Before free agency has officially even begun, the Houston Texans have lost two of their best defensive players in Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson. On Monday evening, Mathieu agreed to terms on a massive, three-year, $42 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. His $14 million per year price tag aligns him with new Redskins’ safety Landon Collins as the highest paid safety in the NFL. Jackson—who has spent his entire nine-year career in Houston—signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Denver Broncos—including $23 million guaranteed. With over $70 million in cap space, many expected the Texans to bring back at least one of their safeties from 2018. Instead, Houston finds itself in need of new starters across the entire secondary.
To put the losses of Mathieu and Jackson into context, let’s take a look at their 2018 production. After signing a one-year prove-it deal with the Texans, the Honey Badger tied his career-high in tackles with 89, recorded three sacks, and added eight passes defended with two interceptions. In what was easily Kareem Jackson’s best season, he recorded 87 tackles, 17 pass deflections, one sack, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. At safety, Jackson played at an All-Pro level while filling in at corner admirably.
With the safety market heating up, and record deals being handed out—how might the Texans replace the production of Mathieu and Jackson? Let’s break down their options.
The Texans will have to turn their attention to free agent safeties after losing two of their own. After giving Tyrann Mathieu an offer that was close to the offer he accepted from the Chiefs, the Texans may be willing to spend a little more to bring Thomas to Houston. In nine seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Thomas has accumulated 664 tackles and 28 interceptions as a member of the Legion of Boom. Undoubtedly one of the league’s premier defensive players over that time span, Thomas would be an upgrade over Mathieu in nearly every regard. The Texans need to spend now while Deshaun Watson is on his rookie contract, and there’s no better safety left on the market than Earl Thomas.
It doesn’t look like Amos will be returning to Chicago. As I mentioned in a previous article, ProFootballFocus graded Amos as the NFL’s eight best safety in 2018, and was ranked second overall in 2017. While his stats don’t scream superstar, Amos will step in to any defense and lock down one side of the secondary. He boasts a well-rounded game, and at only 25 years old, can be a team’s future at the safety position. If the Texans price themselves out of the Earl Thomas sweepstakes, Amos could be their top target. Having played for Bill O’Brien at Penn State, Houston seems like a logical destination after its recent losses in the secondary.
Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
The Washington Redskins opted to sign Landon Collins to a massive deal rather than re-sign Clinton-Dix, whom they traded for mid-season—which says a lot about how they view him as a long-term option at safety. The drop off in the safety market after Thomas and Amos is significant, as each of the remaining free agents possess notable flaws. Clinton Dix was plagued by poor tackling and bad angles in 2018, and offers much less as a consistent coverage man than Thomas and Amos. Whatever his flaws may be, the Texans need to add a body to their secondary, and the former Alabama star is certainly an option if the Texans choose the free agency route.