AFC South Team Needs: Offseason Analysis
With Superbowl LV in the books and teams mostly solidified with their coaching and front office staff, we can start to look at team needs as we enter the off-season. For the AFC South, we see a division that had the Titans and Colts make the playoffs. The Texans underwhelmed after a questionable off-season trade of Deandre Hopkins, ultimately costing head coach Bill O’Brien his job. Doug Marrone encountered a similar fate after the Jaguars earned the first overall pick in the upcoming draft.
The following will breakdown the overall team needs heading into the off-season. I will explore potential fits in free agency and potential draft targets. I will also look at potential trade candidates where applicable. Coaching scheme and play style will be taken into account when referencing these targets, for example, a zone-blocking run scheme should not be targeting a mauling blocker. With the basics covered, let’s delve into the division winner needs to kick us off.
The Titans ran their way to the top of the AFC South behind the strength of running back Derrick Henry and his historic season. Henry became one of only eight running backs in NFL history to rush for 2,000+ yards in a season. Unfortunately in the playoffs the Ravens keyed in on Henry and forced quarterback Ryan Tannehill to elevate his game and become the difference-maker, a feat he could not overcome.
Tannehill isn’t solely to blame, as the defense had no answer for stopping Lamar Jackson. Tennessee also lost offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, as he took the head coaching position in Atlanta.
Team needs: EDGE, DB, IDL, TE, WR
Draft capital: 1:22, 2:53, 3:86, 3:101, 4:128, 5:168, 6:168, 6:186
Pending FA’s: Corey Davis, MyCole Pruitt, Jonnu Smith, Ty Sambrailo, DaQuan Jones, Jack Crawford, Jadeveon Clowney, Jayon Brown, Desmond King, Stephen Gostkowski
Salary Cap space: 16.7 million
Tennessee’s team philosophy of a run-first offense and strong defense will keep them in most games. They do have some decisions to make this off-season on whether to retain some of their free agents or replace them via the draft. Cutting Adam Humphreys and Kenny Vaccaro saved the team $12.7 million in cap space.
Look for them to retain Jonnu Smith and attempt to work out a long-term extension for Jadeveon Clowney. If Clowney decides to play elsewhere next season the Titans will look to draft an edge in the first or second round.
The Colts entered the playoffs as the 7th seed and battled the home team Bills late into the 4th quarter before ultimately losing. Quarterback Phillip Rivers retired after the season and the team moved quickly to find his replacement with a mid-February trade for disgruntled quarterback Carson Wentz.
Wentz is reunited with head coach Frank Reich for whom he posted his best season under when Reich was offensive coordinator. Defensively they will look to continue adding pieces around All-Pro’s Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner.
Team needs: OT, DB, IDL, WR, TE
Draft capital: 1:21, 2:54, 4:129, 5:167, 6:207, 7:250
Pending FA’s: Jacoby Brissett, TY Hilton, Trey Burton, Justin Houston, Denico Autry, Xavier Rhodes, TJ Carrie, Malik Hooker
Salary Cap space: 46.6 million
Even after the Wentz trade, the Colts find themselves in a great position with the cap to continue adding pieces on both offense and defense in free agency. They will need to re-sign some of their free agents and Leonard is due for a healthy extension, but even after that, they should be able to add to positions of need.
They will be in a prime position to add the best player available in the draft and potentially trading up or down to grab a guy they covet. With OT Anthony Castonzo’s retirement after the season, they may look to shore up the offensive line as Wentz has been prone to struggle without adequate protection.
The Texans maladies last off-season is well documented and the resulting roster was unable to overcome deficiencies throughout the roster former coach O’Brien built. They appear to be doubling down this off-season on the dysfunction by blatantly ignoring their franchise quarterback’s request to have input regarding the head coaching and general manager hires.
This was done after ownership promised Deshaun Watson that they would involve him in the process. Houston did extend an olive branch to former franchise face JJ Watt by releasing him in February so that he can pursue his next destination.
Team needs: DB, IOL, EDGE, RB, IDL, QB?
Draft capital: 3:67, 4:111, 4:124, 5:149, 6:189, 6:203, 6:213, 7:232
Pending FA’s: Will Fuller, Carlos Watkins, Vernon Hargreaves, Gareon Conley
Salary Cap space: 24.6 million
So, here we are, all collectively waiting to see who blinks first. Will it be Deshaun Watson and his team? Or will it be the Texans and Jack Easterby that finally cave and trade their franchise quarterback for a bevy of assets? This is the lynchpin of the Texans off-season, nothing else really matters.
They don’t have the draft assets, nor the cap space this year to build a competitive team around Watson. The best course of action might be to trade Watson for picks and a player or two and fully embrace the rebuild.
The Jaguars earned the first overall pick in the NFL draft and immediately became sweepstakes winners for the right to draft quarterback Trevor Lawrence as their signal-caller for the next decade. They were largely in this positon due to the way they conducted business in prior off-seasons.
Two years removed from the AFC Championship game they released (Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette), traded (Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue) or let key components walk in free agency (Allen Robinson). All of this leads to a relatively clean slate newly-minted head coach Urban Meyer.
Team needs: QB, OT, DB, EDGE, TE
Draft capital: 1:1, 1:25, 2:33, 2:45, 3:65, 4:108, 4:132, 5:147, 5:172, 7:230, 7:251
Pending FA’s: Cam Robinson, Keelan Cole, DJ Hayden, Sidney Jones
Salary Cap space: 73.6 million
Trevor Lawrence is all but guaranteed to be wearing the teal and gold next year, but how they choose to surround him will be just as important. Jacksonville enters the off-season with the most cap space of any other team and will look to quickly upgrade their young roster with veteran talent. Finding a blindside protector was a priority for Meyer and Co. heading into the off-season and they did just that by retaining Cam Robinson via the franchise tag. Anticipate this team looking completely different by the time free agency and the draft ends.