As we reach part three of this eight part NFL divisional roundup, we are now taking things down south, literally…… While the AFC East and NFC East divisions have made quite the splash so far, the AFC South Division has gone unnoticed to some degree.
This story will change all of that. The Indianapolis Colts (11-5) were the kings of this division once again, they also came within one game of winning the AFC Championship. The Houston Texans (9-7) were only a game and a half –and maybe a player or two as well- from making the playoffs as a Wild Card. While the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13) and the Tennessee Titans (2-14) continue to be among the worst teams in the league.
The Colts and Texans are looking to reach the next level, while the Jaguars and Titans are looking for improvement and respect. With that being said, here are the big offseason moves within the AFC South….
Indianapolis and Houston combined for the biggest divisional offseason transaction in 2015. Wide receiver Andre Johnson had asked the Texans for a trade after the Super Bowl. After going a combined 11-21 since back-to-back playoff seasons in 2011 and 2012 (the only two playoff appearances of Johnson’s career), the former Miami Hurricane wanted a change of scenery.
But when the Texans front office couldn’t find a suitable trading partner, the franchise gave Johnson his outright release. Last week, the Colts scooped up Johnson with a three-year $21 million contract as they also needed a replacement for Reggie Wayne who was not tendered a new contract.
With Johnson, the Colts are getting his 13,955 receiving yards, 65 touchdowns, and 1,037 career receptions. Johnson is the perfect replacement for Wayne. On a separate Texans note, they instantly upgraded their defensive line by signing former New England Patriot Vince Wilfork. Paring him with J.J. Watt on the same line will cause some damage in 2015.
The Colts also found that top-notch running back they had been sorely needing by picking up former San Francisco 49ers –and college teammate of Johnson’s- Frank Gore. Gore was initially slated to join the Philadelphia Eagles, but with the Colts (and his $8.5 million in guaranteed money) he’ll be more of the focal point of the offense.
Plus, Gore’s power running style probably wasn’t suited for the Eagles offense which is based on speed.
As bad as the Jaguars were in 2014, one of the few bright spots was the progression of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. In 2015, his progression should be taken to the level thanks to the big move that Jacksonville’s front office made last week.
Enter tight end Julius Thomas, the same Julius Thomas that caught 24 touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in Denver during the previous two seasons. The Jags’ believe that Thomas could be the big play receiver that Bortles needs to ascend to the next level.
Their belief in that aspect is cemented in the five-year $46 million contract that they gave to the former Bronco. Thomas is just one piece to the puzzle, but he’s definitely a good building block for a rebuilding team.
The Tennessee Titans need help at just about every position. So far they’ve started in the right direction by adding linebacker/defensive end Brian Orakpo. Some feel that the four-year, $31 million contract given to him was way too generous because he hasn’t played a full season since 2011.
While injuries have slowed him down over the last couple of seasons, he’s still in his 20’s, and he still managed to be effective in the limited action he has seen since 2012 (24 games, 84 tackles, 10 ½ sacks, two fumble recoveries, one interception and one interception return touchdown).
The Titans are in need of a new identity and so far they have made at least one stride in doing that.
I predict that the AFC South will be more competitive in 2015.