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As Texans wait on Tony Romo, free-agent losses mount on defense

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Race on to land Romo (0:44)

With Tony Romo expected to be released, Adam Caplan breaks down potential landing spots for the quarterback. (0:44)

HOUSTON -- Through the first four days of free agency, the Houston Texans have been relatively quiet, which has led to a few holes opening up on defense.

Yes, Houston made a big move to trade quarterback Brock Osweiler to Cleveland, but they have signed only three players, all re-signings: kicker Nick Novak, punter Shane Lechler and tight end Ryan Griffin.

So far, the Texans have lost three starters on last season’s No. 1 defense: cornerback A.J. Bouye, safety Quintin Demps and outside linebacker John Simon. Bouye got a big five-year, $67.5 million contract from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Simon went to the division-rival Indianapolis Colts. Although the defense will return three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, all three were contributors for the NFL’s No. 1 defense.

Houston has won the AFC South in consecutive years, but after last season’s big splash to start free agency -- signing Osweiler and giving running back Lamar Miller a four-year, $26 million contract -- they have done the opposite this season.

There is still time, of course, for the Texans to make moves. They have two quarterbacks on the roster -- Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden -- but will likely make a run at a free-agent quarterback as well. One highly speculated option is Tony Romo, who is still on the Cowboys’ roster as of Monday morning. Even if they sign Romo, who will be 37 at the start of next season, the Texans also could draft a quarterback in April.

For now, Houston is playing a bit of a waiting game. Until the Texans know how much money they need to allocate for a top free agent, like Romo, they don’t have flexibility with their salary-cap space.

Last week, a group of ESPN Insiders speculated that Romo could sign an incentive-laden deal for anywhere from $16-20 million a season. Houston currently has $27.8 million of cap space available, some of which has to be saved for the upcoming draft.

Although the Texans will have the draft to address needs, those open positions are adding up. They entered the offseason in need of a new right tackle, and with the free-agent departures on defense, safety, outside linebacker and possibly cornerback have been added to that list. (Cornerback may be the least of the Texans’ worries of the three positions, with Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson serving as the top three corners.)

The other teams in the division have made moves to get better, especially the Jaguars, who signed two of the top six of ESPN’s top 150 free agents in the opening days of free agency. Of course, winning free agency does not always translate to wins; over the past three seasons, Jacksonville has spent the most money on free agency and has 11 wins to show for it.

If Houston can acquire Romo in the coming days or weeks, it may be able to fill out its roster more quickly. If the quarterback drama lasts longer, filling holes through free agency may be a bit more difficult.