Free-agency primer: Texans

Key free agents: NT Earl Mitchell, TE Garrett Graham, DE Antonio Smith, LB Darryl Sharpton, G Wade Smith, RB Ben Tate, OT Ryan Harris, FB Greg Jones.

Where they stand: It’s difficult to assess how new coach Bill O’Brien views guys he’s inherited and to judge how they will fit into his system. Graham might amount to the most valuable guy on the list if the Texans use a lot of two-tight end sets, as he’s grown into a productive and effective player. Tate and Sharpton are injury-prone guys expected to move on, and Tate could get a good deal elsewhere. Mitchell did mostly solid work, but Wade Phillips was a lot more at ease with a small nose tackle than Romeo Crennel typically is. The two Smiths are 32 years old, and I expect a big move toward youth.

What to expect: The Texans have roughly $8 million in cap space and can get more if they cut Matt Schaub and/or safety Danieal Manning. General manager Rick Smith has been measured in free agency. But with a new coaching staff, I certainly expect the franchise to reach out and bring in at least a few players who fit what they want to do and can be torchbearers for a new regime and new message. They could sift through the market for a safety, a guard and a nose tackle, among other things. Quarterback is the big issue, and perhaps O’Brien sees a reclamation project on the very limited list of free agents. The broader expectation, however, is that they address the position in the draft.