Sometime in between Peyton Manning's departure and these past couple seasons, the AFC South became known as one of those divisions that would either send a nine-win team to the playoffs as its representative or the kind of 10-win team that's only purpose was to serve as the sacrificial lamb for
a legitimate Super Bowl contender the New England Patriots. The AFC South has yet to entirely free itself from the narrative (the Colts got squashed by the Chiefs this past January), but it is beginning to shake loose.
In 2018, the AFC South sent the Texans and Colts, both of whom cleared the 10-win threshold, to the playoffs. The team that got left behind, the Titans, finished with nine wins. Lagging in the rearview were the five-win Jaguars, a team that came a Tom Brady fourth-quarter comeback away from reaching the previous season's Super Bowl. The AFC South might not be the crown jewel of the NFL, but the state of the division is strong and competitive. It's telling that it's entirely possible to make a division winner case for all four teams.
With all that in mind, this past offseason was a pivotal one for the four teams. They all might contain playoff potential, but they also all entered the offseason with serious flaws, which is why none of the teams are regarded as Super Bowl frontrunners. The Texans' offensive line allowed Deshaun Watson to become the most-sacked quarterback in football. The Jaguars needed to overhaul their entire passing game. The Titans had their own entirely different kind of issues at quarterback -- not to mention a few holes on the offensive line and on defense. The Colts had issues at receiver and cornerback.
Continuing our offseason series here (, ) at CBS Sports, let's take a look at how the four teams fared this offseason. The short version is this: The Texans and Jaguars received significantly lower grades than the Colts and Titans. The long version is below.
Grades for all 32 teams can be found.
- Key additions: S Tashaun Gipson, CB Bradley Roby, QB AJ McCarron, LT Matt Kalil
- Key losses: S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Kareem Jackson, S Andre Hal, CB Kevin Johnson, WR Demaryius Thomas
- Key rookies: OT Tytus Howard, OT Max Scharping, CB Lonnie Johnson, TE Kahale Warring
The Texans entered the offseason with one clear priority: fix the offensive line after watching Watson nearly get killed behind a line that allowed an NFL-high 62 sacks. While the Texans certainly addressed their protection issues in the draft by using first- and second-round picks on offensive tackles, it's not clear if they picked the right players.
There's no way to know for certain how any incoming rookies will fare at the next level -- the draft is mostly a crapshoot -- but ever since the Texans took Tytus Howard at No. 23, it's looked like they reached for him. Jawaan Taylor (more on him later) and Greg Little. CBS Sports draft writer Chris Trapasso called Howard "not an instant Day 1 starter." The Texans needed an instant Day 1 starter., noting that "there were better options on the board" like
Making matters worse is the fact that the Texans nearly got the perfect player. Philadelphia Eagles," who traded up one spot ahead of the Texans to grab pass-blocking specialist Andre Dillard at No. 22. Dillard would've been the perfect solution to the Texans' woes. Instead, the Texans settled for a developmental prospect., it's unfortunate the Texans got "sniped by the
Again, there's no way for certain to know how Howard will perform in the NFL, but the Texans were not in a position to draft a player who needs time on the sidelines before he's ready to take his place in the starting five. With Watson on his rookie deal, the Texans are in the middle of their Super Bowl window. They need impact-now players.
The Texans did, at least, throw a second-round pick at another tackle, Max Scharping. As previously mentioned, the draft is a crapshoot. Nobody really knows how these players will develop. So, it's a good thing then that the Texans took two tackles in the first two rounds, giving themselves a better chance of acquiring at least one serviceable offensive lineman this offseason.
But to reiterate, while the Texans correctly identified their biggest issue and targeted it in the draft, it's entirely fair to criticize the way in which they went about fixing it.
It's also worth noting that even before the draft, the Texans got worse, particularly in the secondary. They lost star safety, cornerback , and The Texans did replace those outgoing players with and , but both of those replacements represent downgrades. Mathieu is better than Gipson. Jackson is more consistent than Roby.
For all of those reasons, the Texans received the lowest offseason grade in the division. They tried to fix the offensive line, but the way they went about fixing it can be questioned. They replaced the key players they lost in free agency with slightly worse versions. It's the theme of their offseason: They tried to address their holes, but it's not clear if they addressed them in smart ways.
All that said, the Texans' grade could improve (or worsen, I suppose) depending on how the Jadeveon Clowney situation unfolds.
Offseason grade: D
- Key additions: EDGE Justin Houston, WR Devin Funchess, RB Spencer Ware
- Key losses: DT Al Woods, WR Ryan Grant, WR Dontrelle Inman
- Key rookies: CB Rock Ya-Sin, LB Ben Banogu, WR Parris Campbell, LB Bobby Okereke
Based on meeting outside expectations, the Colts' offseason can't really be regarded as a success. They entered the offseason with loads of cap space, but they didn't pursue any of the top-tier free agents like Le'Veon Bell and Ndamukong Suh. Their first big signing was . The money really isn't an issue for the cap-rich Colts, but that didn't excuse giving Funchess that lucrative of a deal. The Colts needed receivers to help T.Y. Hilton, but did they really need Funchess at that price?
It took a bit of time, but the Colts finally made the kind of expensive signing that both made headlines and complete and total sense. After the Chiefs cut pass rusher Justin Houston,contract. Houston, 30, just registered nine sacks in a 12-game season. Over the past two seasons, he's collected 18.5 sacks. He's a fantastic addition to a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league last season with 38 sacks.
The Colts spent the majority of their time re-signing their own players who contributed to their 10-win season. Cornerback Pierre Desir (fourth on the team in total tackles), safety Clayton Geathers (third in total tackles), defensive tackle Margus Hunt (five sacks), guard Mark Glowinski (nine starts), and kicker Adam Vinatieri were all re-signed. Those kinds of moves aren't splashy, but that doesn't make them unimportant.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard often talked about how he wouldn't throw tons of money at one player just because he was holding tons of money. He wanted to remain "disciplined." And that's what he mostly did in free agency. He won't be guilty for overpaying a free agent who will become dead cap space in a few years.
In the draft, the Colts performed well, demonstrating their understanding that the draft is a crapshoot and the best way to increase their chances of picking up quality players is by acquiring as many picks as possible. After trading down multiple times, the Colts ended up picking three times in the second round and 10 times overall. Two of their three top picks resulted in players who fill urgent needs. Rock Ya-Sin should bolster a shaky cornerback group while Parris Campbell should provide Hilton with some much needed to support at wide receiver.
It's difficult to criticize anything the Colts did besides overpaying for one not very good receiver, but again, the money doesn't really matter that much given how much cap space the Colts had. One could also argue the Colts were the one of the few teams that could actually afford to throw huge money at someone like Bell or Suh, even if they didn't necessarily need to. Either one of those players would've improved the Colts' Super Bowl chances in the short term.
Regardless, the Colts did well this offseason to both make one big move (Houston) to address a need (the pass rush), re-sign key contributors, and acquire as much ammunition as possible during the draft. And their decision to avoid paying older players big money could pay off in the long term. This was already a good team. They didn't necessarily need to make a bunch of splashy moves to contend.
Offseason grade: A-
- Key additions: QB Nick Foles, LB Jake Ryan, WR Chris Conley, TE Geoff Swaim,
- Key losses: QB Blake Bortles, DT Malik Jackson, S Tashaun Gipson, WR Donte Moncrief, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, RB T.J. Yeldon, RB Carlos Hyde, LB Telvin Smith (temporarily)
- Key rookies: EDGE Josh Allen, OT Jawaan Taylor, TE Josh Oliver, S Quincy Williams
The Jaguars' offseason needs to be cut into two distinct phases. In the first phase, better known as free agency, the Jaguars received an F. In the second phase, better known as the draft, the Jaguars received an A.
Let's start with the bad. While the Jaguars were more than $45 million guaranteed at signing. It's a massive overpay for a quarterback who is both better than Bortles and still a bottom-tier starter that is probably going to be remarkably inconsistent for a team that craves consistency at the quarterback position.(a year too late, but better late than never), their plan to replace Bortles was flawed. In free agency, with
We all know about Foles' Super Bowl run from two years ago and his postseason push this past season, but the vast majority of his career has been defined by mediocrity. He's thrown a touchdown on 4.3 percent of his passes, which is roughly the same as Ryan Tannehill's career touchdown percentage. He's averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, which is roughly the same as Tannehill's career average yards per attempt. Foles' career passer rating rests at 88.5, which -- you guessed it -- is in the same ballpark as Tannehill's.
That's not to say Foles is a bad quarterback. It's just that, the Jaguars would've been better off spending that money elsewhere and drafting a quarterback in the first round (Dwayne Haskins would've been available) or signing someone cheaper like, say, Teddy Bridgewater or Tyrod Taylor. By committing that much money to Foles, the Jaguars are limiting themselves financially even though their roster contains a ton of holes.
The holes exist becauseThey'll also be without linebacker Telvin Smith, who is taking a year off to . Those are three huge losses. And they didn't really add anyone of note besides Foles. The rest of the newcomers are mostly replacement-level players.
The Jaguars are counting on Foles to elevate the team around him, but for most of his career, Foles has been unable to do that. He might be able to do it in stretches, but he's unlikely to do it over the course of a 16-game season. This past season was the perfect example of that. Starting in Weeks 1 and 2 for a superior Eagles team, Foles averaged 5.5 yards per attempt, threw one touchdown and one pick, and generated a 78.9 passer rating. To get the Eagles into the playoffs with a three-game winning streak in December, Foles averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, threw six touchdowns and three picks, and generated a 108.4 passer rating. He's great when he's on, but he's not on nearly enough to be considered a great quarterback.
Who is Foles going to throw the ball to in Jacksonville? Allen Robinson walk in free agency.a year after letting
Now, let's talk about the positive portion of the Jaguars' offseason. They absolutely killed it in the draft by getting Josh Allen (the second-best edge rusher in the draft) at No. 7 and offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor (a first-round talent) in the second round. Those are two additions that could have an immediate impact. And don't overlook the addition of tight end Josh Oliver, who might need some time to develop, but could become a dangerous weapon in the years to come.
In the end, the Jaguars' stellar draft isn't enough to offset the losses they suffered on defense and their dumb decision to overpay a borderline starting quarterback big-time money. The F and A average out to a C. There's a lot to hate and a lot to love about the Jaguars' offseason.
Offseason grade: C
- Key additions: QB Ryan Tannehill, G Rodger Saffold, EDGE Cameron Wake, WR Adam Humphries
- Key losses: G Josh Kline, G Quinton Spain, QB Blaine Gabbert, OLB Brian Orakpo
- Key rookies: DT Jeffery Simmons, WR A.J. Brown, G Nate Davis
The Titans quietly pieced together a very good offseason.
Marcus Mariota's health has been an issue throughout his career. This past season, when Mariota was unable to play, the team was forced to turn to Blaine Gabbert. This year, , the Titans will be able to rely on Tannehill, who might not be a starting quarterback, but immediately becomes one of the best backups in football. Remember, some of his career numbers resemble Foles' career numbers. And Foles was often regarded as one of the league's best backups before he left for Jacksonville.
In free agency, the Titans bolstered their offensive line by adding Rodger Saffold, who should slot in at left guard. A year ago, the Titans' offense ranked 17th in run blocking and 29th in pass blocking by Football Outsiders' metrics. Saffold received the ninth-best grade for a guard last season, according to Pro Football Focus. They also added Cameron Wake to a defense that was remarkably average in terms of sacks and lost Brian Orakpo (retired) and Derrick Morgan (still a free agent). Their most important addition might've been Adam Humphries, who has quietly emerged as a quality receiver. He's coming off a 76-catch, 816-yard, and five-touchdown season. He should be the perfect compliment to Corey Davis, who appears to be primed for a breakout after a 65-catch, 891-yard, four-touchdown season.
The Titans also didn't lose much. Guards Josh Kline and Quinton Spain are out, but Saffold and rookie Nate Davis are in. Gabbert left, but Tannehill is a better backup anyway. Orakpo and Morgan aren't on the roster, but adding Wake is a good response.
Finally, in the draft,If not for a torn ACL, Simmons might've been a top-10 pick. In the second round, they got an impact-now player in A.J. Brown, who was regarded by some as the best receiver in the draft. As previously mentioned, third-round pick Nate Davis could start immediately at guard.
There's no way to know if the Titans' improvements this offseason will be enough for them to overtake the Texans and Colts a year after falling just short of the playoffs -- holes still exist on the roster -- but they've put themselves in a great position to compete for the division crown. It'll likely come down to Mariota and if he can take the next step in his development. But until the season begins, the Titans can rest easy knowing they've supplied Mariota with a solid supporting cast. The rest is mostly up to him.
Offseason grade: A-