by MIKE MELTSER, SportsRadio 610By Mike Meltser

Houston Texans general manager, Rick Smith (pictured), head coach, Bill O’Brien, and newly promoted director of player personnel, Brian Gaine, have a job this off-season with the Texans roster. Let’s look at where that roster is right now and what holes these three will have to fill before training camp.

For reference:

The Houston Texans 2015 salary cap table, per Spotrac.com

The 2014 version of this post

QB – Ryan Mallett or Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage

This position is a whole chapter unto itself, and the amount of holes isn’t as relevant as the realization that this team lacks a franchise quarterback. I believe the Texans will re-sign Mallett to a reasonable short term contract. As a fourth round pick, Savage returns for a second and critical season. My guess is that Bill O’Brien drafts or brings in another QB as the 3rd stringer for 2015.

RB – Arian Foster, Alfred Blue

By virtue of his tremendous (when healthy) season, Foster is a lock to return for 2015. He was the second best player on this team. The Texans need Foster to compete, given the current QB situation.

Blue did a decent job of filling in when Foster was banged up, and has a role on special teams. I don’t think he has the upside of a starting RB in the NFL, but can be a fine backup.

The most interesting question here is how Rick Smith and O’Brien approach the future of this position. There are a lot of talented RBs in the 2015 Draft, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texans took one in the first 3 rounds.

Conclusion = 1 hole

WR – DeAndre Hopkins (Andre Johnson)

Now here is a real position of intrigue. Hopkins is the only lock to be on the roster in 2015, given the uncertainty over Andre Johnson’s contract. Andre may or may not be willing to take a pay-cut. 85 receptions, 936 yards, and 3 TDs isn’t cutting it for a cap hit of more than $16M.

My early guess is that a deal is worked out with Andre at a more reasonable rate.

Beyond the top two, this team is in need of a full revamp. O’Brien seems to place a premium on receivers being able to beat man to man coverage, and I don’t know if much of that exists on this roster. The Texans finally have some salary cap space, and I could see the front office signing a proven veteran and/or drafting multiple receivers in April, perhaps early.

Guys like Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey, Damaris Johnson, Alan Bonner, etc. can compete for jobs, but none are even close to a lock.

Conclusion = 3 holes

TE – CJ Fiedorowicz (Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin)

Texans TEs were targeted 51 times in 2014, just over 3 per game. How much of this was on the tight ends, offensive system, and Fitzpatrick? That’s what the coaching staff and front office has to determine.

Fiedorowicz was generally a disappointment as both a blocker and receiver, but as a high 3rd round draft choice, he’s here for 2015.

Garrett Graham received a contract before free agency last offseason, but had only 197 yards and 1 TD in 11 games. Releasing him wouldn’t cost much, so that’s certainly an option. I do like Ryan Griffin’s talent, but he has a nasty propensity for drops and bizarre penalties.

I don’t know what the plan is here. It’s easy to jettison Graham and Griffin on paper, but that creates two open roster spots. Do you draft another TE? If so, how early? Here is the list of free agent tight ends for 2015. I will be very intrigued to see what happens in this area.

Conclusion = 1 hole (split the difference between Graham and Griffin)

T – Duane Brown (Derek Newton)

Brown will continue as the franchise LT, but the question is what Smith and O’Brien choose to do on the right side. Newton had a quality season, but is now a free agent. Does Houston want to pay market rate for a player that has taken 4 arduous years to develop? Losing Newton creates the kind of hole that you normally fill with a legitimate contract for a free agent, or a relatively early draft pick.

In terms of depth, right now the likes of Will Yeatman, Jeff Adams, and Tyson Clabo are on the roster as the backups.

Conclusion = 1 hole

C/G – Brandon Brooks, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Ben Jones

Those three players are on rookie contracts, and I could see all three starting in week one. Brooks had another quality season at RG, and is one of the building blocks of this team.

Su’a-Filo clearly had a rough season, but I am optimistic about his future. I thought he looked better in his snaps later in the year, and I am actually penciling him in to start at left guard right now. He’s a high second round pick who has to pan out.

Chris Myers did not necessarily play up to his usual standards in 2014, but the bigger issue is his cap number. Myers carries a $6M base salary into 2015, and the team can save that same $6M number by releasing him. Jones has been a mediocre-at-best LG, but he was a 4 year starting center at Georgia. That could be an option.

Conclusion = 1 hole

FB – Jay Prosch

Like most of the Texans rookies, it wasn’t a banner rookie season, but Prosch is a draft pick. He must improve.

Conclusion = zero holes

DEFENSE

DL – JJ Watt, Jared Crick, Jeoffrey Pagan

Thankfully, this is a position the front office doesn’t necessarily have to replenish from the outside. Nothing more has to be said about Watt. Crick came on strong in 2014, especially by the end of the season. Pagan showed flashes as a rookie. Both are under rookie deals, so they are on the roster.

At NT, decisions will have to be made on Ryan Pickett and Jerrell Powe. Pickett solidified the run defense when he signed early in the season; does he want to play another full season, and does Houston think he can hold up for another year? Both Pickett and Powe are free agents.

The other big issue is Louis Nix, who battled injuries all season. Can Nix get healthy? Is he any good? Despite his 3rd round draft status, I can’t say that Nix is a lock for anything at this point.

Conclusion = 3 holes

LB – Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing

Clowney’s health status is a far bigger question than his roster status. Is he going to be available for training camp? Is he a candidate for the regular season (6 game) PUP list?

Mercilus, despite his stats, had his best season in 2014. He’s a vastly improved player against the run, and is able to set the edge well. I would pencil him in as a starter for next season. By contrast, Cushing did not have a good 2014 season, but it actually costs the Texans more to release him than to keep him. Based on the fact, they need to hope to restructure Cushing’s deal and hope for the best in 2015.

Brooks Reed and Akeem Dent are free agents, and I don’t think Reed is a priority FA. He seems to be the definition of a replacement player. Houston does have viable depth with players like Mike Mohamed, John Simon, and Justin Tuggle.

This is a tough position to figure out in terms of roster holes. Between Clowney’s health and Reed being a free agent, it would seem that the Texans need to draft or sign a legitimate option at OLB.

Conclusion = 3 holes

CB – Kareem Jackson or Johnathan Joseph, AJ Bouye

I have a tough time seeing both Jackson and Joseph back in 2015. Jackson is a free agent, and reportedly turned down an extension in August. To keep him, Houston would need to pay market rate, and cornerbacks are in high demand. Joseph has a high cap figure of $12.25M next season, and I don’t think that is a sustainable figure.

Ultimately, my guess is that the Texans opt to either re-sign Jackson, or let him walk and figure out a way to keep Joseph at a cheaper rate.

In terms of depth, Bouye, Andre Hal, Daryl Morris, and Jumal Rolle have salaries between $500-600K in 2015. None is a lock to make the team, but the Texans can easily keep all four as reserve CBs.

Conclusion = 1 hole

S – DJ Swearinger

Same story as last season. Swearinger himself is a tough player to evaluate; he shows flashes of impact plays, but makes mind-boggling mistakes combined with a lack of true centerfield ability. Nonetheless, the team likes the attitude he brings, and he’s a young player on a rookie deal.

Both Kendrick Lewis and Danieal Manning are free agents. If Lewis is re-signed, you can pencil him in as a starter. Manning probably needs to be replaced, ideally by somebody at a skill position or DB with return ability.

Eddie Pleasant seems like a limited player. Is Lonne Ballentine real, or just a rumor? The depth isn’t as good here as it is at CB.

Conclusion = 3 holes

Special teams

Shane Lechler, Randy Bullock, Jon Weeks

The Texans are just in hire need of some life in punt and kick returns. The units ranked terribly in DVOA in 2014. But, that returner is going to come from offense or defense, and will be slotted into one of the positions above.

Randy Bullock had a quality season in 2014, and Jon Weeks was fine as the long snapper. The only thing to watch is punter.

Shane Lechler’s raw (47.6 to 46.3) and net (40 to 38.7) averages dropped as compared to his 2013 campaign. The percentage of punts dropped within the 20 yard line also decreased by about 6%

Lechler is due to make $1.75M in base salary next season. It’s not an extreme number, and would rank 12th at his position in 2015. Just something to monitor over the offseason with an older veteran.

Conclusion = zero holes

Offense = 7 holes
Defense = 10 holes
Overall = 17 holes

Analysis: A lot of this is fluid, because the front office probably already has a plan at some of these positions. They may be bringing back all of the tight ends, or already have a good sense of the five starters on the offensive line. From the outside, it’s impossible to figure out how many needs exist.

Two of the bigger immediate decisions will come on the contracts for Jackson and Newton. If one or both are back, that obviously fills a starting spot for 2015. On a smaller scale, I think the same situation exists, at least on a rotational basis, for Pickett and Lewis.

With some actual cap space, I also envision the Texans adding a legitimate piece or two in free agency (and hopefully not of the Ed Reed variety).

This post will be updated in various forms throughout the offseason.

Mike Meltser can be heard on MaD Radio from 10am-2pm

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