Logan Lockhart
BarnBurner Sports Writer


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Where Does Each Team In The AFC South Stand As Free Agency Opens And The Road To The Draft Begins?

Expect the AFC South to be a dog-fight all the way to Week 17, and the closest division in football come 2020. The Titans made a statement by signing QB Ryan Tannehill to a four-year deal worth $118 million, and not waiting out a decision from Tom Brady. The statement was the first of many that each team in the division has made over the last week.


AFC South Power Rankings:


1. Tennessee

2. Indianapolis

3. Houston

4. Jacksonville


Jacksonville Jaguars


Jacksonville spent the early part of the free agency 2020 unloading salary and adding picks in the upcoming draft. The Jaguars finished 2019 with six wins, after seeing its big free agent splash from a year ago turn into a disaster due to injury. Former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury in Week 1 against the Chiefs and finished the season only starting four games. 

Enter Gardner Minshew--who took the NFL by storm with his improvisation skills under centre, and will now be given a look to be the Week 1 starter now that Foles has been traded to Chicago for a fourth rounder. Along with Foles, the Jaguars dealt DE Calais Campbell to Baltimore and CB A.J Bouye to Denver this week for a fifth rounder and fourth rounder respectively.


Jacksonville’s 2017 appearance in the AFC championship game seems like a distant memory. The roster has been teared down and as a result, the Jags will have 11 draft picks in the 2020 draft as of March 21st, along with cap space flexibility to make any future moves in the current window of free agency.


Houston Texans


The Texans shocked the football world Monday by trading all-pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for a washed-up David Johnson and a fourth round pick. The trade has put even more heat on Bill O’Brien than there already was, after facing criticism for questionable play calling in 2019. And who can forget the 24-0 lead the Texans surrendered in the divisional round against the Chiefs--Bill O’Brien may never hear the end of it.


The truth behind what happened between Hopkins and O’Brien will be speculated all offseason, but for now, Houston will have to ensure Deshaun Watson’s prime is not wasted. Watson will enter his fourth season in 2020, remaining one the NFL’s best quarterbacks and surely the best in AFC South.


Without Hopkins, Watson’s top targets will be Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and newly signed receiver Randall Cobb, who inked a three-year deal worth $27 million. Cobb is no Hopkins and won’t be counted on as a direct replacement, but the addition of the former Cowboys receiver should provide some relief in the offense. Cobb will primarily be used by O’Brien’s offence in the slot, but will not fill the void left by Hopkins as a deep threat and wide out option.


The Hopkins trade marked the second time in as many years the Texans traded one of the cornerstone players on its roster, after dealing DE Jadavian Clowney to Seattle last August.


Indianapolis Colts


Philip Rivers and DeForest Buckner--two additions from Colts general manager Chris Ballard this week that send a message to Colts fans everywhere--it’s time to win.


Indianapolis possesses one of the top offensive lines in the NFL, an area of the team that was the weak spot in the Andrew Luck era. Jacoby Brissett did a fine job stepping in under centre in 2019 after the unexpected retirement announcement from Luck last August, but it wasn’t enough for the Colts brass. Brissett remains on the roster for now, but Indianapolis did not pay Rivers $25 million to compete for the starting job--the plan will be for the former Chargers QB to be the week one starter. Rivers was under pressure in the pocket all year long in Los Angeles last season, but the Colts strong offensive line should minimize the pressure that Rivers has been used to facing over the last several seasons as a Charger.


Despite losing G Joe Haeg to Tampa in free agency this week, the Colts offensive line remains strong headlined by Quenton Nelson. According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts O-line unit ranked third in 2019.


Indianapolis won nine games in 2019, but if not for Adam Vinatieri's botched field goal in week nine at Pittsburgh and a no-show offensive performance led by back-up QB Brian Hoyer the following week against the lowly Dolphins, it could have been more.


Tennessee Titans


Tennessee was one of the great stories from the 2019 postseason. Victories on the road in Foxborough and Baltimore set up the Titans to play for an appearance in Super Bowl 54. After Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota in week six against Denver, the tide changed for Tennessee. After three straight 9-7 finishes, the Titans yet again finished 9-7 but this time found playoff success as a wild card team.


Derrick Henry has been franchised-tag in the early goings of free agency, and will be counted on to carry the Titans offensive production in 2020. The league’s leading rusher from 2019 was the story in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, but it would be a mistake to also avoid giving credit to Tannehill’s ability to limit turnovers and bring consistency to the Titans offence, something that Mariota failed to do in his five seasons with Tennessee.


CB Logan Ryan remains unsigned and is likely headed for another team, but the Titans defence should remain strong headlined by Kevin Byard and Malcolm Butler. The Titans success in 2019 and confidence moving forward should also be credited to head coach Mike Vrabel, who will enter his third season with the Titans in 2020.


Vrabel’s coaching performance particularly in the team’s two playoff victories against the Patriots and Ravens was praised, and a Titans team led by Vrabel on the sideline and Henry in the backfield should be the favorites to win the AFC South in 2020. Houston was the winner of the division in 2019 with 10 wins, the second lowest win total by a division winner in football, so the field should be wide open yet again and Titans division to lose.