In January 2020, young quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans appeared primed to defeat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round. Even after a frustrating collapse at Arrowhead Stadium, the future looked bright for the six-time AFC South champions.
The Texans went a lowly combined 8-25 between the 2020-21 seasons. Watson requested a trade following the 2020 campaign and didn’t play last year amid 22 active civil lawsuits alleging him of sexual misconduct. As Watson’s Texans future remains uncertain, new head coach Lovie Smith, who served as Houston’s defensive coordinator last season, is tasked with restoring a winning culture in Houston.
On the eve of the new league year, now feels like the perfect time to analyze players who Smith and the Texans should pursue in free agency. For this list, we tried focusing on the Texans’ most significant needs and eyeing players who best fit those holes. This list only includes players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March; restricted free agents, cap casualties, and little-known draft prospects who are likely to go undrafted were all ineligible.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, the best potential free agents for the Texans rank as follows:
6. Rasul Douglas, CB, Green Bay Packers
If Douglas only wants to play for a winning team in 2022, he should avoid the Texans at all costs. However, if the West Virginia product is willing to explore the market fully after a stellar year with the Packers, he should consider taking his talents to the Lone Star State.
Douglas, who turns 28 in August, snagged five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, in 12 games and nine starts for the Packers last season. He’s still in his prime years and would bring instant credibility to a Texans team trying to rebound and get back to becoming playoff contenders again.
As of publication, Spotrac projected the Texans would have $18.8 million in cap space. When potential cap casualties are factored in, the six-time AFC South champions should have more than enough money to try wooing Douglas.
5. Derrick Nnadi, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Nnadi isn’t a popular name, but he quietly recorded a career-high three sacks and five quarterback hits in 17 games and 10 starts for the Chiefs in 2021. The former Florida State standout spent the 2019-20 seasons as a full-time starter in Steve Spagnuolo’s unit and helped Kansas City reach the Super Bowl both years.
Nnadi, who turns 26 in May, is entering his prime years and regularly flashed throughout his time in Kansas City. Although he’s not the most well-known tackle on the free-agent market, his experience around one of the NFL’s most successful franchises could prove monumental in helping the Texans return to their winning ways.
4. Morgan Moses, OT, New York Jets
Moses is another player who, while he’s not likely to earn a massive contract, should cash in this spring. Spotrac currently projects the veteran offensive tackle, who will play the entire 2022 season at 31 years old, is on track to earn a three-year, $23.3 million contract in free agency.
According to Pro Football Focus, Moses had a 70.9 grade, an above-average mark, as the Jets’ starting right tackle last season. Unless the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Cam Robinson or the New Orleans Saints’ Terron Armstead consider signing in Houston, the Texans must consider bringing Moses into the mix.
3. Jacoby Brissett, QB, Miami Dolphins
Some Texans fans might not be sold on young quarterback Davis Mills yet after his inconsistent rookie season. The Stanford product completed 66.8% of his passes in 13 games (11 starts) for 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
The best thing for Smith and the Texans would be keeping Mills in the mix and signing a proven veteran quarterback who has extensive experience as a backup. Brissett, who completed 62.7% of his passes for 1,283 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions in 11 games and five starts last year, perfectly fits the bill. The ex-NC State star also rushed for a touchdown on 3.7 yards per attempt for the Dolphins.
Is Brissett better than Mills? There might not be an answer to that one just yet. Is Brissett better than Watson? Nope. Would Brissett be a better backup option than the injury-prone Tyrod Taylor? Absolutely.
2. Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Spotrac currently projects Jones will earn a two-year, $5.57 million contract in free agency, which feels a bit generous given his relative lack of action for the Buccaneers in 2021. The former Southern California star rushed for 428 yards and four touchdowns on 4.2 yards per carry in 16 games and three starts last year.
Jones checks every box the Texans should have when pursuing a running back this offseason, especially if he’s willing to sign a one-year, prove-it deal. He’ll play all of next season at 25 years old and rushed for 978 yards and seven touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry in 2020. If Jones bounces back to his 2019-2020 form (4.7 yards per carry and 2,176 yards from scrimmage), he could easily reset his value and cash in during the 2023 free-agency cycle.
1. Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Although the Texans seemingly remain a long way from contending for an AFC South title, that doesn’t mean Houston shouldn’t try to sign at least one marquee free agent this spring. Veteran receiver Christian Kirk, who will turn 26 in November, perfectly fits the billing. The ex-Texas A&M star tallied a career-high 77 catches and 982 yards in 2021; he added six catches and 51 yards in the Cardinals’ NFC Wild Card Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Spotrac currently projects Kirk will sign a four-year, $47.6 million contract in free agency. Houston can absolutely afford to pay a receiver of his caliber and age roughly $12 million per year, and the Texans should make such a move.
Most young quarterbacks — Cincinnati Bengals star Joe Burrow is the obvious exception — need a reliable offensive line to succeed. Giving Mills the likes of Jones and Kirk, assuming both live up to expectations, would be the cherry on top for a franchise desperately needing to start winning again.