Sticking with our free agency previews, it’s time to take a look at the AFC South. This division is one of the best in football. The Texans are coming off a division title, the Colts made it to the divisional round and have the league’s most cap space, while the Titans and Jaguars also have solid cores in place. It could be anyone’s division, which makes free agency that much more important; it could end up deciding who wins it. With that, let’s get started.
Top Needs: T, CB,WR
The Texans may have won the division last year, but unless they upgrade at a few key positions, that won’t be the case next season. Houston’s situation at tackle is definitely the worst in the NFL; Julie’n Davenport is a liability on the blind side, while Sentral Henderson is injury prone. Quarterback Deshaun Watson took 62 sacks last season and had to play through a collapsed lung, so upgrading at both tackle spots is just as much about keeping him healthy than winning. Once they shore up the offensive line, Houston should also look at adding an extra receiver for Watson, especially since Will Fuller is recovering from a torn ACL. Defensively, the Texans are weak at cornerback, which caused them rank 26th in passing yards allowed last season. With Jonathan Joseph aging quickly and Kareem Jackson due for free agency, Houston should add at least one starting-caliber cornerback to improve their defense. With the necessary upgrades, the Texans will once again be in the mix to win the AFC South next season. Still, with how stacked the division is, anything short of adding two tackles, a receiver, and a cornerback could cause them to fall all the way to last place.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: OLB Jadeveon Clowney
It’s close between Clowney and safety Tyrann Mathieu, but Clowney plays a much more premium position, and has to be kept at all costs. The 26-year-old is coming off another solid season in which he had 9 sacks and earned an 88.0 grade by Pro Football Focus. The former first overall pick is the perfect complement to JJ Watt, and the duo’s ability to harass the passer is what the defense relies on. Losing Clowney would weaken the defense tremendously, and would certainly put them a step back from every other team in the division. Therefore, it’s safe to say keeping Clowney is a must, even if it means signing him to a very heavy contract.
Top Free Agent Target: OT Trent Brown
Brown is coming off a terrific season for the Patriots in which he ranked as the 32nd best tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. His ability to play both left tackle and right tackle is extremely important for a Texans team that needs to reshuffle their offensive line, and with $80 million in cap space, Houston has the cap space to offer him the type of hefty contract that he couldn’t possibly refuse. There is so much to gain out of adding an above average tackle for any team, but no team would reap the benefits more that the Texans; this would be an incredible addition for them.
Top Needs: CB, SS, WR
The Colts have more cap space than any other team in the NFL, but they should still spend wisely. While many want Indianapolis to spend big on an edge rusher, they have invested in that position in the draft recently, while there are a lot of edge rushers that they could look at with their first round pick this year. What they need to do, is upgrade a secondary that ranked middle of the pack in passing yards allowed last season. That starts at cornerback, where outside of pending free agent Pierre Desir, they don’t have other cornerbacks capable of matching up one on one against top receivers. They also could use a thumper at strong safety to pair with speedy free safety Malik Hooker; all three of their strong safeties from this past season are soon to be free agents and shouldn’t be brought back anyway. On offense, TY Hilton is a one man wrecking crew at receiver, and now that Andrew Luck finally has protection and a running game, it’s time to give him any playmaker on the perimeter. The Colts are a very exciting team; their young, hungry, and could be in play for any free agent. Assuming they’re willing to spend some cash, they likely will be the favorites to win this division next season.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: CB Pierre Desir
After four forgettable seasons, Desir broke out for the Colts last season, ranking as the 18th best corner in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. While some may be concerned of his limited sample size of elite level play, he clearly meshed well with defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ scheme, so Indianapolis should feel comfortable bringing him back on a contract that will reflect his abilities as a starting cornerback in this league. Nevertheless, he’s a key part of the Colts defense, and they should have no regrets retaining him on a sizable deal.
Top Free Agent Target: SS Landon Collins
As mentioned, the Colts could use a strong safety capable of playing in the box and helping stop the run to round out their defense. Since they are loaded with cap space, they can bring in the best possible player to fill that role. In this case, it’s Landon Collins, whose been nothing short of fantastic in his four-year career with the Giants. Though he struggled a bit last season adjusting to a new scheme, he still graded out as above average with a 70.4 grade by Pro Football Focus. Considering that he still graded out like that in a down season, it’s safe to say that teams should be excited what Collins can do in a more comfortable situation. That situation could, and should be in Indianapolis, who should bring out the brinks trucks to sign the 25-year-old.
Top Needs: WR, EDGE, DT
The Titans remain in the mix to win the division, but heading into Marcus Mariota’s fifth season, Tennessee has yet to supply the 25-year-old with the help on the perimeter necessary for him to show promise. That has to change this offseason; the Titans need to be in on every single receiver on the open market. On defense, Tennessee ranked just 17th in sacks last season, and lost Brian Orakpo to retirement and will likely let Derick Morgan walk. An edge rusher opposite of Harold Landry is needed, and luckily for the Titans, there are plenty of options available in free agency. After that, Tennessee is actually a well-rounded team, but with Bennie Logan heading to free agency, a run stuffer up front defensively would also help transform the Titans defense from a solid unit to an elite one.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: SS Kenny Vaccaro
Coming off of an ACL injury, safety Jonathan Cyprien will likely be cut since Tennessee can save $4.75 million by moving on. Instead, the Titans should use that money to bring back strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who formed a solid duo with Kevin Byard, grading out as above average with a 66.4 grade by Pro Football Focus. It’s unlikely that Vaccaro will command much on the open market, making him an affordable target to help stabilize Tennessee’s secondary.
Top Free Agent Target: EDGE Preston Smith
Though the Titans will, and should add at least one receiver in free agency, edge rusher Preston Smith is a perfect fit for the Titans defense. The 26-year-old ranked as the 19th best edge rusher, according to Pro Football Focus, and still has room to grow. The Titans desperately need to get younger up front and on the edge, and they can do so by investing in Smith. This would really take Tennessee’s defense to the next level, which they need in order to carry a lackluster offense in a push for the playoffs.
Top Needs: QB, TE, G
The Jaguars may have reached the AFC Championship Game in 2017, but they fell back to Earth with a 5-11 record in 2018. They may very well bounce back in 2019, but in order to do so, they HAVE to upgrade at quarterback. Blake Bortles is simply not the answer, and it’s obvious that they know that. They could go to the draft to find their quarterback, but for a team in win-now mode, finding a veteran player in free agency is the better option. After that, Jacksonville should look to upgrade at tight end; their current top option is Ben Koyack, which obviously won’t cut it. That’s about it as far as needs are concerned, but the Jaguars still could use a starting-caliber right guard, as they need to allow running back Leonard Fournette to bounce back in order to get back to their smash mouth identity.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: T Ereck Flowers
A draft bust for the Giants, Flowers showed promise once picked up by the Jaguars, ranking as the 50th best tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. Jacksonville should not rely on Flowers to be a starter, but he’s done enough to prove that he can provide solid depth, and likely won’t cost much more than the league minimum. It makes sense for the Jaguars to allow Flowers to continue to flourish in a limited role, and gain insurance in case there’s an injury up front.
Top Free Agent: QB Nick Foles
The Jaguars are the overwhelming favorites to sign Foles, and it makes sense. He’s a proven winner, and is more than capable of being carried by his defense while stepping up when necessary. He’s coming off a season in which he had quarterback rating of 96 and a completing percentage of 72%, and would be reunited with former QB coach John DeFillipo, who is now the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville. It’s unclear how much competition the Jags will actually have for Foles’ services, so as long as they clear up some cap space, he could be theirs. The result could be a return to playoff contention in 2019.