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Texans Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

Shawn BrubakerContributor IIMarch 2, 2012

Texans Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

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    The Texans had their most successful season in franchise history, and they are clearly a team on the rise.

    A sense of excitement surrounds the Texans this offseason, as they may be just a few moves from being championship contenders.

    You can keep track of all these moves here in the Texans offseason tracker.

    We'll start by examining the Texans salary cap situation. From there, we'll analyze the holes in the Texans' roster. 

    We'll then look at the Texans' expiring contracts, their potential value and whether they will be re-signed.

    Based on the Texans' cap situation after re-signings, we'll analyze which free agents would fit in Houston and their potential contracts.

    Finally, we'll examine the Texans' draft needs and potential selections.

Tracking Free-Agent Signings, Re-Signings and Roster Moves

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    Here is a comprehensive list of the Texans' latest roster moves.

    April 5, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting the Texans have re-signed S Quintin Demps.

    March 29, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Texans have signed Punter Donnie Jones to a 1 year deal.

    March 20, 2012: Jay Glazer of Fox Sports is reporting that the Texans have traded LB DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles. The two teams have swapped third round picks and the Texans receive the Eagles 4th round pick.

    This move gives the Texans even more cap space to work with, and it also gives them an extra pick in the draft.

    While it hurts to lose a defensive leader and a talented player like Ryans, the Texans should be able to find a solid replacement at a much smaller cost.

    This move on it's own is not bad for the Texans, but at some point they need to stop letting players go, and instead start focusing on building up the roster.

    March 16, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting via his Twitter that the Texans have signed center Chris Myers a four-year $25 million dollar deal with $14 million guaranteed.

    Good for the Texans for keeping their top center in Houston. Myers is an excellent player, but he would be more valuable to the Texans than anyone else. That made re-signing him both easier and more important.

    The Texans will be paying handsomely for Myers' services, but after losing guard Mike Brisiel and tackle Eric Winston, maintaining some continuity is huge for the Texans.

    March 14, 2012: The talk of re-signing Mario Williams is officially over, as ESPN reports that he has signed with the Bills.

    The Texans simply weren't able to handle Williams contract demands, so it's unsurprising that he signed elsewhere.

    Though Williams is a monster, his loss shouldn't hurt the Texans too badly. Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed are young players who will only get better. The Texans should feel good about their two young pass rushers.

    March 13, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Texans have decided to cut FB Lawrence Vickers. It's also been reported that the Texans have released backup quarterback Matt Leinart.

    Neither of these moves make a significant impact on the Texans besides saving a bit of money.

    The Texans no longer needed Leinart after T.J. Yates' great finish to the season. Yates can let the Texans feel very comfortable about their backup quarterback situation for a few years.

    As for Vickers, while he was a solid addition last year, the Texans will function just fine without him. They might look for a cheaper replacement in free agency or the draft.

    March 12, 2012: ESPN reports that the Texans have released right tackle Eric Winston. This move frees up about $4.5 million in cap space.

    Winston is one of the top right tackles in the NFL, so this move comes as a surprise, especially considering that the Texans don't have a clear replacement in place. Right tackle is now a need for the Texans, unless Winston re-signs at a lower price.

    This might signify that the Texans are accumulating cap space to make a run at re-signing Mario Williams. Stay tuned.

    March 5, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports the Texans have agreed on a 5 year, $43.5 million dollar contract for Arian Foster with $20.75 million dollars guaranteed.

    This is a great move for the Texans. This contract will retain Foster through his best years and expire when he's in his twilight.

    Generally, long term deals for running backs is a scary proposition, but the Texans surprisingly did not overpay in this case. Foster is one of the best backs in the NFL, and he will be paid a salary in line with that level of production.

    All in all, the Texans wisely locked up their best offensive weapon for the foreseeable future. This has to be a huge weight off the team's chest.


Salary Cap Status

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    Spotrac, the popular contract tracking website, lists the Texans at having $96,801,485 counting against the salary cap in 2012. With a cap of $120.6 million in 2012, the Texans will have nearly $25 million in cap space.

    That offers the Texans a good deal of room to maneuver in free agency, re-signing their key players and potentially signing a big-name free agent.

     

    Problematic Cap Hits

    A few players stick out as being over-priced for the Houston Texans.

    Jacoby Jones hasn't done much to warrant a big contract, but he will count $4.94 million against the salary cap in 2012. That is too much for a marginal producer.

    Matt Leinart is another player who may be overpriced, with a $3 million cap hit. With T.J. Yates proving to be a competent backup quarterback, Leinart may be expendable in 2012.

    Finally, Kevin Walter will count $3.5 million against the cap in 2012, but his production is not enough to justify such a large cap hit.

     

    Value Contracts

    The Texans have a talented young roster, so they have more than a few players who are significant values.

    The player that sticks out the most is Connor Barwin. Barwin led the team with 11.5 sacks in 2011, yet he will only count for $917,000 against the cap. Few premiere pass rushers make that little.

    Another solid value is left tackle Duane Brown, who has become one of the better left tackles in the NFL. Despite being a solid player at a marquee position, Brown is only a $1.36 million cap hit.

    Ben Tate and T.J. Yates are both worth noting as well. Tate's contract is only a $490,000 cap hit despite his immense production, and Yates' is a $511,842 cap hit. These two young players are a significant bargain for their production.

     

    Looking Toward the Future

    The Texans really only have a few major long term contracts to pay for over the next few years, but upcoming negotiations with Matt Schaub, Connor Barwin and Duane Brown in 2013 may have the Texans looking to be thrifty in 2012.

    With a lot of young talent reaching their peak, the Texans will need to avoid making big moves in free agency if they hope to keep the young nucleus of their team intact for the foreseeable future.

Last Year's Holes

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    The Texans don't seem to have too many holes after a great season, but there are a few areas the Texans could improve in 2012.

     

    Offense

    The offense was solid in 2011, but issues in the passing game set the team back late in the season, due to injuries to both Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. The Johnson injury in particular had a major effect on the Texans' offensive production.

     

    Wide Receiver

    First and foremost, the Texans must improve at wide receiver. Beyond Johnson, the Texans have little at receiver. With Johnson's injury problems, solid depth at the position is crucial.

    With little in the way of young talent on the roster at this position, the Texans will need to add several players to complement Johnson and to boost the passing attack.

     

    Interior Offensive Line

    The Texans' best offensive lineman, Chris Myers, is a free agent in 2012. Meanwhile, the Texans' guards are probably the weakest link in the offensive line.

    The Texans will look to resign Myers, but a few new bodies would help the team out significantly.

     

    Defense

    It's hard to find fault in the Texans' defense after their dominant performance in 2011. Still, improvements could be made at a few positions.

     

    Nose Tackle

    Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell were decent at nose tackle, but the Texans could use a true difference maker at the position.

    Wade Phillips prefers smaller, quicker nose tackles, so the Texans could pursue a player that fits that mold in free agency or the draft.

     

    Strong Safety

    Glover Quin racked up a lot of tackles in 2011, but few passes defended. That's not a good sign at the safety position. Quin isn't terrible, but he can be upgraded, so the Texans might look into finding an upgrade in 2012.

Listing the Texans' 2012 Free Agents

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    ProFootballFocus lists the following players as unrestricted free agents. If the Texans do not re-sign them by March 13th, when free agency opens, these players will be on the open market and free to sign with any team.

    CB Jason Allen

    S Dominique Barber

    G Mike Brisiel

    DE Tim Bulman

    QB Jake Dehlomme

    MLB Tim Dobbins

    TE Joel Dreessen

    QB Jeff Garcia

    WR Bryant Johnson

    C Chris Myers Update:  Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting via his Twitter that the Texans have signed center Chris Myers a four-year $25 million dollar deal with $14 million guaranteed.

    K Neil Rackers

    G Kasey Studdard

    P Matt Turk

    RB Derrick Ward

    OLB Mario Williams

    March 15, 2012:

    Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that Mario Williams will be given a six-year deal from the Bills. He reports that the contract is worth up to $100 million dollars with $50 million guaranteed.

     

    The following players are restricted free agents, meaning the Texans can offer them one year tenders that other teams must compensate the Texans for if signed.

    S Quintin Demps

    March 5, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports the Texans have agreed on a 5 year, $43.5 million dollar contract for Arian Foster with $20.75 million dollars guaranteed.

    A $2.61 million tender equates to first-round compensation, a $1.84 million tender qualifies for second-round consideration and the lowest base tender of $1.26 million requires matching the RFA's original draft pick (i.e. if the player was selected in the third round, the interested team must give up a third-round pick in exchange).

    Any team matching or holding on to the qualifying offer must pay the same amount as the player's tender in base salary for that season.

Determining Contract Value for Every Houston Free Agent

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    With 17 free agents to take care of, the Texans will be careful to retain as many as possible. A lot of these free agents were major contributors last year, and some have been genuine stars in Houston.

    Some players, though, will need to be let go, either for salary cap reasons or simply because the player is not worth re-signing.

    The Texans have plenty of room to maneuver, so they should be able to retain their most valued free agents.

    The following numbers are estimates of what each Texans' free agent could be worth.

     

    CB Jason Allen: $2.5 Million

    Allen is a decent nickle corner, and similar caliber players generally make between $2-3 million. The Texans would like to have him back, but this is a high cost for a player of Allen's caliber.

     

    S Dominique Barber: $700,000

    Barber is more of a special teams player and a backup at this point in his career. He won't see the field much on defense for the Texans, so his value is at a minimum.

     

    G Mike Brisiel: $3.5 Million

    Brisiel is a starter on one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. That will command a solid salary. Similar caliber players make around $3 million, but teams might over-value Brisiel based on his contributions to Arian Foster's success.

     

    DE Tim Bulman: $700,000

    Bulman is solid depth at defensive end. He fits the Texans' 3-4 scheme nicely, but he isn't worth much more than the veteran minimum.

     

    QB Jake Dehlomme: $3 Million

    Dehlomme will be a back-up quarterback somewhere in 2012. Veteran back-ups generally command solid salaries, both for their role as a mentor to the starter and for their ability on the field.

     

    MLB Tim Dobbins: $1.5 Million

    Dobbins has been a solid contributor in his career, but he didn't do much for the Texans last year. Still, he has been a solid role player in the NFL, and his contract should reflect that.

     

    TE Joel Dreessen: $2.5 Million

    Dreessen likely has similar value to Todd Heap's value last year. Heap earned a two-year, $5.5 million deal, and Dreessen will likely earn something similar.

     

    QB Jeff Garcia: $1.25 Million

    Garcia is no longer considered a competent back-up. If he finds a job in 2012, which is a big if, it will be for a very small contract.

     

    WR Bryant Johnson: $1 Million

    Johnson is another player who teams will struggle to find a role for. He is not a competent wide receiver anymore, and he does not play special teams well, either. If Johnson gets a contract in 2012, it will be for a very small amount.

     

    C Chris Myers: Update:  Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting via his Twitter that the Texans have signed center Chris Myers a four-year $25 million dollar deal with $14 million guaranteed.

    K Neil Rackers

     

    K Neil Rackers: $2 Million

    Rackers is one of the better kickers in the NFL, and he will paid as such. A comparable contract could be the Cardinals' Jay Feeley, who has a two-year, $3.5 million deal.

     

    G Kasey Studdard: $1 Million

    Studdard hasn't started a game since 2009. He is a decent backup and will be paid as such.

     

    P Matt Turk: $1 Million

    Turk was one of the worst punters in the NFL last year, barely averaging over 40 yards per kick. If Turk finds a job in 2012, it will be for very little money.

     

    RB Derrick Ward: $800,000

    Ward is no longer a highly regarded back. If he finds a job in 2012, it will be at the veteran minimum.

     

    OLB Mario Williams: $15 Million

    Now we're talking about big money. Williams will command a massive contract in free agency. A comparable contract would be the one Julius Peppers signed with the Bears for six years, $84 million.

    Elite talents like Williams are rarely available in free agency. Williams will earn the biggest deal in free agency this year.

    March 15, 2012:

    Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that Mario Williams will be given a six-year deal from the Bills. He reports that the contract is worth up to $100 million dollars with $50 million guaranteed.

     

    S Quintin Demps: $1.26 Million (Base Tender, Estimated)

    The Texans like Demps, as he provides quality depth and solid special teams ability. They will likely tender him at the lowest possible tender, which is $1.26 million.

     

    RB Arian Foster: Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports the Texans have agreed on a 5 year, $43.5 million dollar contract for Arian Foster with $20.75 million dollars guaranteed.

Projecting Which Free Agents Will Re-Sign and Which Will Walk

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    With 17 free agents to take care of, the Texans will have to make some tough decisions. Some of these players are highly valuable to the franchise and will be retained. Others are simply not a priority.

    Finally, a select few players the Texans will have to analyze very closely. The Texans have some big names to re-sign, and the team has some difficult decisions to make on whether to shell out the massive contracts they could require.

    Here is a look at the projected re-signings and releases:

     

    S Quintin Demps: Re-signed

    The Texans really like Demps as a back-up safety, and since he's an RFA, re-signing him shouldn't be an issue.

    Estimated Contract: one year, $1.26 million

     

    RB Arian Foster: Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports the Texans have agreed on a 5 year, $43.5 million dollar contract for Arian Foster with $20.75 million dollars guaranteed. 

     

    C Chris Myers:  Update:  Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting via his Twitter that the Texans have signed center Chris Myers a four-year $25 million dollar deal with $14 million guaranteed.

    K Neil Rackers

    S Dominique Barber: Re-signed

    Barber will likely be back as a camp body and perhaps depth. The Texans will probably re-sign him as a cheap backup who is familiar with the scheme.

    Estimated Contract: two years, $1.5 million

     

    G Mike Brisiel: Re-signed

    Brisiel is another offensive lineman who probably has more value in Houston than anywhere else. The Texans will want to keep the majority of their solid offensive line intact, and Brisiel should come at an affordable price.

    Estimated Contract: three years, $12 million

     

    MLB Tim Dobbins: Re-signed

    The Texans can't feel comfortable with their inside linebacker depth. Re-signing Dobbins provides them some veteran depth at an affordable cost.

    Estimated Contract: two years, $2.5 million

     

    K Neil Rackers: Re-signed

    Rackers is one of the better kickers in the NFL. Kickers aren't expensive, so the Texans shouldn't hesitate to re-sign Rackers to provide stability to their special teams units.

    Estimated Contract: two years, $6 million

     

    CB Jason Allen: Released

    Allen was a tremendous stop-gap player last year, but the Texans want to see Kareem Jackson and Brandon Harris take the next step. Allen is not in the Texans' long term plans.

     

    DE Tim Bulman: Released

    Bulman is a decent veteran player, but the Texans won't consider him a major priority.

     

    QB Jake Dehlomme: Released

    The Texans have no reason to retain Jake Dehlomme while T.J. Yates is on the roster. Yates allows the Texans to feel very comfortable with their quarterback situation.

     

    TE Joel Dreessen: Released

    The Texans have good depth at tight end as is. Dreessen will likely not be a major priority for the Texans, especially considering his age.

     

    QB Jeff Garcia: Released

    Garcia will likely be forced to retire at this point in his career. The Texans are set at quarterback, anyway.

     

    WR Bryant Johnson: Released

    The Texans are looking to upgrade their receiving corps this offseason. Johnson will not be a part of that effort.

     

    G Kasey Studdard: Released

    Guard might be a priority for the Texans to address this offseason, so Studdard will be considered replaceable. The Texans would probably prefer younger talent at the position.

     

    P Matt Turk: Released

    Turk was only a stop-gap, injury replacement. He will not be retained.

     

    RB Derrick Ward: Released

    Ward is no longer a competent running back in the NFL, and he will have difficulty finding a job in 2012.

     

    OLB Mario Williams: Released

    Williams will likely not be retained. The Texans already have Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed, and Williams is often injured anyway. Despite his immense talent, Williams is replaceable for the Texans.

    Further, Williams will command a massive contract. The Texans have some other players they need to take care of, including Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Chris Myers, so Williams will likely be the odd man out.

    March 15, 2012:

    Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that Mario Williams will be given a six-year deal from the Bills. He reports that the contract is worth up to $100 million dollars with $50 million guaranteed.


Available Cap Space After Re-Signings

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    With a salary cap of $120.6 million, the Texans are currently around $25 million under the cap.

    After about $21 million of re-signings counting against the 2012 cap, the Texans would still be comfortable at $4 million under the cap. Note that the Texans could load the contracts in a certain way to change the way the cap is affected.

    With $4 million left over, the Texans won't be spending a huge amount in free agency, but they could find a few diamonds in the rough. The Texans will likely be players for some of the middle-tier free agents.

Biggest Needs After Re-Signings

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    The Texans' re-signings only prevented new needs from cropping up; they still need help at a few key positions.

     

    Offense

    Wide Receiver

    Possibly the top priority for the Texans is getting a receiver to pair with Andre Johnson. Johnson is often forced to carry the passing offense, and a threat across from him could really open up the offense.

     

    Interior Offensive Line

    If Myers is retained, the Texans can focus on getting a guard. The Texans are only average at guard, and an upgrade could be available in free agency or the draft.

     

     

    Defense

    Nose Tackle

    A true difference maker at nose tackle would really help the defense take its play to the next level.

    Strong Safety

    This position may not be a need necessarily, but Glover Quin could be upgraded.

Identifying Potential Free Agents the Texans Could Sign

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    With a small, but usable, amount to work with, the Texans will be poised to sign a few role players in free agency.

    Last year, the Texans made the biggest, and possibly best, signing in franchise history, signing Jonathan Joseph to a big deal. That move paid big dividends, and it could embolden the Texans going forward.

    Unfortunately for the Texans, this year they will be constrained by the cap to a small extent. With this in mind, here are some free agents that the Texans could be targeting.

     

    Offense

    Wide Receiver

    The Texans will definitely be targeting a receiver either in the draft or free agency. While they won't be breaking the bank on a free agent receiver, there are a few slot receivers who could fit with the Texans.

    Eddie Royal, Harry Douglas, and Mark Clayton are all worth a look for the Texans as an underneath receiver.

    Harry Douglas in particular would be a good fit. He is a good slot receiver who would be a nice complement for Andre Johnson.

     

    Offensive Guard

    There aren't many zone blocking guards available in free agency, but one who would make sense is Kory Lichtensteiger from the Redskins.

    Lichtensteiger is experienced with Mike Shanahan's offense, and the transition to Houston would be natural. He is coming off injury, but he could compete with Wade Smith.

     

    Defense

    Defensive Tackle

    Wade Phillips prefers smaller, quicker nose tackles for his 3-4 scheme, and the Texans didn't have a guy last year that really took hold of the role.

    Brodrick Bunkley from Denver could be a player to watch for the Texans. The former first-round pick is an excellent run defender with excellent strength and burst. While not a pass-rushing threat, Bunkley fits the scheme well and would be an affordable upgrade at the position.

    Other names to watch could be Antonio Garay, Kelly Gregg and Brandon McKinnie.

Projecting Contract Values for Houston's Free Agent Targets

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    These potential free agents are just a starting point for the Texans, but here are the estimated contracts that they could receive.

     

    WR Harry Douglas: 3 years, $5 million

    Douglas won't earn a big amount, and he probably isn't a major priority for the Falcons. That makes him an ideal candidate for the Texans, who are looking for affordable role players. Douglas is exactly that.

    His quickness and hands should help him find an immediate role as a slot receiver, and he could also play some special teams as well.

     

    OG Kory Lichtensteiger: 2 years, $3 million

    Lichtensteiger is damaged goods, so he might be a bargain for the Texans. No team will want to give a big contract to a player coming off a torn ACL and MCL. That could work to the Texans' advantage.

    With his ability in the zone-blocking scheme, Lichtensteiger would be a nice fit for the Texans, and at worst would provide quality depth at an affordable price.

     

    DT Brodrick Bunkley: 3 years, $9 million

    Bunkley is the most expensive player on this list, but he is still an affordable potential starter. Paying only $3 million would be a bargain for Bunkley, who made life a lot easier for the Broncos' linebackers last year.

    His run-stopping ability is superb, and he would become fast friends with Brian Cushing and Demeco Ryans.

    The Broncos, though, are looking hard into bringing Bunkley back, so this is a situation to monitor in the upcoming weeks.

Analyzing Texans' Draft Strategy and Needs

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    The Texans are fortunate to not have any major needs. That means that they can focus on getting the best player available in the draft.

    Still, the Texans are going to be looking for linebacker depth, interior offensive line depth and a wide receiver. These positions will be priorities, and the Texans will have options in every round of the draft.

    At receiver, there should be significant talent available in the first round, but there is also good depth. In fact, the Texans could double dip at the position, as this is a very strong group of receivers.

    The Texans could also look at addressing the offensive line early. This is a strong interior-offensive-line draft, especially at the top. Three or more interior offensive linemen could be selected in the first round, and there is solid depth there as well.

    On defense, the Texans will be looking for linebacker depth, and potentially a nose tackle, safety and cornerback as well.

    Nose tackle is probably the Texans' biggest need on defense, but the top prospect will likely be gone in the first round, and there aren't many players who fit the Texans' scheme in this draft. Still, if the opportunity presents itself, the Texans will be thrilled to select one.

    Safety will be a more realistic option for the Texans in the draft. There isn't great talent at the top, but the depth is excellent, and there is a good chance that the best player available in the early rounds will be a safety.

    Finally, the Texans could find a solid cornerback or linebacker depth late in the draft.

Draft Prospects to Watch

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    Interior Offensive Line

    Two players to watch are David DeCastro and Peter Konz. DeCastro is one of the best guard prospects in years, and while he will likely be gone by the time the Texans pick, he could still be worth a look.

    Konz's stock is falling after a poor performance in the bench press, but he is still worth a look at the end of the first round.

    Some players to watch later in the draft include Georgia center Ben Jones and LSU guard Will Blackwell.

     

    Wide Receiver

    The Texans will almost certainly pick a wide receiver at some point in the draft. Ideally, a player like Kendall Wright or Michael Floyd will be available in the first round, as both would be a major upgrade opposite Andre Johnson.

    If the value isn't there in the first round, a player like Juron Criner or Mohamed Sanu could be available in the mid-rounds. The Texans will definitely be looking for a player with starting potential from the get-go, so a raw prospect like Stephen Hill or Tommy Streeter will likely not be an ideal choice.

     

    Nose Tackle

    There aren't many options at nose tackle for the Texans, but Dontari Poe is worth a look. He will likely be gone early, though, after his huge combine.

    In the latter half of the draft, the Texans could go after Alabama nose tackle Josh Chapman, or BYU prospect Hebron Fangupo. Both are the kind of quicker, more disruptive tackles that Wade Phillips looks for.

     

    Safety

    Mark Barron is definitely a name to watch for the Texans in the first round. Barron is a quality strong safety who would likely be an immediate upgrade. He is an excellent combination of size and athleticism, and he is also an excellent playmaker.

    Harrison Smith is another name who could step in and be a quality pick at strong safety. Smith is big and intelligent, and at worst he would be an excellent special teams player.

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