2022 NFL Free Agency, Trade Grades for AFC South: Each team makes additions to improve
The Tennessee Titans have won the AFC South two straight seasons, but the division’s three other clubs are on the rise. The Indianapolis Colts have a new quarterback, the Houston Texans finally got Deshaun Watson out of the way, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have a Super Bowl winner as head coach and went free.
While the AFC South hasn’t exactly been the AFC West’s free agency arms race, all four teams have made additions that should improve any franchise in 2022. With most of the big strides (knock on wood) in free agency now behind us, let’s assess how each of the four teams in the AFC South has fared to this point.
Houston Texans: C+
Important additions: OG AJ Cann (Jaguars), LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Lions), RB Dare Ogunbowale (Jaguars), LB Blake Cashman (Trade, Jets)
Signings: LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, WR Chris Conley, C Justin Britt, RB Royce Freeman, TE Pharaoh Brown, DT Maliek Collins, LB Christian Kirksey, DB Desmond King, S Eric Murray, S Terrence Brooks
departures: QB Deshaun Watson (Browns), OT Geron Christian (Chiefs), S Justin Reid (Chiefs), S Terrance Mitchell (Patriots), QB Tyrod Taylor (Giants), LB Jacob Martin (Jets), S AJ Moore (Titans)
I’m not sure we should include the Texans who moved Watson in this class, but it was a positive development that also gave them plenty of draft capital. The Texans haven’t made any spectacular free-hand signings, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I like that they didn’t overwhelm themselves in the free hand. This franchise understands that they are rebuilding, and they will do it their way. All three of Houston’s top tacklers in 2021 were ready for new contracts, and the Texans re-signed all three: Grugier-Hill, King and Kirksey.
Indianapolis Colts: B-
Important additions: QB Matt Ryan (Handels, Falcons), DE Yannick Ngakoue (Handels, Raiders), CB Brandon Facyson (Raiders)
Signings: TE Mo Alie-Cox, OT Matt Pryor, LB Zaire Franklin, DE Tyquan Lewis
departures: QB Carson Wentz (Handels, Commanders) OG Mark Glowinski (Giants), S George Odum (San Francisco 49ers), DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (Bears), WR Zach Pascal (Eagles), CB Rock Ya-Sin (Handels, Raiders )
The Colts did a great job transporting Wentz to the Commanders. They clearly won this deal and won’t have to pay Wentz’s contract next year. I think it was the right move, so thanks to the front office. As for her replacement in Falcons legend Matt Ryan, reviews appear to have been mixed. Some believe he makes the Colts a legitimate contender, while others disagree.
Ryan provides more consistency at the quarterback position. He also gets upgrades in terms of protection and weapons – especially when running backwards. Still, I don’t see the Ryan addition as something that should make Colts fans run to their computers to look up Super Bowl ticket prices now that the AFC is so busy. I don’t think they should be favored at this point to win the division, but we need to work through the rest of the free hand and draft before having that discussion.
As far as trading with the Raiders, the addition of Ngakoue certainly fills an area of need. Now Indy needs to find a left tackle and another receiver with potential. Could you take a flyer about Julio Jones too?
Jacksonville Jaguars: B-
Important additions: WR Christian Kirk (Cardinals), WR Zay Jones (Raiders), TE Evan Engram (Giants), OG Brandon Scherff (Commanders), DT Foley Fatukasi (Jets), LB Foye Oluokun (Falcons), CB Darious Williams (Rams)
Signings: WR Laquon Treadwell, RB Mekhi Sargent, OT Cam Robinson (franchise tag), OT Will Richardson, OG Tyler Shatley, CB Tre Herndon
departures: LB Damien Wilson (Panthers), DL Taven Bryan (Browns), WR DJ Chark (Lions), RB Dare Ogunbowale (Texans), OG AJ Cann (Texans), TE Jacob Hollister (Raiders), DE Jihad Ward (Giants), LB Myles Jack (Steelers), OG Andrew Norwell (Commanders)
When grading teams in free agency, look at the players they’ve added and the contracts they’ve signed. Sometimes these contracts can overshadow what a player will actually bring to the franchise. Take Kirk for example. He was undoubtedly viewed by several teams as an intriguing option at receiver. But now virtually no one believes he can fulfill his four-year contract worth up to $84 million. Kirk is a solid addition across the board if we ignore the contract, but yeah he’s probably overpaid. The same goes for Zay Jones, who signed a three-year deal worth up to $30 million.
Aside from a few overpaid players, the Jaguars landed the best offensive guard in free agency in Scherff, the NFL’s reigning tackling king in Oluokun, a versatile tight end in Engram, and a No. 2 cornerback in Williams. Doug Pederson was also a solid one Addition, if I may add. There’s no doubt the Jaguars have gotten better this offseason, but how many of those deals will they regret? Still, I appreciate the aggressiveness.
Tennessee Titans: B+
Important additions: WR Robert Woods (Trade, Rams), TE Austin Hooper (Browns), OT Jamarco Jones (Seahawks), RB Trenton Cannon (49ers)
Signings: EDGE Harold Landry, RB Dontrell Hilliard, TE Geoff Swaim, C Ben Jones, LB Dylan Cole, K Randy Bullock
departures: OG Rodger Saffold (Bills), RB D’Onta Foreman (Panthers), FB Khari Blasingame (Bears), WR Julio Jones (FA)
As the Jaguars added more talent to their free agency roster, Tennessee made some smart plays. Landry’s re-signing after a career year was something that was always seen as a challenge. But after his 12-sack season, the Titans prioritized him and struck a deal. Tennessee also got a steal in Woods looking inside when the Rams signed Allen Robinson. While he’s 29 and 30 with a cruciate ligament tear, Woods is worth more than the sixth-round pick Tennessee gave up. There’s reason to be even happier about this new addition than last year’s Julio addition.
Tennessee needed an upgrade on the tight end, too, and Hooper provides that. He wasn’t the most popular pass catcher in Cleveland, but maybe the Titans can find a way to take him back to the days of 2019 when he had 787 yards and six touchdowns and was a pro bowler was. He’s only 27. Now the Titans need to add a legitimate starting cornerback and offensive guard.