Offseason Needs: AFC South

Updated: February 28, 2003, 11:12 AM ET
By By Ryan Early
Houston Texans

Current Salary Cap Situation: $15.5M under
Unrestricted Free Agents: RB James Allen, QB Tony Banks, S Eric Brown, S Leomont Evans, LB Jay Foreman, OG DeMingo Graham, OT Jimmy Herndon, LB Keith Mitchell, LB Jeff Posey, QB Mike Quinn, OG Ryan Schau, DE Corey Sears, CB Jason Simmons, OL Cameron Spikes, S Kevin Williams, CB Kenny Wright, OT Ryan Young
Restricted Free Agents: WR Avion Black, WR JaJuan Dawson, CB Pat Dennis, WR Trevor Insley, TE Billy Miller, P Chad Stanley
Possible Veteran Cuts: WR Jermaine Lewis, S Matt Stevens
First Draft Pick: 3rd overall. Priorities:
#1 - Improve the offensive line. The Texans' offense was hardly worth game planning for in 2002 and its weaknesses started up front. The team stats speak for themselves: 2,225 net passing yards (including 411 yards lost on sacks) and just nine passing touchdowns; 3.2 yards per rush, helped by a 4.8 yard average from the quarterback running for his life. Amazingly, the team is confident it already has its starters on the interior of the offensive line on the roster. Steve McKinney was a guard for the Colts but became the starting center in Houston. Chester Pitts was forced to play left tackle as a rookie but he should switch to left guard this year. Right guard will probably be Fred Weary, who was another rookie last year and will improve with a full offseason to work. That leaves the tackle positions, which are in serious jeopardy.

#2 - Find a consistent running game. A big part of an offensive line's success comes from being able to work as a cohesive unit. That is difficult for an expansion team because you've got all five guys coming into a new situation. Throw in a few key injuries and you have the devastation that happened last year with the Texans. Having just a full offseason together will go a long way to improving their play, but the team needs more to improve its running game. The running back position was one of the few spots that the front office largely ignored last year. Jonathan Wells, a fourth-round pick, ended up the starter. James Allen is a former 1,000-yard back, but that now seems like ancient history, as does his stay in Houston. A new runner is definitely a high priority for the team this offseason.
#3 - Concentrate on the draft. Although the Texans still have a lot of room under the cap, they also have 14 draft picks thanks to rules governing expansion teams that give the highest number of bonus picks if they win no more than four games in their first season. The Texans hit that number on the head, possibly by design, and now have additional picks starting as high as the third round. They will still make a few free-agent signings, but they'll probably pick their spots. They'll re-sign a few defensive standouts for them that were under one-year contracts. They'll probably extend the contracts of tight end Billy Miller and punter Chad Stanley, and then bring in maybe just two or three other positions, probably a running back and an offensive tackle.