The Tennessee Titans were a win against an 0-14 team away from the playoffs in 2011. However, they still have a ton of holes that need to be filled by the fall of 2012. The free agency period starts this Tuesday, and this will be our first crack at filling some of those holes. Our new GM Ruston Webster has said a few interesting things during this dull period in the NFL. One of the most interesting things that he said was that the Titans will focus on the defensive front 7 and the running game during free agency. On defense, they need to upgrade on basically all levels. Offensively, I am expecting one signing at either G or C. However, there are other positions that need to be upgraded besides both lines. I am sharing my thoughts on all positions that could be upgraded during this FA period.
Defensive End: The Titans were ranked 31st in sacks in 2011. It is obvious that in order to be a productive defense in the league, you have to be much better than that. Also, the Titans will be losing their best CB, Cortland Finnegan. To make up for all of this, they will need to make some serious upgrades at defensive end; not only for improving the front liners, but they also have to add depth, only having one defensive end under contract--Derrick Morgan. The ideal match for us would obviously be Mario Williams. He would join other Titans such as Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth in history as the 1 extremely feared defensive lineman that anchors the "D" and propels them into the top 10 as a unit. From 1999-2003 (minus 2002 due to injury) the Titans had Jevon Kearse, who averaged 11 sacks per year. During that time period, they averaged out as the 13th ranked defense. In 2007 and 2008, Albert Haynesworth started chasing the money and playing hard. Over those two years, Haynesworth had 14.5 sacks and the Titans averaged out as the 6th ranked defense. In the years without Kearse, (2004-2006) the Titans averaged out as the 26th ranked defense. In the post-Albert years, (2009-present) the Titans averaged out as the 24th ranked defense. You cannot put a price tag on a player that can propel your defense from a bottom dweller to a perennial top 10-15 defense. Other options may include:
Unless you are willing to give up a lot via trade, there is not too much out there at defensive end outside of Mario Williams as a front liner. For depth, some options may include:
-Re-signing Dave Ball or William Hayes
-Mark Anderson (though he did have 10 sacks in 2011)
Defensive Tackle: All offseason long last year, Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray preached, "get bigger and stop the run". While that sounded great and exciting, it just completely backfired. Not only did the Titans lose their best pass rushing defensive tackle in Jason Jones, they finished the season ranked even worse against the run than they did the previous year. Teams ran the ball at will on the Titans, especially down the stretch--the Colts game and 2nd Texans game come to mind immediately. They added a real keeper in Jurrell Casey and a free agent bust in Shaun Smith. This caused draft bust Sen'Derrick Marks to be thrown into the starting lineup and have to play a ton of snaps. While Marks improved and provides depth at the position, he is most definitely not a starter or a guy than can play even close to as many snaps as he did in 2011. The Titans must find another starting defensive tackle to pair with Casey that will be able to stuff the run and provide some sort of pass rush. Some options may include:
-Antonio Garay (played NT in a 3-4 with SD most recently, but has played in both systems)
Linebacker: Will Witherspoon is on the wrong side of 30 and seemed to be battling through a good amount of injuries as the year went on. Also, from the naked eye, it seemed that his snap count was a lot lower than previous years. He is entering the last year of his contract, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Titans attempt to upgrade over him. Witherspoon is the Titans' WLB, narrowing their options in the free agent market. Some options may include:
Cornerback: The departure of Cortland Finnegan has been well covered (no pun intended). While I am confindent that McCourty and Verner will do a fine job on the outside, the Titans now need to find a good replacement at nickelback. Mouton, Campbell, and Hawkins all have potential and could add nice depth at the position, but that is a big risk to go into the season only with them. Another option may be to sign another corner that could start outside, and move Verner back inside where he played in 2010. Some options may include:
Interior Offensive Line: I don't think much needs to be said about the interior offensive line for the 2011 Titans. Jake Scott did things like this, made Falcons' Jonathan Babineaux look like Albert Haynesworth circa 2007, and everything in between. Eugene Amano was the source of many Titan fans' heartaches when he had entirely too many plays like this. Leroy Harris had killer penalties, pulled poorly, and just got flat out blown up many times. Sadly, he was the Titans' best interior offensive lineman in 2011. There is no wonder most running plays ended up looking like this. However, the Titans have Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews running the show, and refuse to have another embarrassing year running the football. Some options may include:
-Bringing back Fernando Velasco
-Moving Amano back to G, as Munchak mentioned as a possibility
Wide Receiver: The Titans have a legitimate need at Wide Receiver. While the corps is one of the, if not the strongest group on the Titans with a healthy Kenny Britt, there is too much uncertainty surrounding Britt to count on him. The oft-injured Britt is coming off of ACL surgery, and we just saw firsthand with Derrick Morgan how a player can come back from that injury and not be the same the next year. Nate Washington is a solid receiver, but the Titans really need to add another playmaker at the position. Re-signing Lavelle Hawkins adds nice depth on the back end, but they cannot be finished there. Some options may include:
-Laurent Robinson (my personal favorite here)
-Lee Evans (I know, I know. But, they were interested last year, and besides his 1 drop, he really came on for the rats after being injured most of the year before the final stretch)
Hopefully, the Titans make the right decisions this offseason, and gear up for a run at the division next year. You never know how well which player can fit into which scheme. This free agency period should be really fun, and I am really looking forward to it, especially on this day, the 1 year anniversary of the NFL beginning its long and painful lockout.