By Paul Gallant, SportsRadio 610By Paul Gallant

Does anyone really know what the signings of Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller means for the Texans’ future?

Seriously, who knows?

Houston’s quarterback position may finally have some much needed stability. And Miller appears capable of replacing Arian Foster. But until the regular season begins, we have no clue if Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien’s gambles will pay off.

What we do know? That the Texans – based on the “sexiness” of their signings – won free agency. A massive contract for a young quarterback. And minutes later, another bag of gold for a young running back. Two glamour positions filled for the cost of $98 Million . . . assuming they make it through the length of their respective contracts.

It’s like buying the most expensive meal and drink at a fancy schmancy restaurant . . . except entirely based off of a Yelp review. You’re going into it blind. The high price will create ridiculous expectations. And the wait for your plate? It’ll create both excitement . . . and anxiety.

The Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins would be the first to tell you that no one wins a Super Bowl in March. Those two max out their credit cards every March, only to awkwardly have their cards declined in the playoffs every January. There’s still an NFL Draft to get to, and I’m a firm believer that an NFL team should build through THAT. Not Free Agency.

But free agency isn’t irrelevant. There are changes every year, and the last few weeks has affected the balance of power in the AFC. Where do the Texans currently stand?

So, I divided the AFC into a number of tiers and categories. Those sub-categories: the teams that are trending upwards, the teams that are in the same place as last year, and the teams heading in the wrong direction:

Tier 1:

Trending Upwards:

1. New England Patriots
– Key Additions: TE Martellus Bennett (Trade), G Jonathan Cooper (Trade), DE Chris Long, WR Chris Hogan
– Key Losses: DE Chandler Jones (Trade), DT Akiem Hicks

Bennett was a malcontent the past two seasons with the Bears. I think that will change dramatically when paired up with both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Chandler Jones – with 12.5 sacks last year – isn’t easily replaceable. The big key for New England in 2016? Health. Both on the offensive line – which they hope we be bolstered by 2013 top ten pick Cooper (he hasn’t lived up to that billing) – and the return of running back Dion Lewis from a torn ACL.

Staying Put:

2. Pittsburgh Steelers
– Key Additions: TE Ladarius Greene
– Key Losses: None
– Key Problems: WR Martavis Bryant (Suspension for year)

Like New England, health is the biggest obstacle in Pittsburgh’s way next season. The Steelers had Le’Veon Bell – the NFL’s best all around back – for just six games last season due to a suspension, and then injury. His mere return is the equivalent of signing an impact free agent. Ladarius Greene never got a full opportunity in San Diego with Antonio Gates ahead of him on the depth chart. Saddling up with Ben Roethlisberger could be just the trick, though it’s doubtful he’ll ever have the same rapport Big Ben had with now retired Heath Miller. Losing Martavis Bryant for a full season would be a major problem for other teams. But the Steelers have a great track record of developing young wide receivers. See Antonio Brown, a former 6th round pick who is now the league’s best receiver.

Tier 2

Trending Downwards:

3. Cincinnati Bengals
– Key Additions: None
– Key Losses: WR Marvin Jones, WR Mohamed Sanu

The Bengals might have the most talent top to bottom in the conference. Unfortunately, Andy Dalton missed the last three games of the regular season (and Cincy’s playoff loss to the Steelers) with a thumb injury. Now he’ll enter next season missing two receivers – Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu – who caught a combined 80 passes for 1007 yards in games that Dalton started. It’s not the end of the world, but those two accounted for nearly a third of Dalton’s 3,250 passing yards last season. As we saw in the 2014 Wild Card Playoffs, Dalton needs all the weapons he can get his hands on to succeed. He’ll be without two next year.

4. Denver Broncos
– Key Additions: T Russell Okung, T Donald Stephenson, QB Mark Sanchez
– Key Losses: QB Peyton Manning, QB Brock Osweiler, DE Malik Jackson, LB Danny Trevathan, G Evan Mathis, G Louis Vasquez, TE Vernon Davis, TE Owen Daniels

Even after losing Jackson and Trevathan, the Broncos defense is still incredible. Unfortunately, their offense will be even more of an anchor on that D next season. Say what you will about Brock Osweiler, but we can all agree he’s better than Mark Sanchez.



Speaking of Osweiler, I find it interesting that the Broncos are moving on from 2 guards (Mathis, Vasquez) and signed 2 tackles (Okung, Stephenson). Especially when you consider that Texans head coach Bill O’Brien specifically mentioned Osweiler’s play against the Patriots and Raiders last season. Games where Osweiler was sacked 3 and 5 times respectively. Here’s the quote from the owners meetings this week:

“I thought the New England game was one particular game that stood out to me because they were really, in coaching lingo, they were getting after him. They were hitting him and he was delivering the football and getting right back up and calling the next play. One of the main requirements for a quarterback in this league is the ability to stand in there when everything’s flying at you, take a hit and deliver the ball. That’s one thing in that game that really stood out to me. There were other games, in the Raiders game, Khalil Mack must have hit him, I don’t know, eight to 10 times in that game, stood in there, delivered the ball. Maybe statistically it wasn’t his best game but to someone who’s been coaching that position for a while and has really studied it, that means a lot to us.”

5. Kansas City Chiefs
– Key Additions: T Mitchell Schwartz, WR Rod Streater
– Key Losses: CB Sean Smith, T Donald Stephenson, G Jeff Allen, S Tyvon Branch
– Key Problems: LB Justin Houston’s knee

The Chiefs are still a solid team. But this news about Justin Houston’s knee this week is BAD:

“When Dr. Andrews took a look inside his knee, he determined his ACL was intact,” Burkholder said. “It just wasn’t functioning. He didn’t do anything at that moment, brought him out of surgery. We all got on the phone, discussed everything and decided to have his ACL fixed.”

His ACL wasn’t . . . functioning. I’m not a doctor, but that’s bad news about the Chiefs’ best defensive player. He had surgery in February, and recovery could take 6 – 12 months. There’s a good chance he doesn’t play this season.

Tier 3:

Trending Upwards

6. Houston Texans
– Key Additions: QB Brock Osweiler, RB Lamar Miller, G Jeff Allen,
– Key Losses: G Brandon Brooks, C Ben Jones, RB Arian Foster

It just looks good on paper. It just looks good on paper. It just looks good on paper


Okay. Next.

7. Oakland Raiders
– Key Additions: G Kelechi Osemele, OLB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith
– Key Losses: WR Rod Streater

After the Osemele signing, you can seriously argue that the Raiders offensive line is as good as that of the Dallas Cowboys. At least that’s what all the cool kids are saying. Add Bruce Irvin to the same defense as Kalil Mack plus a solid cornerback in Smith, and BAM. The Raiders might be THIS again.

But they’ll only be THAT if Derek Carr can shake off a shaky finish to 2015. All the pieces around him are in place. Prepare to hear EVERY pundit pick Oakland as their 2016 darkhorse . . .

8. Baltimore Ravens
– Key Additions: S Eric Weddle, WR Mike Wallace, TE Benjamin Watson
– Key Losses: G Kelechi Osemele, LB Daryl Smith

The Ravens were one of the unluckiest teams in the NFL last year. They put 20 players on the injured reserve last season, including Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Joe Flacco. On top of that, they were on the wrong end of some shaky officiating. Notorious whiner John Harbaugh made sure to remind all of us at the owner’s meetings this week.

My main takeaway? I have a hard time seeing Baltimore struggle the way they did last year again. Osemele is a major loss. But Eric Weddle is the exact kind of signing that gets us singing about how good GM Ozzie Newsome is at his job.

Staying Put:

9. Indianapolis Colts
– Key Additions: CB Patrick Robinson
– Key Losses: TE Coby Fleener, ILB Jerrell Freeman, DE Bjoern Werner, WR Andre Johnson, S Dwight Lowery

These key losses aren’t as much “losses” as “examples of why Indy should have sacked up and fired GM Ryan Grigson”. Whatever. We’re all okay with him staying put, right?

The Colts have a mediocre roster. The difference next year? They’ll probably have a healthy Andrew Luck. Unless they fail to protect him with their sieve of an offensive line. Again.

10. Buffalo Bills
– Key Additions: None
– Key Losses: DE Mario Williams, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Leodis McKelvin, WR Chris Hogan

The Bills couldn’t really do anything in free agency since they’re in cap hell. Barring a home run draft, I think we’re all okay putting them right here.

Trending Downwards

11. New York Jets
– Key Additions: RB Matt Forte, DE Jarvis Jenkins
– Key Losses: NT Damon Harrison, RB Chris Ivory, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (?)

Don’t get me wrong. The Jets have some talent on the roster. Muhammad Wilkerson. Sheldon Richardson. Brandon Marshall. Eric Decker. And as far as head coaches go, Todd Bowles seems to be on the same tier as Bill O’Brien. But this cute game they’re playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick – their best option at quarterback for 2016 – needs to stop. If it does, I’d put them at 9 above Indy.

12. Miami Dolphins
– Key Additions: DE Mario Williams, CB Byron Maxwell (Trade), LB Kiko Alonso (Trade)
– Key Losses: DE Olivier Vernon, RB Lamar Miller, DE Derrick Shelby, WR Rishard Matthews, CB Brent Grimes

I think the Dolphins made a mistake letting Lamar Miller walk. But it had nothing to do with his value to to Miami. They had no clue how to incorporate him into their offense. Their mistake was failing to sign a replacement. The ‘Phins better hope that Ezekiel Elliott falls to them at the 13th pick.

My biggest reason for continuing to laugh at the Miami Dolphins? That they traded for Byron Maxwell – a MASSIVE BUST in Philly – AND agreed to take on his ridiculous contract. Miami is notorious for sleepwalking into cap hell. They’ll likely be there again . . . and soon.

Tier 4:

Trending Upwards:

13. Jacksonville Jaguars
– Key Additions: DE Malik Jackson, CB Prince Amukamara, RB Chris Ivory, T Kelvin Beachum, S Tashaun Gipson
– Key Losses: None

Jacksonville spent a ton of money this offseason, and I don’t have a bad thing to say about any of their signings. Still, I refuse to say they’re “on the rise” until their offensive line does a better job and their defense actually . . . exists. Still, if your looking for a non-trendy dark horse in 2016, this isn’t a bad pick.

Staying Put:

14. Tennessee Titans
– Key Additions: RB DeMarco Murray (Trade), WR Rishard Matthews, C Ben Jones,
– Key Losses: S Michael Griffin, CB Coty Sensabaugh

They kept Mike Mularkey on as head coach. And Mike Mularkey wants to run an “exotic smashmouth” offense. Neat.

If you want “smashmouth”, making that trade for DeMarco Murray makes sense. Tennessee barely gave up anything for him. But that offensive line in front of him needs to get better . . . and fast.

15. San Diego Chargers
– Key Additions: WR Travis Benjamin, CB Casey Heyward, S Dwight Lowery
– Key Losses: S Eric Weddle, TE Ladarius Greene, CB Patrick Robinson

I feel bad for Philip Rivers. The roster around him keeps getting older . . . not better.

Trending Underground:

16. Cleveland Browns:
– Key Additions: QB Robert Griffin III, S Rahim Moore
– Key Losses: C Alex Mack, T Mitchell Schwartz, S Tashaun Gipson, WR Travis Benjamin

At least they cut Manziel?

Paul Gallant hosts “Gallant at Night” – weeknights 7-11 PM on SportsRadio 610. He also hosts SportsZone Unfiltered – Fridays at 10 PM – on The Kube: Channel 57. Get in touch with Paul via email or at his facebook page: Paul Gallant: SportsRadio610.


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