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How much money Colts, AFC South rivals have ahead of free agency

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 8, 2016) – With the NFL’s veteran free-agent market set to open Wednesday, it’s worth asking: Who has the most to spend and who needs to invest wisely?

We’ll go with the AFC South, home of the Indianapolis Colts.

The division was the NFL’s worst a year ago, combining for a 25-39 record.

The Colts missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Houston Texans earned the AFC South title with a 9-7 record, then got steamrolled 30-0 in the first round of the playoffs – at home no less – by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Tennessee Titans hold the first pick in the April draft by virtue of their 3-13 record. Jacksonville hasn’t had a winning season since 2007.

So, yes, there’s work to be done.

For those seeking positive vibes, consider collectively the AFC South has the most salary-cap space: nearly $200 million.

Two. Hundred. Million.

The Colts are about $26 million under the cap after restructuring Trent Cole’s contract. Jacksonville has a league-high $82.239 million in cap space, according to Overthecap.com. Houston and Tennessee also are in the top 10.

It’s remains a buyer beware market, but the AFC South should be busy.

Here’s a capsule look at each team’s situation:

COLTS

  • 2015 record: 8-8. Missed the postseason for the first time since 2011.
  • 2016 cap space: $25.942 million. That figure will grow with the release of Andre Johnson ($5 million).
  • Pressing needs: Interior offensive line, pass rusher, cornerback, depth everywhere.
  • Comment: Prior mistakes (LaRon Landry, Andre Johnson, Donald Thomas, etc.) along with a tightening budget due to Andrew Luck’s pending extension should keep the Colts from being as active as prior years. But if there’s a center (Alex Mack) or guard that’s reasonable, snatch him. Nothing else matters until management finally fixes the offensive line.

HOUSTON TEXANS

  • 2015 record: 9-7, AFC South champions, lost wild-card game to Kansas City Chiefs 30-0.
  • 2016 cap space: $41.649 million.
  • Pressing needs: Quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive end.
  • Comment: Despite the brilliance and dominance of J.J. Watt, they’re just another team until they solve their QB situation. Don’t be surprised if the Texans make a strong push for Brock Osweiler. They also need to find a replacement for all-time leading rusher Arian Foster, who was released.

TENNESSEE TITANS

  • 2015 record: 3-13.
  • 2016 cap space: $49.597 million.
  • Pressing needs: Offensive tackle, interior offensive line, inside linebacker, secondary.
  • Comment: They’ve got their QB of the future. Marcus Mariota is the real deal. Now, the Titans must greatly improve his supporting cast. The offensive line is priority 1. Mariota was sacked 38 times despite missing four games with injuries. The Titans took a first bold move by acquiring running back DeMarco Murray in a trade with Philadelphia.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

  • 2015 record: 5-11. The Jaguars are 39-89 since their last winning season in 2007. They’ve lost at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons.
  • 2016 cap space: $82.239 million.
  • Pressing needs: Pass rusher, free safety, cornerback, guard, backup tailback.
  • Comment: The bad news is the Jaguars have the NFL’s second-worst record since 2008. Only Cleveland (38-90) is worse. The good news? They’ve got the financial wherewithal to turn things around if they invest wisely. Maybe they beef up the league’s No. 24-ranked defense with Denver tackle Malik Jackson or former Buffalo end Mario Williams. Maybe they chase former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51