Ogbo Okoronkwo expected to leave Texans

Ogbo Okoronkwo relentlessly chased down quarterbacks with uncanny timing and instincts all season.

And the Texans pass rusher’s combination of speed and moves off the edge changed his status in the NFL and his future earnings. Installed as a starting defensive end, the Alief Taylor graduate thrived for his hometown team during the final stretch of the season. He recorded a career-high five sacks, 44 tackles, nine for losses, 11 quarterback hits and 36 pressures.

Okoronkwo is now expected to hit free agency and is regarded as likely to leave the Texans as a strong market awaits the former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year from Oklahoma, according to league sources.

Several teams could use Okoronwko and are regarded as a strong fit, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers, among others.

One of the few bright spots on the Texans’ defense, Okoronkwo’s one-year, $3.25 million contract expired after the 3-13-1 Texans’ final game of the season against the Indianapolis Colts.

The former Los Angeles Rams backup and Super Bowl winner was a strong fit in a 4-3 scheme that capitalizes on his explosiveness and he had hoped to return.

“Yeah, I’m from Houston, this is where I want to be,” Okoronkwo told KPRC 2 at the close of the season. “Hopefully, we can all make that happen. I hope so.”

Although Okoronkwo isn’t the biggest defensive end at 6-foot-1, 253 pounds, the former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year from Oklahoma is strong, quick and aggressive.

“Ogbo, he’s energy, pure energy,” defensive line coach Jacques Cesaire said. “If you look at him, he’s always got a smile on his face. He loves the game. You can tell he really loves the game. The way he rushes, the way he attacks the line of scrimmage. He’s not the biggest guy on the field, but he’s got the biggest heart. He’s a guy that you trust and rely on each play.”

Okoronkwo was a force during a victory over the Tennessee Titans, helping the Texans snap a nine-game losing streak. He had two sacks, three tackles for losses and five quarterback hits as rookie quarterback Malik Willis passed for just 99 yards and was intercepted twice and sacked four times

Although Okoronkwo acknowledged he had a good season, he wasn’t entirely satisfied.

“It wasn’t the year I wanted,” Okoronkwo said. “I feel like I established myself as a starter in the league, but I’ve got more work to do. I just feel like it’s going to be a long offseason. I’m going to be working hard, so I can put what I really want out there on tape. I feel like I have more to do, regardless of the circumstances. I’m happy with what I was able to do, but I still feel I could have done more.”

Okoronkwo isn’t expected to be the only free agent the Texans aren’t retaining.

Barring a change, starting safety Jonathan Owens is also expected to hit free agency and draw interest. Owens started every game and had a career-high 125 tackles, one sack and four pass breakups working in tandem with rookie standout Jalen Pitre. Owens is valued by teams for his productivity, special-teams ability and athleticism. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds with a 43-inch vertical leap.

Texans nickel Tavierre Thomas should have a strong market after a productive two seasons in Houston, per league sources. Thomas doubles as a special-teams ace and had 127 combined tackles, two interceptions, one touchdown and three forced fumbles in 27 games and 14 starts for the Texans.

And Texans corner and kickoff returner Tremon Smith is also expected to leave as a free agent, per league sources.

Smith intercepted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott twice last season as a starter in place of Steven Nelson. He had a career-high 10 tackles, one for a loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup in a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. He has three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a kickoff return over the past two seasons for the Texans. He’s one of the fastest players on the roster with a 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash.

The Texans aren’t currently expected to retain running back Royce Freeman, offensive lineman Justin McCray, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, quarterback Kyle Allen, tight end Jordan Akins and several other unrestricted free agents, per league sources.

The Texans plan to release linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin on Wednesday, the first day of the NFL league year, according to a league source,

Over the past week, the Texans have retained safety M.J. Stewart on a two-year, $7.5 million maximum value contract, center Scott Quessenberry on a one-year deal worth up to $3 million and signed former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Robert Woods to a two-year, $15.25 million contract.

The Texans also signed veteran long snapper Jon Weeks to a one-year, $1.317 million deal that includes $940,000 guaranteed with a $152,500 signing bonus and a $1.165 million base salary.

“It’s all about finding the right guys for the Texans,” coach DeMeco Ryans said at the NFL scouting combine. “That’s what we’ll do throughout this process. In the player acquisition process, whether it’s free agency or whether it’s draft, it’s all about building a profile of what you’re looking for and also finding guys who fit and understanding a guy could be a great player, but how does he fit your philosophy or how you want to play football. It’s all about finding the right guys in free agency or the draft.

“It’s about getting to know the player. I can appreciate talented guys, but I truly want to know the character of a guy who we’re bringing into our team. If you have the right man, we’ll have the right player. I don’t want to go through that process backwards just because a guy is a great player. If I can’t talk to this guy and understand who he is as a man and what are his goals, what does he aspire to, what drives him, what is his why. That weighs heavier on me than actual talent of a player.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys

Photo: Getty Images

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