Teams go through the NFL offseason working their plan, which ultimately means some combination of signing their own free agents, pilfering a few free agents from other teams, and managing the salary cap with restructures and releases.
They do their best, looking for any sign that they can that things are moving in the right direction, that there's a belief these moves are leading somewhere.
The Texans have retained a handful of their own free agents (Kareem Jackson, Derek Newton, and Ryan Mallett, notably) and lifted a couple from other teams (Rahim Moore, Brian Hoyer). On Monday afternoon, they got their first sign that maybe this thing is moving in the right direction, as veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork signed a two year deal to join the Texans in 2015.
Wilfork was released by the New England Patriots a couple weeks ago, and visited the Texans on Sunday night. It had been originally reported by Sports Radio 610 that Wilfork was unlikely to sign with the Texans, and it was believed that the five time Pro Bowler was deciding between the Colts, Ravens, and a return to the Patriots at a lower salary.
However, Monday afternoon, Wilfork posted the following tweet:
Thank you everyone for everything your support has been tremendous pic.twitter.com/Kej0MsI6yB
— Vince Wilfork (@wilfork75) March 16, 2015
And with that came the Texans' and Bill O'Brien's validation that the team they were constructing was enough to inspire confidence in at least one sought after veteran free agent that there was a chance to win here.
Until Monday, Wilfork's entire career had been spent in New England, having played in 158 games over 11 seasons and served as a defensive co-captain for the last seven years. He helped the Patriots defense finish in the top 10 in points allowed nine times (2004, 2006-10, 2012-14) and has been named to the Pro Bowl five times.
Having played at the University of Miami during the early 2000's heyday, the last time Wilfork played on a losing team was probably in Pop Warner. In Wilfork's 158 career regular season games, the Patriots were 123-35 (.778) and won two Super Bowls. Wilfork was drafted in the first round (21st overall pick) of the 2004 NFL Draft, and during his career, he's totaled 516 tackles, 16 sacks, three interceptions, and recovered ten fumbles.
Wilfork provides an immediate upgrade to a defensive front that cobbled together its run defense at nose tackle in 2014 around veteran castoffs Jerrell Powe and Ryan Pickett. Wilfork's presence makes for difficult choices a defense must make in deciding to double team Wilfork or J.J. Watt. It's scary to think of what might be possible if Jadeveon Clowney comes back to full or near full health from micro fracture surgery to his knee.
Beyond that, Wilfork's presence improves the likelihood that the Texans see a positive return on their investment of a third round pick in 2014 on defensive tackle Louis Nix III, whose rookie season was marred by injuries and thinly veiled shots from O'Brien about the youngster's lack of professionalism. Nix all of a sudden gets a chance to observe daily the gold standard at his position for being a pro.
Wilfork's contract is a very reasonable 2 years, $9 million with $5 million guaranteed.
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In addition to Wilfork's signing, the Texans also closed the deal on free agent wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, who was in town visiting on Monday. Shorts III led the Jacksonville Jaguars in receptions last season with 53 and was second on the team with 577 receiving yards in 2014. The fifth-year pro started 12 of 13 games and finished the season with one touchdown reception.
Shorts had been the Jaguars most prolific receiver the last four seasons since entering the league in 2011 (4th round, Mount Union), totaling 176 receptions, 2,343 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns. His first career reception came against the Texans in 2011, a 25-yard gain for a Jaguars first down.
Shorts' versatility fits the O'Brien mold as he can play inside in the slot as well as line up outside. He immediately becomes the Texans' second best wide receiver, and upgrades a depth chart that probably still needs at least a couple more 53-man roster-worthy bodies, whether through free agency or high draft choices.