The Houston Texans are not the team we thought they were an offseason ago. Their offense, when the offensive line is struggling, is a major liability, and Wade Phillips has shown that he struggles limiting elite quarterbacks on the defensive end. In order to make it to the promised land next season, the Texans will have to address several priorities in free agency.
The problem is, though, that the Texans have no money to spend. Literally, no money at all. So erase all dreams you might possibly possess of the Texans bringing in Mike Wallace or Dwayne Bowe; they are infeasible.
Instead, the Texans must solve their roster issues with an incredible draft, which Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith are certainly capable of pulling off.
In free agency, however, the Texans can ensure their team progresses and not regresses by making the correct personnel decisions.
Here are the most important priorities for the Texans in the upcoming free-agency period.
Last season, the Texans had three extremely talented young receivers on the roster. All of them—DeVier Posey, Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin—were capable of making big plays.
However, these young receivers hardly made an impact the entire season. In fact, they hardly played at all, making it impossible for them to even get a chance to make a positive impact.
Why would Gary Kubiak not try to create a spark for his struggling offense and plug in a few exciting receivers? The answer is Kevin Walter, Houston's incumbent No. 2 receiver.
Walter, however, did nothing to earn his starting job. It was a rare occasion when Walter made it over 50 yards in a single game. Kubiak did not punish Walter for his poor play. Instead, he continued to grant Walter valuable playing time, as he was considered dependable and an effective blocker.
Yes, Walter was allowed to start over potential playmakers because he was a terrific blocking wide receiver.
Well, it's time for Kubiak to change his philosophy. It's time to end the era of allowing Walter to start because of his blocking skills.
It's time to cut Walter, save money and allow more talented receivers to participate in the offense.
Shaun Cody is one of my favorite Texans players. He has a great attitude, he's hilarious and he always gives his best effort.
And Cody is not a liability on the field, either. At the nose tackle position, he is a steady force, and he does little to hurt the defense in any way.
However, that is really all Cody does. He is an average enough player that he does not limit the defense, but he does little to elevate the defense to new heights.
Cody is simply not big enough, strong enough or athletic enough to make much of a defensive impact. He rarely breaks past offensive linemen, and it is unusual to see him make a play in the backfield.
A dominant nose tackle, on the other hand, would be able to do all of those things. He would force offenses to abandon the J.J. Watt double-team, which would open huge pass-rushing gaps for the Defensive Player of the Year.
As a result, the Texans' outside linebackers would be able to reach the quarterback with ease, and the Texans' pass rush would become the nearly unstoppable force that it was in 2011. This, in turn, would make things much easier for the Texans' press-man coverage secondary, as opposing quarterbacks would have much less time to wait for their receivers to break the press.
A dominant nose tackle would revolutionize the Texans' defense. Cody is not one, and the Texans should let him go in free agency and look to find one in the draft.
In 2011, Connor Barwin enjoyed a breakout campaign that all but ensured he would become a highly paid pass-rusher in the NFL.
He was part of the fearsome Bulls on Parade defense, and along with Brooks Reed, he helped create a dominant Texans pass rush. Thanks to that pass rush, the Texans were able to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Then, in this past season, everything took a turn for the worse. Barwin seemed unable to even come close to the quarterback, and he was a non-factor in nearly all pass-rushing scenarios.
In fact, ProFootballFocus ranked Barwin as the third-least efficient pass-rusher in the NFL. That's not a good stat for a linebacker that is hoping to get paid this offseason.
With his horrible pass-rushing efficiency, the Texans should not even consider wasting any of their measly salary cap money on Barwin. Whitney Mercilus, a first-round pick from last year, produced more than Barwin in limited time, and he should be ready to take over the starting job.
When one names the most important Texans cornerbacks, Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph will always be named, and rightfully so.
Brice McCain, however, should be placed in the conversation with the two starting cornerbacks. In fact, McCain is pretty much a starting cornerback.
As the nickel cornerback, McCain's job is to cover the slot receiver. Forty years ago, that would not have been much of a job in the NFL. However, in today's NFL that is obsessed with passing, the slot receiver is essentially a starter in many offenses. That means that nickel cornerbacks are becoming more and more important to defenses around the league.
And the special thing about McCain is that he is very, very good at his job. When on top of his game, he can effectively shut down any slot receiver in the NFL. That type of skill set was sorely missed by the Texans during their late-season collapse, as McCain was riding the season out on the IR.
McCain is extremely important to the defense; the Texans must not let him escape in free agency.
On the Texans' defense, J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph steal the show. They are the superstars, the Pro Bowlers, the dominant defensive players. Watt can wreck havoc on any offense, Cushing is a terror for opposing running backs and Joseph can shut down the best of them.
The play of Glover Quin, however, is almost equally important to the defense as that of the three superstars.
Quin happily completes the nitty-gritty work that goes unnoticed by the highlight films. He rarely makes the flashy interception, the clutch forced fumble or the bone-crushing tackle.
Instead, Quin racks up tackles as a run defender, and he covers opposing tight ends with great efficiency. While not flashy, Quin's contributions extend well beyond what one might think.
Opposing offenses are forced to game-plan to run away from Quin, which makes it much easier for the Texans' linebackers to make plays on the ball. Without Quin, it is very likely that the run defense would collapse and become a threat to defensive success.
Quin must be re-signed. Without question.