nick Caserio and the Texans signed 10 players. The main takeaway was their emphasis on bolstering a defensive unit that struggled in 2020.
Houston Texans added all of the linebackers during free agency
By all the linebackers, I mean ALL the linebackers.
With new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith comes a new defense, and the Houston Texans needed to get the personnel in place as they move to a “Tampa 2” scheme. To facilitate the change, the Texans signed a plethora of defenders, primarily at LB. The most notable of the group was Christian Kirksey, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million.
The former Packers and Browns linebacker started 11 games for Green Bay in 2020, finishing the season with 78 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 2 sacks. Injuries are an issue for Kirksey, who has played in 20 games over the past three seasons combined.
The Texans also signed Kevin Pierre-Louis, who agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal on March 15 at the start of free agency. He appeared in 13 games with 11 starts for Washington last season while racking up a career-high 56 tackles; he also generated a sack and a forced fumble. The Seattle Seahawks originally selected Pierre-Louis with a fourth-round pick in 2014.
Additionally, Caserio signed a familiar face in Kamu Grugier-Hill, a player he drafted during his tenure with the Patriots. Grugier-Hill made 16 starts across his first five seasons but only one last year. Over his career, Grugier-Hill has registered 126 combined tackles (97 solo), 12 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception.
Did I mention they signed a few linebackers?
Fourth on our list is ex-Packers and Cowboys LB Joe Thomas. Houston signed Thomas to a one-year, $2 million contract. The 30-year-old linebacker has started in 14 games throughout his career and racked up 205 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 12 tackles for a loss.
The Texans also added LB Tae Davis in free agency to a one-year, $1 million deal. After a stint with the Giants, Davis found his way to Cleveland. In his 13 games with the Browns, Davis posted 7 tackles and a pass breakup. Additionally, Hardy Nickerson joins the mix on a one-year deal because…why not? Practicing social distancing in the linebacker’s room for film days might prove to be difficult with all the new faces.
Additions to the LBs also came through a trade with a familiar partner
When looking to fill a hole on their roster, the Houston Texans went with a familiar dance partner, the Miami Dolphins. In the move, Houston sent LB Benardrick McKinney and a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Dolphins in exchange for Shaq Lawson and a 2021 sixth-round pick.
Lawson spent his first four seasons with the Buffalo Bills after selecting him No. 19 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. He signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Dolphins entering the 2020 season. Lawson started seven games and recorded 32 tackles and 4 sacks. Although he is listed as an LB, Lawson will come off the edge and attempt to fill the role vacated by J.J. Watt.
The Houston Texans added secondary help to their defense during free agency
Wait a second, these guys aren’t linebackers? Unless there have been some positional changes, I think we are done with linebacker talk.
Houston did bring back some of their own in Vernon Hargreaves, Cornell Armstrong, and A.J. Moore. All cornerbacks, the Texans maintain crucial depth on their perimeter defense.
At safety, Houston added former Patriots S Terrence Brooks. In his two seasons with the Patriots, Brooks snatched 1 interception and 47 tackles. He is another player Caserio built a connection with during his time in New England.
DT Maliek Collins comes to Houston on a one-year, $6 million deal as the Texans look to beef up their interior defensive line. After recording 4 sacks in 2019 with the Cowboys, Collins signed a one-year deal with the Raiders in 2020. He failed to get to the QB last season, however, despite playing 504 defensive snaps.
In addition, Houston signed CB Desmond King to a one-year, $3.5 million rental during free agency — one of their few great moves. King was a 2018 first-team All-Pro with the Chargers and is looking to reset his market value. The Texans had little cap space to work with, but they add a solid slot corner in the process — a win-win for both parties involved.
After the Browns allowed him to test free agency, CB Terrance Mitchell quickly signed with the Houston Texans on a two-year contract worth $7.5 million. Mitchell totaled 65 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 13 passes defensed for the Browns last season; he played more defensive snaps than any other corner in the league.
What moves did the Houston Texans make on offense in free agency?
While the majority of time was spent focusing on the defense, the Texans did make a few additions to the offense as well.
Tyrod Taylor brings both a veteran presence to the team as well as a security blanket
If not for a botched injection, Justin Herbert likely never would have enjoyed the season he did. You hate to see a player lose their job due to something that was out of their hands, but that is the business of the NFL. The best ability is availability, after all.
This offseason, Tyrod Taylor signed a one-year, $12.5 million incentive-laden deal with the Houston Texans. With less than half the contract guaranteed, there is little risk for Houston.
Taylor is more than competent to be a starter the Texans can rely on in 2021. Given the nature of Deshaun Watson’s status with the club and the NFL, Taylor might end up being the most valuable addition to the Texans this offseason.
Good luck deciphering which Texans RB will have the best game each week
For those of you, like myself, who play fantasy football, allow me to give some advice. Avoid the Houston Texans’ backfield like the plague. Honestly, unless you are Nicolas Cage and have the Declaration of Independence, no one is solving this riddle.
First, the Texans brought in Mark Ingram, formerly of the Ravens and Saints, on a one-year contract worth up to $3 million. A Pro Bowl player in 2019, Ingram never showcased the same ability last season and was a healthy scratch in four of the Ravens’ final five contests, including both playoff games. Prior to all this, Ingram gained 1,018 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in his first season with the Ravens.
Next, RB Phillip Lindsay joined the committee after Denver rescinded his restricted free-agent tender. The former Pro Bowl running back landed a one-year contract worth up to $3.25 million with the Houston Texans. In 2018 and 2019, Lindsay relished in back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 17 total touchdowns. Among UDFAs in their first two seasons, he holds two of the top nine rushing seasons of all-time.
Now, we throw in a dash of one-season wonder: David Johnson. Outside of 2016, Johnson has been mediocre. Yet, he still sees volume. Over the past four seasons, Johnson has averaged 127 attempts per season for 499 yards and 3.8 touchdowns. As I said before, this backfield is a mess.
Houston added more depth to their offense in free agency
Wide receiver was a massive need, and the Houston Texans added five receivers of varying levels of competency. In place of Will Fuller, the Houston Texans brought in Chris Conley, Alex Erickson, Chris Moore, Donte Moncrief, and Andre Roberts.
Conley reunites with David Culley, who coached him in Kansas City from 2015 to 2016. Conley has played in 84 games (52 starts) and caught 59.5% of his targets (191 of 321) for 2,484 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career.
Both Roberts and Erickson have seen most of their work on special teams and have served as primary return options for the Bills and Bengals, respectively.
Moncrief was targeted just twice last season on the Patriots and caught 1 pass for 15 yards. He hasn’t recorded a touchdown reception since 2018. For his best season, you have to go back to 2015 when he caught 64 of 104 targets for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns.
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