AFC South: Free-agency primer

Houston Texans

Key free agents: OLB Mario Williams, C Chris Myers, G Mike Brisiel, TE Joel Dreessen, K Neil Rackers, CB Jason Allen.

Where they stand: The Texans did well to lock up running back Arian Foster with a long-term deal, which meant they didn’t need to franchise him. But it’s going to be next to impossible to retain Williams. The defense did well without him for 11 games in 2011. But it would still be far better with him than not. He’s in position to demand huge dollars on the open market, where plenty of teams are desperate for a premium pass-rusher. He is the line guy who fits the bill. Myers is a big priority, and while he’s a super system fit who’d like to stay, he can be effective in a lot of places and will be courted. Brisiel is a solid starter, and the backup center, so they’d certainly like to keep him as well.

What to expect: Not much. The team ventured into free agency last year to round out the secondary with cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning. But this time around there is little money and their focus will be on trying to lock up guys who are in line to come free in 2012. So that receiver they’ll add could come in the draft instead of in the form of Colts free agent Reggie Wayne or another veteran. They could make some money moves. Receiver/returner Jacoby Jones and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans currently rate as too pricey.

Indianapolis Colts

Key free agents: WR Pierre Garcon, WR Reggie Wayne, C Jeff Saturday, TE Jacob Tamme, OT Ryan Diem, WR Anthony Gonzalez, G Mike Pollak, LB Philip Wheeler.

Where they stand: They did well to lock up defensive end Robert Mathis, who is sure to do some outside linebacker work as Indy transitions to a 3-4. Beyond that, it may be tough. They’re letting Peyton Manning go to avoid a big bonus and because of health concerns, so Andrew Luck from Stanford will be on his way in. Will they be aggressive in trying to keep Garcon and Saturday to be a help to Luck? If all the receivers go, they are quite thin. And the interior line needs to be rebuilt, so keeping Saturday for another year could help ease the process. New GM Ryan Grigson is an unknown quantity, and he could be more active in free agency than Bill Polian and Chris Polian were.

What to expect: Again, with Grigson in control and Chuck Pagano a first-time head coach, it’s hard to predict. With the holes on the roster, it’s hard to imagine the Colts won’t do at least a bit of shopping in the mid-priced market. If they do, a cornerback, interior offensive lineman, receiver and cornerback rank as top needs. Pagano is connected to a few guys from Baltimore coming free. Linebacker Jarret Johnson and safety/special-teamer Haruki Nakamura could be targets from the Ravens.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key free agents: S Dwight Lowery, DE Jeremy Mincey, CB Rashean Mathis, DE Matt Roth, OT Guy Whimper, QB Luke McCown.

Where they stand: Lowery has to be priority one. They did good work to fix the safety position last year, so they don’t need to be in position to fix it again. Mincey’s value is up with all the ends who were tagged. Mathis is coming off a torn ACL. They should be able to wait with him and get him back late if they want to see if he can mentor a youngster for one year. They should seek a major upgrade on McCown as a fallback behind Blaine Gabbert.

What to expect: They’ve got a new owner with money and plenty of cap room, but have sent out a strong signal they won’t be super-active. Hopefully that still leaves room for big moves with veteran outsiders. Two ideal candidates who would show a real urgency -- Houston’s outside linebacker/ defensive end Mario Williams and San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson. They have to have veteran receiver help. And don’t sleep on cornerback, where they don’t have a clear No. 1 guy and need depth.

Tennessee Titans

Key free agents: CB Cortland Finnegan, DE Jason Jones, G Jake Scott, FB Ahmard Hall, DE William Hayes, LB Barrett Ruud, S Jordan Babineaux.

Where they stand: They franchised safety Michael Griffin and are expected to sign Babineaux as soon as free agency hits. But they’ve told Finnegan they are letting him go and he could land in Dallas, Detroit or even St. Louis. They have enough at corner to go forward. They made a mistake moving Jones to end and should put him back at tackle if they can retain him, but an outsider may value him more. Hayes and Ruud are goners. A guy like Hall is good in the locker room and should rebound from an off year, but as he’s situational he can’t be any sort of priority.

What to expect: They need a pass-rusher above all else. So while I don’t think they will overpay as much as other candidates for Mario Williams, they should at least dip their toe into the water. They are going to move on from Scott and at least tinker with the interior offensive line. Look for them to sign a second-tier guard or center they think can blossom with them. They do not view receiver as the sort of need many outsiders do, but certainly need depth.