After consulting with my blogging brethren, I was looking to play matchmaker between AFC South teams and restricted free agents. I was hit most by this:
Though they could have a shot at Earl Thomas or Taylor Mays in the draft at No. 20, Houston could have a really good chance to upgrade at free safety in the RFA department, allowing themselves to focus on other things -- running back, cornerback, defensive tackle, interior offensive line -- high in the draft.
Here are a couple options that look like they could be good:
St. Louis safety Oshiomogho Atogwe -- The Rams free safety finished last year on IR with a shoulder injury. But he was the team’s franchise player in 2009, and now falls back into restricted status. He was tendered to right of first refusal with no draft-pick compensation attached because otherwise the Rams would have had to guarantee his salary at 110 percent of 2009 level (near $7 million). Scouts Inc. says he’s aggressive, fast and especially good over the deep middle. Sounds like a good pairing with Bernard Pollard who’s solid stepping forward. With the right offer sheet the Texans could get him for no compensation.
Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea -- He’s tendered at a first-round level and the Texans cannot give up No. 20 for him. But Rick Smith could call Bill Polian and offer him Houston’s second-rounder, No. 50 overall, and see what kind of reaction he gets.
Indianapolis safety Melvin Bullitt -- He's been at strong safety with Bob Sanders out, but has also seen nickel action in the past and seems versatile enough to me to shift over. If Houston believes Bullitt could split the middle with Bernard Pollard to form a quality tandem, Bullitt’s tendered at a second-round level, and they could try offering a third.
Other possibilities for Houston: Washington corner Carlos Rogers is tendered at a first but we've heard he could likely be had for a fourth or even a fifth; Carolina corner Richard Marshall is tendered at a second and could be worth a third or fourth; Seattle guard Rob Sims is tendered as a fourth-rounder and the Seahawks would liked to have gone higher. A team that needs interior help could consider making an offer?
Thoughts on the rest of the division:
The Colts aren’t prohibited by the final eight rule from shopping restricted free agents. It’s just that they are highly unlikely to do so.
I don’t see a lot for them. Defensive ends and receivers aren’t on the list or aren’t reasonably priced. Unsettled at free safety, they could like Atogwe but don’t have the second-rounder they could need for Bethea.
Oakland linebacker Kirk Morrison -- He’s got a third-round tender, so how about starting off by offering a fourth? If Keith Bulluck isn’t re-signed and the breaking down David Thornton doesn’t make it out of camp -- I expect them both to be gone -- the Titans need a veteran to go with Stephen Tulloch and Gerald McRath or they’d be too young. Morrison’s experienced and can run and anticipate. At 6-2, 240, he’d also add a little bulk.
Chicago kick returner/safety Danieal Manning -- Tendered at a third, the Titans could offer a fourth. (They should get an additional, untradeable third-rounder as a compensatory pick for Albert Haynesworth.) Manning could probably solve the kick return issues and might be able to handle punts too -- he did it at Abilene Christian. He would also add some depth to the secondary. An experienced free safety, he’d be insurance if Michael Griffin continued to tumble. He could work in the occasional dime package and provide an alternative to Vincent Fuller if the incumbent nickel got hurt.
Other possibilities for Tennessee: Rogers; Marshall