What has happened across the division in the past month
With all that’s going on in Houston, it’s a little nice to step away from the fire and see what everyone else is doing in the division. The AFC South has had a busy offseason. Every team is in some type of transition period. The Colts are entering the Carson Wentz era while retooling their wide receiver group and secondary. The Titans are reconfiguring the defense with both depth and elite talents. The Jaguars finally let loose in free agency and added valuable play makers on both sides of the ball. Even before the draft, all three teams have improved their roster heading into the 2021 season.
The Indianapolis Colts have needed little horsepower to power their way through the offseason. Colts General Manager Chris Ballard has minimized losses by resigning several key veterans. Texan fans won’t be excited to hear that more T.Y. Hilton will be in their future, but an end of an era is on the horizon. The one-year deal keeps the elite wide receiver on the roster for another season while several promising receivers look to jockey for Hilton impending role. The Colts also kept backup running back Marlon Mack on the roster to surround Carson Wentz with playmakers familiar to the offense.
The Colts also retooled their offensive line. A team that’s known for their aggressive offensive line added familiar face Julie’n Davenport, Chris Reed, and Sam Tevi. Reed and Davenport should be viable options to rotate in one the offensive line or provide high-end backup roles. Protecting Wentz, whose injuries have derailed his career, appeared to be a top priority for the Colts this offseason.
The Colts did take several massive hits in free agency. Safety Malik Hooker was by far the most talented player in their secondary. The Colts declined Hooker’s fifth-year option, allowing him to head into free agency earlier than expected for a former first round pick. Hooker is an all-world level safety but has struggled with injuries throughout his entire career.
Colts S Malik Hooker suffered a torn Achilles and is out for the season, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 21, 2020
He’s only played in 36 of a potential 64 games in his four year career. The lack of availability for Hooker will force the Colts to look to the draft for their next elite safety. On the defensive side, Xavier Rhodes will also be returning with a one-year deal to remain as the Colts best defensive back.
The Jags have nothing to lose and entered free agency as a buyer. And oh did they buy. The Jaguars are set to receive Trevor Lawrence with the first pick overall in the upcoming NFL Draft. Their plan in free agency were to provide legitimate weapons around him while strengthening the defensive line and secondary to get Lawrence the ball more often. Jacksonville had one of the most successful free agency periods in AFC South history. Here’s a look at who all they bought.
Defensive secondary was a priority. The Jags added cornerback Shaquill Griffin and safety Rayshawn Jenkins as their two most expensive signings. In addition to the signing of SS Rudy Ford, they moved to the top 10 in the league in spending in the secondary. Griffin was an instant success in Seattle and will pair well with C.J. Henderson. Jenkins is a young and talented free safety who will immediately upgrade a safety group that saw way, way, way too much Andrew Wingard. Along with bringing in new talent, the Jags have retained Tre Herndon, Sidney Jones, and Josh Jones.
Along the defensive line, the Jags have followed the same pattern; resign your core players and bring in fresh blood. Jacksonville retained starters Adam Gotsis and Dawuane Smoot while signing Roy Robertson-Harris to a large contract. On top of these moves, they traded for former Saint and Longhorn Malcom Brown. Brown will be a plug-and-play fit among their defensive line as an interior pass rusher and run stopper, and the Jags need run stopping help. Smoot led Jackonsville in sacks last year and is a young, talented defensive lineman.
To continue the party, Jags brought in several key offensive players to bolster the options for their new quarterback. Marvin Jones is one of the most under-appreciated wide receivers in the league. They resigned James O’Shaughnessy, a reliable tight end, and brought in Phillip Dorsett to be the long range target. They continued with the AFC South acquisitions by bringing Carlos Hyde into the fold as the backup running back to breakout star James Robinson.
After starting the season 5-0, the Titans went 6-5 and a disappointingly early exit in the AFC Wild Card, the Titans were pressed to make alterations to the roster with the goal of returning to the AFC Championship game. They went all-in on Bud Dupree, an athletic edge rusher will bring the pressure that Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t able to provide. Dupree signed a five year, $82.5M contract and will elevate the Titans defensive pass rush. They will pair Dupree with newly signed Denico Autry and former first round pick Jeffrey Simmons. The Titans will have a devastating defensive line.
The Titans lost several contributory receivers in free agency. Corey Davis and Adam Humphries are both heading to the Northeast for New York Jets and Washington respectively. The emergence of A.J. Brown as a top ten receiver combined with the sturdy workload for Derek Henry can be attributed to Davis and the often injured Humphries departure from Tennessee.
Titans did lose their top two cornerbacks in Malcom Butler and Adoree’ Jackson, but have added Janoris Jenkins and former Texan Kevin Johnson. They are definite inadequate substitutes, so look for the Titans to draft a corner early in the draft, and they will need more from Kristian Fulton next season too.
Tennessee also has multiple free agents have yet to make a decision. Clowney, defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, safety Kenny Vaccaro, and right tackle Dennis Kelly are seeking employment. Last season’s first round selection Isaiah Wilson was already cut from the Titans, and the Dolphins, and doesn’t want to play football at the moment.
This is what the Texans competitors have done so far this offseason. Houston, and their slew of bargain bin free agents, and most likely without Deshaun Watson, lost the arms race, and without a first or second round pick, they won’t be able to catch back up. None of this is unsuspected in a rebuilding season.
Who do you think improved the most in the offseason so far? Comment below!