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NFL free-agency grades for the AFC South after the first weekend

The Titans saw more talent depart for greener pastures than arrive so far this offseason, opening the door for another AFC South team to challenge them for division supremacy.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans throws a pass during their AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at Nissan Stadium on January 10, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Ravens defeated the Titans 20-13. Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

With the 2021 NFL offseason now in full swing, the majority of big-name free agents have found homes for the upcoming season. While more signings, trades, draft picks, and potential holdouts appear in the offing, teams have provided the first solid indications of what they expect to look like in 2021.

To gauge where each team is so far this offseason, we’ll take you through each division to see how each team has done in its quest for a championship.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans

Free agents added/retained

EDGE Bud Dupree
LB Jayon Brown
WR Josh Reynolds

Free agents lost

TE Jonnu Smith
WR Corey Davis
CB Desmond King
EDGE Jadeveon Clowney (currently unsigned)

On paper, the Tennessee Titans saw more talent leave during free agency than arrive. Corey Davis, fresh off a breakout season, left to become the lead wideout for the New York Jets. Likewise, Jonnu Smith has teamed up with fellow tight end Hunter Henry as part of the New England Patriots’ remodeling efforts. Those defections will hurt the Titans offense, especially when considering offensive coordinator Arthur Smith left to take the head-coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons.

But the Titans did acquire some useful talent. Pass rusher Bud Dupree signed a lucrative multiyear deal to provide a counterbalance to Harold Landry. That makes sense on the depth chart, but Dupree will need to prove he has fully recovered from last year’s ACL tear to justify the expense.

Grade: C

Indianapolis Colts

Free agents added/retained

QB Carson Wentz (trade)
TE Mo Alie-Cox (qualifying tender)
WR Zach Pascal (qualifying tender)
RB Marlon Mack
WR T.Y. Hilton

Free agents lost

S Malik Hooker (currently unsigned)
QB Philip Rivers (retired)
QB Jacoby Brissett

The trade for former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz overshadows every other decision the Indianapolis Colts have made this offseason. Wentz arrives with considerable risk given his post-2017 decline, but he reunites with coach Frank Reich in Indy, opening the door to a more successful second chapter to his career.

The Colts still have plenty of flexibility and used that on bringing back T.Y. Hilton on a team friendly deal, which may or may not pay off. Regardless, the team looks well-positioned to attack the draft and carry their cap space into next offseason when Wentz becomes more expensive.

Grade: C+

Jacksonville Jaguars

Free agents added/retained

CB Shaquill Griffin
OL Andrew Norwell
WR Marvin Jones Jr.
S Rayshawn Jenkins
DL Malcom Brown
DL Tyson Alualu
DL Roy Robertson-Harris

Free agents lost

TE Josh Oliver (trade)

The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the new league year with the most salary-cap space and flexibility of any team in the NFL. While past iterations of the franchise would have thrown most of those resources into free agents, the Jaguars approached this period somewhat more judiciously. The team added cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a sizable deal, but it avoided any other huge expenditure. Besides Griffin, Jacksonville made multiple reasonably sized investments in the defensive line and at wideout.

Given that the Jaguars will almost assuredly draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick, approaching free agency in this manner makes sense. They will have multiple years to grab veteran talent. It makes sense to not overspend in a single offseason.

Grade: B-

Houston Texans

Free agents added/retained

QB Tyrod Taylor
CB Desmond King
DE Derek Rivers

Free agents lost

DE J.J. Watt
C Nick Martin
LB Benardrick McKinney
WR Will Fuller
RB Duke Johnson

Any discussion of the Houston Texans’ offseason requires at least some time devoted to Deshaun Watson’s ongoing legal situation. As of this writing, 16 plaintiffs have filed civil suits against the quarterback alleging sexual assault. These lawsuits and any other legal action that might follow cloud an already complicated situation for Watson, who made waves earlier in the offseason after demanded a trade. The Texans have publicly stated that they still view Watson as a part of their plans moving forward, though they have not provided an update since the legal action against him became public knowledge. Watson has denied the allegations through his representatives.

Beyond Watson, the Texans have seen significant turnover on the roster. Defensive end J.J. Watt, the face of the franchise for nearly a decade, requested his release from the team and has since signed on with the Arizona Cardinals. Houston also bid adieu to several starters as part of a cost-cutting effort, including center Nick Martin and linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Will Fuller also departed as a free agent.

While the Texans gave themselves a backup plan should Watson hold out or face suspension from the NFL as the result of his legal situation, they did little else to inspire confidence.

Grade: D