The AFC South is entering an interesting transition period. The Tennessee Titans' chances to repeat as division champs appear to be in question, the Indianapolis Colts have a new quarterback (again), the Jacksonville Jaguars have a new head coach and the Houston Texans ... well they have quite a rebuild in front of them. It's truly one of the most intriguing divisions to watch in 2021. Can the Titans continue to put the majority of the offensive load on Derrick Henry? Can Carson Wentz lead the Colts to success? Could Urban Meyer find relative success in his first season in the NFL? And what's going to happen with the Texans and Deshaun Watson?
To put it succinctly, this offseason the Titans and Colts are both trying to maintain their statuses as contenders in the division, while the Jaguars and Texans are attempting to get a jump start on their rebuilds. All four teams have made a couple of interesting free-agent additions through March, but who has had the best offseason? Below, we will grade how each team in the AFC South has done in free agency. First, let's start off with the Texans.
Key additions: OT Marcus Cannon (trade), LB Shaq Lawson (trade), RB Mark Ingram, QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Phillip Lindsay, LB Christian Kirksey, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Desmond King, CB Terrance Mitchell
The Texans have made a large amount of additions this offseason, but it's hard to say which ones will actually be "key additions." Both Cannon and Lawson figure to make immediate impacts on the offensive and defensive fronts, respectively, and the Texans have also tried to address the issue in the secondary by signing multiple cornerbacks such as King and Mitchell, on top of re-upping with Vernon Hargreaves. The most intriguing signing for the Texans has to be the running back Lindsay, who joins a backfield with David Johnson and then fellow newcomer Ingram. Houston downgraded at wide receiver, however, as 33-year-old Andre Roberts, Chris Conley and Chris Moore likely won't make up for the loss of Will Fuller. It's hard to be excited for the Texans in 2021 since they are facing a major rebuild and have questions at the quarterback position. Nothing about these additions jumps off the page, but let's be realistic. I don't think we were expecting Houston to be major players in free agency either. That's why I'm not going to give the Texans too low of a grade.
Key additions: QB Carson Wentz (trade), OT Sam Tevi
The Colts quickly found their new quarterback by trading for Wentz, but have not been too active in free agency. Still, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Colts re-signed several important pieces, such as wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and then also running back Marlon Mack. Indy did lose a couple of notable players in free agency that will hurt, however, such as defensive lineman Denico Autry and linebacker Anthony Walker. The main question that remains is how will the Colts replace Anthony Castonzo at left tackle? They went out and signed Tevi from the Los Angeles Chargers, but it's hard to imagine he's the answer when it comes to protecting Wentz's blind side. Another spot where you would like to see the Colts improve is at wide receiver. They re-signed Hilton, which is great, but having another legitimate starter could help Wentz in his first season in Indy. The Colts have high hopes for second-year wideout Michael Pittman Jr., but it's not a given he will emerge into a star in 2021. Chris Ballard and Co. still have the 2021 NFL Draft to fill holes, and free agency isn't over just yet.
First-year head coach Urban Meyer wasn't too fond of the legal tampering period in free agency, but his Jaguars were pretty active. They placed the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, gave Griffin a three-year, $40 million deal, signed Jenkins to a four-year deal and beefed up the defensive front by signing Robertson-Harris and trading for Brown. The move I really like is the signing of Jones to serve as a veteran in the receiving corps. While he just turned 31, Jones caught a career-high 76 passes for 978 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. He's also the only player in the NFL who has caught at least nine touchdown passes in each of the last two seasons. Trevor Lawrence is going to like having a player like him in the fold.
Most people aren't going to give the Jaguars a grade as high as a B because of the contracts players like Griffin and Jenkins received. Some hypothesize the franchise is going to regret these transactions in the coming years, but let's at least give them a chance here. The Jaguars had the second-worst defense in the league last year, and struggled in both stopping the run and the pass. With the additions Jacksonville made along the defensive line and in the secondary, it clearly proves the Jags are trying to correct these issues. I'm not going to penalize them for doing that at this point just because the contracts might be a bit much. They are trying to get a jump-start on this rebuild and I like that.
The main positional need for the Titans this offseason was the same as last offseason: pass-rusher. Tennessee gave Jadeveon Clowney a massive contract last year for one season, but the Titans are now trying their luck with Dupree, who they inked to a five-year, $82.5 million deal. Adding Autry to the defensive line was a nice addition, and re-signing linebacker Jayon Brown was what I considered to be an unexpected surprise. While the Titans have made some nice additions, it's hard to look past what they have lost. Wide receiver Corey Davis left for the New York Jets, tight end Jonnu Smith got paid by the New England Patriots and the Titans released starting cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Adoree' Jackson along with starting strong safety Kenny Vaccaro due to cap concerns. Do the signings of Jenkins and Johnson make up for the losses at cornerback? I don't think so. I did like the signing of Reynolds because he has potential as a No. 2 wideout next to A.J. Brown, but Tennessee still has more work to do at wide receiver along with finding a new tight end.