With the NFL Draft now in the books, it is the perfect time to assess how the Colts and the rest of the division fared. We will look at perhaps the 4 most important aspects of an offseason: Covering holes, retaining players, salary cap management, and avoiding scandals.
Covering Holes: A-
The Colts had 3 glaring holes this offseason: quarterback, wide receiver, and interior defensive line. Ballard did an excellent job of fixing the interior of the front 7 by acquiring All-Pro DT DeForest Buckner from the 49ers in exchange for the #13 pick. He used the Redskins’ second round pick to draft wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. from USC, a player that can step in and contribute right away.
As for the quarterback position, Jacoby Brissett played well in the first few games of the season, but after suffering a knee injury against the Steelers his play suffered a drastic downgrade. Ballard signed future HOFer Philip Rivers to a one-year contract and drafted rocket-arm Jacob Eason in the 4th round of the Draft. Rivers’ best days are clearly behind him, but he can still be a serviceable starter, while Eason has plenty of potential but he needs to get his head down and get to work. If he takes advantage of having a mentor like Rivers, he could become a very good starter in the League.
The only reason the Colts don’t get an A+ here is because they failed to add a solid starting cornerback.
Retaining Players: B
The only key player the Colts were at risk of losing was franchise left tackle Anthony Castonzo, and he re-signed with the team after mulling retirement. The Colts let disappointing tight end Eric Ebron walk, along with cutting Margus Hunt, Pierre Desir, and Brian Hoyer. The players I wish the Colts would have kept are Jabaal Sheard and Joe Haeg.
Salary Cap Management: A
Chris Ballard finally went out and used the absurd amount of cap space he had been hoarding since been appointed as the Colts GM. First he signed newly acquired DeForest Buckner to a massive $21M per year extension, and then he shelled out the big bucks to get Rivers. However, if you take a closer look, Buckner’s contract has a potential out after 3 seasons with no dead money while Rivers’ deal will not handcuff the team while trying to re-sign key players like Nelson or Leonard in the future
Avoiding Scandals: A+
Nothing here, another quiet off-season for the Colts.
Covering Holes: B+
The Texans did not have many glaring holes entering the off-season but the limited amount of cap space and draft capital available most certainly affected the way BoB built the team. Houston signed some solid depth players like Timmy Jernigan and Eric Murray, but after the Hopkins trade free-agency took a weird turn. They acquired veteran running back David Johnson and a 2nd round pick for Nuk, and then they went out and signed aging veteran Randall Cobb and traded their own 2nd rounder for globetrotter Brandin Cooks.
As for the Draft, the Texans got DT Ross Blacklock, who was one of my favourite players in the class, and overall they had what seems like a solid class considering they did not have a 1st rounder.
Retaining Players: D
O’Brien does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, especially after blowing a 24 point lead in the playoffs. Trading away DeAndre Hopkins was just flat out stupid. As a Colts fan I’m over the moon about the fact that we will not face him twice a year. Time will tell if BoB was right to do so, but after watching the Vikings get much more in return for Stefon Diggs, it does not look like it so far. Houston also lost emerging defensive tackle D.J Reader, who was a key hog in the heart of the defense, in free-agency.
Salary Cap Management: C+
The Texans committed a boat load of money this off-season. They signed Cobb to a 3-year $27M deal, Murray to a 3-year $18M deal, both with potential outs after the second season. Those were smart signings, what came after does not look like it so far.
After having no leverage at all in negotiations, the Texans gave left tackle Laremy Tunsil a 3-year $66M extension, and the trade for Cooks will cost them $12M per season after this year (they have an out after this season, but why cut a player the off-season after you gave away a second round pick for him). Running back David Johnson is also owed $11M for the next season, which is a lot for a running back.
Just to sour Texans fans, keep in mind you will be paying Brandin Cooks almost the exact same you would have otherwise been paying DeAndre Hopkins.
Avoiding Scandals: A-
Aside from an O’Brien outburst during the Draft, not much to write about here for the Texans.
Covering Holes: A
The Titans had a ton of holes after losing plenty of starters and leaders of the team in free-agency, but as much as it pains me to say this, they had an outstanding Draft. After losing Conklin, the Titans drafted Isaiah Wilson, who should replace him eventually. Then they added LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton, who in all honesty I would have loved the Colts to take with the #44 pick, to shore up the secondary, and also grabbed running back Darrynton Evans, who was our second best rated running back in the Draft guide, in the third round.
Retaining Players: B
Tennessee managed to keep both Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry at least for the upcoming season. The duo carried the team well into the playoff run, but the amount of leadership lost on defense will most certainly hurt what was one of the stingiest units in the NFL.
Salary Cap Management: B-
The Titans handled the Derrick Henry situation really well, tagging him and drafting what could eventually be his replacement to avoid overpaying for him, but I strongly dislike Ryan Tannehill’s massive extension. Ryan has been struggling with injuries after partially tearing his ACL against the Cardinals in the 2016-17 season, since fully tearing his ACL in training camp in 2017 and missing 5 games with a shoulder injury in 2018. There is no telling whether Tannehill will continue his hot streak or even stay on the field at all.
Avoiding Scandals: A+
Spot-free off-season for the Titans.
Covering Holes: B
I’m not giving the Jaguars that much credit for covering the holes they created on their own during the off-season, but Jacksonville did a fine job of adding some talented, less expensive players on positions of need. C.J Henderson is the perfect replacement for Ramsey, K’Lavon Chaisson should step in for Ngakoue (once he leaves), Laviska Shenault Jr. has the potential to become the Jags #1 receiver and DaVon Hamilton is a solid IDL prospect.
Overall, the Jags traded off talent for financial maneuverability. I really liked the Joe Schobert signing, as it filled a big position of need after the abrupt retirement of Telvin Smith the past off-season and will not handicap the Jags cap space in the future.
Retaining Players: D-
The Jaguars dismantled their once feared defense that led them to the 2017 AFC Championship game. Stars like Calais Campbell, A.J Bouye, and Jalen Ramsey were traded (Ngakoue is soon to join that list), Telvin Smith retired, and many other starters left. The Jaguars seem to be blowing everything to the ground and ready to start all over again, which confuses me, because there was a solid foundation to perhaps build upon.
Salary Cap Management: A+
Kudos to the Jaguars for getting rid of the stupidly massive Nick Foles’ contract. Jacksonville did an excellent job of clearing up cap space this off-season, they should learn from their past mistakes and avoid wasting it all on overpriced free-agents.
Avoiding Scandals: F
Now the whole reason this category is mentioned in the article is the Jaguars. Jacksonville’s front office was covered in scandal after scandal. First, the NFLPA advised players against signing with the Jaguars after the mishandling of former player’s fines, which resulted in the firing of Tom Coughlin as head of football operations. On top of that, star edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue and Jags co-owner Tony Khan went after each other on Twitter, which is just a really bad look for the franchise.