Tennessee Titans: A Big Offseason Awaits
The Tennessee Titans had perhaps the strangest 2019 season of any NFL team. Following their Week 6 game against the Denver Broncos, in which they were shut out in a 16-0 loss, they had a 2-4 record. At that point a top-five NFL Draft pick looked more likely than a playoff spot. However, head coach Mike Vrabel made the bold decision to switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill, and the season blossomed from there.
In their final 10 games, the Titans went 7-3 to finish the season 9-7 and in possession of the #6 seed in the AFC. They then went on the road and beat defending Champions the New England Patriots in the Wild Card Round. If that was not enough, they then beat the team with the best record in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens, on the road in the Divisional Round. In the Conference Championship game they twice led the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs by 10 points, but ultimately lost 35-24 as their fairy tale season ended in Kansas City.
General Manager: Jon Robinson
Head Coach: Mike Vrabel
Since Jon Robinson has been the GM of the Titans, the team has yet to have a losing season, finishing all four seasons 9-7. In that time they have two postseason appearances, in which they have won three games and lost two. At no point in those four years did this team look better than they did down the stretch this season, but to have been competitive for four straight season, after coming off a combined five wins in the previous two season is to be applauded.
Vrabel has just completed his second year as head coach of the Titans, and walks away with a lot of credit. On one hand you could argue that relatively he has not suceeded much more than his fired predecessor Mike Mularky, who also won 18 games in two years in charge and went 1-1 in his sole postseason trip. However, this postseason saw glimpses of Vrabel the tactician, as he frustrated Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots with some clever clock management in the Wild Card Round. The question for Vrabel is can he now build upon this success and take this team all the way to a Super Bowl?
Cap Space: $50.7 million
On the surface this looks like a wonderful position for the Titans to be in, but when you consider they have no franchise QB signed for 2020 then that cap space looks significantly smaller. They do have options to clear more space, but none of them are slam dunk options.
Jurrell Casey, a long time keystone of the franchise, could be released to clear $10m in space for just a $3.2m hit in dead cap space. However, Casey routinely ranks among the best in his position and his experience is a key part of this defense. Malcolm Butler played just nine games this season, but a cap saving of $7.4m for a dead cap of $6m is likely not enough given they have needs at the position beyond him. Other defensive casualties could be DaQuan Jones ($7m) and Cameron Wake ($5.6m). Both bring great experience but with the Titans defense having other play makers, and Wake missing seven games last season at 37 years old, we could see one or both of them head out of the door.
Offensively two names stand out. Delanie Walker ($6.4m) missed time through injury in each of the last two seasons and Jonnu Smith flashed enough talent that Walker may be deemed replaceable. Cutting running back Dion Lewis could save over $4m, and given his relatively minor role in this offense they may view that they can find a contributor of similar value in the later rounds of the Draft.
Impending Free Agents
This is where this offseason begins to look bleak for the Titans. They have both of their recognised quarterbacks in Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota heading for free agency. Mariota is likely to be allowed to walk for a fresh start but the Titans are expected to make a big play to keep Tannehill, be that with the franchise tag or through a long-term extension.
Similarly, they have star running back Derrick Henry to work out. Henry dominated down the stretch this season, leading the league in rushing yards and putting the Patriots and Ravens to the sword in the playoff victories. This offense rolled through Henry, and now the Titans have to decide whether they can replace his size and speed in the Draft.
Throw on top of that Jack Conklin hitting free agency and this offense has a lot of question marks. Suddenly that $50m in cap space could be taken up by just retaining three players and the situation in Tennessee looks less rosy.
You will notice I have not even mentioned the defense. Well they have two names to deal with their as well. Logan Ryan could be remembered as the corner who picked off Tom Brady in his final game in New England to clinch the Titans a playoff victory. However, for all the good there was a lot of bad and his inconsistent play is likely to mean the Titans allow him to leave. Wesley Woodyard could also be on the way out. The 12-year NFL veteran has been with the Titans for six years but has seen his role diminish to almost nothing.
For the sake of this I am going to assume the Titans take care of Ryan Tannehill before free agency. If they do not then quarterback will naturally become the major need.
Major Need: Pass Rush
Harold Landry is a very good player but he needs help. He led the team with nine sacks but no one else had more than five. In a conference which looks set to be dominated by Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson for the foreseeable future, getting to the quarterback and disrupting his rhythm is crucial. With Landry entering his third season it may be that the Titans decide they want more experience on the other side. However, with their cap space concerns they may decide it more prudent to add another young piece on a cost controlled contract through the draft.
Minor Need: Kicker
The Titans have quite a few minor needs including their secondary, but kicker was a real problem for them in 2019. In 2019 they made just 44.4% of field goals. They went through four kickers with their final kicker Greg Joseph attempting just one field goal, which he made. They should not panic and invest something silly like a third-round pick, but they should make having a competent option on this roster a priority. It may be that Greg Joseph remains on this roster having been perfect on PATs and his sole field goal. However, the Titans need to be sure he is going to deliver for them in the big moments.
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