NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The Texans began the offseason almost $20 million over the $182.5 million salary cap for 2021, but in the two months since he was hired, general manager Nick Caserio has made moves to get Houston well under that number.
But while Houston has some cap flexibility and many holes on the team, it’s unlikely the Texans make any huge splashes in free agency. One area at which Houston could spend is quarterback. The Texans say they don’t want to trade quarterback Deshaun Watson and if they hold to that and he decides to sit out, Houston will need a reliable option at the position.
Here's a breakdown of every 2021 NFL free-agent signing by the Houston Texans, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback
Taylor comes to Houston on a one-year, $12.5 million deal.
What it means: Signing Taylor to an incentive-laden deal doesn't mean that the Texans have suddenly decided to trade Deshaun Watson, but rather that Caserio has a plan if Watson is not Houston's Week 1 starter. Not only does Houston have an option if Watson is traded or holds out, but it also gives the team a veteran quarterback who has been in the situation where he's started the season before a rookie quarterback took over. There's still a lot to be played out with regard to Watson's future with the team, but a one-year deal for Taylor is an insurance policy for the Texans.
What's the risk: Given that less than half of the contract is guaranteed, it's not that high of a risk, and given the Texans' situation it's one that needed to be taken. During his press conference last Thursday, Culley said the Texans didn't have a contingency plan if Watson didn't report to training camp. If Houston is so set on not trading Watson, it needed to have another option in the very real event that he decides to sit out rather than play for the Texans to start the 2021 season. They've found that in Taylor.
Justin Britt, center
Britt comes from the Seahawks on a one-year deal worth up to $5 million, a source told Schefter.
What it means: Houston was looking for a cheaper option at center, after choosing to release starter Nick Martin in February to save more than $6 million against the 2021 salary cap. By signing Britt, the Texans get a veteran at the position and save money. Houston could still add to the position and guard Zach Fulton has experience at center, as well.
What's the risk: Britt didn’t play last season after he tore his ACL in October 2019 and then was released by the Seattle Seahawks in April 2020. Prior to that injury, the 29-year-old had been healthy, missing only one game in his first five seasons. Economically, it’s a low-risk signing, as Houston signed Britt to a one-year deal worth up to $5 million.
Donte Moncrief, wide receiver
What it means: After cutting Kenny Stills last season and not re-signing Will Fuller V, the Texans were in need of depth at wide receiver. Moncrief joins Brandin Cooks, 2020 fifth-round pick Isaiah Coulter and Chad Hansen, along with slot receivers Randall Cobb and Keke Coutee. Moncrief could start the season as Houston’s No. 2 receiver, but he’s only had five catches since 2018, which is the last time he's played a full season.
What's the risk: This is another one-year deal for a player with whom Caserio is familiar, as Moncrief played six games for the Patriots in 2020. This is a low-risk way to add a veteran receiver.
Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback
What it means: Hargreaves was an unexpected starting corner last season after Gareon Conley started training camp on the PUP list and missed the entire season with an ankle injury. Hargreaves started every game for the Texans, finishing the season with 72 tackles, and also had one of Houston’s three interceptions last season.
What's the risk: With the addition of cornerback Terrance Mitchell, Hargreaves isn’t expected to be a starter in 2021, unless Houston decides to move on from Bradley Roby to save money. Keeping Hargreaves on a one-year deal gives Houston more depth at the position and isn’t a risky move given his familiarity with the team.
Cameron Johnston, punter
What it means: The Texans cut punter Bryan Anger -- who had signed a three-year extension with Houston in December 2019 -- to save money, as he was due a base salary of $2.5 million in 2021 that was not guaranteed. Johnston, who averaged 46.7 yards per punt in 2020 with the Eagles, signed a three-year deal with Houston.
What's the risk: For the first time in three seasons, the Texans will have a re-tooled special teams unit, replacing Anger with Johnston and long snapper Jon Weeks with (for now) Anthony Kukwa. Houston’s special teams ranked 21st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA last season so perhaps Caserio was looking for more than just salary cap savings.
Christian Kirksey, linebacker
Kirksey agreed to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million, Schefter reported.
What it means: Kirksey gives the Texans a veteran option at inside linebacker on a prove-it deal. The former Packers and Browns linebacker started 11 games in 2020, finishing the season with 78 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks. The move also served as a precursor to trading inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney to the Dolphins for Shaq Lawson.
What's the risk: Kirksey has an injury history. After playing all 16 games in each of his first four seasons, Kirksey has played just 20 in his past three. The linebacker is coming off a pectoral injury that caused him to miss five games and go on injured reserve. The signing is low-risk, as it’s a one-year deal worth up to $4.5 million.
Mark Ingram II, running back
Ingram agreed to a one-year contract worth up to $3 million, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: Ingram will compete with David Johnson for carries, although the running back was a healthy scratch for four of the Ravens' final five games of the 2020 season. Houston’s duo of David Johnson (691 yards and six touchdowns on 147 carries in 12 games) and Duke Johnson (235 yards and a touchdown on 77 carries in 11 games) struggled last season and the Texans’ running game was ranked last in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The Texans could still add a pass-catching back after releasing Duke Johnson in February.
What's the risk: This is a low-risk signing for the Texans, as Ingram signed a one-year deal worth up to $3 million. Houston is taking a chance that the 31-year-old running back can return to his 2019 Pro Bowl form. The Texans needed to add at the position, and a lack of draft capital -- and a lot of holes on the other side of the ball -- made Ingram and this incentive-laden deal attractive to general manager Nick Caserio.
Phillip Lindsay, running back
Lindsay agreed to a one-year, $3.25 million deal which includes $500K in incentives.
What it means: The Texans get a running back who has two of three seasons where he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He fell to 502 yards and a touchdown in 2020 because he had to share carries with Melvin Gordon and injuries that led to him only playing in 11 games. If healthy, Lindsay should be an upgrade at the position and won't have to split carries the way he did in Denver.
What's the risk: This is a great deal for the Texans, who get a Pro Bowler on a one-year, prove-it deal. However, now that Houston has signed Lindsay, it raises questions about why the Texans agreed to restructure David Johnson's contract -- rather than cut him -- if they were going to go after another running back. Add Ingram into the mix and it's a crowded backfield.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, linebacker
Pierre-Louis is joining the Texans on a two-year deal worth up to $8 million, including incentives.
What it means: Pierre-Louis had a larger role in his lone season in Washington, playing 506 defensive snaps, more than double his previous career high. The linebacker had a sack and a career-high 56 tackles in 13 games last season and had a PFF coverage grade of 83.9.
What's the risk: Repeat after me: another low-risk signing by the Texans, which appears to be the way Caserio is building the roster right now.
Desmond King II, cornerback
Desmond King signed one-year, $3.5 million deal, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Sunday.
What it means: The Texans entered the offseason desperately in need of cornerback depth and adding King, a slot corner who was named a 2018 first-team All-Pro, on a one-year, $3.5 million deal addresses that need. Houston’s No. 1 cornerback, Bradley Roby, will miss Week 1 of the NFL season for the final game of his suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. When he returns, the Texans could play Roby and new signing Terrance Mitchell on the outside and King in the slot.
What's the risk: Like most of these free agent signings Houston has made so far, this move has a lot of upside and is low-risk. By signing King, the Texans add a 26-year-old who has already been named first-team All-Pro in his career at a position of need.
Andre Roberts, kick returner
Roberts agreed to a two-year deal for just under $6 million ($3 million guaranteed).
What it means: The Texans are trying to upgrade their special teams by adding Roberts, who averaged 30.0 yards per kickoff return last season with Buffalo. Roberts' best season was in 2018 when he was named All-Pro after finishing second in the NFL in kickoff and punt return average. Roberts' focus will be on special teams, as he has not played a significant role at wide receiver since the 2014 season with Washington.
What's the risk: It's not a cheap deal for a 33-year-old returner. Still, Roberts was productive last season and Houston's special teams ranked 20th in Football Outsiders' DVOA. With $3 million guaranteed, it's a low-risk signing for Caserio and the Texans.
Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports Grugier-Hill will sign a one-year, $3.25 million deal.
What it means: The Texans continue to add at linebacker. According to Fowler, the pass-coverage specialist for the Dolphins was looking for a more consistent role for the 2021 season. After signing a one-year deal with Miami in 2020, Grugier-Hill had 28 tackles and a sack last season. He was drafted by Caserio and the Patriots in 2016.
What's the risk: Grugier-Hill's contract with the Texans is worth $3.25 million, so financially, it's not a big risk for Houston. So far the Texans are building the team through short-term contracts and trades in Caserio's first season as Texans general manager.
Maliek Collins, defensive tackle
Collins agrees to one-year deal worth up to $6 million, agent Drew Rosenhaus tells ESPN.
What it means: The Texans needed help on their defensive line, and they start by signing Collins to a one year deal. The defensive tackle signed a one-year contract with the Raiders in 2020 but had just one quarterback hit, zero sacks and zero tackles for a loss despite playing 504 defensive snaps.
What's the risk: Although Collins didn't show up on the stat sheet in 2020, he was productive in his four seasons with the Cowboys, for whom he totaled 14.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 40 quarterback hits. It's another one-year deal for Houston, so again, a low-risk signing if Collins doesn't improve on his 2020 season.
Terrence Brooks, safety
Brooks agrees to a one-year deal for $2 million, his agent tells ESPN.
What it means: Brooks gives the Texans some depth at safety, a position that was a need this offseason. Caserio was familiar with Brooks, who spent the last two seasons as the fourth safety in New England. Brooks joins Justin Reid, Eric Murray and Jonathan Owens at the position. In his two seasons with the Patriots, Brooks had one interception and 47 tackles.
What's the risk: This is a low-risk signing for the Texans, who committed to only one year.
Joe Thomas, linebacker
Thomas agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal per ESPN's Todd Archer
What it means: Here's some more help at linebacker for the Texans, who sign Thomas to a one-year deal, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. In 15 games for Dallas last season, Thomas had two quarterback hits, two passes defensed and 48 tackles. He did not have a sack. The linebacker also played 37% of the Cowboys' snaps on special teams in 2020.
What's the risk: This is a very low financial risk for the Texans and gives them another option at linebacker after trading Benardrick McKinney to the Dolphins earlier in the week. Tyrell Adams, who filled in after McKinney went on injured reserve last season, is also a free agent.
Justin McCray, guard
McCray agrees to Two years, $4 million with a $500,000 signing bonus and $2 million in incentives, per ESPN's Field Yates.
What it means: McCray gives coach David Culley another guard behind Zach Fulton and Max Scharping. The lineman, going into his sixth season, played for Texans offensive line coach James Campen in Green Bay. After agreeing to a trade for tackle Marcus Cannon, right tackle Tytus Howard could be another candidate to play inside. The Texans also could move on from Fulton, which would save them $3 million.
What's the risk: As with every signing so far, this is a very low-risk deal for Houston. With a base salary of $1.2 million in 2021, Houston improves the interior of their offensive line, which struggled last season.