The AFC South went through an ugly 2015 season as a whole, but the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have made sure that 2016 will be much more bearable to watch. The only team in the division that hasn’t bettered itself is the Indianapolis Colts, unless addition by subtraction is a valid strategy for the team.
The Colts have owned the South for much of the last 10 years or so, but they will have to scratch and claw their way to another chance at the crown. The main reason for this being that the Titans, Texans and Jaguars have bulked up their rosters after only one day of free agency this offseason.
There isn’t much to say about the Colts at this point because the only moves that have taken place are the retirement of backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and release of former Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. There are still some talented free agents available that the Colts could sign, but their biggest concern should be re-signing linebacker Jerrell Freeman. He has played four seasons with the Colts and amassed 477 combined tackles, 12 sacks and four interceptions. In 2015, Freeman played in only 13 games but still had 112 total tackles.
The team still has Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Frank Gore and Donte Moncrief though, and most teams have fewer pieces than that to build around.
If not for what the Titans have done early on in free agency, the Jaguars would be the big winners in the division. The Jaguars’ offense is one of the top-10 in the NFL and likely top-five in talent. They also had some of the most cap space in 2016 and the offense was able to add running back Chris Ivory (5 years, $32.5 million) as a great 1-2 punch with T.J. Yeldon. The Jaguars also signed former Carolina Panthers punter Brad Nortman to a four-year, $8.8 million deal.
Perhaps the biggest needs for the Jaguars were on the defensive side of the ball and they addressed those too. The first big splash for Jacksonville was former Denver Broncos defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who signed a six-year, $90 million deal to leave the Super Bowl winning Broncos. The team also signed former Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson to a five-year, $35 million deal.
Houston was able to finish with a 9-7 record in 2015 and ended up winning the South, even without running back Arian Foster who has been released by the team. The organization knew that they needed to find a franchise quarterback and new running back this offseason, and they were able to throw chunks of money at Brock Osweiler (4 years, $72 million) and Lamar Miller (4 years, $26 million). Osweiler started seven games last season and posted a 5-2 record as the starter for Denver. Miller has only reached 1,000 rushing yards once in his career, but he is a great run-and-catch threat out of the backfield.
After losing guard Brandon Brooks to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Texans rebounded quickly by signing former Kansas City Chiefs guard Jeff Allen to a four-year, $28 million deal.
The Titans have the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in 2016 and are likely to address their offensive line so that newly acquired running back DeMarco Murray has room to run . Tennessee was able to get Murray for next to nothing — swapping 2016 fourth-round picks — and the move gives quarterback Marcus Mariota some breathing room. Offensive tackle is the position that the Titans are likely to draft at No. 1, but they signed former Texans center Ben Jones (4-year, $17.5 million deal) to help address the need at offensive line ahead of the draft.
The team wasn’t done adding weapons and improving on offense after the Murray trade and signing Jones, rather also adding former Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews (three-year deal) and backup quarterback Matt Cassel on a one-year deal. Minus the Murray signing, the players that Tennessee added aren’t necessarily considered top-tier talent, but it did make them better as a team.
With all the moves that have been made so far in the AFC South, 2016 is likely to provide a higher level of competition that the division hasn’t seen in many years–and should be a lot of fun to watch.