While the Houston Texans insist they have a plan to rebuild the franchise, they spent more time moving backward over the past season and once again made a change at head coach. Those developments paint the picture of a team in disarray rather than one on the verge of a breakout.
A considerable number of contributors from the Texans’ roster will hit free agency on March 16. While the front office has some cap space with which to operate — roughly $16.6 million, according to Over The Cap — many of those players will leave for greener pastures. That list could include starters such as Maliek Collins, Desmond King, and Justin Reid. And while other franchises might have better prepared for similar departures, Houston’s self-inflicted lack of draft capital the past few seasons has left few promising youngsters to fill the voids.
Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson looms over the Texans’ offseason once more. Watson’s precarious legal situation remains unresolved, and he hasn’t publicly budged off his trade demand. At some point, Houston will move on from this chapter of the team’s history, but that moment has not yet arrived.
Below, we examine the Texans’ roster needs and outlook ahead of free agency.
Houston Texans free-agency preview
Positional needs: OL, DL, WR, TE, RB
That long list of roster needs doesn’t even include quarterback. The Texans spent a third-round pick on Davis Mills last offseason and appear intent on giving him 2022 to establish himself as the franchise guy. Whether that actually happens remains wholly unclear, and with Watson unlikely to rejoin the club on the field, Houston has little to bank on as free agency approaches.
But regardless of which player starts under center, the Texans need to revamp the offensive line. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil will return from last year’s season-ending thumb injury and Charlie Heck has some promise, but the rest of the group could turn over during free agency and the draft. Improving the protection will go a long way toward bringing the offense up to standard. The receiving corps could use help with Brandin Cooks the only established weapon currently under contract with Houston for 2022.
The defense doesn’t look much better, especially in the trenches. The Texans need to find multiple pass rushers in order to lift head coach Lovie Smith’s system.
Players to target
Chandler Jones, DE
In all likelihood, Chandler Jones will find more lucrative offers and/or opportunities to join teams closer to contending for a championship, but the Texans should still inquire about his interest. Jones remains a highly effective pass rusher, tallying 47 total pressures in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones might not have as many quality seasons left in the tank as other free agents at the position, but few pass rushers have outperformed him over the course of his career. He still has the ability to lift a defense in need of a big play, and the Texans do not currently have anyone on the roster close to his level.
Allen Robinson, WR
Veteran wideout Brandin Cooks and second-year pro Nico Collins, the Texans’ top pass catchers from last year, can only do so much for Mills or whoever starts under center. Adding a possession receiver through which offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton can funnel the passing game ranks among the team’s top needs this offseason.
Allen Robinson will probably look to join an offense with an established signal-caller and a stronger supporting cast. Still, if the Texans throw the biggest offer his way, they might convince him to come to Houston instead.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul might not have the hottest market, the result of a 2021 season that saw him fail to generate pressure at his usual rates. However, as demonstrated by pass rushers like Melvin Ingram, putting savvy veterans in the right situation can lead to impressive performance.
The Texans wouldn’t ask their edge defenders to do anything fancy under Smith. Rather, Pierre-Paul could spend most of his time rushing the passer, a role Houston badly needs to fill at the moment.