This isn’t as easy of a decision as many would believe it to be. After betting on himself and signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Texans last summer, the Honey Badger racked up 89 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 16 games for the AFC South champions. ProFootballFocus graded Mathieu as the 28th overall safety in the NFL. What makes this decision complicated for the Texans, however, are the trio of Kareem Jackson, Andre Hal and Justin Reid. Jackson had a career year after moving to safety, while Justin Reid solidified his spot as a starter at safety. Andre Hal would have been the starter opposite Mathieu week one had he not been diagnosed with cancer. He came back midway through the season and recorded three interceptions. The Texans have a wealth of talent at safety, and have to decide if it’s worth paying Mathieu top-ten safety money. I believe that the Texans should bring Mathieu back. From time to time, Mathieu is going to blow a coverage assignment—but he offers so much as a leader for this Texans defense—which I think is invaluable. Houston has the cap space, it’s just a matter of whether they will pull the trigger and make Mathieu a mainstay in the defense for years to come.
Before being forced back to cornerback, Kareem Jackson was having an All-Pro caliber season at safety for the Texans. In the first half of the season, Jackson was arguably the Texans’ best defensive player. In 16 games, Jackson recorded a career-best 87 tackles, 17 pass-break-ups, one sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Even entering his 10th season in the NFL, Jackson will demand a contract that Houston might not be willing to pay. If I’m the Texans, however, I am bringing both Mathieu and Jackson back. An NFL team can never have too many pass rushers or cover players. The Texans have the means to re-sign all of their free agents, which in my opinion is far more appealing than using free agency to fill this team’s holes. Don’t worry about where Mathieu, Hal, Jackson or Reid will play in this defense—just focus on keeping them around.
Jadeveon Clowney is a candidate for the franchise tag, however, the Texans would be wise to sign Clowney to a long-term extension now. Perhaps the most versatile player on the Texans’ defense, Clowney can line up anywhere along the defensive line as well as play outside linebacker. In 2018, he was most effective when lining up at nose tackle. Missing only one game, the former first overall pick in the draft recorded 47 tackles and nine sacks. Of those nine sacks, five came in the fourth quarter. Clowney is a game-changing player, recovering two fumbles for touchdowns as well. The contract Clowney will seek will likely fall just below the deals of Aaron Donald and Kahlil Mack. Are the Texans willing to have two hundred-million-dollar-men on the defensive line? They should be. If the Texans cant resign him, expect him to be tagged.
The casual fan probably has no idea who Brandon Dunn is. Many Texans fans will tell you, however, that Dunn was a key contributor in 2018. He only recorded 24 tackles, and didn’t register a sack, however, Dunn is tremendous against the run and opens things up for the rest of the defensive line. He shouldn’t be the starter in 2019, as Houston needs to find a defensive lineman with a more refined pass-rushing game, but should be brought back as a first and second down player.
Ka’imi Fairbairn was, for the most part, a breath of fresh air in 2018. After struggling in his rookie season, Fairbairn rebounded to hit 88.1% of his kicks, including 4-6 from beyond 50-yards. Overall, the Hawaiian kicker hit 37 of 42 kicks. Two of those misses were caused by poor holds by punter Trevor Daniel. A consistent kicker is a real asset in the NFL, and the Texans would be wise to bring theirs back.