AFC South Approaches Free Agency in Different Ways

AFC South Approaches Free Agency in Different Ways
Reading Time: 5 minutes.

As we come to the end of the first week of Free Agency the initial frenzy to secure available players has tapered off, and there have been a number of huge moves, Bell, Brown, Beckham and so on. None of the highest profile changes have involved the AFC South sides but each side has made some significant moves which will shape their approach to the 2019 season. Let’s look at who has been busy.

Titans roll the dice

The Tennessee Titans ran Houston and Indianapolis close in the AFC South last year and they have used free agency to make a real statement that they will be challenging again in 2019. On offense the most notable addition has been WR Adam Humphries on a 4-year deal from Tampa Bay. Humphries is an efficient slot receiver coming off a career high 2018 season in yardage and TDs and should provide a reliable target for Marcus Mariota. Or maybe not. Maybe the passes will be coming from Ryan Tannehill, newly traded in from the Miami Dolphins. Tannehill has been handed a 1-year $7M guaranteed deal to act as backup to Mariota (should injury or poor form strike during 2019). Titans will be hoping that spurs Mariota on to prove he is in the franchise QB.

The Titans did not stop there on offense. They have also secured Roger Saffold from the LA Rams, boosting the O-line, most likely at right guard. It is a big contract at $44M over 4 years ($22.5M guaranteed) but for that the Titans get the 5th highest rated guard for run blocking in 2018. After blocking for Gurley and CJ Anderson, Saffold will be blocking for Derrick Henry further boosting a strong Titans running game.

On defense the Titans agreed a long-term deal with safety Kenny Vaccaro after his successful 1-year prove it deal last year, and looked to 37 year old Cameron Wake from the Miami Dolphins to improve the pass rush. Wake’s 3-year deal ($23M, $10M guaranteed) has raised some eyebrows but he has been a highly effective pass rusher over the last decade and his 2018 season saw him only just outside the top 10 edge rushers in the league according to ProFootballFocus. The Titans will be hoping he can keep the pressure on as he approaches forty.

The Titans have also brought Guard Kevin Pamphile back for another year but lost Tight End Luke Stocker to the Falcons. Stocker has primarily been a blocking TE for the Titans but this is a position Tennessee may look to improve in the forthcoming draft.

Jags get their man

The move of Nick Foles to the Jacksonville Jaguars had been trailed for the last couple of months and sure enough when free agency finally rolled around the Jags were ready to swoop up their man, on a 4-year deal with around $50M guaranteed. This signing confirmed that Jacksonville are putting their money on Foles tp lead the offense for the next few seasons. In order to make the cap space the Jags had a mini-firesale of their own with Malik Jackson (to Philly), Tashaun Gipson (to divisional rival Houston) and Carlos Hyde (to Kansas) clearing out.

The Jags have also retained AJ Cann on the offensive line and that gives a level of consistency with the majority of the o-line returning in 2019. Elsewhere on the offense Jacksonville have ushered one in, TE Geoff Swaim from the Cowboys, and one out with WR Donte Moncrief headed to Pittsburgh. Swaim will provide some depth but, like Tennessee, this is a position the Jags will likely improve on in the Draft. Montcrief had a decent 2018 (in relative terms) but again can be replaced through options at WR in the draft.

Texans forced to overhaul secondary

The vast majority of the Houston Texans’ free agency business has revolved around the secondary with two major losses necessitating replacements. After proving his worth on a 1-year deal with Houston, Tyrann Mathieu secured himself a big money move to the Kansas City Chiefs. Following Mathieu out of the door, fellow safety Kareem Jackson moved on to the Denver Broncos. The Texans had to move fast to find replacements and Tashuan Gipson has moved across from the Jacksonville Jaguars on a 3-year deal ($22M, $11M guaranteed) and Bradley Roby was snapped up from the Denver Broncos on a 1-year ‘prove-it’  $10M deal.

Other more minor moves in this area are Kevin Johnson out to Buffalo and Briean Boddy-Calhoun in from Dallas, as well as veteran Defensive Tackle Christian Covington moving in the other direction. Mathieu is definitely a big loss for the Texans and although numbers have been maintained Houston will still be looking to improve in the secondary through the Draft. Another position of need, the O-line, will also be a focus in the Draft – particularly with the release of Kendall Lamm to the Browns. Lamm was part of a largely ineffectual group which does require an infusion of new talent in late April.

What free agency?

Before the start of free agency everyone was looking at the Indianapolis Colts, sat there with $100M cap space, and the question was simple – were they going to breakaway from GM Chris Ballard’s mantra of building through the draft. Maybe they were going to go all in on a big target, like Le’Veon Bell. The answer was simple – no! The Colts have sat back and allowed everyone else to rush in waving their cheque books signing players left, right and centre. As with all things the proof of who is right will only be known when we are knee-deep in next season. But the sense of calm emanating from Indianapolis is impressive, demonstrating faith in the roster and the recruitment strategy of the franchise.

To-date the Colts have made only two moves. However, each one could be crucial to their push for a return to the playoffs in 2019. Cornerback Pierre Desir has been rewarded for his excellent 2018 with a longer term 3-year deal ($22.5M, $12M guaranteed). The other move has been at WR with the Colts bringing Devin Funchess on board from the Carolina Panthers. This has been identified as a position of need for the Colts, to support TY Hilton, and Funchess may be a great move. There were other receivers available with better statistics (Golden Tate, Tyrell Williams, and of course Brown and unexpectedly Beckham) but Funchess is a value move (1 year $10M, $7M guaranteed). At 6ft 4in Funchess will be a big target for Andrew Luck which should assist in 3rd down conversions and in redzone opportunities. If Funchess can repeat his form of 2017 (840 yards and 8 TDs) then the Colts offense will continue to be one of the hottest in the AFC.

Where next?

All the AFC south sides have made moves in free agency but questions remain for each roster.

Have the Titans made enough improvements to take the next step? Have the Colts sat too tightly on their cap space? Is the Jags confidence in Foles misplaced? Do Houston need to do too much in the Draft to retain the title? There may be a few more supplementary free agency moves but the focus for all now moves squarely to the Draft.

Image credit: Sports Illustrated

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