When the 2016 NFL season began, most Titans fans were hoping for 6 wins and to not get blown out every week. When you are coming off back to back 2-14 and 3-13 seasons that featured lots of blow outs that's a pretty reasonable expectation. We knew we were at the very beginning of a rebuild that would take several years to put us back in contention for playoff spots and division titles, and yes, a Super Bowl. Thirteen games in to the 2016 season we are 7-6, tied for first in the AFC South, and our outlook is much different. This team just skipped several steps in the rebuilding process thanks in large part to what GM Jon Robinson was able to accomplish in one very active offseason. What might he do in offseason number 2?
The Titans are in an exceptionally strong position heading in to 2017. We have a young rising star quarterback in Marcus Mariota, a good roster with no key players heading in to free agency (more on that later), two first round draft picks (thanks Rams!), and loads of cap space to work with. This deep dive will focus more on free agency than the draft since free agency will happen first and much of what we do in the draft may be informed by our free agent activity. All contract numbers and information is coming from www.spotrac.com which is a really useful website for geeks like me that love playing armchair GM.
Titans Players Currently Under Contract for 2017
Some quick commentary before we get to the information below. The two numbers listed for each player are "dead cap" and "cap hit". "Cap hit" is the total amount of money that a specific player counts towards the salary cap if they are on the roster for that season. It is not the same as their actual salary, but since we are not Amy Adams-Strunk we only really care about the "cap hit" number anyway. "Dead cap" is the amount of money that would still count towards the salary cap for that year if that player is released or traded away. For instance, DGB will still count $1,167,672 against our cap and Perrish Cox will count $833,334 against our cap in 2017 regardless of who they are playing for. So if you are looking for opportunities to save money against the cap, you would subtract the "dead cap" number from the "cap hit" number and that will give you the amount you would save if you cut or traded that player. The top part of the table shows the 40 current players that are under contract for the Titans in 2017, when their contract expires, and their cap numbers for 2017. The bottom part shows some former players who still have dead cap counts against the Titans for 2017. Also, note that contracts are synced with the NFL league year which runs from March 1st to February 28th so all contracts that are listed as expiring in 2018 will expire on March 1st, 2018.
This totals out to a total cap hit of $118.9M for the 40 players currently under contract. The final 2017 salary cap number won't be formally announced until the NFL closes its books on the 2016 league year at the end of February, but for the purposes of this analysis we will assume that the 2017 NFL salary cap will be $168M. NFL salary cap rules allow teams that don't use the entire salary cap in one year to roll over their unused cap space to the next season. The Titans are currently $26M under the 2016 salary cap so they will get to add that to the projected $168M cap number for a total 2017 cap of $194M. Now, it is unlikely that the Titans will spend all the way up to the $194M number, but they could if they wanted to. That leaves the Titans just a little over $75M of available cap space to spend on filling out the roster for 2017. That number is the 4th highest in the NFL behind the Browns, 49ers, and Buccaneers. The only teams heading in to next year with real cap problems are the Cowboys, Jets, and Chiefs who all will have $5M or less of free cap space before resigning any of their own free agents much less adding outside free agents.
Who Will We Re-Sign?
The Titans have 13 players whose contracts are set to expire when the league year ends in March. Please note that when I reference contract values I am talking in terms of total contract amount rather than per year. Also, I am just going to be spreading the total dollar amount for each made up contract evenly over the length of the deal for cap hit calculation purposes. In actuality the cap hit numbers for each player usually change from year to year, but I'm going to let Jon Robinson worry about that.
- Kendall Wright (WR) - I think the writing is on the wall for this one. Kendall will not be a Titan next year.
- Chance Warmack (G) - Same for Chance. I sometimes forget he is still on the roster anyway.
- Tre McBride (WR) - We have yet to really see what McBride can do as a WR in the NFL. He wasn't able to impress the coaches with his return skills enough to keep that job this year, but he has clearly shown to be effective on other special teams roles. Also reports of his work ethic and practice habits are very positive. He is a guy that I would expect to come back on a 1 year / $0.5M deal to see if he can make the team out of training camp.
- Karl Klug (DE/DT) - Klug is a fan favorite and a very good situational pass rusher that can be used to give Jurell Casey a breather without losing all of our defensive line punch. The Titans have a lot of young depth on the defensive line, but I can't see them letting Klug walk. Let's assuming they bring him back for a 2 year / $5M deal.
- Anthony Fasano (TE) - This one is a little tricky. Fasano is 32 years old, but still brings value to the Titans primarily as a blocking tight end who occasionally sneaks out for a pass. I think Fasano's fate with the team depends largely on what the Titans think they have in Jace Amaro. Considering Amaro has often been a healthy scratch and has barely made it on the field this year, I think that tells us that they haven't been terribly impressed so far. I suspect we bring back Fasano for a short term deal in the neighborhood of 2 years / $5M.
- Phillip Supernaw (TE) - Supernaw has had his best and most active season as a Titan this year helping fill in for the retired Craig Stevens. He is averaging almost 20 snaps per game on offense and plays on every special teams unit. If you listen to Delanie Walker talk about him, he raves about what an incredible athlete Supernaw is. With Walker and Fasano getting older and Amaro not earning the trust of the coaching staff yet, I would expect to see Supernaw signed to something like a 3 year / $4M deal this offseason to keep him in Nashville.
- Sean Spence (ILB) - Spence is 26 and was brought in on a 1 year / $2.5M deal and has played decently when called upon and provided pretty good special teams play as well. Inside linebacker is a position that most feel the Titans will address during this offseason, most likely through the draft, but with both Spence and Nate Palmer being free agents I would guess the Titans will try to bring one of the two back for another year. My guess is that will be Spence who is both younger and has been more productive than Palmer. Let's guess they sign him to a 2 year / $5M deal.
- Nate Palmer (ILB) - Palmer is a key special teamer for the Titans, but doesn't really get any run at linebacker on defense. He could come back on a cheap deal, but my guess is that ILB is a spot that is addressed in the draft and Palmer's special teams presence will be filled by Spence.
- David Bass (OLB) - Bass was a favorite of the coaching staff in training camp and the preseason, often drawing praise for the amount of improvement he showed during the offseason. With Kevin Dodd being injured and/or ineffective for much of the season Bass has stepped up as the first OLB off the bench when Orakpo or Morgan need a breather. Considering Orakpo, Morgan, Dodd, and Wallace will all return next year, it is hard to see where Bass fits in the Titans 2017 plans. I expect he will pursue a destination that may be able to offer him more playing time.
- Justin Staples (OLB) - Staples is a depth player at a spot where we already have a lot of competition. I don't expect him to make the 2017 Titans roster.
- Byron Bell (T/G) - Bell was injured before the 2016 began. It is unfortunate for Bell since he was slated for a starting spot somewhere along the offensive line, but given how this line has played in his absence it is hard to see him coming back to Tennessee in 2017.
- Brian Schwenke (G/C) - Schwenke has spent this year primarily as a backup guard/center for the Titans and filled in well when Spain went down for a few games earlier in the year. I'm sure the Titans wouldn't mind bringing him back to be the Dennis Kelly of the interior line, but my guess is that Schwenke moves on to try and find a starting role with another team. With Sebastian Tretola and Josue Matias around the Titans will likely fill the backup guard/center spot from within.
- Rashad Johnson (S) - The safety spots will be an interesting position for us during free agency. Both Johnson and Stafford (more on him below) will be free agents this offseason. For Johnson's part, he has played well, but hasn't done a ton to really stand out besides helping Avery Williamson create the fumble that ended the Titans win over the Broncos. He started the season as the starter and is still labeled that way on any depth chart you see, but rookie Kevin Byard has outsnapped him every game except for Week 7 (vs. Colts) going all the way back to our Week 5 win over the Dolphins. We all have seen enough from Byard to now be really excited about his future. He has often appeared to be the most dynamic defender on the field for our defense this year. I think Johnson's future with the team depends largely on whether LeBeau and Mularkey are planning on continuing to use the strategy of rotating safeties moving forward. When LeBeau was in Pittsburgh, Polamalu almost never came off the field so this has not been a LeBeau trademark over the years. I think we are going to want Byard on the field as much as possible in 2017, but I wouldn't be surprised if we tried to bring Johnson back regardless. He is a true pro and a good leader for the young safeties to follow. Part of the reason Rashad ended up here was that he wanted to be closer to his father in Alabama due to health concerns. I could see the Titans and Johnson wanting to reunite for another season for a similar 1 year / $2M deal, but this time as a backup to Byard.
- Daimion Stafford (S) - Stafford is another interesting case. Stafford, similar to Byard, is technically our backup safety behind starter Da'Norris Searcy, but Stafford has actually outsnapped Searcy on defense this year and statistically has outperformed him in every category. Using the eye test Stafford seems to show up a lot more often than Searcy does on tape as well. The two are very similar types of players, and I don't think either one is particularly effective in pass coverage which contributes to our sieve of a pass defense this year. This is what I would propose if I were Jon Robinson: I would consider cutting Searcy and saving $4.5M on the cap for this year and over $6M in cap space for 2018. I would re-sign Stafford for a 3 year / $8M deal and then bring in someone to compete with him either through the draft. If we don't go this route, I would expect Stafford to leave in hopes of finding a starting role with another team. He is a great fit as a hybrid nickel LB similar to the Deone Buchanon role that the Cardinals have made popular the last few years so expect there to be a market for Daimion's services this offseason.
- Valentino Blake (CB) - The artist formerly known as Antwon started the season in Titans fans' doghouse due to a couple of really REALLY bad preseason performances and a couple WTF plays on special teams during the regular season, but he has really come on since he started getting snaps at corner in the Bears game. Mularkey seems to think highly of him as a special teams player despite some mixed results this season on that front. Corner is the position on the roster most likely to be totally overhauled this offseason by Jon Robinson so it is really tough to predict what might happen with a guy like Blake. The only guy we can really safely project to be back in the cornerback position group next year is LeShaun Sims. I will talk about what might happen with McCourty and McCain a little later, but let's say the Titans decide to bring back Blake for another run with a 2 year / $4M deal for now.
- Marc Mariani (KR/PR) - Mariani came back to Tennessee to save us from a season's worth of muffed punts and bad kick return decisions. He has done that, but that's about all he can offer at this point in his career. I expect the Titans will either sign or draft someone this offseason that can upgrade our return game to be an actual threat.
- Matt Cassel (QB) - Cassel is 34 years old and was paid $2M this year to be Mariota's backup and mentor in the QB room. During the preseason a lot of people noticed that Alex Tanney really seemed to be outplaying Cassel and pined for him to get the backup job. I thought we were smart to keep Cassel around for the benefit he can provide to Mariota as a sounding board. Tanney turned down a chance to go to Cleveland and be on the active roster this year to stay on our practice squad. My guess is that the front office has told Tanney that if he stuck it out this year on the PS he would go in to 2017 with a chance to be the backup. I think that is what happens and Cassel sails off in to retirement.
- Antonio Andrews (RB) - Andrews has served as the 3rd string running back and a special teams player this year for the Titans. Behind Murray and Henry he is not going to get much run on offense. I think the Titans decide to go another direction for their 3rd running back in 2017 to try to get a guy with a different skill set from the "Thunder & Thunder" of Murray and Henry. I would expect Robinson to look for a young, more dynamic back in either free agency or the draft to give Mularkey and Robiskie another versatile piece to use on offense to create mismatches similar to the way the Patriots use James White and Dion Lewis behind LeGarrette Blount. I don't think we will see Andrews on the roster next year.
So if we bring back Klug, Fasano, Supernaw Spence, Johnson, Stafford, and Blake for the deals that I outlined above, that adds another $15.5M added to our cap line for 2017 and brings us to a total committed cap hit of $134.4M for 47 players.
Long Term Contract Extensions
Re-signing our own free agents won't be the only money given out to current Titans this offseason. There are some very big contract extensions that will likely be dealt with soon to lock key players in place before they get too close to free agency. Let's take a quick look at the extension candidates.
- Taylor Lewan (LT) - The Titans have to make the decision whether to pick up Lewan's 5th year option this offseason. He is finishing his third year with the Titans and the Titans are a lock to pick up his option so that will keep him in Nashville through the end of the 2018 season at least, but I think we all know the Titans want him here for much longer than that. Tyron Smith is a great comp for Lewan since both play the same position at about the same level. Smith got his massive 8 year / $97.6M extension after his 3rd year in the NFL. Lewan will likely be looking for a similar deal and I expect the Titans will give it to him. It will be interesting to see how we end up structuring the deal considering we have some available cap space now, but next year will probably be the year we extend Mariota's contract which will be a megadeal. I could see them trying to front load the contract a little bit to take advantage of the current cap space we have. But for our purposes let's just say the Titans extend Lewan for 8 years / $100M this offseason and spread the cap numbers evenly over the length of the deal.
- DaQuan Jones (DE) - I just don't see the Titans doing an extension for Jones this offseason. He is a good player, but I don't think there is a fear of him reaching free agency in 2018.
- Avery Williamson (ILB) - Williamson is a little more likely to get an extension this year due to the lack of depth we have at his position. Woodyard is not likely to be around for too much longer and none of our backup ILB's inspire a lot of confidence that they can take a starting role and succeed. I could see the Titans offering him a 3 year / $12M deal that keeps him here through the 2020 season similar to the one Jerrell Freeman got from the Bears last year.
- Quinton Spain (LG) - Spain has played very well this year since taking over the starting LG spot in preseason. While he doesn't have the pedigree that some of his fellow linemates do, he has performed very well this year and could be in line to get paid either this year or next year.
Extending Lewan and Williamson results in a net add of $12.9M to our 2017 cap hit after backing out their current contract values from the table above. That leaves us now at $147.3M committed in 2017.
Potential Cap Casualties
One quick point about the rollover cap ($26M) number from above that allows the Titans to go above and beyond the $168M cap. That is a year to year deal so if the Titans decide to go wild and spend all the way up to the total $194M that they would allowed in 2017, that means they will have to find a way to get that number back down below the 2018 cap number once that season rolls around. There are some things they can do with front loaded contracts that keeps the cap hit high for 2017 and then lower in 2018 and beyond that I would expect to see them take advantage of, particularly with the likely $20M per year megadeal Mariota will be getting probably some time in 2018.
There are also a few ways the Titans could get more cap space for 2017 by moving on from or restructuring current players deals. Here are a few that I think we could see cut or restructured this offseason.
- Jason McCourty (CB) - It pains me to even write about this one. J-Mac has been a very good player for the Titans and an even better representative for the team off the field. He is a class act and deserves Titans fans never ending respect for the way he has handled himself during his career here. That being said, next year he will carry a $7M cap hit and there is no dead money if we cut him meaning we can let him go and save all $7M. McCourty has struggled for most of this year and has pretty clearly lost a step. Now that he is losing snaps to the likes of Sims, Blake, and McCain, I just can't see him back with the Titans next year. Restructuring his contract doesn't make much sense considering the team will be tighter on cap space in 2018 and beyond than they will be next year. Having a $7M backup also doesn't make a ton of sense. Unfortunately I think we are watching the end of McCourty's outstanding Titans career here in 2016. Let's hope we are able to finally give him a playoff run.
- Da'Norris Searcy (S) - I discussed this a little bit above when talking about why I think we will re-sign Stafford. Searcy hasn't played up to his contract since signing here. He hasn't been terrible, but Stafford has pretty clearly outplayed him this year and we can bring back Stafford for a lot less than keeping Searcy. By cutting Searcy we would only save $4.5M against the cap this year but we would save over $6M in 2018 which will be huge since that is the offseason of Mariota. I'm not sure if this one will happen, but I can almost guarantee you it will be discussed.
- Harry Douglas (WR) - I am one of the few who think Harry Douglas gets a bad rap from Titans fans. No the guy isn't big or fast, but he does run good routes and catches the ball pretty well. He's not actively hurting our team like some receivers from our past. That being said, he's not worth the money he's going to be paid next year to be our 4th or 5th WR. The Titans can save about $3.8M of his $4.5M cap hit next year by cutting him and I expect that to happen.
- Wesley Woodyard (ILB) - This is a close one for me. Woodyard hasn't played bad this year, but he's not as good as what his cap number would suggest he should be. Problem is that Spence and Palmer are both free agents and even if we brought them back I don't think they are good enough to start for this team. The Titans could save $4.75M in cap space by cutting Woodyard. My guess is that we will try to address ILB in free agency and/or the draft and then decide what to do with Woodyard after that.
Out of those 4 I think McCourty and Douglas are likely, while Searcy and Woodyard will mostly depend on if we can find upgrades in free agency or the draft. Let's say we move on from McCourty and Douglas and pocket the $10.8M of cap space that would give us bringing our total to $136.5M committed for 45 players and just know that we have another $9.25M in our back pocket if we can find upgrades at SS and ILB along the way.
OK, now that we are through all of that, we get to the fun part where we get to imagine what the Titans roster could look like with some key free agent additions in 2017. We currently have around $31.5M of space under the cap and can have up to $57.5M for 2017 if we decide to roll over all of our unused cap space from 2016. Let's take a look at our current depth chart with the 45 guys we have under contract plus a few of the guys currently on the practice squad that are likely to be brought back for camp next year so we can see where we may need to add.
QB - Marcus Mariota, Alex Tanney
RB - DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry
FB - Jalston Fowler
WR - Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, Tre McBride, Jonathan Krause
TE - Delanie Walker, Anthony Fasano, Phillip Supernaw, Jace Amaro
T - Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Dennis Kelly
G - Quinton Spain, Josh Kline, Sebastian Tretola, Josue Matias
C - Ben Jones
DE - Jurell Casey, DaQuan Jones, Angelo Blackson, Mehdi Abdesmad, J.R. Tavai
DT - Al Woods, Austin Johnson, Antwaun Woods
OLB - Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace
ILB - Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, Sean Spence
CB - LeShaun Sims, Valentino Blake, Brice McCain, Kalan Reed
FS - Kevin Byard, Rashad Johnson
SS - Daimion Stafford, Curtis Riley
K - Ryan Succop
P - Brett Kern
The glaring positions that need reinforcement are CB, ILB, and WR.
This is the one position that is guaranteed to be a major target for improvement this offseason. LeShaun Sims has shown some promise over the last few weeks, but we will need to add 2-3 players here between free agency and the draft. Luckily for us the free agent class and draft classes are very deep and strong when it comes to corner so we have a good opportunity to really improve quickly. Below is a list of some of the top available free agent corners that will be hitting the market this year along with their PFF Rank. I know PFF isn't everybody's cup of tea, but I think they do a great job of generally indicating how well a player is performing.
Here is my take on a few of these guys that I think the Titans may be interested in.
- Malcolm Butler - This is probably my favorite corner that may be available, but he is also going to be tough to get away from New England since he is an RFA which means the Patriots have the right to match any contract offer he receives from another team. The Pats have a big offseason coming up. They will have about $71M of free space available as it stands now, but are losing 22 players to expiring contracts including starters Jabaal Sheard, Martellus Bennett, Sebastian Vollmer, Chris Long, Dont'a Hightower, LeGarrette Blount, and Logan Ryan. Those guys plus Butler means the Pats have $71M to spend to fill over a third of their starters on offense and defense plus another 14 depth guys. Bennett, Hightower, and Butler will all likely command salaries of somewhere around $8-10M per year. I think the Patriots moves to trade away Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in the past year has been in anticipation of this offseason being tight financially, but my guess is that part of that was to make room for them to be able to keep Butler in town. I just don't see this one happening for us.
- A.J. Bouye - Bouye is having a phenomenal year for the Texans ranking behind only the two Denver corners (Harris and Talib) in PFF's grading for the season. Unlike the Patriots, the Texans have very little cap flexibility heading in to 2017 thanks in large part to the Brock Osweiler mega contract. Brock carries a cap hit of $19M ($19M!!!!) next year and the Texans can't get any short term relief from cutting him so they are kind of stuck. They will have just $23M of cap space to fill the spots of 14 departing players including Bouye. The market for Bouye will likely be a contract of around 4 years / $40M so that would leave them very little money left to fill the rest of their roster spots. Additionally, the Texans are loaded at corner with Jonathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson, and Kareem Jackson in addition to Bouye this year. They will almost certainly let him walk so it then becomes a question of whether the Titans can find a way to land him here. I think Bouye is among the most likely players to sign with the Titans.
- Morris Claiborne - Claiborne has the pedigree of a great corner after coming in to the league as the #6 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, but had struggled in the NFL up until this season. He has broken through this year to become one of the best corners in the league and a big reason for the Cowboys impressive season so far. The Cowboys are locked in cap hell and will have Ronald Leary, Rolando McClain, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, and Terrance Williams to replace or re-sign along with Claiborne. Claiborne will be the most expensive of the bunch and I don't see how they free up enough space to bring him back. I think Claiborne can be the lock down corner the Titans really need.
- Stephon Gilmore - Gilmore is another guy with a pedigree. He was the #10 overall pick in the 2012 behind Claiborne and has had a better career than Claiborne to this point even though this season hasn't been quite as strong as the last couple years. Gilmore, like Claiborne, has prototypical size for an NFL corner, but Gilmore is actually a bit faster. Looking at the Bills cap situation, they are in a similar spot as the Texans are with Bouye. With Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey-Coleman playing well for Buffalo, they may choose to move on from Gilmore rather than bring him back and only be able to sign veteran minimum level players to fill the rest of the roster (they have only 36 players under contract for 2017 and yet only have $32M of cap space).
- Trumaine Johnson - The Rams top corner will be available but the Rams appear to have the cap space to bring him back if they are so inclined. I expect they will use the franchise tag to keep him there even if he tries to leave. He would be a great fit if available though.
My guess is that the Titans will try to sign one top level corner and maybe one other depth corner. Out of the top level guys (the five I have listed above would be part of that group), I think Bouye, Claiborne, and Gilmore are the most likely to be available. The Titans have the cap space and an appealing roster for free agents to look at. Nashville isn't a bad place to live these days either. I think there is a good chance one of these three guys is your starting corner for the Titans on opening day 2017. It will all depend on who actually comes available and who Robinson and crew like best, but I'm going to project that we sign Stephon Gilmore to a 4 year / $40M deal and then allow Sims, Blake, McCain, Reed, and one of our draft picks compete for the other starting corner and nickel spots.
The Titans inside linebackers have come under fire for the last couple seasons due mainly to their struggles in the passing game. Tight ends and running backs routinely torch our backers in pass coverage. Williamson and Woodyard both play the run pretty well, but that's not enough in today's NFL. Williamson is miscast as a 3 down linebacker. He would be very good as a strong side linebacker in our base 3-4, but I would rather see him taken off the field in sub packages to allow for a more effective coverage linebacker to cover the middle of the field. As covered above we could decide to move on from Woodyard to save some money if we find a suitable replacement for him in the draft or free agency. Unfortunately, ILB is not nearly as deep a group in free agency as corner so we may be better off keeping Woodyard and addressing this position via the draft, but here are a few free agents we could target if we decide to go that route.
There are only a few real options for the Titans at ILB in free agency.
- Dont'a Hightower - Similar to his teammate Malcolm Butler, Hightower will hit the market this offseason. Hightower is not an RFA like Butler though so he may sign with any team without the Patriots being able to match. Hightower is pretty clearly the best ILB on the market and is used to playing in a 3-4 scheme like the Titans run. He would be a great fit here, but will command a large contract in the neighborhood of 5 years / $45M so I don't know if the Titans will want to commit that much cap to a ILB.
- Zach Brown - I'll give you a minute. OK, are you done laughing? Yes, Zach Brown flamed out horribly here in Tennessee after failing to live up to his draft billing. But he has been revitalized in Buffalo this year playing the best football of his career. It is probably not a coincidence that this is a contract year and based on our previous experience with Brown you could certainly see a scenario where he gets paid and crashes back to Earth. Its possible the light has come on for him, but I think the Titans stay away considering the baggage he still has here.
- Gerald Hodges - I really don't know much about Hodges as I haven't watched many 49er games this year. It hurts the eyeballs too much. Hodges is young and is grading out well according to PFF, but then again the 49ers run defense has been one of the worst in NFL history this year, so it is tough for me to believe that this guy is playing that well.
To me this is a position best addressed through the draft. With Reuben Foster, Zach Cunningham, Jarrad Davis, and Raekwon McMillon all likely to be entering the draft there is some real talent at this position that could solidify this position for the Titans for years and will be much cheaper than Hightower will be. I expect the Titans bring back Williamson, Woodyard, and Spence and then draft a ILB in the first 3 rounds of the draft.
The Titans have a long and frustrating history at this position. Ever since the days of Derrick Mason and Kevin Dyson we have watched them try and fail to draft or sign the next great thing at WR. Tyrone Calico, Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright, and Dorial Green-Beckham are just the highest profile of a long line of draft busts in the Titans WR group. This year we brought in Rishard Matthews through free agency and he has quickly risen to the top of the Titans depth chart alongside 5th round rookie Tajae Sharpe. With DGB being shipped out of town before the season even started and Kendall Wright (and possibly Harry Douglas) not expected to return to the team the Titans will have to address this position one way or another this offseason. Here are some options that will be available in the free agent market.
There are several big names in this list, but only a few that I think are good fits for the Titans.
- Terrelle Pryor - This would be my favorite WR signing the Titans could make, but I don't think the Browns will let him walk. The Browns have the cap space to sign him and the leverage of the franchise tag to force him to negotiate with them. If he somehow did hit the market, he would get something like a 5 year / $55M deal. This is a dream fit for the Titans as he gives them a big physical receiver who can make contested catches and is a big time threat down the field. Just don't see him playing anywhere but Cleveland next year though.
- Pierre Garcon - Garcon is a very underrated receiver. He doesn't get the headlines that his teammate DeSean Jackson does, but he is a much better player. I think Garcon's game is very similar to Rishard Matthews though and I'm not sure the Titans want another possession type receiver. He doesn't add anything that their existing receivers don't already have. I think the Titans pass.
- DeSean Jackson - Lots of people still like this guy, but I think he is rapidly becoming a one trick pony and that trick (his straight line speed) will only deteriorate as he enters his 30s. He can still take the top off a defense right now, but how much longer will he be able to do it? Also, he brings a diva mentality and an attitude that won't be suffered lightly in the Titans culture. I don't think he fits here either.
- Alshon Jeffery - Jeffery is a big physical receiver who thrives on jump balls down the field which fits a big need for the Titans, but he is also injury prone and will pout when not being fed the ball regularly. Despite his suspension for use of a banned substance this year, he will still probably command a huge contract this offseason. Something around a 5 year / $60M deal is probably about right. He is someone who I go back and forth on, but ultimately I think he is too big of a risk to give a contract as large as the one he will probably get and I would suspect the Titans stay out of the Jeffery market.
- Cordarrelle Patterson - I don't see Patterson as a starting WR in the NFL, but if the Titans could sign him as a Mariani replacement returning kicks that would be a MASSIVE upgrade and he does offer some interesting skills to be used in 4 and 5 WR sets where he can line up in the backfield as a running back at times. I think it will take a 4 year / $20M deal to get him but I think he is someone the Titans should look at.
I think the Titans pass on signing one of the big names (Jeffery, Floyd, Jackson) and probably can't get Pryor, so I am going to project that we sign Cordarrelle Patterson to a 4 year / $20M deal as a WR with potential upside, but more importantly an immediate contributor on special teams. I think that with this crop of free agent receivers, we are better off trying to find an impact player at this position using one of our first round picks.
One other under the radar guy to mention is Stedman Bailey. He was playing very well for the Rams before tragically being shot in the face in a drive by shooting. He sat out this entire season due to the injuries sustained in the shooting, but wants to play in the NFL again once he is cleared by doctors to return. He would be a great fit as a slot type receiver for us, but we really won't hear anything about him until he's given a clean bill of health.
Other Potential Impact Free Agents
Below are a few other impact free agents that will be hitting the market, but don't necessarily fill a major need position for us.
- Eric Berry (S) - Much to the dismay of our Chiefs friends who have been hanging out this week, it is going to take a lot of maneuvering for them to be able to keep Berry and Poe in KC for next season. Could Berry want to come back to Tennessee where he went to college and near his hometown of Atlanta? Maybe. Berry and Byard would be a formidable safety duo, but I think this is still very unlikely.
- Jonathan Cyprien (S) - Cyprien is having another good year on a bad Jaguars team. Could he be ready to make a move? The Jags can afford to bring him back if they want, but does he want to return? He would be a nice fit next to Byard as well.
- Tony Jefferson (S) - Jefferson is the unsung hero of the Cardinals secondary. Peterson and Mathieu get all the attention but Jefferson is really good too. The Cards have a lot of players that will draw lots of interest in this free agent market (Jones and Campbell in particular). Can they afford to bring them all back?
- Barry Church (S) - Church is another good in-the-box type safety that the Cowboys may not be able to afford to keep due to their bad cap situation.
- Jaleel Addae (S) - The Chargers safety is better in coverage than run defense and that may be more of what the Titans are looking for if they decide to make a move to improve the safety group. He is a little more under the radar than the guys above, but could come a little cheaper and be a better fit.
- Kawann Short (DL) - Short is a dominant interior lineman for the Panthers and would be a big addition for us if we could get him. Expect the Panthers to try hard to keep him in Carolina.
- Melvin Ingram (OLB) - Ingram is one of the best young edge rushers in the NFL. The Chargers will be intent on keeping him to pair with Joey Bosa to form a formidable pass rush duo of their own to keep up with their division rivals in the AFC West.
- Calais Campbell (DE) - Campbell has been one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL for many seasons now. He is still playing at a high level despite entering his 30s this year. DaQuan Jones is a good young player, but pairing Campbell with Casey would have to be intriguing for Jon Robinson if he hits the open market.
- Chandler Jones (OLB) - Jones is another of the best young edge rushers in the NFL. After making a big trade to get him from New England last year, it is hard to see the Cardinals letting him walk in free agency.
- Lance Dunbar (RB) - Dunbar has seen his role in the Dallas offense consumed by the unbelievable Ezekiel Elliott this year but before his injury last season he was a highly effective 3rd down receiving back. I think that type of player would be the best fit for the Titans behind Murray and Henry.
- Chris Thompson (RB) - Thompson is a very similar fit to Dunbar. He is a RFA though so it may take an overpay to get him out of Washington. I think he is a better player than Dunbar though.
- Travaris Cadet (RB) - Again. A similar receiving back type guy. He has stuck around in New Orleans for years in a similar role.
If you've made it this far, congratulations! Sorry for the length of the post, but I wanted to get all this information in one place for a reference and thought others might enjoy as well. Ultimately I think the Titans are on the brink of being a yearly playoff contender. With all the firepower Robinson has this offseason I think we will all be very excited when football kicks off again next fall. Feel free to discuss in the comments!