As the owners and players continue to work on the safety and business issues of football, despite the NFL players' barrage of tweets with angst, anger, and fear on Sunday, I choose to go about my life under the assumption we will get NFL regular season football at some point in the next couple months. Both sides have too much to lose for it not to happen. (Raise your hand if you think this feels a lot like baseball's standoff between labor and management.)
With that in mind, let's begin to set the table for the upcoming season, and let's do so by seeing just how well all four teams in the AFC South have set their own tables in getting ready for the 2020 season. Here are my brief capsules on the offseason activity of the four teams in the Houston Texans' division, beginning with the Texans themselves!
SIGNATURE MOVE The DeAndre Hopkins trade
This trade took place right around the time the COVID pandemic was shutting things down, so it didn't help things feel any less apocalyptic here in Houston. Look, I'm having a hard time finding anyone who thought this trade, as executed, was a good idea. But it's done now, and clearly there is a new focus on speed and practice habits. Let's see how it goes. (Here is where you do a shot of whiskey.)
The Texans' draft was semi-gutted by several trades, including the Laremy Tunsil trade shipping their first round pick to the Dolphins. It's a five player class, and its quality early on will be determined by second round pick Ross Blacklock's expected contributions along the defensive line.
REMAINING POSSIBLE GRADE CHANGER: Deshaun Watson contract extension
With Patrick Mahomes now on a long term extension, and Dak Prescott playing on the franchise tag, Watson is the quarterback under the spotlight now. Rumors of Watson wanting a three year extension (which is practically a 10 day contract compared to Mahomes' decade long deal) abound. My best guess is that he gets a three year, fully guaranteed extension before the season starts, but who knows how this pandemic affects things.
OVERALL GRADE: C-
As weird (bordering on self-mutilatory) as some of O'Brien's moves have been, I think the Texans will be better offensively in 2020, based largely on Watson's likely individual improvement and best wishes for health in the receiving corps. To me, the lack of impact moves defensively is more problematic than the offensive overhaul.
SIGNATURE MOVE: The Philip Rivers signing
The Colts are getting a lot of love for bringing in a borderline Hall of Famer at quarterback. My question is "Did anybody in Indy have the NFL's Sunday Ticket package, and actually WATCH Rivers last season? He's always been prone the the worst mistakes at the worst times, but last season he was a BIG reason the Chargers were picking sixth in the draft this spring. As a Texans fan, I am not scared by Rivers.
Chris Ballard is a really good GM, and he did a nice job of replenishing the skill positions with two second round picks — WR Michael Pittman, Jr. and RB Jonathan Taylor. Fourth round pick Jacob Eason was a decent gamble on a future QB in the fourth round. Which brings us to....
REMAINING POSSIBLE GRADE CHANGER: Trading Jacoby Brissett to a QB-needy team
If Eason shows some progress in training camp to where they're comfortable with him as a backup, there may be some value in the trade market on Jacoby Brissett, who's proven to be unspectacular but solid as a starter. If a team loses their signal caller to injuries, Brissett may have a value.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Ballard's moves all made sense, and the Colts are going to be a pain in the ass while he is making the decisions. I'm just not a Rivers believer.
SIGNATURE MOVE: The Nick Foles ejection
You know how a lot of fans and media members think they could run an NFL team? Hell, I'm one of them. I think there are a LOT of NFL decision makers who are completely overrated and dopey. Well, it's moves like signing Nick Foles to a $50 million guarantee that help forward that narrative. Did anyone other than the Jags think that would work? Foles was shipped off for a fourth round pick to go back up Mitch Trubisky in Chicago, and still sits on the books in Jacksonville as an $18.75 million cap hit.
Hard to have a bad draft when you stockpile as many picks as the Jags did. It's a 12 man class, highlighted by two SEC playmakers in Florida CB E.J. Henderson and LSU linebacker K'Lavon Chiasson.
REMAINING POSSIBLE GRADE CHANGER: Trading Yannick Ngakoue
Ngakoue was the only franchise tagged player to forego signing his tender offer (for now). He has no desire to be in Jacksonville, and the Jags seem to be motivated to tank this coming season. It will be interesting to see if the Jags get more for Ngakoue than the Texans did for Jadeveon Clowney.
OVERALL GRADE: C+
The Jags' REALLY important offseason is coming next year, when they will presumably have a pretty good look at drafting QB Trevor Lawrence of Clemson.
SIGNATURE MOVE: The Tannehill-Henry spending bonanza
The Titans had two players that, on the one hand, were the two keys to making their offensive engine go in 2019. On the other hand, the two players represented two of the more unsustainable trends in football — a 32-year-old quarterback having his first good season, and a running back leading the league in touches. Each was ripe for season on a franchise tag. Instead, the Titans wound up giving BOTH long term deals with lots of guaranteed money, especially Tannehill.
The Titans watched right tackle Jack Conklin leave for Cleveland in free agency, and drafted his replacement in the first round in Isaiah Wilson from Georgia. It's a pretty nondescript six man draft class.
REMAINING POSSIBLE GRADE CHANGER: Signing Jadeveon Clowney
The Titans are the one team that seems to come up most frequently with Clowney, probably because of his preexisting relationship with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, who was his position coach in Houston.
OVERALL GRADE: C-
I think the Titans go into the 2020 season as the team that every NFL media member will use as their "trying to sound smart dark horse team," and they will wind up going 7-9.