In part 2 of our offseason free agent preview we take a look at the safety group. Andre Hal is firmly entrenched as the free safety for the defensive back group; however the safeties can interchange as Hal has played many snaps as a “strong” safety. The Houston Texans have continued to look for a long term solution at the second safety position. The team does not have much depth to offer behind Hal heading into free agency and the draft.
Disclaimer: Pro Football Focus grades will be listed to provide some context on the player’s performance in 2017. This is not an end all metric to determine if the player would be worth signing to the roster. Team offensive schemes and player use will be a strong factor.
Current Roster Players
|Player Name||2018 Cap Charge||2017 PFF Grade||2017 Snap %|
Pending Free Agents: Marcus Gilchrist (UFA), Eddie Pleasant (UFA), Core Moore (ERFA)
Note: Corey Moore is an exclusive rights free agent, the team will tender him a 1 year contract in March.
Free Agent Field
|Player Name||Age||FA Status||2017 Snap %||2017 PFF Grade|
Lamarcus Joyner was drafted in the second round in 2014 by the Los Angeles Rams. Joyner has seen growth and improvement each season culminating into one of the top graded safeties for 2017. Joyner lined up opposite of John Johnson in Wade Phillips’ defense. Joyner had 3 interceptions and 9 passes defended. Joyner shouldn’t command a top tier contract with the likes of Eric Berry or Tyrann Mathieu but his market will be strong. Joyner has not qualms about making big hits, and he doesn’t miss very often. Joyner registered only 3 missed tackles for the 2017 season. Expect Joyner to command $7 – $8 million per year with approximately $16 – $18 million in guaranteed money.
Morgan Burnett was drafted by Green Bay in the 2010 draft in the third round and has been a staple of their defensive backfield ever since. Burnett just turned 29 which could limit the investment the Texans could place in him. Burnett has completed the terms of his contract extension which was valued at over $6 million per year. Burnett had zero interceptions in 2017 but that is likely due to how Green Bay used him. Burnett lined up in the box over 40% of his defensive snaps while playing opposite of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Burnett is a veteran with a ton of experience; and has a very high (number 1) tackle efficiency. Tackle efficiency is something that is severely missing in the Texans secondary. Burnett’s contract may only be a 2 or 3 year offering but expect the APY to exceed $7 million per year with $15 million in guaranteed money.
Tre Boston spent the 2017 season with the Los Angeles Chargers on a one year prove it contract, and did he ever prove it. Boston rarely came off the field with 99.2% of defensive snaps played. Boston was originally drafted by Carolina in the fourth round of the 2014 draft but was oddly released in May of 2016 prior to training camp. The organization had signed Mike Adams which led to the release of Boston. Boston signed a one year contract worth $900,000 with the Chargers to reset his value. Boston has graded out well in his four seasons in the league with a grade of 75 or higher. Additionally Boston was the #1 safety in coverage snaps per reception; only allowing 3 receptions while in coverage for the season. Boston could be a value signing for Houston on contract similar to Andre Hal at $5 – $6 million per year and $8 – $9 million in guaranteed money.
Ricardo Allen is a big hitting safety out of Atlanta, however he is a restricted free agent. If Atlanta is unable to work out a contract extension for Allen; expect the Falcons to use a 2nd round tender. Absent a second round draft pick in the draft, the Texans would not be interested (or maybe even possible) in giving in up draft stock for an offer sheet. I have Allen on the list in the event Atlanta uses the original round tender, which would require the Texans to part ways with a fifth round draft pick instead on an offer sheet.
Eric Reid is finishing up his fifth season with the San Francisco 49ers after being their first round draft pick in 2013. Reid has been a quality free safety for San Francisco consistently graded in the Top 25 among safeties. San Fransisco is lush with cap space for 2018 and beyond so it is very likely they could resign him to a market level extension before Reid could test the market. Reid could land one of the bigger contracts like Joyner mentioned earlier, should he use the limited safety market & SF’s available cap dollars to leverage a strong contract.
Kenny Vaccaro had a rough season in 2017 despite having two rookies having stellar campaigns in the defensive back field in Marcus Williams & Marshon Lattimore. The Saints could be looking to move on from Vaccaro even though the organization invested a first round pick on him in 2013. Vaccaro’s career has been up and down with stints on the Injured Reserve and a suspension in 2016. Vaccaro graded out as one of the better safeties in 2015 & 2016 before falling off the cliff in 2017. Despite playing 11 games in 2017 Vaccaro was still able to pull in 3 interceptions. Vaccaro might be better served taking a one year contract worth $3 million to reset his market value for 2019.
Stop Gap Solutions
If the Texans are unable to land a long term free agent to fill the other safety position, the team could look at possible stop gap type solutions similar to Quintin Demps in 2015 & 2016. Tyvon Branch, 31 years old, was having an outstanding season in Arizona before landing in Injured Reserve after 9 games. There will be a considerable injury risk with Branch due to his multiple stints on Injured Reserve in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017. If Branch can stay healthy he would be a quality low cost veteran for 2018 for no more than $2.5 million, and the team could reset in 2019. Reggie Nelson out of Oakland is another option despite him turning 35 when the 2018 regular season starts up. Nelson didn’t miss a game in 2017, and has been a solid contributor the previous 5 seasons including pro bowl selections in 2015 & 2016. Nelson would be looking at a narrow market given his age, and would have to concede to taking a one year contract for approximately $1.5 million if he wanted to play again in 2018.
Should the Texans decide to invest a large contract in another safety the team should consider Morgan Burnett or Tre Boston. Both players have been consistently healthy and can provide veteran leadership. The safety market is not going to command a huge contract this offseason, the Texans could get some value in a quality free agent. Expectation would be for the team to draft another safety in the mid rounds of the 2018 draft to eventually replace Hal or a newly signed free agent.
Next week we will look at the offensive tackle position, followed by the cornerback position.