HOUSTON -- NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began Wednesday, which means free agent signings can be made official now. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The Houston Texans opened free agency under their new coach, DeMeco Ryans, by agreeing to terms with veteran wide receiver Robert Woods the Friday prior to the start of the new league year. Woods was able to work out a deal before the new league year because he was released by the Tennessee Titans on Feb. 22.
The Texans were also able to acquire Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting right guard Shaq Mason in a trade last week before acquiring former New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to help solve the issue of the league's worst run defense, and the Texans were also active at the end of the week when they traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Dallas Cowboys and extended left tackle Laremy Tunsil -- making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
Houston started the week by adding depth at quarterback by bringing in Case Keenum when the legal tampering period began last Monday, and on the following Monday, they opened things up by signing former Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz and former Buffalo Bills leading running back Devin Singletary. The Texans also signed two former Pro Bowl linebackers in Cory Littleton and Denzel Perryman on Wednesday.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free agent signing by the Texans, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Dalton Schultz, tight end
Houston signed Schultz to a one-year deal worth $9 million.
What it means: In the past three seasons Schultz emerged as one of the league's top tight ends after totaling 2,000 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. In that span, Schultz ranks seventh among tight ends in receiving yards, fourth in catches and fifth in touchdowns. He’s known as a capable blocker also which is a requirement under new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik’s west coast offense.
What's the risk: In 2022, Schultz had 577 receiving yards, down from his career-best season in 2021 where he had 808 receiving yards. Also, in the past three seasons he's played with a Pro Bowl quarterback and wide receivers. So will the question will be can he still be productive when defensive game plans focus more on him with likely a rookie quarterback?
Devin Singletary, running back
Singletary comes to Houston on a one-year deal worth up to $3.75 million.
What it means: Singletary has amassed 3,151 rushing yards in his four-year career and will be paired with Texans running back Dameon Pierce, who went for 939 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie in 13 games. This signing gives the Texans a change of pace running back to counter Pierce’s physical running style as Singletary is agile and quick.
What's the risk: The risk is minimal since the Texans already have their lead back in Pierce. But if Singletary can be an effective complementary piece to Pierce, it could lighten the load for the second-year back. Otherwise, shouldering the load may lead to another injury for Pierce, like the one that derailed his rookie season.
Denzel Perryman, linebacker
The Texans signed Perryman to a one-year deal.
What it means: Perryman isn’t far removed from his 2021 Pro Bowl season with the Las Vegas Raiders and help add depth to the defense. However, Perryman and Christian Kirksey are both middle linebackers, and Kirksey has a cap hit of $6.2 million, so the Texans can save up to $5.2 million if they release Kirksey with only $1 million of his deal being guaranteed.
What's the risk: Perryman missed five games last season with an ankle sprain, a hip strain and a dislocated shoulder. Will Perryman be able to stay healthy as he turns 31 this season? Despite having a career-high two interceptions last season, Perryman isn't known for his ball skills, and in Ryans’ system the linebacker are asked to cover tight ends, running backs and the middle of the field.
Cory Littleton, linebacker
The Texans are bringing in Littleton on a one-year deal worth $2.2 million.
What it means: Littleton is an experienced linebacker having started 71 games in his seven-year career. His best season was in 2018 when he was named to the Pro Bowl and second team All-Pro for the Los Angeles Rams after finishing with 125 tackles. He also had career highs in sacks (4), interceptions (3) and pass defections (13) that season. This move gives the Texans a downhill linebacker who could help improve the run defense.
What's the risk: Since Littleton left the Rams after the 2019 season to join the Raiders, his production hasn't quite been the same -- most recently being last season with the Carolina Panthers where he started only seven games and finished with 47 tackles, the fewest since the second year of his career.
Sheldon Rankins, defensive tackle
NFL Network, which first reported the agreement, reports the deal is for one year and $10.5 million.
What it means: Rankins won’t have a steep learning curve for Ryans' defense since he played the past two seasons under Jets coach Robert Saleh. The Texans' and Jets' defensive schemes are similar since both are former defensive coordinators for the San Francisco 49ers. Rankins positively impacted the Jets run defense as the unit allowed 3.82 yards per rush, compared to 4.13 without him. The hope is Rankins can help a Texans run defense that allowed the sixth-most rushing yards for a single season (2,894 yards) ever last season.
What's the risk: Rankins turns 29 in April, and while the Jets' defense was better at defending the run when he was in the game last season, he hasn’t provided much production in the sacks department. In the past four seasons, Rankins has 9.5 sacks after posting a career-high eight in 2018 for the New Orleans Saints.
Robert Woods, wide receiver
The Texans signed Woods to a two-year, $15.25 million deal with $10 million fully guaranteed, sources said. The contract's max potential is $17 million.
What it means: The Texans added a veteran wide receiver who’s familiar with new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik’s system. Woods played for Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay from 2017 to 2021, and McVay ran a similar scheme that Slowik will run after he spent time under San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. McVay and Shanahan coached together for in Washington from 2010 to 2013. Under McVay, Woods had 367 receptions for 4,626 yards -- including two seasons where he went over 1,000 yards -- and 23 touchdowns in five seasons (2016-2021) with the Rams. This addition adds depth to the position and made trading Cooks, who asked for a trade last season and had been vocal about not wanting to be apart of a rebuilding team, easier.
What's the risk: Woods is 30 and is coming off a season where he finished with only 527 yards, his lowest for a single season in his career despite playing the most games (17) that he's ever played in a season. Woods was coming off of a season-ending knee injury from November 2021. Woods played with three different quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis and Joshua Dobbs) in Nashville last season, which may have hindered Woods’ production. During his last year with the Rams, he averaged 61 yards per game before the injury. The big question though, how much does Woods still have in the tank?
Noah Brown, wide receiver
The Texans agreed to terms with Noah Brown on a one-year deal.
What it means: Last year, Brown had his best season for the Dallas Cowboys, finishing with 43 catches for 555 yards and three touchdowns in 13 starts, all career-highs. Brown adds depth to a Texans receiving corps that might lose free agents in Phillip Dorsett and Chris Moore. As of now, Brown will be competing with Nico Collins and Amari Rodgers for playing time.
What's the risk: Until last season, Brown had only 425 receiving yards from 2017 to 2021. So which version of Brown will the Texans get? If it’s the version that wasn’t productive to start his career, then the Texans will be searching for more receiver depth again.
Jimmie Ward, safety
Ward will reunite with his former defensive coordinator in Houston on a two-year deal worth $13 million.
What it means: Jimmie Ward was a 2014 first-round pick by the 49ers, who spent his entire career in San Francisco. He’s mastered Ryan’s scheme having played in various iterations of the system so he can help teach his new teammates. His best season was 2021 when he had a career-high 77 tackles and two interceptions. The nine-year veteran can mentor players like safety Jalen Pitre and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who are coming off strong rookie years.
What's the risk: Ward turns 32 before the season starts, and he tends to miss games because of injuries. He’s coming off a season where he only played 12 games, and he’s only played a full season once in his career. If the Texans don’t have viable depth behind Ward, and he misses time, the secondary could suffer.
Tavierre Thomas, defensive back
Tavierre Thomas is back on a one-year deal for $3 million.
What it means: In 10 games last season, Thomas had 41 tackles, two force fumbles and a pass deflection, and in 2021, he had 86 tackles and two interceptions. So he’s shown the ability to prove quality depth. Last season, when quarterbacks targeted him, they had a passer rating of 76.0, second lowest among Texans who had at least 150 coverage snaps, according to Next Gen Stats.
What's the risk: The price isn’t costly so the risk is minimal, but Thomas’ limited stats getting to the ball, as he only has two interceptions and five pass deflections in his career, can be a concern. So if he’s playing, don’t expect that trend to change.
Case Keenum, quarterback
The Texans agreed to a two-year deal worth $6.25 million for Keenum.
What it means: Keenum started his career in Houston and is a 10-year veteran who’s played for seven different franchises -- the Rams, Vikings, Broncos, Commanders, Browns and most recently, the Bills. Overall, Keenum has started 64 games and understands the west coast offense, as well. Keenum signing as a backup -- along with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo joining the Las Vegas Raiders -- means the Texans will most likely look to the draft to address the position.
What's the risk: Keenum is 35 and has started only two games since 2019, but he's a more-than-capable backup.
Derek Rivers, defensive end
The Texans agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.06 million with Derek Rivers.
What it means: Rivers joined the Texans in 2021 and was active for five games and finished with 1 sack and 9 tackles, 2 for a loss. In 2022, he spent the year on injured reserve after tearing his bicep during the preseason. Re-signing the former New England third-round pick gives the Texans another look at him to see if he can develop into a rotation player.
What's the risk: Considering that Rivers missed all of last season and doesn’t have much production in his career (3.5 sacks), there’s no guarantee that he'll make the 53-man roster in the fall.
Michael Deiter, center
The Texans signed Deiter to a one-year deal.
What it means: Deiter was a 2019 third-round pick for the Miami Dolphins. He's started 23 games in his career and has versatility as he’s played guard in 2019 and 2020. He switched to center in 2021 and started eight games. He will compete with center Scott Quessenberry for the starting center job.
What's the risk: All of Deiter’s starts occurred from 2019 to 2021. In that span he allowed 12 sacks while starting 23 of a possible 49 games.
Hassan Ridgeway, defensive tackle
The Texans agreed to a one-year deal worth $4 million with Hassan Ridgeway.
What it means: Ridgeway played under Ryans last season in San Francisco and started seven games. Ridgeway brings a familiarity to the defense and can be a plug and play player for the Texans.
What's the risk: In seven years, Ridgeway had 10.5 sacks, so he hasn’t been a factor as a pass rusher, but he’s known as a run stuffer, which could benefit the league's worst run defense. Either way, he’ll have to improve as a pass rusher. If not, his time in Houston could be short.
Chase Winovich, defensive end
Winovich's one-year deal will be fore $2 million.
What it means: Former Cleveland Browns defensive end Chase Winovich adds depth at the position. Winovich’s best years came during his first two with the New England Patriots when he had 11 sacks along with 22 quarterback hits. He’ll join a D-line led by defensive end Jerry Hughes, who had nine sacks. This signing also gives the Texans a potential replacement for Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who finished with 5.5 sacks in his last six games.
What's the risk: The risk isn’t overly costly, but Winovich only had one sack and four quarterback hits in the last two seasons with the Browns and Patriots. He hasn’t started many games in his career (only 11 in 53 active games), so if Winovich doesn’t meet the Texans’ standard during training camp or the season, they can release him and suffer a very small cap hit.
Mike Boone, running back
The Texans agreed to a tw0-year, $3.1 million deal with Boone.
What it means: Mike Boone has played for the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos and has produced 516 yards rushing and four touchdowns in his career. Going into his sixth season, Boone could be a potential backup that can reduce the load for starting running back Dameon Pierce, who rushed for 939 yards on 220 carries as a rookie in 2022. Dare Ogunbowale was second on the team in carries with 42. In 2019, Boone started in place of an injured Dalvin Cook for two games and he rushed for 176 yards and one touchdown.
What's the risk: Boone hasn’t been productive in his career so far, so the Texans could still be in search of another option behind Pierce.
Andrew Beck, fullback
The Texans are giving Andrew Beck a two-year deal worth $6.75 million.
What it means: The Texans add a fullback who has familiarity with Slowik’s scheme. Beck played under former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett, who ran a similar West Coast offense to what Slowik will run. Troy Hairston was the starting fullback last season and will have to compete for the starting job in the offseason. Schematically, the Texans will run 21 personnel, a running back paired with another running back or a full back and one tight end. Last season, the 49ers ran 21 personnel 32.3% of the time, second most in the NFL.
What's the risk: What makes this move a little risky is that Beck is new to the position. Last season marked his only one as a fullback after starting his career as a tight end in 2019. The good news is that the effectiveness of a fullback won’t make or break the offense, but the Texans are paying Beck more than $3 million per year.