While Colts look on, rest of AFC South building

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 11, 2016) – We’re three days into the NFL’s quick-fix season and it appears the league’s eyesore – that would be the AFC South – has been spruced up.

Only the Indianapolis Colts have resisted the urge to splash a fresh coat of paint on a roster that last season failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011. And you could argue they’ve initially taken a step back.

While re-signing tight end Dwayne Allen and placekicker Adam Vinatieri, the Colts looked on as tight end Coby Fleener (New Orleans) and safety Dwight Lowery (San Diego) left town. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman continues to weigh his options to do likewise.

And let’s not forget, the team released Andre Johnson and waived linebacker Bjoern Werner, although those moves fall into the addition-by-subtraction category.

Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood has been in major renovation mode. And for good reason. Collectively, the AFC South was a league-worst 25-39 last season. The Houston Texans were the last team standing and won the division with a 9-7 record. They then went out and treated their home fans with a real clunker, getting smothered by Kansas City 30-0 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Texans, apparently tired of wasting the best years of J.J. Watt’s career with substandard quarterback play, decided enough was enough. They made one of this week’s biggest and riskiest moves when they lured Brock Osweiler away from Super Bowl champion Denver with a four-year, $72 million contract. It includes $37 million in guarantees.

Just to offer perspective, consider Osweiler has seven starts on his resume.

NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk offered a telling comment via his Twitter account: I know it’s too early to say but if the @HoustonTexans don’t win next season heads will roll.

Faulk’s follow-up tweet mentioned anything less than an appearance in the AFC Championship game will be considered a failure. He’s spot on.

As Faulk mentioned, it’s early. But that won’t keep us from taking a quick look at the more significant personnel moves within the AFC South:

COLTS:

  • Additions: None.
  • Subtractions: WR Andre Johnson (released), TE Coby Fleener (to New Orleans), S Dwight Lowery (to San Diego), QB Matt Hasselbeck (retired), CB Greg Toler.
  • Retained: TE Dwayne Allen (four years, $29.4 million), PK Adam Vinatieri (two years, $6 million).
  • In limbo: LB Jerrell Freeman.
  • Comment: Management undoubtedly is testing the patience of the fan base. We’ll reserve judgment until after the draft. If May rolls around and the Colts haven’t added a couple of viable offensive line prospects, a pass rusher and a cornerback, then we’ll join the mob. The team’s biggest advantage is the return of a healthy Andrew Luck. He’ll be motivated to put an injury-plagued 2015 behind him.

TEXANS:

  • Additions: QB Brock Osweiler (four years, $72 million), RB Lamar Miller (four years, $26 million), OL Jeff Allen (four years, $28 million).
  • Subtractions: RB Arian Foster (released), G Brandon Brooks (to Philadelphia), C Ben Jones (to Tennessee).
  • Comment: The reigning division champs are locked and loaded to make it two straight. If, that is, Osweiler offers stability at QB and is the real deal. However, he shouldn’t be asked to carry too heavy a load. Miller is an upgrade over the injury-prone Foster, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is a bona fide star and that Watt-led defense still can take over a game.

JAGUARS:

  • Additions: DE Malik Jackson (six years, $85.5 million), S Tashaun Gipson (five years, $35.5 million), RB Chris Ivory (five years, $32.5 million), CB Prince Amukamara, P Brad Nortman.
  • Subtractions: RB Toby Gerhart.
  • Comment: A team that is 39-89 since its last playoff appearance – and winning season – in 2007 entered free agency with more than $80 million in cap space, most in the league. The Jaguars spent early and kept at it. They poured more than $$64 million in guarantees to land Jackson, Gipson and Ivory. Things are looking up, as long as quarterback Blake Bortles continues to develop.

TITANS:

  • Additions: RB DeMarco Murray (trade with Philadephis), WR Rishard Matthews (three years, $15 million), G Ben Jones (four years, $17.5 million), QB Matt Cassel.
  • Subtractions: S Michael Griffin (to Minnesota).
  • Comment: We’re not convinced they’re in position to challenge for the division title in ’16, but the Titans are getting there. They gave quarterback Marcus Mariota – have we mentioned he’s the real deal? – a proven running back in Murray, a starting guard in Jones and another option in the passing game with Matthews. And let’s not forget they’ve got the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Additional help is on the way.

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