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The AFC South is the indie band that never hit it big. It’s the Baseball America top prospect that never reached the majors. The AFC South is the future that never arrives. You get the idea.
The true believers might have to wait another year because the division’s rosters remain so uneven. The Texans seemingly have everything except a quarterback. The Colts have very little else besides a quarterback that is coming off major shoulder surgery. The Jaguars had a great offseason on paper again. But that same paper shows no NFL team has lost more games since 2012, when owner Shahid Khan bought the team. The Titans have the third-most losses over that span, yet the team’s encouraging 2016 campaign and pickups in the secondary will make them a trendy pick to win the division.
That’s the beauty of the AFC South. It might not be loaded with Super Bowl contenders, but it’s a lot more interesting than it was a few years ago. It’s not too late to jump aboard the NFL’s hipster division before it goes mainstream.
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The Jaguars picked up one of the league’s most versatile, underrated and singular defensive linemen in Campbell. There just aren’t any other 6-foot-8 linemen who can play multiple positions, stuff the run and push the pocket from the interior. He brings instant credibility and leadership to the Jaguars‘ promising young group that already includes Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler and Abry Jones.
Campbell cost big bucks and turns 31 years old in 2017, so this is a short-term gambit. But he’s been among the steadiest, most durable players in football throughout his career. He was worth the gamble.
BIGGEST LOSS: CB A.J. Bouye
Old team: Houston Texans. New team: Jacksonville Jaguars
This was the other candidate for biggest addition, with Bouye earning a $67.5 million contract after his breakout season in Houston. The Texans had the worst offseason of any team in the division. They lost a top-shelf cornerback, perhaps not extending fully for Bouye in an effort to save cap room for a quarterback savior who chose Jim Nantz over Bill O’Brien. The loss of Bouye especially stings because O’Brien will have to watch Tom Savage or a rookie QB to be named later attempt try to complete passes against the excellent tandem of Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. This was a bad offseason for all the quarterbacks in this division with Tennessee also upgrading their secondary with Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien.
SLEEPER ADDITION: LB John Simon
Old team: Houston Texans. New team: Indianapolis Colts
Sensing a theme here? The Texans didn’t add anyone of note in free agency and watched a few key pieces travel to division rivals. Simon is not going to make any Pro Bowls, but he’s a great example of the value-hunting done in free agency by new Colts general manager Chris Ballard. The Colts made significant upgrades with Simon and defensive end Jabaal Sheard without breaking the bank. Defensive end Margus Hunt and wide receiver Kamar Aiken are potentially valuable role players who were picked up at a bargain price. The Colts would round out a great offseason if they sign defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a top-10 free agent who recently visited.
Houston Texans: General manager Rick Smith has backed himself into a corner. After failing to draft a quarterback in the first three rounds for the last 11 years in a row, Smith will be compelled to take one early in a weak quarterback draft. It would be a surprise if the team didn’t use its first round pick on a signal caller, so the team’s needs on both lines might have to wait.
Indianapolis Colts: The bad news for general manager Chris Ballard is that the Colts have needs at virtually every position outside of quarterback, wide receiver and tight end. If nothing else, that should allow Ballard to take best player available and not force a pick to solve the right side of the offensive line. As the Hankins visit shows, Ballard will continue to look for bargains in free agency.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars need an instant impact with the No. 4 overall pick. That’s why it wouldn’t be a surprise if they replaced their current uninspiring two-man backfield committee with LSU’s Leonard Fournette. A strong running game would help out Blake Bortles, who is the key to this entire Jaguars offseason. Drafting a quarterback in the middle rounds as a fallback 2018 option is a possibility.
Tennessee Titans: Like the Colts, the Titans‘ offense will go through OTAs with their backup quarterback (Matt Cassel) running the show. Marcus Mariota isn’t expected to recover from a broken leg until training camp. That will complicate coach Mike Mularkey’s plans to expand his offense in year two running the team. In the meantime, general manager Jon Robinson figures to add receivers for Mariota in the draft. Signing a veteran stopgap wideout also would make sense.
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