The Houston Texans shook up the AFC landscape as free agency opened Wednesday, kick-starting a sorely needed makeover on offense by swiping key contributors from conference rivals. The Texans, still smarting from a humiliating 30-0 shutout in the playoffs, simultaneously added new faces at quarterback (Brock Osweiler), running back (Lamar Miller) and on the offensive line (Jeff Allen).
First, Houston went about replacing longtime backfield stalwart Arian Foster, whom the team released last week after an injury-plagued ending to his tenure with the franchise. Miller agreed to a four-year, $26 million deal with the Texans that had long been in the works, according to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports.
Like Foster, Miller is a dual-threat tailback who’s just as comfortable taking handoffs as he is catching passes out of the backfield. Miller, who was perennially underrated and underused in Miami, has compiled 3,522 yards from scrimmage over the past three years, ranking ninth among running backs over that span. That includes 2,680 rushing yards on a robust 4.6 yards per carry.
He’ll boost a Texans running back corps that struggled to produce much of anything when Foster was sidelined over the past three seasons. That was basically the case more often than not, as he missed 23 games from 2013-15.
Foster’s maladies resulted in an especially glaring weakness last year, as the Texans’ three other running backs produced just 3.7 yards per carry and four touchdowns on 360 rushing attempts.
Of course, the larger perceived issue surrounding the team was the lack of a starting quarterback who hadn’t committed four turnovers in the team’s last playoff game. Brian Hoyer was a dead man walking in Houston after owner Bob McNair publicly acknowledged the team needed a new solution under center following Hoyer’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad performance in Houston’s lightning-quick postseason stay. McNair barely had time to settle in his cushy box seat before the Chiefs commenced the rout by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and subsequently picked off Hoyer’s third pass attempt.
Fortunately for Texans fans, the team’s front office struck just as quickly when it came to finding Hoyer’s replacement on the open market. At 3:30 p.m. ET, half an hour before free agents could officially sign with teams, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Houston had finalized a QB succession plan while ruining Denver’s preferred option for life after Peyton Manning. Osweiler had agreed to a four-year, $72 million contract with Houston.
Manning’s longtime understudy passed for 1,967 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in nine games (seven starts), none of which were more promising than his first start against Chicago. The 6-foot-8 Osweiler completed 20-of-27 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns versus the Bears in a 17-15 win, but he never again approached those heights with Denver.
Osweiler was especially lackluster in the regular season finale against the hapless Chargers, whose pass defense was picked apart all year but managed to intercept Osweiler twice. With the Broncos battling for the AFC West division title and the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC, losing to San Diego was an unacceptable scenario. So, with Denver trailing 13-7 in the third quarter, coach Gary Kubiak reversed course and benched Osweiler for Manning. The Broncos escaped with a 27-20 win, then rode Manning’s crumbling form (and a dominant defense) to the Super Bowl.
Still, Osweiler represented the surest thing on the quarterback market for Houston. With a relatively weak QB class coming out of the college ranks, there probably wasn’t going to be a savior waiting for the Texans at the No. 22 spot in the draft. With DeAndre Hopkins at his disposal, Osweiler could very well blossom into an above-average gunslinger in the Lonestar State.
The signing of Allen shouldn’t be underestimated, either. After three subpar seasons in Kansas City, the former second-round pick exhibited improved play in 2015 during eight games at left guard while battling injuries. The Texans will need him after losing former starting linemen Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones in free agency this week.
Of course, the fruits bore from this spending spree largely depend on whether or not Osweiler actually turns out to be good. After initially impressing during his first few starts, he eventually faded to the point that Broncos fans weren’t too upset when the gimpy Manning was re-inserted for the team’s playoff run.
Which Osweiler will show up in Houston? The cannon-armed stud his physical profile suggests he is, or an overwhelmed, maybe-troubled 25-year-old with only seven career starts under his belt?
The window for Houston’s shot at a Super Bowl during J.J. Watt’s prime depends on it.