Free Agency 2011 – Two Views on the AFC South

| July 19, 2011

So it’s Day 2 of our division-by-division free agency discussion and you can almost taste the lockout being lifted. We’ll now set our sights down south, to a division that is in a state of flux.
.
Other than the Colts, that is. The Colts are as they always are: in need of upgrades at a number of positions, but content to ride their top talents to the top of the division.
.
It’s worked for them, but Houston, Tennessee, and Jacksonville will need to improve to catch up. Especially when you consider one team is implementing a new defense, another has a coach on the hot seat, and there’s even a team with a rookie penciled in to start given the lack of options they have at quarterback.
.
So let’s see what two of our most trusted analysts, Sam Monson and Khaled Elsayed, have to say about what could (or should) happen in the AFC South.
.

Houston Texans
.

Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: Clearly, they’d be lost at sea without Matt Leinart! Well OK, maybe not. As much as you get the feeling that he’s underachieving, I think they lose a lot without the playmaking skills of Jacoby Jones.

Khaled: Though he wasn’t great last year, if they don’t want to spend at the position, Bernard Pollard can be a decent in-the-box safety. Essentially, the Texans aren’t in a scary position, and could move on from all their free agents.
.

What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: With a move to a 3-4 this season you could make a pretty compelling argument for most positions on the D, but the bottom line is the front seven doesn’t matter if they can’t stop people from  burning them deep.

Khaled: Cornerback. If you watched them last year you’d accept there’s no need to explain that answer.
.

How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: Am I crazy or would a heady, dependable and complete safety like Eric Weddle make perfect sense for the Texans? He would not only upgrade the safety position but bring the kind of veteran leadership that could make their young secondary players better around him.

Khaled: Johnathan Joseph seems like a good fit for the Texans and they’re a good fit for him. He’d no longer be in the shadow of Leon Hall, and Houston would get a guy with top talent. Nice scheme fit with how Phillips likes to use his cornerbacks.
.

Indianapolis Colts
.

Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: They could get by without any of them, such is their reliance on their star guys (primarily Manning and Freeney), but if there’s one guy they’d miss it’s Joseph Addai. He’s not spectacular, but he doesn’t let his team down.

Sam: I like what Addai gives them, but I think they’d be crazy to allow their best linebacker (Clint Session) to walk to keep a guy like Addai.
.

What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: For years now, I’ve argued they need to invest in their defensive line. It’s great they have two excellent rushers coming off the edge, but imagine what they could do with someone clogging up the run or exploding past guards? Re-watch what the Jets did to them in the second half of their playoff game and tell me they don’t need to get better there.

Sam: Khaled makes a compelling argument, there’s no denying the Colts would be a much better force with improved DT play, but they just never seem interested in investing there. Imagine how much easier Peyton Manning’s job would be with some legitimate blindside protection, rather than that currently offered by Charlie Johnson?
.

How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: By signing someone, anyone. Though my preference would be for them to pick up a guy like Brandon Mebane, I don’t know if they have or would invest the cash in him. A cheaper alternative may be to bring in a veteran like Pat Williams. He’s not the player he was but he can still keep linemen off linebackers.

Sam: Jared Gaither is potentially as good as it gets as a blind side pass protector. Despite his frankly ridiculous size, he has the footwork and athleticism to play in any scheme, and he would allow Manning to fret less about what’s coming to hit him from his backside.
.

Jacksonville Jaguars
.

Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: I think they would probably be best served to try and keep Mike Sims-Walker around, purely because I don’t like what they can put on the field without him.

Khaled: Though he’s more a two down player, you watch Justin Durant sometimes and think he could be one of the top ten linebackers in the league. Granted, in space he can look like one of the worst ten, but give him a two down role and he can really put himself about.
.

What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: Assuming they let Sims-Walker walk, which is looking likely, I have to think that wide receiver becomes their top need – as good a slot guy as Mike Thomas is, would you really be comfortable with him being your top wide out?

Khaled: I wouldn’t argue that wide receiver is a big need for them (though Jason Hill does intrigue me), but I’ve watched their safeties (all 6,546 they tried last year) make bad play after bad play. Get a good player in and fix one of those spots.
.

How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: There’s a lot to like in the free agent marketplace for wide receiver. I think Braylon Edwards brings something they don’t have otherwise, and balances their passing attack a lot more. His drops have been cut way down, and he might be affordable because his rep still suffers from them.

Khaled: I’d like to see them make a run at Quintin Mikell. For his talent level, he’ll represent excellent value given his rep isn’t flashy enough to command the contract he deserves.
.

Tennessee Titans
.

Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: They’ll struggle to replace Stephen Tulloch but he’s a thumper, and Jason Babin is an impact player. You’ve seen him flourish in your system so why would you let him go somewhere else after you basically rediscovered him? Pass rushing is too important to neglect.

Sam: If I had a linebacker like Stephen Tulloch on my roster, there’s no way I’d let him leave. He flows to the football and is constantly making hits. He’s the heart of that D, they need to keep him around.
.

What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: The interior of the offensive line is just plain horrible. They need to develop a nasty streak and start imposing themselves again if they want Chris Johnson to scale the heights of 2009. Pick up a guard who is less about mistakes, and more about mauling.

Sam: I can’t argue in this case. As much as they need help in other spots, you can’t look beyond that disaster of an O-line.
.

How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: They pay possibly the meanest guard in the league a handsome amount. That’s right I’m talking about Harvey Dahl. It may require some retooling, but Dahl would give this line a boost.

Sam: I’m even in agreement with the solution. The Titans lost some attitude when Mawae left (even if it was the right decision based on his play), Dahl would give them that back and dramatically upgrade their guard play too.
.
.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled, and for Sam, it’s: @SamMonson … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
.
.
Signed up yet for our Pro Football Focus Premium Stats?

.

  • wg53

    Wow what an epic fail on your part in regards to the Titans.

    Sure, you are right about the interior OL. But one year is not a trend. Amano is the weak link on the interior OL and is fit only to be a backup. He sucks at the point of attack and gets man handled by any decent NT.

    Tulloch is highly overrated. He is just another guy. Nothing special. He is a 2 down LB period. He is horrible in coverage and should never be on the field in obvious passing downs. His high tackle number is due to the ridiculous amount of snaps the Titans D had last year. The entire starting secondary had 100 tackles as well. A lot of tackles doesn’t necessarily equate to being good.

    Babin does not fit Tennessee’s system anymore. The titans will not be playing their DEs in the 9 technique anymore now that Jim Washburn is gone. Jerry Gray will be playing them at a 7 technique. No more wide speed rush from our DEs that put too much pressure on the LBs to cover for them in the run game. So no Babin does not fit the system. He did fit the system when we ran the 9 technique, but we are not doing that anymore.

    You guys are exactly what I would expect from someone who is truly not familiar with the Titans.

    • Neil Hornsby

      So Tulloch is horrible in coverage? I’ll do you a deal which someone “truly familiar with the Titans” shouldn’t struggle with. For every play you see as a negative for Tulloch in coverage, I’ll give you two positives and if you come even close to matching I’ll give you a lifetime subscription.

      Regarding Babin not fitting the scheme any more, it sounds a lot like what I commonly refer to as “intellectual BS”. It’s coaches trying to sound good by making something sound a lot more complicated than it actually is. In 2010 if Babin was wide on the speed rush it was normally on passing downs where nearly every DE is selling out. Did he line up regularly wide on base downs? I’ve not seen any evidence that he was wider than any other DE. Indeed if he was you would expect him to get a disproportionate amount of pressure outside…. he didn’t at least a third was produced coming inside his man.

  • Rick Drummond

    Hi wg, I’m sure one of the analysts will drop by at some point to address your points, but, in the mean time … if not Tulloch or Babin, who would be your answer to that question? which of the Titans’ free agents do you think is most important to bring back?

    • wg53

      Harris and Ball will be the FAs retained by the titans. Unfortunately for him he was moved to OG last year and Amano to C. Harris has always been a Center. And he is better than 2010 showed. Amano is the weak link on the interior OL of the Titans and everyone playing next to him looks worse than they are because of it. Amano is regularly seen being knocked back into the QB or into the Qb’s face. And really struggles against 3-4 Defenses or 4-3 under defenses because of the NTs being aligned on him.

      I expect Tulloch to sign with the Lions. Babin will either go back to the Eagles or be signed by someone else for big bucks(and be a disappointment).

      Babin is highly overrated and was a fluke. Hell Dave Ball was on pace to have the same time of season Babin had before his injuries. I don’t hear anyone pumping up Ball. Babin is on the same level of talent as Ball, but Babin has the notoriety because of being voted to the pro bowl because of sack numbers. Nevermind several of them came in garbage time. Babin is not an impact player.

      Tulloch would be ok to have back at a reasonable price level, but he is not worth Pro bowl type money. And that will be what his asking price is.

      Dahl, Nicks, or Jospeh at OG would be great additions to the Titans. Unfortunately Amano will still be with the Titans as he just signed a nice contract the year before. In a perfect world. One of the aforementioned OG would be signed. Amano cut or restructed and Harris moved back to Center.

  • Rick Drummond

    wg, we’re all for a civil discussion. You’ve now had a couple of comments deleted because of the profanity. We’ll be happy to allow them if you can keep out the unnecessary expletives.