The AFC South was an absolute joke in 2015.
The Texans might be the defending division champs but they’ve got tons of work to do if they hope to get back to the playoffs, while the Colts turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in the entire league. At the bottom of the division, the Jaguars and Titans showed some signs of a bright future but the road to the post-season for those two franchises could be long and arduous unless they make smart off-season decisions.
Here’s a look at some key needs the four AFC South teams could address through free agency, which kicks off March 9.
Needs: Quarterback, running back, offensive line, tight end, secondary
Possible targets: Lamar Miller, Brock Osweiler, Robert Griffin III, Coby Fleener, Brandon Brooks, Evan Mathis
With the Arian Foster era over in Houston, the Texans need to address their running back situation. They could do so through the draft, but if they chose to sign an already-established back there are a number of quality options. Lamar Miller would fit the Texans offence well since he has speed to burn when he gets some space and can navigate through traffic just like Foster was able to do for so many years there.
Lamar Miller is like really good or something. pic.twitter.com/wt0IXLwGmQ
— Eric Elizondo (@EricElizondo8) March 5, 2016
One player that can help whoever the starting running back ends up being is Brandon Brooks. The Texans should do all they can to re-sign the guard. If Brooks heads elsewhere then a veteran like Evan Mathis would also significantly help Houston’s run game.
It’s a miracle the Texans made the playoffs considering how much their quarterbacks struggled. There are reports the Texans have serious interest in Brock Osweiler. The massive Broncos pivot would immediately step into the starter’s role. Also, RG3 is looking for a fresh start somewhere after he was released by the Redskins. The 2012 second-overall pick spent much of his childhood in Texas so this could be a homecoming for the struggling QB. Bringing in Griffin as a mobile backup could be an interesting option.
Needs: Offensive line, defensive line, linebacker
Possible targets: Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Russell Okung, Kelechi Osemele, Andre Smith, Brandon Brooks, Robert Ayers, Nick Fairley, Courtney Upshaw, Derrick Shelby
Protecting Andrew Luck is something the Colts have struggled with far too much the last few years. For more than a decade, Indy had Jeff Saturday to rely on at centre and they need a major upgrade at the position. Landing a big fish like Alex Mack would be a huge get. Mack recently voided the final three years of his contract with the Browns and he’ll be a hot commodity on the open market. Another player the Colts could use is Mack’s former teammate in Cleveland, tackle Mitchell Schwartz. The Colts have many holes to fill on both sides of the line of scrimmage, which is why selecting receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first round last year was, and remains, so puzzling.
On the defensive side of the equation, the Colts must put more pressure on opposing QBs. Re-signing Jerrell Freeman should be a priority but also adding to the defensive line is a need. Derrick Shelby was solid for the Dolphins when Cameron Wake went down for the season. He would improve the Colts pass rush.
Needs: Everywhere on defence
Possible targets: Mario Williams, Malik Jackson, Janoris Jenkins, Sean Smith, Casey Hayward, Olivier Vernon
Only the New Orleans Saints allowed more points than the Jags did last season. The Jaguars have some excellent pieces to work with on offence — Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, in particular — but if Jacksonville hopes to be competitive they need to completely reshape their defence. With an absurd amount of cap space to work with there’s no excuse for them not to throw money at some high-profile free agents — especially on the defensive line and in the secondary. This means targeting Malik Jackson, Olivier Vernon, Mario Williams and players of that ilk. Jacksonville is one of the only teams that can afford to add multiple top-tier stars and still have money to burn.
Needs: Offensive line, wide receiver, safety, linebacker
Possible targets: Tashaun Gipson, Brandon Brooks, Alex Boone, Marvin Jones, Derrick Johnson, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman
The Titans will be getting some help on the o-line in the form of projected first-overall Laremy Tunsil, but that won’t be enough to protect Marcus Mariota. The Titans gave up more sacks than any other team last year. An athletic guard like Brandon Brooks would be a nice add if he can’t come to terms on a new deal with the Texans. If not Brooks, then they could target a guy like Alex Boone of the 49ers. He’s a huge guard that also has experience playing tackle.
Acquiring DeMarco Murray from the Eagles takes care of a major area of need but, outside of tight end Delanie Walker, the Titans are thin when it comes to reliable targets in the passing game. Marvin Jones was overshadowed by A.J. Green in Cincinnati but he has the skill to be a No. 1 on a team like Tennessee. If Zach Brown leaves town then the Titans will need to replace him at linebacker. If they could add a veteran like Derrick Johnson, it would be a huge boost both on the field and in the locker room. Better options would be coveted ‘backers Danny Trevathan or Jerrell Freeman.