After a half-decade as the NFL's doormat division, the AFC South has finally climbed out of last place in Around The NFL's offseason power rankings. With intriguing young quarterbacks in place, three of the four organizations made our list of franchises on the rise in 2016. The only team not on that list is Indianapolis, a perennial playoff contender.
"Everybody's getting better. Everybody made acquisitions in the offseason to improve their football teams," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said late last month. "There are four young, legitimate quarterbacks in our division who are all outstanding football players ... and everybody's got a shot to win this thing."
Before the AFC South follows the NFC West from the deepest valley to the mountain top, the four teams still have to round out their rosters with a strong draft later this month.
After watching Brian Hoyer flame out in the Wild Card round loss to the Chiefs, the Texans put a full-court press on Brock Osweiler in free agency, forking over $37 million in guarantees over the next two seasons for their new quarterback.
Osweiler wasn't the only major addition. Lamar Miller was signed to add a speed element in the backfield, while Jeff Allen and Tony Bergstrom replaced Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones at guard and center, respectively, on the offensive line.
With veteran Nate Washington now in New England, second-year wideout Jaelen Strong will be given every opportunity to win the No. 3 job behind DeAndre Hopkins and Cecil Shorts.
Key re-signings: QB Brandon Weeden, P Shane Lechler, K Nick Novak, OT Chris Clark, RB Jonathan Grimes.
Key departures: OG Brandon Brooks, C Ben Jones, WR Nate Washington, S Rahim Moore, LB Justin Tuggle.
» The Texans and Hoyer are headed for a divorce now that Osweiler is the face of the offense and Brandon Weeden has been brought back as the No. 2 QB. With four quarterbacks and gadget player B.J. Daniels under contract, interested teams are likely to await Hoyer's release rather than offering up a late-round pick on draft weekend.
» Houston boasted the NFL's best defense in the second half of last season, but reinforcements are needed on the defensive line. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork turns 35 during the 2016 season and is unsigned for 2017. The Texans could also use another pass rusher opposite perennial Defensive Player of the Year favorite J.J. Watt at defensive end.
» General manager Rick Smith will obviously pick up the fifth-year option on Hopkins' contract after the Pro Bowl wide receiver became the first player in NFL history with 100-yard performances under four different quarterbacks in the same season. The better question is whether the Texans will reward Hopkins with a new long-term deal that will surpass those signed by Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and A.J. Green in 2015.
The Colts took a more conservative approach to free agency after the shopping sprees of recent seasons paid few dividends. Rather than chasing marquee names this year, the organization is counting on new brainpower to maximize the roster's potential. Former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was hired to fix the offensive line. Interim offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was retained after pulling out a pair of late-season victories with fourth- and fifth-string quarterbacks. Chuck Pagano lured Ravens linebackers coach Ted Monachino away from Baltimore to fix the Colts' defense following the dismissal of Greg Manusky.
The roster changes were cosmetic, with Patrick Robinson signed to replace cornerback Greg Toler and second-year safety Clayton Geathers ready to step in for the departed Dwight Lowery. Armed with a new contract, Dwayne Allen is expected to be featured more in the passing game now that Coby Fleener is in New Orleans.
The Colts also waved goodbye to a pair of 21st century icons in Andre Johnson and Matt Hasselbeck, both of whom appeared to be stumbling to the finish line in December.
Key departures: TE Coby Fleener, ILB Jerrell Freeman, S Dwight Lowery, WR Andre Johnson, QB Matt Hasselbeck, CB Greg Toler.
» At February's NFL Scouting Combine, Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson pointed to the offensive line and the defense as the priorities this offseason. Absent of notable free-agent acquisitions, Grigson will have to address right tackle and the pass rush early in the draft.
»Frank Gore turns 33 years old in May and is coming off the least effective season of his illustrious 11-year career. The Colts need to find his successor, a young back who can add a speed element this season before taking the reins in 2017.
» Now that Andrew Luck is fully recovered from the lacerated kidney that prematurely ended his season, owner Jim Irsay is prepared to make him one of the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks. Irsay hopes to have a new deal in place by the July 4 holiday.
The pressure is on coach Gus Bradley, armed with a one-year extension after owner Shad Khan acknowledged that a winning record is "everybody's reasonable expectation at this point."
To that end, general manager Dave Caldwell scored an impressive free-agent haul. The Jaguars added a handful of above-average starters in defensive lineman Malik Jackson, safety Tashan Gipson, cornerback Prince Amukamara, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and running back Chris Ivory. The roster might still be sorely lacking in difference makers, but it's grown steadily stronger since the 2014 draft.
Key re-signings: None.
Key arrivals: DT Malik Jackson, S Tashaun Gipson, RB Chris Ivory, CB Prince Amukamara, OT Kelvin Beachum.
» Even with last year's first-round pick, Dante Fowler, returning from an ACL injury, Caldwell must hit a homerun with the No. 5 overall pick in this month's draft. UCLA star Myles Jack would be a perfect fit as a sideline-to-sideline running mate for speedy linebacker Telvin Smith.
» Figure out if former No. 1 overall pick Luke Joeckel is salvageable. The Jaguars are not expected to exercise Joeckel's fifth-year option after signing Beachum to compete for the left tackle job. Does that mean Joeckel will be on the trade block during draft weekend?
» The Jaguars have hinted at a new role for strong safety Johnathan Cyprien. Knowing that he struggles in coverage but excels near the line of scrimmage, the coaching staff will likely tinker with a hybrid linebacker/safety transition after watching Mark Barron and Deone Bucannon thrive in the box.
The team's brass has a new look. While interim coach Mike Mularkey was retained, there's a new offensive coordinator (Terry Robiskie), offensive line coach (Russ Grimm) and defensive coordinator (Dick LeBeau). Former Buccaneers director of player personnel Jon Robinson was hired to replace Ruston Webster as the general manager.
Robinson's first major move was a trade for DeMarco Murray as the linchpin of the Mularkey-Robiskie smashmouth attack which figures to feature plenty of play-action looks and more designed runs for Marcus Mariota. Although center Ben Jones was signed away from the Texans, the offensive line overhaul remains in limbo with Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil a possibility with the first pick in the draft and free-agent guard Louis Vasquez still on the radar.
The secondary is also in flux with Rashad Johnson, Antwon Blake and Brice McCain replacing Michael Griffin and Coty Sensabaugh.
Key arrivals: RB DeMarco Murray, WR Rishard Matthews, S Rashad Johnson, C Ben Jones, CB Antwon Blake.
Key departures: S Michael Griffin, CB Coty Sensabaugh, LB Zach Brown, DT Sammie Lee Hill, OL Joe Looney.
» Maximize the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Robinson has made it clear that he's open to trading down, and he's reportedly received significant interest from other teams so far. If the Titans do stay put, will they select Tunsil or defensive back Jalen Ramsey?
» Is there a new contract in the works for Kendall Wright, who is due $7.32 million in the option year of his rookie contract? Wright has taken a step back the past two years after racking up 94 receptions in his second season. The Titans sorely need a legitimate No. 1 receiver whereas Wright is more of a slot receiver in the Randall Cobb mold.
» Satisfy the league's ownership requirements. Controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk has made it clear that the franchise is not for sale, but the NFL is still reportedly unsatisfied with the Titans' distribution of authority and ownership shares.