The Houston Texans will continue to rebuild and revamp their roster throughout the upcoming offseason. General manager Nick Caserio relieved head coach David Culley of his duties following just one season. Culley was replaced by former Chicago Bears head honcho Lovie Smith. The makeover continues, and Houston isn't done tearing down and overhauling this project. Much of their offseason will surely center around their attempts to trade Deshaun Watson in exchange for a king's ransom. Brandin Cooks and Laremy Tunsil also qualify as likely offseason trade candidates as the Texans would prefer to stockpile immediate and future draft capital. The Texans own the No. 3 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft and should draft a high-quality offensive tackle or EDGE rusher in that spot. That selection has the potential to become the new face of the franchise, but the Texans must add several offensive and defensive players via free agency as well. The Texans currently possess just $19 million in available cap space, but that number can skyrocket to $70-plus million if Watson, Tunsil, and Cooks are traded. Houston possesses a whopping 25 unrestricted free agents after signing a plethora of players to one-year deals last offseason. That list includes the likes of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and defensive tackle Maliek Collins, among several other crucial pieces. Houston will have to sign several free agents in March and beyond just to field a team in 2022. With cap, team needs, pending free agents, and draft selections all put into consideration, here are three offensive and defensive free agents Houston could target when the signing period begins on March 14.
CHRISTIAN KIRK, WR, ARIZONA CARDINALSIf Caserio truly believes in Davis Mills, he must surround him with more weapons. The Texans already needed an injection of talent at the receiver position this offseason before trade rumors began circulating around Cooks’ name. Should Cooks indeed be dealt once the new league year marks its arrival, the Texans will likely need at least two new receivers. Former Michigan standout Nico Collins showcased himself in a positive light down the stretch, and the Texans should continue to bet on his development in 2022. Collins should receive an opportunity to start on the boundary for Houston next season, but additional help is required. A field-stretching slot receiver would especially help transform Houston's pass-catching corps. Christian Kirk represents the ideal candidate. The Cardinals aren't in a great situation from a salary cap perspective. Kirk's market will likely pay him north of $10 million annually, and with Rondale Moore waiting in the wings, Arizona can ill-afford to pay Kirk what he'll likely demand. Mills is a quick processor that was an efficient passer as a rookie. Kirk's quick-twitch movements would pair nicely with Mills.
MARLON MACK, RB, INDIANAPOLIS COLTSThe Texans will finally rid themselves of David Johnson this offseason. The player they received in the unbelievably terrible DeAndre Hopkins trade will reach free agency after earning $5 million in 2021. Johnson is not expected back after his tenure in Houston was marred with injury and inconsistent performances. Royce Freeman is also on an expiring contract. The 31-year-old Rex Burkhead has already signed a contract extension through 2022, but Caserio should feel the need to add at least two running backs this offseason. The short-term additions of players such as Burkhead and Freeman indicate this new Texans regime isn't overly keen on spending big bucks on ball-carriers. Marlon Mack is an ideal and intriguing reclamation project. Mack is a big-play threat waiting to happen and his skill set could complement Burkhead nicely in Houston's backfield. Still just 26 years of age, Mack should be available on a cost-effective, one-year "prove-it" deal after a devastating Achilles injury wasted the majority of his 2020 and 2021 campaigns. Mack still possesses a two-down ability that's worth gambling on for a team that remains in transition.
JARED COOK, TE, LOS ANGELES CHARGERSA pass-catching tight end is often a young quarterback's best friend. Mills could certainly use that type of security blanket in an offense that lacked NFL-level tight end play in 2021. Brevin Jordan was an intriguing selection on Day 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft and should receive the opportunity and playing time necessary to continue developing in an admirable fashion as a sophomore. Jordan came on strong toward the end of the campaign and lends Texans fans hope at the position. Pairing Jordan with a proven veteran option that could take him under his wing is a strategy worth exploring. Jordan Akins and Anthony Auclair are set to reach free agency and Caserio should use their potential departures as a legitimate excuse to re-tool the position. Jared Cook's prime years are well behind him, but he still possesses a dynamic knack for making big plays in the passing game. Cook's borderline elite receiving ability would bring some much-needed pop to Houston's underwhelming passing attack.
DONT’A HIGHTOWER, LB, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTSThe unforeseen midseason departure of Zach Cunningham left the Texans with a sizable hole at linebacker. They were unable to adequately replace Cunningham during the season, and must now focus on upgrading the linebacker position in free agency. The-soon-to-be-32-year-old Dont’a Hightower has spent his entire 10-year career in Foxboro and Caserio knows him well. Caserio served as New England's director of player personnel when the Patriots made Hightower a first-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. Hightower would likely love to continue playing for Bill Belichick in New England, but the Patriots routinely move on from aging veterans while refusing to pay above market value. Hightower could land one final big payday in Houston before he eventually hangs his cleats up. Hightower is an expert run defender that would slot into Houston's starting lineup nicely in an AFC South division that features two run-heavy teams in the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts. New England's defensive system is incredibly unique, but projecting Hightower as a Texan makes sense given the offensive identities of their most-frequented opponents.
CARLTON DAVIS, CB, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERSCaserio would likely attempt to secure the services of J.C. Jackson or Stephon Gilmore in free agency given his shared experiences with them in New England, but we ultimately don't expect either player to actually become free agents. In a scenario where Jackson and Gilmore both stay put in their current environments, Carlton Davis immediately becomes the top cornerback available on the market. The Buccaneers are facing some salary cap difficulties and may choose to allocate the majority of their time and resources to find a new starting quarterback in the wake of Tom Brady's retirement. The Texans desperately need an injection of talent in their cornerback room. Desmond King arguably enjoyed a career-best season in Houston, but played the campaign on a one-year deal and is now in line for a raise in pay. Even if the Texans retain King, quality additions are absolutely necessary. Davis would immediately slot into Houston's CB1. The scheme-versatile Davis is talented enough to play in any defensive scheme across the league. Davis should land a massive payday in a few weeks' time, and the Texans should have the financial freedom to emerge as a legitimate suitor for his services.
DEVIN MCCOURTY, S, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTSWe continue our revamping of Houston's dreadful secondary. Devin McCourty is the type of defensive leader and playmaker the Texans could use to improve a damaged locker room and culture. The Texans have gone through so many changes in the past 12-plus months, and figures such as Watson and Jack Easterby continue to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Caserio will continue to attempt to heal the franchise's fractured reputation by attracting high-quality people and veteran players. Few men can match McCourty's reputation around the league. Caserio has signed several former Patriots throughout his short tenure in Houston, including Burkhead and Danny Amendola. McCourty is another former Patriot that knows Caserio and Easterby well. It's unknown if McCourty would consider playing for a rebuilding Texans team at this point in his career. He may mull retirement if the Patriots opt to move on from him, but it's not overly difficult to envision a scenario where McCourty chooses to end his career surrounded by familiar personnel decision-makers while attempting to improve Houston’s project.
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