Texans make a splash in free agency, find right fit in Tyrann Mathieu

Tyrann Mathieu joins a Texans secondary that took a turn for the worse against the pass in 2017. Tim Warner/Getty Images

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans entered free agency with nearly $68 million in available salary-cap space, and through the first two days of the new NFL year, they hadn't made a big splash.

The Texans, who were 4-12 last season, went into the offseason knowing they had to improve their offensive line and secondary after seeing the holes they had last season. Houston signed three linemen (Zach Fulton, Seantrel Henderson and Senio Kelemete) and a cornerback (Aaron Colvin) on Day 1, and while Fulton and Colvin project as starters, it still seemed as though something was missing.

On Friday night, the Texans made sure they didn't miss out on what was a perfect fit when they signed former Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu to a one-year, $7 million deal. If Mathieu plays well next season, it's hard to see Houston letting him leave and not signing him to a multiyear contract extension.

After missing out on cornerback Malcolm Butler and left tackle Nate Solder early in free agency, the Texans might have hit jackpot when the Cardinals released Mathieu on Wednesday.

It was no secret the Texans needed to upgrade their secondary this offseason after the unit fell from being ranked No. 2 in passing yards allowed per game to No. 24 last season. And while Houston added a slot cornerback in Colvin and brought back veteran corner Johnathan Joseph earlier in the week, the Texans were lacking star power in the secondary.

The move to add Mathieu, 25, simply made sense. After losing cornerback A.J. Bouye in free agency before last season, Houston lacked a playmaker on the back end of the defense. Mathieu, who was a first-team All-Pro in 2015, was exactly what the Texans needed.

Mathieu played all 16 games in 2017 for the first time since entering the NFL in 2013, with two interceptions, 78 combined tackles and seven passes defended. When healthy, Mathieu has been one of the best nickel defenders in the NFL, the type of player who can make an impact on every down.

And while Mathieu is a good fit in Houston, joining the Texans was also a good move for him. Earlier in the week, Mathieu told ESPN's Josina Anderson that a "bunch of teams have reached out," but that he wanted "to go somewhere where football is important and it matters." The Texans might have struggled last season, but if they can stay healthy in 2018, they have the chance to be a top defense again.

The Texans finally have a quarterback in Deshaun Watson who can keep them in games and help them win shootouts, though in Watson's rookie season, Houston’s defense struggled to keep those leads. Mathieu is only one player, but the Texans hope he, along with leaders Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt, can help this unit get back to being a dominant defense in 2018.