Over the past few seasons, few divisions have featured as much turmoil as the AFC South. The Texans have finally managed to distance themselves from the Deshaun Watson fiasco, the Jaguars have been the butt of every NFL joke since I was a lad, the Colts just keep finding quarterbacks, and the Titans have managed to be arguably the best AFC team (even beating out Mahomes last year for the #1 seed) of the past couple years, with what many would consider to be a mid-tier starting QB. It’s never boring in the AFC South and this offseason was no exception.
Did the Titans do enough to maintain their dominance? Is Matt Ryan the QB Colts’ fans have been dreaming of since Manning? Can the Texans re-establish themselves as a respectable NFL franchise? Will Jaguars fans still dress as clowns? (This one I’m genuinely hoping for). Sadly, we won’t know the answer to these questions for months. But, we do know the moves each team has made over the last few months in an attempt to position themselves for contention in the highly competitive AFC.
Below I will address every key contributor each team lost, impactful free agents they brought in, and the rookies they decided to draft. Could there be a new King in the AFC South?
The Texans, for the first time in a few years, didn’t completely embarrass themselves over the offseason. They managed to get an absolute HAUL for Deshaun Watson, and as each deposition passes, it shows this was a great decision, and simply good for them to distance themselves as far from that guy as possible. They added in a ton of strong veterans, along with some young players who have flashed high upside in free agency, and brought in a really strong group of high-character rookies who can help improve the locker room.
Davis Mills enters year two as the unquestioned starter. Which, after a much better than expected rookie showing, combined with a consensus weak QB draft, is the correct call. Either he shows he has the talent to be a starter in the league, or this team looks to finish with a top-5 selection in next year’s draft with multiple first-round picks.
Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Steven Nelson, A.J. Cann, and Scott Quessenberry are all established veterans, each with a ton of snaps under their belts.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Marlon Mack were two of my favorite free agents going into March, as they both were cheap, young, high-upside players who could flourish given a bigger opportunity. Houston signed them both.
In the draft the Texans made nine selections, seven of which I can see being major contributors in year one.
Derek Stingley is a beast and one of the more polished shut-down corners to come out of the draft in recent years. While he’s much more suited playing as much man-to-man as possible, making him a bit of an odd pairing with zone-heavy coordinator Lovie Smith, he’s an elite player at a premier position and instantly is the best DB on Houston’s roster. They then turned the 13th overall pick into the #15th selection along with multiple day three picks. With that pick, they drafted Texas A&M OT/OG Kenyon Green, a road grader type of linemen who can start day one protecting Mills.
On the following days of the draft they brought in Jalen Pitre, Christian Harris, and Thomas Booker to the defense; three guys who will each play meaningful snaps at all three levels of the defense who bring a ton of experience and leadership. If John Metchie can recover well, he’s a perfect running-mate and possible long term replacement for Brandin Cooks who they also miraculously retained this offseason. They even added Florida bruising-back Dameon Pierce into the fold in the fourth round. THIS is how you kick off a rebuild, and hopefully help fans move past Watson.
I’m not expecting Houston to make any noise this year, and in all honesty would be shocked to see them end at or above .500. But this is a team finally taking steps to make their way back from the nightmarish Bill O’Brien era, and I’m excited to see what they can do this season.
And hey Texans Fans! If all else fails, you’re only one of seemingly a dozen teams hoping to end with a top pick next year and acquire CJ Stroud or Bryce Young! What could go wrong there?
|Key Departures||Key Signings||2022 Draft Class|
|Deshaun Watson (QB)||Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (EDGE)||Derek Stingley Jr. (CB)|
|Marcus Cannon (OT)||Scott Quessenberry (OG)||Kenyon Green (OT/OG)|
|DeMarcus Walker (DE)||A.J. Cann (OG)||Jalen Pitre (DB)|
|Justin Reid (S)||Andy Janovich (FB)||John Metchie III (WR)|
|Jordan Akins (TE)||Jerry Hughes (EDGE)||Christian Harris (LB)|
|Mario Addison (EDGE)||Dameon Pierce (RB)|
|Steven Nelson (DB)||Thomas Booker (DT)|
|Marlon Mack (HB)||Teagan Quitoriano (TE)|
|Austin Deculus (OT)|
The Colts just won’t quit will they? Most people were hesitant to buy into the resurrection of Carson Wentz last year, and rightfully so. While his relationship to Frank Reich did have value, his overall playstyle is simply not one you can count on to get your team to a Superbowl. He doesn’t take care of the ball and he doesn’t take care of his health, and that’s not the guy you want leading your squad out on Sundays.
Somehow, on the heels of getting his team eliminated from the playoffs in spectacular fashion, the Colts managed to actually get out of the dreadful Carson Wentz deal with the Washington Commanders.
A swap of second rounders, a couple top-100 picks over the next two years, and most importantly they don’t have to pay a dime of Wentz contract. Typically going from having a startable QB to well… Sam Elingher isn’t something to celebrate. But being able to rid the team of a poor investment at QB while actually gaining assets and not hamstringing your team’s cap space is a massive win, and they weren’t done at QB yet.
On March 21st, Indianapolis sent their later 3rd round pick (keeping the higher selection from the Wentz trade) for longtime Falcons star QB, Matt Ryan.
Now, the assets used to acquire Ryan were very reasonable, and a big part of the reasoning for that is the obscene cap hit his contract comes with, which the Colts have fully guaranteed. In no way is it a perfectly beneficial move, but one that makes perfect sense for a franchise trying to grasp onto playoff hopes. The Colts boast a top roster in football, with studs in every position group. It would be foolish to waste a year of the primes of guys such as Jonathon Taylor, Deforest Buckner, Darius Leonard etc. and the Colts know that. So they acquired the best available QB on the market for a reasonable cost.
Indy didn’t stop at the QB position though, as in free agency the team also brought in Rodney McLeod and Stephon Gilmore on bigtime deals. They traded corner Rock Ya-Sin for pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, and then signed Brandon Facyson, an underrated 27 y/o corner to play alongside Gilmore and superstar nickel corner Kenny Moore.
Even though the trading for Wentz last year did cost the Colts this year’s first-rounder, the team still made do, adding in a ton of high upside athletes to a roster already loaded with leaders and teachers. RAS, or relative athletic score, is a number that displays an athlete’s measurements and athletic testing in comparison against every other player to play that position in the system’s database. It tells you what percentile that player tested in, on a scale of 0-10.00.
The Colts made eight selections in the 2022 NFL Draft and the average RAS score of those players was 9.63, making it the most athletic group of players ever drafted in one year.
Athleticism doesn’t automatically equate to success, but the Colts have a great track record of developing talent. Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods are two field-stretching freaks whom defenses will need to account for at all times. Bernhard Raimann and Nick Cross both flash a ton of talent and could find themselves as the day one starters at their respective positions, and Eric Johnson was my favorite Day-3 interior pass rusher.
This was a strong draft from Indianapolis, capping off an impressive offseason start to finish. If Matt Ryan can continue his solid play from the end of last season, and maybe even have a bit of a return to form, this is a serious contender in the AFC; a team who no one should want to face in the playoffs. Barring injury this roster is near impossible to poke holes in, and just upgraded arguably every position group on the team after being one win away from a playoff berth last year.
Too many people are sleeping on the Colts this upcoming season.
|Key Departures||Key Signings||2022 Draft Class|
|Jack Doyle (TE)||Yannick Ngakoue (EDGE)||Alec Pierce (WR)|
|Rock Ya-Sin (CB)||Brandon Facyson (CB)||Jelani Woods (TE)|
|Marlon Mack (RB)||Matt Ryan (QB)||Bernhard Raimann (OT)|
|Zach Pascal (WR)||Rodney McLeod (S)||Nick Cross (S)|
|Al-Quadin Muhammad (DL)||Stephon Gilmore (CB)||Eric Johnson (DT)|
|Xavier Rhodes (CB)||Andrew Ogletree (LB)|
|Mark Glowinski (OG)||Curtis Brooks (DT)|
|Carson Wentz (QB)||Rodney Thomas II (S)|
|Eric Fischer (OT)|
The Titans seem fully aware of where they stand in the NFL, which is not something that can be said for a lot of NFL teams.
This is a team that won 12 games last year while facing as much poor injury luck as I’ve seen any team face. They earned the #1 seed in the AFC standings and Mike Vrabel one his very first coach of the year award. Ryan Tannehill had another above-average season, maybe a slight step backwards, but what can you expect with all the injuries; and he’s still only 33!
Most teams have a season like this and believe they are right there, only a move or two, a key-signing or so away, from making a real playoff run. There’d be massive guaranteed deals handed out in free agency and trades for established veterans, sacrificing draft capital in the process. That was not the offseason that Tennessee had.
Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry registered over 2,000 snaps along the Titans offensive line last season, they both left.
Julio Jones, Jayon Brown, and Rashaan Evans all while not having the best years each played over 400 snaps for the Titans before enduring injuries, they all left this offseason.
And A.J. Brown? Their star receiver who is still only 24 y/o? He left too!
I’m not trying to paint these as bad moves, as a lot of these guys had endured plenty of injuries, weren’t playing up to expectations, were beginning to show signs of age, etc. What I am trying to say is, a team that believes they can win a Superbowl this year, with Ryan Tannehill at all for that matter, likely isn’t watching all that talent and all those snaps walk out the door. While I can understand the inability to pay guys like Brown the deal he was given by Philadelphia, it definitely shows little belief in Tannehill by the organization investing so little into pass catching weapons.
Austin Hooper, Demarcus Walker, and Robert Woods were brought-in during free agency, and I like each’s fit with the Titans (especially Woods), but they do little to move the needle for the team’s season as a whole.
If their moves leading up to the draft didn’t show a focus on the future, their selections in April definitely did.
With their pick they got in return for A.J. Brown the Titans selected Treylon Burks, a guy whose physical profile and play style compare very well to… A.J. Brown. This isn’t a bad move, as with the ever increasing price of receivers, getting a guy who’s viewed as “Budget A.J. Brown” on a 4-year team friendly deal makes a ton of sense. Relying on a rookie receiver to step in and have near the impact of A.J. Brown year one just isn’t realistic so it seems likely that Burks might be catching passes from a different Titans QB by the time his deal is up.
Roger McCreary and Nicholas Petit-Frere are solid day-2 players who could see some play time in year one.
The real story comes from their other selections on day-2. They traded up to pick 86 to select the sliding Malik Willis, the QB with the most upside in the class, as a possible long term Tannehill replacement. Then in the fourth round they selected Hassan Haskins, a running back, using their highest capital on a back since drafting Derrick Henry. The Titans clearly recognize that their window might be closing quickly. With most of their money tied up in guys like Tannehill and Henry who are seemingly reaching the end of their best years, it makes a ton of sense for them to draft this way, and I commend the organization for recognizing the need to look ahead.
For Titans” faithful, enjoy this time. QB purgatory is ass, and your team seems to be doing everything it can to stay competitive while recognizing the change on the horizon. With some luck, Tannehill maintains startable play and Malik Willis gets it all figured out by the time the team is ready to move on, skipping over a period of irrelevancy. That seems to be the goal in Tennessee.
|Key Departures||Key Signings||2022 Draft Class|
|AJ Brown (WR)||Austin Hooper (TE)||Treylon Burks (WR)|
|Rodger Saffold (OG)||DeMarcus Walker (DE)||Roger McCreary (CB)|
|David Quessenberry (OT)||Robert Woods (WR)||Nicholas Petit-Frere (OT)|
|Julio Jones (WR)||Malik Willis (QB)|
|Jayon Brown (LB)||Hassan Haskins (RB)|
|Rashaan Evans (LB)||Chigozem Okonkwo (TE/FB)|
|Kyle Phillips (WR)|
|Theo Jackson (S)|
|Chance Campbell (LB)|
The 2021 Jaguars is maybe the most hilarious season a team has had. The “Urban Meyer experiment” is up there with the worst head coaching tenures of all time. He kicked, embarrassed, harassed, and groped his way straight out of the NFL (and likely right into a Fox Sports deal, shoutout to their morals), and while the stories of his employment in Jacksonville are hilarious, he did some serious damage to the short-term future of this team.
To the disappointment of many who dressed as clowns, the end of the Meyer era did not bring about the end of Khan and Baalke. With another poor start to the season, the clowns could return… but this time they won’t quit until the job is finished. Khan and Baalke seem well aware of their standing with the fanbase as they entered free agency and draft seemingly throwing caution to the wind.
So how did this do or die offseason go?
Well, hiring Doug Pederson is a great start, as you’re going from the biggest jokes of a coach in recent years to one who won a Superbowl ring five years ago. Hopefully Pederson can bring some stability back to a decimated locker room. His offense and creativity also creates some exciting possibilities for Trevor Lawrence, who showed a ton of promise during his rookie campaign but was hindered by the ineptitude of the offensive play calling.
In free agency, as is the case with most years due to the lack of high end contracts under their belt, the Jaguars spent BIG money on free agency. Some players and more specifically contracts look better than others but one thing is clear; Khan is not afraid to put big money into this franchise. That’s exactly what they’ll need to do, because most talented free agents aren’t interested in going to Jacksonville with the hopes of turning the franchise around.
Almost every free agent the Jaguars signed came in over market value, and while they need the influx of talent to properly evaluate Trevor Lawrence, it’s never good to be overspending on mediocrity.
Brandon Scherff was the top interior linemen on the market and was paid as such, with a whopping 3yr/$49.5M contract, making him the sixth highest paid guard in the NFL. Darious Williams was a highly productive corner in LA and they managed to sign him to a reasonable deal. Arden Key was one of the more underrated pieces of the 49ers defense a season ago and they signed him to a reasonable ‘prove it’ deal. So what’s the problem?
Just wait, I’m getting there.
What if I told you as of today, the Jaguars are spending the fourth most money on their receiving corps in the NFL?
You’d probably say, “But Frankie, isn’t that good? They have a young QB who they hope can be the guy, they should surround him with weapons!”
I completely agree! The problem arises when a front office decides Christian Kirk and Zay Jones are worth a combined $26M per year. I have nothing against those two as players, but their resume to this point doesn’t match the money handed out. The Christian Kirk contract, which came in at 4yr/$72M, set the NFL ablaze as second and third tier receivers started nearing $20M per year in contract values.
Combine all this with the money handed to Evan Engram, and you have an offense loaded to the brim with mediocrity. This is understandable for a team hoping to take a first step out of the basement and regain some respect from the league, but it doesn’t do much more than slightly raise the floor of a team who’s been the worst in football for two years running.
They handed Foyesade Oluokun a massive 3yr/$45M deal at off-ball linebacker, which makes sense in a division where you face Jonathon Taylor and Derrick Henry twice a year, but historically paying off-ball linebackers in free agency hasn’t worked well.
The NFL Draft from the Jaguars bordered on disaster.
Travon Walker is a fine number one pick, personally I would’ve heavily considered Evan Neal, but to each their own.
At the end of the first they traded up for Devin Lloyd giving up their second rounder, pick 106, and pick 180. I like Devin Lloyd at the spot, but after just paying Foyesade and considering the hit rate on first round linebackers, I don’t really understand not investing more in the offense early on.
In the third they added Luke Fortner, a solid center prospect, before committing what I view as draft treason.
You already overpaid one linebacker, you just drafted another in the first round, so what should you do with your final top-100 pick of 2022? Apparently, draft another off-ball in Chad Muma.
Again I like Muma; great prospect, looks like a day one starter. But in today’s NFL, the base defense is running nickel and dime packages with extra DBs and two, sometimes only one linebacker on the field. Maybe both players hit, and you have incredible depth being forced to bench one if not both most of the time. But this team just drafted Trevor Lawrence and wasted his first season; there are picks that will help this team win and more importantly help Lawrence show what he can do. Adding multiple linebackers doesn’t do that.
Maybe I just don’t see the vision, but I have a hard time believing Jacksonville isn’t picking in the top-5 in ‘23.
|Key Departures||Key Signings||2022 Draft Class|
|Myles Jack (LB)||Darious Williams (CB)||Travon Walker (EDGE)|
|Taven Bryan (DL)||Zay Jones (WR)||Devin Lloyd (LB)|
|D.J. Chark (WR)||Brandon Scherff (OG)||Luke Fortner (OC)|
|A.J. Cann (OG)||Foye Oluokun (LB)||Chad Muma (LB)|
|Andrew Norwell (OG)||Evan Engram (TE)||Snoop Conner (RB)|
|Brandon Linder (OC)||Christian Kirk (WR)||Gregory Junior (CB)|
|Arden Key (EDGE)||Montaric Brown (CB)|
|Doug Pederson (HC)|
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