Skip to main content
Indianapolis Colts

A Look Around The AFC South

Presented by

Around the AFC South at NFL Combine: Decisions looming on Derrick Henry, Calvin Ridley, Josh Allen

The Colts had a relatively slow news week at the NFL Combine, but there were some interesting notes from their AFC South rivals at the Indiana Convention Center. 

Artboard 1

A year ago, the AFC South was widely viewed among NFL's worst divisions – the Texans and Colts had top-four picks, the Titans crashed down the stretch of 2022 and the Jaguars won the division with nine victories. 

Plenty is different now, with all four teams in the division featuring age-25-and-under quarterbacks and the Texans emerging from a closely contested division as champions in 2023. The AFC South, in 2024, might profile as one of football's best divisions. 

"Our division is definitely really good," Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans said this week at the NFL Combine. "When you think about the young quarterbacks in our division with the Colts, the Jags, the Titans, and us, we all have really young quarterbacks who all have bright futures. Four really good teams in our division. It's going to be a battle each and every week that we play each other. I'm excited about it. You want to play against the top competition to see where you stack up, and I'm excited to see our team develop and grow throughout the year and see where we end up."

So while the Colts have plenty of business to tend to in the coming days, weeks and months, it's worth taking a peek at what's ahead for their division rivals. A few things we heard at the NFL Combine this week regarding the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans: 

Derrick Henry, the No. 7 pick and the Titans

Henry, the four-time Pro Bowl running back who's spent his entire eight-year career in Tennessee, is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new NFL league year begins March 13. While Henry gave what felt like a farewell speech following the Titans' season finale in January, general manager Ran Carthon this week didn't tip his hand on Tennessee's plans with the star running back. 

"I hear that question around town a lot – people will come and the first thing they'll say is, 'Hey, we're not going to lose Derrick, are we?'" Carthon said at the NFL Combine Tuesday. "And I think I've probably, in my 12 months on this job, have gotten more Derrick Henry questions than anything. So I understand that piece of it too. But, I have a responsibility to build this team long term. And like I said, we'll cross that bridge with Derrick and his team when we get there."

What the Titans do have is the No. 7 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, plenty of cap space, a new head coach (Brian Callahan) and a second-year quarterback (Will Levis) who had some impressive moments in 2023. Carthon said the Titans like the seventh overall pick but are "open" to listening to offers to trade down – relatively standard fare for a team with a top-10 pick and a young quarterback already in place. 

As for the cap space, Carthon emphasized a prudent approach to spending in free agency. 

"We have to spend wisely," Carthon said. "We don't want to just load up and just go spend money. Again, we're trying to build a long-term, consistent thing, and you can't do that spending all $90 million out front. We've got to be patient. We got to position ourselves that there going to be guys that come free in June and July, like when we got D-Hop (DeAndre Hopkins), that we have to have the space for and be able to afford it. Plus, we have to have money for operating costs moving forward throughout the fall, which I think for most of the season, we're in the top five in having space available. So, we plan to be active. But we're going to be patient and let everything come to us."

What will Jaguars do with Calvin Ridley and Josh Allen?

Ridley (76 catches, 1,016 yards, eight touchdowns) and Allen (17.5 sacks, 33 QB hits, 17 TFLs) were two of the Jaguars' most productive players in 2023, and both are due to become unrestricted free agents in a few weeks. 

General manager Trent Baalke declined to get into his thoughts on using the franchise tag on Allen, who ranked as 2024's third-best free agent

"I don't want to speculate on that," Baalke said, via "We've got a little over a week to work with here. We're going to work diligently with his agent to try to come to a resolution on this thing. That's where our focus is right now."

The next steps for the Jaguars with Ridley are a little more complicated. If Jacksonville signs Ridley to a long-term extension, they will send the Atlanta Falcons their 2024 second-round pick to complete the trade the two teams agreed to back in 2023; if Ridley has the franchise tag placed on him or does not re-sign with the Jaguars, it'll be a third-round pick.

"We're not real concerned with that, whether it's a second or third round," Baalke said. "We're just going to work with the player and see if we can come to an agreement. Whether that's before the compensation changes or not, that remains to be seen. We're more focused on the player."

How will Texans build around C.J. Stroud?

Coming off an AFC South title and Stroud putting together one of the best rookie seasons a quarterback's had in recent memory, Houston has a strong foundation on which to build in 2024. A lot of what general manager Nick Caserio said, given that opportunity, might sound similar to what we heard from Colts general manager this week as well. 

"Free agency is case by case, so you look at the player, you look at his role, what's the value of the player, have an understanding of the market, what are your options, is that the best thing for the football team? In the end, we're going to do what we think is best for the Houston Texans team," Caserio said. "DeMeco [Ryans] has said this countless times, I've expressed this countless times. It's not about one person, it's not about one player. Every year is different. We're not really believers in windows. I'm not really sure what that means. It's about the 2024 season, trying to put the best team together. What are our options? We'll explore our options and we'll try to make good sound decisions that make sense for our team."

The Texans have a handful of top players hitting free agency, like defensive end Jonathan Greenard (12.5 sacks in 2023), tight end Dalton Schultz (59 receptions, 635 yards, 5 TDs), defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (six sacks) and kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn (27/28 field goals). So the question for Houston is how they'll improve around Stroud – and how much Stroud will improve himself after a remarkable rookie season. 

"Very excited about what C.J. did this year, but I'm also even more excited about the things that he can improve on and where he can get better, continuing to lead our team this next year," Ryans said. "Definitely looking for a huge jump in his growth from year one to year two."

Related Content

2024 Season Tickets - Now Available!

2024 Season Tickets - Now Available!

Season Tickets for the 2024 Season are available now! Get access to the best seating locations, best pricing, and best benefits as a Colts Season Ticket Member!