So where do we begin? There are a lot of areas to consider when discussing the future of an NFL team, especially when the financial side of things is addressed. We'll start today with the biggest MCM powder-keg:
Chris Johnson's much maligned contract has been a constant source of debate as to whether or not he will ever live up to it. By now we know the answer is no, and there is a good amount of that money that is surely paying for past production when CJ was being paid pennies despite being one of the best players in the league. That said, his play this season behind an offensive line that was supposed to be the team's strength, has left a lot to be desired. Beyond this, RB has become so devalued in this pass-happy league. His $8 million cap is a huge obstacle going forward, considering a compelling argument can be made that the Titans could find similar production for a fraction of the cost, either through the draft or FA. Also, with Greene on the roster, Webster may opt to look to the draft for another change of pace back to replace CJ in the two-back system he's put in place. That would instantly shave $6 million off the Titans' books.
Next we have Kamerion Wimbley and his $5.8 million cap number. While I was a supporter of this addition when it was made, it's looking more and more like an error and the first of such on Webster's resume so far. He has simply not fit into the system that Gray and Williams have put in place, and the transition back to DE has not done him any favors. Wimbley's bloated cap number does not even come close to matching his impact or playing time, and the team will likely cut their losses next year. Webster has redeemed himself somewhat of this by signing Ropati Pitoitua over the last offseason, and so far the big man is playing at career-best levels. Look for him to get a good-value extension in place at season's end.
Michael Griffin is another player who'll be a question mark. While I think ultimately that Webster will keep Griffin on board with his current contract, there has to at least some consideration of bringing in some younger talent through the draft who can replace him. I won't harp on Griffin too much as he has played well so far this year and I am hoping he keeps it up. His inflated cap number won't look so bad next year if he continues to play at an acceptable level.
Kenny Britt is as good as gone, and with Wright, Hunter, and Preston on cheap rookie (and FA) deals, the Titans will be getting a bargain from the position group in the next few years. I'd also lobby for a new deal for Damien Williams which would be good value at this point considering his talent level. As for Hands, I want Nate Washington to hang around as much as anyone, but it will be interesting to see if he gets an extension of any kind, especially considering he has significant rapport with Locker and has been playing at a high level thus far this year. I think it would be a mistake to let his leadership walk out the door for a minimal amount of cap relief.
The tackles are the most immediate area to address in the draft in my mind. Both David Stewart and Michael Roos are coming to the end of their deals, and are making a significant chunk of change. Roos looks as good as ever, but Stewart has struggled somewhat coming off of injury. The Titans may look to drop his $5 million in base salary and his $1 million bonus for a younger option after his deal is over. I have a feeling Roos will stick around with a more cap-friendly extension.
2013 Titans Cap Spending : $115.715 million (adjusted $135.208 million)
2013 Cap space remaining: $8.357 million
Current Projected 2014 Cap Spending (Players under contract): $118.900 million
Now, all this talk about cutting costs brings us to the reasoning behind it. There are some emerging stars on this team who will require long term deals in the near future. As the building blocks of this franchise going forward, their deals are the primary concern.
Jake Locker has a fifth-year option on his rookie deal, though that would come out to basically what amounts to the franchise tag number. I feel it's more likely that Locker signs a long term extension before that, and he should be relatively affordable considering what other teams are throwing at their QBs right now. That value will go a long way into helping keep the building blocks around him intact.
ATV is the big one on everyone's minds right now. The corner was already on track to demand a good size deal before the season started. Now he is leading all corners in the league in QB rating against, INTs, and turnovers. His play has his agent licking his lips, but ATV doesn't himself strike me as a guy who would hold out for a ridiculous deal. While it is rare in this league right now to pay two corners at a high level, especially with so much money being placed into other positions like LT, QB, and DE, I think Webster gets an extension done that will compensate Verner in a similar fashion to Jason McCourty's deal. That would be a huge win for this franchise going forward, as both guys are relatively young and have been taking significant strides in their developments.
Jurrel Casey is another big one on the way. His deal will be a big one if he continues at his current pace as well. Even while hampered by injury last year, he was a good player. Now, fully healthy, he is putting on a clinic and has been a big part of a Tennesse defense that can put pressure on the passer and stuff the run when needed. It's hard to say what kind of money we are talking about at this point, but it will likely be one that will require so financial twisting and working on the Titans part to ensure a deal gets done. He is another guy that seems proud to wear the two-toned blue, and I see him in Nashville long term.
The Zach Brown deal is still a way's off, and his $875k cap number is glorious considering what he is bringing to the table for this team. His deal will be up in 2015, and if he continues to progress like he has been, his extension will be a big one. Ayers will also be an important resigning, and Wimbley's impending exit will give him a chance to put his hand in the dirt more where he can do some damage rushing the passer.
Now of course they are other deals in play here. I would hope Webster would resign Pollard to another 1 or 2 year deal, as well as possibly Jackie Battle should CJ make an exit and the team desire some additional depth. We'll see what Webster does this offseason, regardless of the way the year turns out. But when I look over this roster, I see a lot of quality players that could become cornerstones of this team for years to come. Like I said in my previous article about the future outlook of the Titans, it looks bright from where I'm standing. There will be some big changes coming, but I am confident that this Titans FO has a good plan in place for the future.