After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLVIII. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
2013 record: 2-14
Projected current salary-cap space (according to Spotrac): $3.3 million
Key free agents: RB Ben Tate, OG Wade Smith, DE Antonio Smith
Possible salary-cap casualties: QB Matt Schaub, TE Owen Daniels, S Danieal Manning
Draft situation: Own first overall pick, first pick in every round
Revisiting 2013: A nightmare, almost from the start. After two narrow victories in Weeks 1 and 2, the team dropped a stunning 14 straight, which caused Gary Kubiak and most of his staff to lose their jobs. Schaub got into a pick-6 funk, Arian Foster was banged up, the offense fell apart, and the defense couldn’t force turnovers, stop people in the red zone or tackle well enough. They were outscored 215-113 in the second halves of games.
Reasons for optimism: The team has a new head coach in Bill O’Brien with a strong pedigree and reputation, and let’s not forget that the Texans were a dark-horse Super Bowl team prior to last season. So with all negatives from a horrific season, there’s still the reminder of solid talent — including an elite defender J.J. Watt, some decent complementary parts on defense, two good receivers in Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins and a quality left tackle in Duane Brown. Those are solid building blocks.
Glaring hole to fill: It’s quarterback, no doubt. Schaub almost certainly will be cut at some point, and that will save the team $4 million in cap space, but finding his replacement won’t be a snap, even with the first overall pick. O’Brien’s views on who should be the choice will weigh heavily, but GM Rick Smith and owner Bob McNair will want to weigh in, too.
Toughest decision: As in 2002 and in 2007, other years in which the franchise owned the top pick, the Texans have a fascinating debate — Johnny Manziel? Blake Bortles? Jadeveon Clowney? Trade down? You’d think O’Brien would prefer to find his quarterback farther down the draft and perhaps use that top pick to bolster the defense, maybe giving Watt a running mate up front. But that’s risky; Clowney is no sure thing. And if they do go quarterback, passing on local hero Manziel for relative unknown Bortles (or someone else) might incite shock and rage.
Best-case offseason scenario: They find their starting quarterback for the next decade in this draft and also find a way to bolster the defensive front and a few spots on the offensive line. Watt might not be freed up to make plays in Romeo Crennel’s scheme, and there isn’t another established pass rusher (Whitney Mercilus, we’re waiting) on the roster. They also could use a big, plugging nose tackle. On the offensive line, right tackle is a problem spot and left guard Wade Smith is a free agent.
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