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Meltser: Looking At The Texans Roster Holes

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[EDITOR's NOTE: Mike Meltser takes a look at the Houston Texans and what lies ahead this offseason for the Texans roster.  Mike looks at each position, who is locked in, who could be gone and how many people the Texans need to sign.  Mike Meltser can be heard with 10 year NFL Veteran Seth Payne from 10a-2p Monday through Friday on SportsRadio 610's MaD Radio.  Source for salary cap numbers: www.spotrac.com]

QB – Case Keenum

I view this position as having two holes to fill. The most likely solution here is drafting a QB with the number one pick in the draft. My assumption, at this point, is that Keenum returns as one of the backup QBs. Bob McNair has mentioned that the Texans may go after a veteran in free agency. It sounds like a fine idea, but the list of veteran FA QBs is not exactly appetizing.

I also could see O’Brien deciding to cut ties entirely with the 2013 Texans quarterback crew; drafting a Bridgewater/Manziel/Bortles, signing a veteran, and keeping a very young prospect as the third-string QB.

Bottom line = 2 holes

RB – Arian Foster

Ben Tate is almost a lock to leave in free agency. I expect O’Brien to keep Arian Foster around, despite his contract and injury issues. I don’t see a compelling reason to release Foster, given a number of factors.

  1. Ability – Arian actually had some very strong efforts before the back injury in 2013. He was one of the team’s best players against the Titans, 49ers, and Rams.
  2. Winning – I know it’s the kind of thing any coach would say, but O’Brien stated that making the playoffs is the goal every season. If you want to win, having Arian here is the best option
  3. Young QB – You can help out a top draft pick (or any rookie QB) with a good running back. Arian is a solid pass blocker and very good weapon out of the backfield. Without a conventional above-average slot WR, the Texans need to give their next QB some options

I view the other RBs on the roster as pure fodder at the moment. The Dennis Johnson’s and Ray Graham’s of the world are extremely replaceable players. Could one of them make the team? Sure, but they’re not exactly rare talents.

Bottom line = 2 holes (1 could be filled from within)

WR – Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey (Bonner, Lemon, Jean)

At this point, the hypothetical Las Vegas over-under on a WR (not listed above) making the opening day 2014 roster might be 0.5. This team has enough holes to fill that O’Brien may just stay as is here. Hopkins figures to get better in his second season, while Johnson is coming off a very strong year.

Martin and Posey will fight for jobs in training camp. The same goes for 2nd year wideouts Bonner and Lemon. I’d be almost shocked if O’Brien kept an underachiever like Lestar Jean around.

The main reason I doubt we’ll see too much change at WR is the amount of pressing holes elsewhere, specifically at QB, RT, pass-rusher, and DB.

Bottom line = 0 holes

TE – Ryan Griffin

Interesting spot here. Griffin is coming off a promising rookie season, Daniels has a relatively expensive contract (4.5M base salary and 6.25M cap hit), and Graham is an unrestricted free agent. I think they will keep one of Daniels or Graham, but a total overhaul isn’t out of the question.

Bottom line = 2 holes (1 could be filled with a re-structure of re-signing)

T – Duane Brown

This is a very tricky position to analyze. There is one obvious hole at starting right tackle, and I’m intrigued to see if O’Brien wants to fill this with a veteran or a draft pick. My questions are as follows:

  1. Derek Newton isn’t a starting RT, but do they cut him before training camp? Could he be a backup?
  2. Brennan Williams is coming off microfracture knee surgery, which has derailed the career of many pro athletes (see Tracy McGrady). I can’t recall seeing such a young football player go through it, so I wonder what exactly the prognosis is for him. It seems like he could be an early IR candidate, but the kid definitely seems to have a lot of talent.
  3. Is Ryan Harris, an impending free agent, going to return?

Based on those three questions, I think the Texans have a few holes at tackle behind Duane Brown.

Bottom line = 3 holes (1-2 may be filled from within)

C/G – Brandon Brooks, Chris Myers, Ben Jones, David Quessenberry

Brooks is a lock to return as the starter. At this moment, he’s a core player on this football team, coming of a strong second year. I also expect Myers to return as the starting center, although crazier things have happened during a coaching transition.

I will list Quessenberry as a guard for the sake of this article. He was coming along very quickly by the end of training camp, and I could see him landing a starting guard or tackle spot. It’s very hard to see Wade Smith returning (free agent) after a down 2013 season. Ben Jones is much more of a center than a guard, but I think he has enough talent to return on a rookie contract.

Bottom line = 1 hole

FB -

Greg Jones is a free agent. The team will either sign him, a veteran, or draft a rookie.

Bottom line = 1 hole

DEFENSE

DL – JJ Watt, Jared Crick

Things get tricky once we transition into the defense. Romeo Crennel is expected to become the defensive coordinator, and I have no idea how much he will adjust from the type of 2-gap 3-4 he utilized in New England. Thus, it’s hard to gauge what he will think of the players on the roster.

Both Antonio Smith and Earl Mitchell are free agents, and they seem like questionable fits for Romeo. Tim Jamison was a total waste of money in 2013, at least relative to the amount of games he was active for. Terrell McClain seems extremely expendable.

The main reason I list Crick up here is because he has talent (theoretically) and is cheap labor, something this team really needs.

Bottom line = 4 holes (1-2 could be filled from within)

LB – Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing 

I have a hard time seeing the first 3 names off the football team entirely. I know it’s a common refrain within this piece, but the Texans are not in the best position to jettison players who have some ability and are on rookie deals (Reed and Mercilus). Unless you find a bevy of cheap veterans or rookies, both of those guys will remain.

The rest gets tricky. With a 3-4, you are looking at carrying 8-9 LBs, and I have only listed 3. Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays are both free agents. With his health history, I expect Sharpton to be elsewhere. I do like what Mays brought to this team in 2013, but I’m not sure if he has the size a new DC is looking for.

It’s put-up or shut-up time for Trevardo Williams in training camp and preseason. Brian Braman’s exclusive value is on special teams, so he’s a bubble guy every year. Jeff Tarpinian showed some interesting versatility this past season, and could find a role on the team. Justin Tuggle has upside.

Bottom line = 6 holes (2-3 could be filled from within)

CB – Kareem Jackson (Joseph)

Kareem will be one of the starting cornerbacks on this team next season. Johnathan Joseph will be a very interesting situation to watch. His cap figure is 11.25M, which is far too much for a declining player. He may get released, but I’d also watch out for a possible pay-cut there (base salary of $7.5M.

Brice McCain is a terrible football player, and will not be in Houston next year. Brandon Harris hasn’t developed. AJ Bouye could be a young player to watch in terms of depth.

Bottom line = 4 holes (1-2 could be filled from within)

S – DJ Swearinger (Manning)

By virtue of the team and draft position, DJ is back as a starting safety. Danieal Manning is coming off a season-ending leg injury, but I feel as though his value was almost lifted in watching the secondary play without him. Manning’s cap hit is $6M. I could see that one going either way.

Shiloh Keo is not talented enough to be a starting safety in the NFL. He doesn’t cover well enough, and fails to break down properly with his tackling technique. He’s a very expendable player. Eddie Pleasant has shown some flashes, but seems to also be good for a penalty per game on special teams.

Bottom line = 3 holes (1-2 could be filled from within)

SPECIAL TEAMS

P – Shane Lechler

One of the best punters in the NFL.

Bottom line = 0 holes

K – Randy Bullock

He had a very shaky season, but did end 2013 making his last 12 field goals. Based on the idea that O’Brien will bring more accountability to the team, I expect a veteran to compete with Bullock in training camp.

Bottom line = 0 holes (either Bullock stays or a veteran wins the job)

Long-snapper – Jon Weeks

I can’t tell you much about his 2013 season, so he must be doing okay.

Bottom line = 0 holes

OVERALL HOLES

Offense = 11

Defense = 17

Total holes = 28

Of those holes, how many could be filled internally (with players already on the roster) = 13

28 – 13 = 15

Draft picks = 7 (could receive a compensatory pick)

Summary: I hope this gives people a sense of what Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien are looking at this offseason. 28 holes is a lot, but I am trying to be as realistic as possible, and make very few assumptions about who will make this football team.

It’s almost impossible to add 28 players to a roster in one offseason, so a bunch of those spots will need to be filled from within. Clearly, the draft will be vitally important, but the Texans will also need to sign a variety of cheap veterans.

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