While the AFC South sent two teams to the playoffs (Colts, Titans), it also featured teams that finished with two of the three worst records in the NFL (Jaguars, Texans). Tennessee will look to continue building around its core of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry and Indianapolis will hope Carson Wentz can enjoy a career revival playing under his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich. Meanwhile, Houston will need to figure out the Deshaun Watson dilemma and Jacksonville will kickoff its rebuild with Urban Meyer.
Here’s a look at where the AFC South teams stand heading into the new league year (note: Cap figures do not reflect personnel moves made since March 15):
Considering Houston’s limited cap space and draft capital, the team did not have many avenues for improvement this offseason. Yet I applaud the team for making several smart, cost-effective moves such as the trades for EDGE Shaq Lawson and OT Marcus Cannon, and the signing of DT Malik Collins. But make no mistake, this rebuild will be an uphill battle.
What happens with QB Deshaun Watson (100%) will continue to dominate both Houston and the NFL’s offseason headlines. Unfortunately for Houston, with Watson remaining steadfast in his desire to be traded, it may take months for the situation to resolve. I like the signing of QB Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is an underrated player and provides a great insurance policy should the Watson situation not develop the way the team hopes. The team still needs to bolster its offensive line, particularly at OG, regardless of who is under center. After back-to-back offseason departures of key WRs (DeAndre Hopkins in 2020, Will Fuller in ’21), the team will need to add weapons beyond WRs Brandon Cooks (82%) and Randall Cobb (38%).
Despite a high volume of low-cost moves in free agency, there remain many holes on the defensive side of the ball. Houston will welcome back CB Vernon Hargreaves (89%), but the secondary remains an issue. Beyond that, the Texans need to rebuild their pass rush on both the exterior and interior.
The story of the Colts offseason will revolve around its trade for Carson Wentz to replace retired QB Philip Rivers (96%), but it’s great the team did not have to relinquish any first-round picks. Will the Colts look to add a veteran backup QB, as only rookie QB Jacob Eason remains on the roster? Now the team will focus on building an offense around Wentz. Priority one should be addressing their vacant OT position with the retirement of stalwart OT Anthony Castonzo (69%). With ample cap space, the team can decide whether to bring back WR T.Y. Hilton (63%) or look to make a bigger splash in free agency with WRs like Will Fuller or Kenny Golladay still available. The team did tender WR Zach Pascal (76%), who put together two straight solid seasons. Finally, expect the Colts to add another TE with the impending free agencies of TEs Mo Alie-Cox (46%) and Trey Burton (34%).
On defense, the Colts have two primary areas to fill, EDGE and CB. Last year’s key contributors CB Xavier Rhodes (87%), EDGE Denico Autry (61%), and EDGE Justin Houston (59%) have all entered free agency. The team will surely look to add another pass rusher and will need to figure out who will start at corner opposite Kenny Moore (92%). Finally, expect the organization to explore extending its homegrown defensive talent such as LB Darius Leonard (80%).
Jacksonville entered the offseason with a new head coach, loads of cap space, and the most draft capital in the NFL. With Jacksonville expected to select QB Trevor Lawrence, the team is hoping to kick-start its rebuild. They have begun the free agency period with a frenzy of signings, but I am unsure if I agree with their strategy so far. First, I question whether OT Cam Robinson (94%) was worth the franchise tag. I understand he is young, at a premium position, and will protect expected franchise QB Trevor Lawrence. Yet, I am still not sure he was worth that money. Then I see that the team has also added WRs Marvin Jones and Philip Dorsett. While Urban Meyer has always emphasized speed, I am not sure WR was a high position of need with the return of WRs D.J. Chark (68%) and Laviska Shenault (62%). The team also will need to add a TE beyond recent signing TE Chris Manhertz, as TE Tyler Eifert (53%) will depart via free agency.
The team’s biggest signing so far has been CB Shaquill Griffin. While CB was a position of need for Jacksonville, I am not sure I see the fit. Griffin is better suited as a zone corner and I expect new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen to utilize a man scheme. The moves to bring in DT Malcom Brown and EDGE Tyson Alualu do fit the Baltimore defensive mold that Cullen should model. The team still could use more help in their secondary and have plenty of draft capital to fill those holes.
Tennessee’s explosive offense will look much different next season, with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith becoming Atlanta’s head coach and the departures of TE Jonnu Smith (69% of snaps in 2020), WR Corey Davis (67%), and WR Adam Humphries (21%). A top priority for the organization will be restocking offensive weapons to complement stars WR A.J. Brown (71%) and RB Derrick Henry (66%). Give credit to the organization for admitting their mistake with 2020 draftee Isiah Wilson and washing their hands of the situation with his trade to Miami. Expect the Titans to address their offensive line once again as they attempt to fill the hole left by former OT Jack Conklin. With the depth of this draft at tackle, the team could fill their hole at the 26th pick.
The recent signing of EDGE Bud Dupree is a fantastic signing if he recovers from last year’s ACL injury. Last year’s team struggled all season to generate pressure and Dupree can fill what was their biggest defensive need this offseason. It was surprising to see Tennessee cut CBs Malcolm Butler (97%) and Adoree’ Jackson (14%) considering the free agencies of S Kenny Vaccaro (78%) and CB Desmond King (65%). But the organization saved big with the moves as Butler’s release cleared $10 million and Jackson’s release prevented his $10 million fifth-year option from being exercised. The team added CB Janoris Jenkins in free agency, but will need more to rebuild its suddenly thin secondary.