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Mike Reinfeldt, Ruston Webster, and Tennessee's Identity Crisis

What type of team is this franchise trying to build?


Lost in all the rhetoric and finger pointing lately is a simple question: What kind of team are we trying to build? Does this front office really have an ethos? From where I sit, I see a front office that's had some moderate draft success, but it's one that lacks true direction. They are assembling talent without consideration to where or why it fits. The lack of direction is probably most apparent in the front office's constant head scratchers in re-signings and free agency. I look at the successful teams around the league over the past 6 years (Reinfeldt's tenure), and, even at a distance, I can generally give you a pretty good idea of their team's identity. Without a clearcut idea of what you want to be, it's impossible to construct a team and make decisions with purpose.

For this article, I'll be evaluating Webster and Reinfeldt as one. Ruston may have more control today, but I'd say it's fair to say that Reinfeldt has an influence on personnel moves and the overall direction of this team. To the point of Webster's drafting, I think it's entirely too early to make a draft evaluation given the sample size (one) and time lapsed. Webster could end up being one of the best drafters in the NFL today, and by all accounts 2012 looks solid. Still it's too early to make evaluations one way or another. Remember, at the end of the 2006 season, most probably thought that Pacman Jones, Vince Young, and Lendale White were destined to be stars for the Tennessee Titans.

A handful of things really jump out at me that have lead to this opinion that our personnel moves are misguided, or without purpose. In no particular order:

  • Chris Johnson. It's no secret that I think overpaying a RB is not a sound strategy. That's not really what I take issue with here. The problem is where our mega-paid running back fits now. It seems to me that if you're going to make a player the highest paid player on a team, then your intention is to make them a focal point of that offense or defense. Yet, the front office gives Gold Pockets his money, and then proceeds to hire a coordinator who's background is rooted in Run N Shoot concepts. Moreover, our the interior of our offensive line has seen one center/guard drafted since 2008 (Ryan Durand, 7th Round, 2009). Before that? Leroy Harris in 2007.
  • Steve Hutchinson. This goes hand in hand with the point above. I get the Peyton Manning thing, and how that may or may not have limited us in free agency. Really, the acquisition of Hutch doesn't bother me given the circumstances. It's the fact that we were forced to hire a 35 year old guard in the first place that bothers me. While the interior offensive line has performed admirably in spots this year, it's by no means a highlight of this offense. If CJ is to be a focal point, shouldn't we be working to assemble one of the best offensive lines in the league?
  • Michael Griffin. After a 2011 season that at best would label Griffin a question mark and at worst would highlight him as a potential weakness, the front office gave Griffin a new 5 year deal for $35 million with a $9mm signing bonus. It's almost like Webster looked at Griffin's resume and said, "Ooh. Pro Bowls. How's bout an extension?"

    As a quick refresher on cap implications, if Griffin is cut this offseason, with 4 years left on the deal, the team would take a $7.2 mm hit. The $9mm is distributed equally over 5 years from a cap perspective. Each year that you release or trade him early, the team takes a $1.8 mm cap hit. Thus, 4 years left, 4 x $1.8mm = $7.2 mm. The point here is one doesn't pay a player like that, and make the contract that long, unless there is a clear intention to keep them around long term. Had we stuck with the franchise tag, our out of pocket costs would have been $6.2 mm for the year, and we could have re-assessed this offseason. Instead, we paid $2.5 mm in salary this year + $9 mm in bonus - so, $11.5 mm out of pocket. And, if we choose to release Griffin this offseason, we'll carry $7.2 mm in dead money next year. In the most simple sense the question is - Can we really consider a front office who would give Michael Griffin this contract a competent one?
  • Others worth noting: Bo Scaife's giant bandaid contracts in his last two years. After getting all that money, he went on to put up zero receptions in 2011, and 2012. He's not on an NFL roster today. Chris Hope/Nick Harper are both lumped together in that they each remained on the team as a starter for one year too long, and should have been address much earlier. We're still reeling from not finding an adequate Hope replacement years ago. Justin Gage. Not much elaboration needed there.
I think in many ways Mike Munchak was put into an impossible situation by a front office that, while reasonably good with draft talent evaluation, is largely misguided. He was handed an average, overlooked interior line, an over paid NFL RB expecting touches, and a Run N Shoot OC and then told to make it work offensively. The message is mixed - The pieces to this puzzle are largely intended as a passing oriented attack. Do that. Oh, and by the way, your highest paid player is a running back. So, give him the ball a lot too. Sorry you're dealing with an average interior line. That hasn't been a priority for us. Defensively it isn't quite as glaring an issue, except for the fact that our worst defender's contract is so large that you're essentially forced to start him. Probably for the next few years for that matter. That message isn't nearly as mixed - We want you to build a nasty, hybrid defense. One little thing. We consider Michael Griffin a franchise player, and have paid him accordingly. You'll need to start him for the next 3-5 years.

I know there are things Reinfeldt has done right. There are some good players on this team as a result of his drafting. But, the fact remains that if this team was managed correctly from 2007-2012, we wouldn't be in such a mess with so many glaring problems. It's not just us waiting on Locker to develop. We're fundamentally broken, and I believe that is in large part to a front office that won't commit to a vision of what it wants to be. Until that changes, this franchise will continue to struggle to take that next step.