There has been a changing in the guard in the AFC South. No longer are the Indianapolis Colts that proverbial 500 pound elephant in the room. Instead, the injury to Peyton Manning really showed that franchise that their window has closed. Replacing the Colts as the "favorite" in the division is the Houston Texans, who are only going to get better.
It goes without saying that there is going to be dramatic roster turnovers all throughout this division. There are some really bad contracts here and certain individuals just haven't performed up to the level that their money would indicate.
So, lets take a look at players from the AFC South who could find themselves on the street when free agency starts.
LB- DeMeco Ryans: $7.2 million
The 3-4 defensive scheme really doesn't seem to fit Ryan's strengths a great deal. He has also regressed since making the Pro Bowl in 2009. You are looking at a linebacker that has seen his tackle figure drop from 123 in 2009 to 71 in 2011. Houston has other inside linebacker options on their roster that are better fitted to play in the 3-4.
You also have to take into account that DeMeco Ryans is set to earn $7.2 million in 2012. Houston has to worry about retaining the services of Mario Williams as well as adding a complementary wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson.
CB- Kareem Jackson: $2.0 million
The back end of the 2010 first round was not good for teams looking at the corner position. Kyle Wilson, Patrick Robinson and Kareem Jackson: all what I would consider busts on the defensive side of the ball at this point. Jackson, for his part, has probably struggled the most out of that trio.
He has accumulated a total of 17 passes defended in 31 career games, continually getting burned on the outside. Houston was able to mask some of these shortcomings in 2011 because of splendid play from the rest of their roster, but he just isn't getting it done. In fact, there could be a strong argument that the Texans retain Jason Allen as their nickel corner and go after another starter via free agency or in the draft. It is hard to give up on a player after just two seasons, but throwing $2 million to someone that really isn't that good doesn't make much sense.
OT- Michael Roos: 7.3 million
He might have been a First Team All-Pro, but Michael Roos is three years removed from being anything more than an marginal starting tackle in the NFL. It just doesn't make much sense to pay a player who has regressed in both pass protection and run blocking over $7 million a season.
There is a strong possibility that Roos and the Titans come to an agreement on a contract restructuring, but short of that he will be on the free agent market come March.
DE- Derrick Morgan: $2.9 million
Talk about busts. The Tennessee Titans selected Derrick Morgan with the 16th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He went on to start ten games and acquire just four sacks in two seasons. He just isn't providing the Titans with the contribution they thought they were getting in 2010.
There is a strong possibility that the Titans do look for a trade partner in an effort to get a mid-round pick. Short of that, I don't see Morgan being on their 53 come August.
LB- Will Witherspoon: $3.5 million
This veteran linebacker had a really solid 2011 season for the Tennessee Titans. He recorded two sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 14 starts. With that said, Witherspoon is expendable in the grand scheme of things, especially with that $3.5 million cap figure.
Tennessee will target an outside linebacker in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. They have two up-and-coming linebackers in Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy, it just makes sense to get another young player to go with them.
OT- Eugene Monroe: $9.0 million
Its hard to imagine that the Jacksonville Jaguars would give up on a player they selected 8th overall just three seasons ago, but Eugene Monroe continued to struggle in pass protection in 2011. He was, by all accounts, one of the worst pass protecting offensive tackles in the NFL: right up there with Marc Columbo of the Miami Dolphins.
It also doesn't help that the former Virginia Cavalier' is set to count $9 million against the cap. The Jaguars do have a myriad of average possibilities to replace Monroe, which means they could be hesitant to release him outright. Still, you need to have someone you can rely on to protect your young quarterback and the Jaguars don't have that in Monroe.
DE- Aaron Kampman: $8.0 million
A free agent bust if I have ever seen one, Aaron Kampman has tallied a total of four sacks and played in 11 games in two seasons with the Jaguars since coming over from Green Bay following following 2009.
Obviously injuries have been a major factor in this, but Jacksonville will not pay that $8 million against the cap in 2012, that is guaranteed.
FB- Greg Jones: $4.5 million
The fullback position is quickly being hedged out in the NFL, this has been the case over the course of the last couple of seasons. While this position might be important to Jacksonville in terms of blocking for Maurice Jones-Drew, they are not going to pay Greg Jones $4.5 million in 2012.
You can expect the two sides to work on a contract restructuring, but if that fails Jones will be a free agent come March.
QB- Peyton Manning: $17.0 million
While Manning's true cap numbers are still being wrangled about, I have come to the conclusion that it stands about $17 million against the Colts 12' cap. There is absolutely no way that they bring him back with that figure. After all, the No. 1 pick and Andrew Luck just fell onto their laps.
I am pretty sure, taking a look at all the indicators, that Peyton Manning has played his last game in a Colts uniform. Rumors are being thrown around that the Miami Dolphins are going to be his hottest pursuer, followed by the Washington Redskins.
With that said, don't be surprised if a team like the San Francisco 49ers get involved. It goes without saying that they would be his best fit to win another Super Bowl. The feeling, however, has to be mutual and I am not sure Harbaugh and Co. are interested. Either way, he is going to be released in relatively short order.
TE- Dallas Clark: $7.3 million
If the Indianapolis Colts are going with the youth movement, and that seems to be the case, it makes no sense to keep Dallas Clark on the roster with that $7 million price tag. They have another tight end in Jacob Tamme (fantasy owner remember him from 2010), who is set to be a free agent and would come a lot cheaper.
The one factor that could play against the idea of Clark being released would be if the Colts want to give Andrew Luck that safety valve early in his career. Even if that is the case, he wont be returning under that cap figure.
LB- Gary Brackett: $7.4 million
To say that the Indianapolis Colts need to rebuild their defense is an understatement, this is a unit that gave up nearly 27 points per game and yielded over 140 rushing yards in over half their games.
They are also switching to the 3-4 defense, which means a complete overhaul of the front seven. Gary Brackett has played in the 4-3 throughout his career and doesn't seem like a fit for their new defense. Adding to the great probability of him being released is that Brackett is set to count over $7 million against the cap.
RB- Joseph Addai: $4.8 million
Joseph Addai has clearly played his final game in Indianapolis. The former LSU standout has been somewhat of a bust since gaining 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. Injuries and an inability to make plays between the hashes has really affected his future with this team.
Additionally, Donald Brown averaged nearly five yards per rush attempt in 2011 and the Colts selected Delone Carter in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, he looked rather good as a rookie.