New faces: S Tashaun Gipson, CB Bradley Roby, OT Matt Kalil, RB Duke Johnson, OT Tytus Howard, OL Max Scharping, S Jahleel Addae, CB Lonnie Johnson, TE Darren Fells, TE Kahale Warring
They’re gone: S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Kareem Jackson, WR Demaryius Thomas, OT Kendall Lamm, CB Kevin Johnson, TE Ryan Griffin, DT Christian Covington, RB Alfred Blue, CB Kayvon Webster
2019 snapshot: Without a general manager — having fired GM Brian Gaine 17 months into a five-year contract and proving unable to pry Nick Caserio from New England (yet) — the Texans find themselves in a very odd position.
Who is the lead decision-maker? Will they hire someone in January at the end of the regular season, or will the post remain open until Caserio’s Patriots contract is up after the 2020 draft?
That uncertainty follows an offseason filled with curious moves. Set on improving Deshaun Watson’s protection, Houston focused on offensive tackle but might not have made large enough gains.
Free agent signee and projected starter at left tackle Kalil is a liability even when healthy (which is rare). In the draft, the Texans were jumped by the Eagles for Andre Dillard and then took Howard 23rd overall, a significant reach on most boards for the Alabama State product. Scharping (second round, Northern Illinois) provides another option, but trusting small-school rookies to play early is dangerous, and Howard is battling a broken finger.
The roster has other weak spots (tight end, guard) despite the Texans exiting the offseason with $40 million in cap space. The secondary turned over without really improving, as Gipson, Roby and Lonnie Johnson must make up for the more proven trio of Mathieu, Jackson and Kevin Johnson. Franchise-tagged linebacker/defensive end Jadeveon Clowney remains away from the team and could be traded before Week 1.
Adding to the concerns, Lamar Miller tore his ACL in the preseason and is out for the season, with only Johnson — acquired from Cleveland in August — with prominent experience in the backfield.
Get to know… RB Duke Johnson
Johnson has been well-known for some time as a pass-catcher — he has 235 receptions through four seasons — but he’ll be called on more as a runner with Miller out. Johnson’s heaviest workload came as a rookie (104 carries), when he averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per rush.
Worth the investment?
-After winning 11 games and their division last season, and with Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement, the Texans should comfortably top their 8.5-win over/under if the key pieces stay healthy.
-Watson has the star power and talent to win MVP, and his odds are rather reasonable. At +2500, he’s even with Jimmy Garoppolo and Matt Ryan, and just ahead of Mitchell Trubisky (+2800).
Bottom line: If the O-line doesn’t take major strides, Watson’s health and development are at risk. If Clowney is dealt, the defense could drop off. The Texans sport major talent, but the floor is also quite low.