NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year began Wednesday, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.
Roderick Johnson, offensive tackle
What it means: After declining to tender Johnson earlier in the week, Houston signed Johnson to a one-year $1.75 million deal. Johnson is a swing tackle who played in 16 games and made three starts for the Texans last season. Last year, Johnson was part of a rotation with veteran tackle Chris Clark.
What's the risk: This is a low-risk deal for the Texans who needed a tackle to back up Laremy Tunsil and 2019 first-round pick Tytus Howard. Johnson was a cheap option to fill that role and is familiar with the offense after two seasons in Houston.
Vernon Hargreaves, cornerback
Hargreaves has returned to the Texans, agreeing to a one-year deal just over a month after being released by Houston, a source confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: When the Texans signed Hargreaves off waivers in November, they brought him in hopes of getting an extended look at the 2016 first-round pick before his fifth-year option kicked in. Houston cut Hargreaves last month to avoid paying that pricey option, worth more than $9 million. Now, the pair have agreed to a cheaper one-year deal to keep the cornerback in Houston.
What's the risk: Hargreaves adds even more depth to the secondary Houston is trying to improve this offseason, based on the number of agreements the team has made with defensive backs so far. It would have been a bigger risk to pay Hargreaves his fifth-year option, but by cutting him and bringing him back on a smaller deal, the Texans get to keep a corner they liked having on the roster last season.
Randall Cobb, receiver
Slot receiver Randall Cobb, who played for the Cowboys last season, is headed to the Texans on a three-year, $27 million deal.
What it means: Cobb will not replace DeAndre Hopkins, but he will provide a reliable target for quarterback Deshaun Watson in the slot. The Texans drafted slot receiver Keke Coutee in 2018, but after getting off to a fast start during his rookie season, he has struggled. Coutee was a healthy scratch for several games last season and is no longer a lock to make the roster in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, Cobb was the 55th highest-graded wide receiver last season.
What's the risk: The addition of Cobb fills a need and is not much of a risk. With Hopkins gone, the Texans' top receivers are Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Cobb. With Fuller's injury history, having a durable Cobb is a big deal for Houston. During his one season in Dallas, Cobb had 55 catches for 828 yards and three touchdowns and played in all but one regular-season game.
AJ McCarron, quarterback
What it means: Deshaun Watson likes sharing a quarterback room with McCarron, who has been Houston's best backup quarterback since Watson was drafted in 2017. McCarron only played in two games for the Texans last season: in mop-up duty in a blowout loss to the Ravens and when Houston rested its starters in Week 17.
What's the risk: This is another low-risk deal for the Texans, who again have a capable backup quarterback who can take over if Watson gets injured and has to miss an extended amount of time.
Eric Murray, safety
What it means: Murray could be the Texans' third safety, playing with Justin Reid and Tashaun Gipson as the Texans are not expected to re-sign safety Jahleel Addae. The versatile defensive back also played in the slot last season for Cleveland. In nine games with the Browns last season, Murray had 24 tackles, one pass defended and one sack.
What's the risk: At $20.5 million over three years, this is not a cheap deal for Houston but one they hope will help fix a pass defense that allowed an average of 269.2 passing yards per game, which was the fourth-most in the NFL last season. If he does not play up to the contract, he could become a burden next offseason when the Texans have a growing list of contracts they need to take care of.
Bradley Roby, cornerback
What it means: Roby was the Texans' best cornerback last season, even though he missed six games to injury. Unless Houston signs another top corner, the Texans' top three at the position will be Roby, Gareon Conley and Lonnie Johnson, a second-round pick in 2019. Head coach Bill O’Brien likes that Roby can play inside or outside. Roby has played the star position before, but where he plays in Houston next season likely depends on the rest of the Texans’ offseason moves at cornerback.
What's the risk: The Texans paid a significant amount of money to bring Roby back, and they expect him to play at the level or better than he did in his first season in Houston. Unless cornerback Johnathan Joseph returns in free agency, Roby will be the veteran among a young cornerback group. Roby signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Texans last offseason and impressed enough to sign a multiyear deal to stay in Houston.
Phillip Gaines, cornerback
The Texans signed CB Phillip Gaines to a one-year contract, a source confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: Gaines isn't likely to start for Houston next season, but O'Brien was a fan of the cornerback when he played for the Texans in 2019. "He's a guy that can play inside and outside, a guy that's had production in the league," O'Brien said last season. "He’s played for a while, smart guy, good movement skills and a versatile skill set." Other than Gaines, the Texans have five cornerbacks under contract for 2020: Gareon Conley, Lonnie Johnson, Keion Crossen, Cornell Armstrong and Anthony Chesley. Of those five, Conley and Johnson played significant defensive snaps last season.
What's the risk: This is a low-risk, low-cost contract for the Texans, who need depth at the position, especially after Houston announced veteran cornerback Jonathan Joseph will test free agency.
DeAndre Carter, wide receiver
The Texans have signed Carter, an a exclusive-rights free agent, to a contract extension.
What it means: The Texans are hopeful they can keep their core contributors on special teams, and they started with re-signing Carter, their primary punt and kick returner last season, who was an exclusive-rights free agent. Carter averaged 9.7 yards per punt return last season, which ranked third in the NFL. Carter has also played wide receiver for Houston when needed, and finished 2019 with 11 catches for 162 yards.
What's the risk: This is another low-risk move for O’Brien, who has called Carter “a vital guy” to have on his team. “DeAndre Carter ... can sub into any position and know what to do,” O’Brien said last season. “That is really a vital guy on your team -- a guy that is a punt returner but has the knowledge of all the receiving positions and will know what to do. He is a plug-and-play guy. He has done that the last two years for us. He has made some big plays for us in times when we needed a play.”
Darren Fells, tight end
The Texans have agreed to re-sign Fells, sources confirmed to ESPN. Fells' two-year deal, which was first reported by NFL Network, includes $4 million in the first year, a source told ESPN.
What it means: O’Brien was hopeful Houston could bring back Fells, who had a career-best 34 catches for 341 yards and seven touchdowns for the Texans in 2019 and set franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end in a season. Houston has three other tight ends on the roster: Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas and Kahale Warring, a third-round pick in 2019 who spent last season on IR. O’Brien likes that each provides a different skillset. Fells, who mostly contributed as a blocker during his six seasons, made an impact on offense last year.
What's the risk: This is a low-risk deal for the Texans, who already know Fells fits into the offense and locker room after he excelled on the one-year deal he signed in March 2019. With the other three tight ends on the roster on rookie deals, it’s a low-cost position for Houston. Fells is 34 years old, though, and it is possible that his peak performance came last season. But if he remains healthy, Fells should hold off Houston’s young group of tight ends in 2020, at the very least.
Ka'imi Fairbairn, kicker
Fairbairn's contract is worth $17.65 million and includes $9 million fully guaranteed with $10.45 million over the next two years, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: This four-year deal gives the Texans stability at kicker. Fairbairn got off to a shaky start to the 2019 season, missing four extra points in four games early on, but after a miss in Week 6 he only missed one of his 27 remaining attempts during the regular season. Long-snapper Jon Weeks is also expected to re-sign with the Texans, which would keep Houston’s special-teams unit intact.
What's the risk: O’Brien stuck with Fairbairn during the misses last season, and rewarded him with a four-year deal. This is another low-risk deal for Houston and again shows O’Brien’s preference for re-signing and rewarding players from within.
Jaylen Watkins, safety
For Los Angeles Chargers safety Jaylen Watkins signed a two-year deal with the Texans.
What it means: Watkins' impact after signing a two-year deal in Houston is likely going to come on special teams. According to Pro Football Focus, as a defensive back, Watkins has shown flashes against the run, but he has struggled in coverage. He has not had a coverage grade over 60 since the 2015 season.
What's the risk: A low-risk, $3 million deal for the Texans who hope Watkins can provide some depth in the secondary and play well on special teams for Houston.
Tyrell Adams, linebacker
The Texans are re-signing linebacker Tyrell Adams.
What it means: Adams has been a good special teams player for Houston and also provides depth at linebacker. He filled in for Benardrick McKinney at the end of last season, starting two games at inside linebacker.
What's the risk: The Texans' linebacker group is expected to look similar to last season, but it's Adams' role on special teams that O'Brien finds even more valuable. "It's about the fabric guys and the role players doing their jobs at the highest level when you ask them to do that," O'Brien said. "That's what Tyrell does."
Jon Weeks, long snapper
The Texans are re-signing long snapper Jon Weeks.
What it means: Consistency is important for O'Brien, especially with his special teams specialists. Weeks has been in Houston since 2010, and after the Texans re-signed him and kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, all three specialists will return for the 2020 season.
What's the risk: A low-risk deal for a veteran who O'Brien has praised because of his leadership in the locker room. Weeks played through an ankle injury last season but played the next week.
Brent Qvale, offensive tackle
The Texans have signed offensive tackle Brent Qvale, who played for the New York Jets the past six seasons.
What it means: Qvale provides more depth for the Texans on the line, and may primarily play guard for Houston. Qvale has spent the past six seasons for the Jets, including time playing for now-Texans offensive line coach Mike Devlin. Last season for New York, Qvale had a PFF grade of 54.9.
What's the risk: This is another one-year deal for Houston, who needed depth at the position, especially at guard. There’s little downside for the Texans to bring in linemen to compete for jobs, especially given the short contract.