We are in the middle of the "legal tampering period", where thanks to an NFL memo sent out late threatening tampering charges, we probably will not hear much, other than re-signings and cuts. For example, as I'm writing this, the news broke about 20 minutes ago that the Falcons will re-sign William Moore, and the Ravens have told Anquan Boldin to take a paycut, or be cut. I am expecting a flurry of news similar to that up until Tuesday afternoon.
The Titans obviously have a ton of holes that need to be filled this off-season. In an effort to narrow some of them down before the draft, they're going to need to be aggressive in free agency this year, which they have said that they will. I have personally ranked their needs by level of importance, and while they may not be the same as the consensus, I do believe that the Titans will hit all of these positions in some way, shape, or form by the time the entire off-season is over.
Needs based of level of importance: G, S, DE, DT, CB, TE, WR, RB
I have watched a lot of the possible free agents that the Titans could target recently, and while I am not some NFL expert, I do trust my own eyes enough to rank these free agents.
Guard: The interior offensive line play has been poor ever since Kevin Mawae left. There are enough capable free agent offensive linemen this year that Tennessee should be able to have another Mawae-like signing, except obviously not as a Center. Some options may include:
Louis Vasquez: The best G in this free agent class. He holds up nicely in pass protection, and is dominant in run blocking. He also is able to get to the second level relatively quickly, which has been a problem for Titan Guards for years now. He is also young, at only 25 years old. My favorite game that I watched was against Pittsburgh, where he absolutely dominated Ziggy Hood, and Steeler linebackers from the first play.
Andy Levitre: I expected more. While Levitre is good in pass protection, he is small, and I'd only give him about a C or C+ in run blocking. He will never be a road grading G, like Vasquez or draft prospect Chance Warmack. He brings solidity to the offensive line however, having never missed a start, which is something the Titans desperately needed last year. He pulls quickly, but gets caught off balance at times. I distinctly remember him getting up to Jerod Mayo, and if he'd just been able to hold on, Fred Jackson would have had a massive hole. However he was off balance, and whiffed completely. The play resulted in about a two yard gain. His run blocking is not great, but due to his pass blocking skills and durability, he will still command a lot of money from some team, quite possibly the Titans.
Kevin Boothe: Boothe surprised me. I didn't really know much about him. The first game that I saw was against Cincinnati. He held up nicely in pass protection against Geno Atkins, who is an absolute monster. He was also solid, not great, but solid in the run game. He started all 16 games and is 29 years old. He could be a solid pickup if the Titans want to save some money.
Brandon Moore: Moore is a solid player. In the Houston game, while he held up decently against the pass, I got the feel that he was a little overwhelmed at times, ending up on the ground more than once. It could have been due to Wade Phillips' heavy blitzes, or just an overall poor situation on offense. However in other games he seemed more settled, and was just an overall solid player. He is 32, but would bring veteran leadership to Tennessee, and would obviously be an upgrade.
Safeties: The Titans are not done looking at safeties even though they signed George Wilson. That being said, I think any safety that they will get from this point on will be through the draft. So, I didn't watch any games of the available safeties. However, without watching, I'd rank the safeties right now as:
- Dashon Goldson
- Glover Quin
- Chris Clemons
- Laron Landry
- 3 way Tie between Kenny Phillips, Pat Chung and Louis Delmas (all have health issues)
Defensive Ends: I did not really fall in love with any of theses guys, especially given what I think we should be looking for. Kamerion Wimbley struggles against the run, so I think the Titans should look for guys to play on early downs. Plus, Wimbley played entirely too many snaps last year. They need to create more of a rotation, and adding someone to play on early downs will help in that department.
Michael Bennett: While Bennett is not going to be an extraordinary edge rusher, he is a solid player. He is a powerful player, and had 9 sacks last year. The production from years prior to 2012 worries me somewhat, but he is still young, and could be just hitting his stride now.
Israel Idonije: While Idonije is not going to take your breath away with superb pass rushing skills, he still racked up 7.5 sacks last year. He is a solid player, and would be a significant upgrade against the run. He is 32 years old however, and might be a guy you look at for a shorter 1 or 2 year deal, like Tennessee did with George Wilson.
Dwight Freeney: Freeney surprised me a little bit. I admittedly lumped him in with guys like Osi and Abraham because of age, but after watching him a little bit, I am convinced that he can still bring it. He is solid against the run and still is effective rushing the passer. The key at this point for Freeney is to stay healthy for 16 games, which has been a problem for a while. That being said, I actually think Freeney would be a solid addition.
John Abraham: Abraham is old, but is still a decent player. That being said, I don't think he fits in Nashville. Mike Smith took Abraham out a lot. He is really more of a situational guy. If you want someone to come in on early downs, you might have to look elsewhere. I also think a lot of Abraham's numbers came against poor tackles.
Paul Kruger: I had a man crush on Paul Kruger for a while, and once I finally watched just him, I was actually pretty underwhelmed. He doesn't play all that many snaps, and is not good at all against the run. Signing Kruger would be like signing another Wimbley, but for a lot more money.
Elvis Dumervil (note: he is not a free agent, but could be released): I also expected a lot more from Dumervil. I believe that I can defend the run as well as "Doom". For example, against Houston, it felt like an eternity before I saw Arian Foster run to the left side, because Houston could continue to run right off of the right tackle, and be able to pick up yardage. Dumervil couldn't do anything about it, either.
Osi Umenyiora: I'm not really sure what all the hype is about here, other than his name. He is a situational guy who can't play against the run at all. Pretty much just see what I said above about Abraham, water it down, and you have yourself an Osi.
Cliff Avril: I thought I'd see more. I was not even expecting much, but he disappointed me, even with lower expectations. I wasn't sure who was subbing in for him, but I think I actually like him better. Not good against the run, small, and gets engulfed by good NFL tackles. Someone is going to get an FA bust here, and I hope it's not the Titans.
Defensive Tackle: Sen'Derrick Marks is most likely gone. So now, you have Casey as a starter, and possibly Martin. But, behind that, you don't really have much else. Klug is someone who should be used in pass rushing situations, but not as a guy that should be really seeing significant time. I also read the other day on the Tennessean that the Titans were trying to get bigger at tackle. Stopping the run was a serious problem this year, and it needs to be fixed. Jobs cannot be kept when guys like Keith Toston and Richard Murphy (LSU boy) can gash you. Some options:
Desmond Bryant: He is probably the best defensive tackle. He is long, and large. He was arrested, but it was a really small thing, something that shouldn't even be given any thought (however you should check out the mugshot for a laugh). He might be a better fit for a 3-4 however.
Glenn Dorsey: One of my favorite players. I promise I am not being biased here, however. Dorsey is very good against the run, and would be great to plug in the middle. He has been stuck playing as a 3-4 end, when he is a significantly better fit as a 4-3 tackle. This will be a very underrated pickup for a 4-3 team, and I hope that it is Tennessee.
Ricky Jean-Francois (LSU boy!): It sounds like he could be a hot name this year. He is versatile, and is a playmaker. He is 26 years old, and is ready to breakout. He can play any position on the defensive line. He could be a solid pick up to add depth, and possibly even start.
Terrance Knighton: Pot roast did not have his best year last year. It started with his eye injury, and it was all an uphill battle from there. However, we have seen what he is capable of, and he is still young. He would most definitely add some size to the defensive line, and occupy linemen to free up other guys on the line.
Jason Jones: I think we know who that is. I doubt he comes back, but he is a solid player.
Conerbacks: I think I have corner ranked a little higher than others. I think the Titans were interested in bringing a corner in last year, but couldn't find "their guy". I don't think much inspired them in 2012 to make them stop looking for their guy. I think Coty Sensabaugh is a better fit as a 4th guy, and Mouton is gone. They can either bring in a slot guy, or an outside guy, to move Verner inside. Depth at corner is extremely important, especially in today's league.
Aqib Talib: Talib is the best corner available. However, there are some off the field things that could scare a team like the Titans away. He can be moved around though, is very tough, and would be a very nice addition to the secondary.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: A solid veteran, who is quick and has playmaking ability. That being said, I personally would like to bring in a tougher corner to fill the Finnegan role, and he does not really fit that.
Brent Grimes: Grimes is a very good corner, but is coming off a major injury. Teams are going to have to proceed with caution, but if he can get back to the Brent Grimes we've seen, you have yourself a top corner in the league.
Keenan Lewis: This is Pittsburgh's best corner. He is long, can run with most receivers, is good against red zone jump balls, and can even do some blitzing. He could be an underrated signing in what is a very deep class for corners. He is one of my personal favorite players overall out of any of the free agents this year.
Derek Cox: The Titans would have their hands full with this guy. On a serious note, he has always shown the ability to be one of the better corners in the league, but has injury problems. Without them, he's much higher on this list.
Cary Williams: He loves Tennessee, and could be overlooked, in what is a very solid and deep free agent class. He has the Finnegan toughness and fire that I was talking about earlier. However, he will get burned deep every now and then, and on double moves, due to his aggressive nature. He struggles more with the crisp route runners. Brandon Lloyd lit him up in week 3.
Tight Ends: Cook is gone. The Titans do have the underrated Stevens, but Thompson is not ready for significant time. There has been a lot of talk of more two tight end sets now with the addition of Henshaw as TE coach, so bringing in a second guy will be pretty important.
James Casey: I have said many times in the past week that he is the best free agent tight end. He is a legitimate threat in the passing game, but is also a superb blocker. Also, he is very versatile. This piece can be moved around a lot, including as a fullback. A perfect complement to Stevens in 2 tight end sets.
Martellus Bennett: I am not really buying into Bennett. He underachieved for years in Dallas. Every time they threw to him, something bad happened. He did have a solid year in New York though. If the Titans get NY Bennett, they'd add a solid piece. However, if they sign Dallas Bennett, you could very well be looking for answers at tight end next year again.
Dustin Keller: Probably the best receiving tight end in the class. That being said, to put it shortly, a team is going to overpay for him.
Wide Receivers: I really only like one guy in this class. Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings are simply not happening. The Titans need to decide how they feel about Damian Williams. Britt is a luxury at this point. When you have him, great, but they need to act as if Britt's not on the team, which leaves you with Wright, Washington, and Williams as your top 3.
Danario Alexander: While I was writing this, news broke that RFA Alexander would be given the lowest round Tender. He is an interesting option. He broke out this year, and was San Diego's best WR. A late round draft pick would be a small price to pay for a guy like Alexander.
Anquan Boldin (not released yet, but it's looking likely): It would be amazing to add Boldin. He does not bring in the vertical threat like a Wallace, but he does everything so nicely. He's got sure hands, is a good route runner, and is tough. Also, he brings serious veteran leadership. He could be a safety valve for Locker, of sorts.
Honorable mention: Brandon Gibson
Running Back: I think the Titans will look towards the draft here. They need to add some fresh legs as a change of pace guy, and they probably know that. Plus, the free agent class is pretty underwhelming at the position. I can't list anybody here because the only guy worth talking about is Steven Jackson, and that is not happening.
The Titans are going to be busy for a while trying to fill all of the holes on the roster. I expect them to be aggressive, and there are a lot of solid pieces that can be added to the roster. They just need to be smart, and trust their eyes. Here's hoping they make the correct decisions over the next few weeks.