News is coming in fast and furious so let’s just jump right into it.
Titans add former NFL sack king Vic Beasley
Beasley is a divisive figure and there are a few angles that we need to consider with him.
First, the talent is undeniable. Beasley led the entire league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, seemingly making the leap to superstardom in his second season after being drafted 8th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. He obviously didn’t stick at that level, but he was healthy (only two games missed in five years) and at least semi-productive during the rest of his time there.
Why was he drafted so highly to begin with? A 30-sack, 48-tackle for loss college career at Clemson followed by this combine performance at 6’-3”, 246 pounds:
Beasley was essentially Isaiah Simmons 1.0 at Clemson. There are zero questions about his talent level or physical ability.
However, the reason Beasley was available after five years with the Falcons is his production since the breakout sophomore season. He had 5 sacks each in 2017 and 2018 before bouncing back a little bit with an 8-sack 2019 season. (Though if you’re looking for silver linings, Beasley finished with 6.5 sacks over the final 8 games last year following several midseason changes to the coaching staff, including Dan Quinn turning defensive playcalling duties over to Jeff Ulbrich and Raheem Morris.)
Let’s be clear, 18 sacks over three seasons isn’t nothing, but it’s also not what the Falcons expected from a top ten pick, especially when Beasley is pretty well known to be a sub-par run defender to this point in his career.
The good news? What if I told you that Beasley’s pass rush win rate and double team rate were roughly the same as Yannick Ngakoue’s last year?
Double team rate as an edge rusher (x) by pass rush win rate as an edge rusher (y) in 2019 for players who were in the last season of their contract.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) March 6, 2020
Lower qualifying threshold than usual to get a few more players in. pic.twitter.com/xH1SZc72CM
There are certainly some reasons for Beasley’s decline in Atlanta that were outside of his control. The Falcons never really figured out the best way to deploy him in Dan Quinn’s 4-3 defense. He started off at defensive end, got moved to off ball linebacker and then got moved back. Beasley was always an awkward fit for Quinn’s preferred alignment.
In Tennessee, Beasley will slot into a far more natural position for him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. His athleticism will give Vrabel another versatile piece to move around as needed, but it would be a surprise if he’s not the day one starter opposite Harold Landry, who has a very similar skill set and size-speed combo to Beasley.
You won’t find a more athletic pair of edge rushers in the entire NFL, but it will fall on the shoulders of outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen as well as Mike Vrabel to get these guys to translate all that talent into production and disruption.
The Titans gave him a one year deal worth $9.5 million with incentives that could take him to $12 million. That’s a lot of money, but with it being just one year, this is a big time upside bet. If Vrabel can get through to Beasley in a way the Falcons couldn’t, this could turn out to be a Shaquil Barrett-esque instant impact. If he can’t, the team will be back in the edge market again next year.
Money can be a good motivator and the Titans were smart to add some incentives to this contract. A fresh start for the soon-to-be 28 year old without the burden of the high draft pick expectations and with a defense that is a better fit for his skill set could help too. Or Beasley could just turn out to be what he has been the past three years, a talented but frustrating player who will produce around 5 to 8 sacks a year.
The range of outcomes is virtually all positive for the Titans in my opinion. If Beasley is worth 5 to 8 sacks then that’s pretty decent for a number two pass rusher. Would $9.5 million be an overpay for that kind of production? Probably, but it’s better than what they’ve had across from Landry the last two years and there is a non-zero chance that Beasley clicks and reaches that 2019 Shaq Barrett ceiling.
Where do the Titans stand with cap space now?
Based on my guess on the Dennis Kelly contract structure, I think the Titans have roughly $14.5 million in available cap space for 2020 after all the contracts we know about so far. That total has to pay for their rookie class contracts (budget about $2.5 million there) as well as any other deals they have left to do.
That means that Beasley is likely the last “big” addition coming from free agency. I’d look for smaller contracts to bring back guys like MyCole Pruitt and Tajae Sharpe, maybe Wesley Woodyard or Daren Bates. There may be another mid-level type deal to hand out (in the $8 million a year range) but that’s only if they are comfortable spending right up to the cap this year, something they have not done in years past.
There is one caveat to that... if there is another big move out there that could be made, the Titans still have the flexibility to restructure deals for Malcolm Butler, DaQuan Jones, and Jurrell Casey. They could probably free up another $5 million or so in cap space if needed by converting some of those guys non-guaranteed money into bonuses to lower their 2020 cap hits.
If this is the last big move, did the Titans do enough to contend in 2020?
This is the million dollar question, right? The Titans have mostly retained their own, bringing back Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and Dennis Kelly on an offense that boasts plenty of talent and nearly unrivaled continuity heading into 2020.
Tennessee will bring back 10 of 11 starters from an offense that was red hot from Week 7 on under Tannehill. The lone departure, of course, is Jack Conklin, but Dennis Kelly has been with the team for four years and logged 16 starts in the two tone blue. Add to that a coaching staff that saw zero changes on offense and you have a lot of familiar faces heading into the offseason program this year. That hasn’t been the case for this franchise in ages.
The team didn’t have many needs on offense to begin with. Sure, they need a RB2 and maybe another speed threat at receiver, but those can be filled through the draft if needed. These 11 will almost certainly be the starters when football kicks off this fall:
QB Ryan Tannehill
RB Derrick Henry
WR A.J. Brown
WR Corey Davis
WR Adam Humphries
TE Jonnu Smith
LT Taylor Lewan
LG Rodger Saffold
C Ben Jones
RG Nate Davis
RT Dennis Kelly
That is a talented and experienced bunch with very few glaring holes.
On defense, the only big move to this point has been the addition of Vic Beasley who we discussed at length above. You can pencil him in at the opposite edge spot across from Harold Landry, leaving the only remaining question mark in the starting lineup Logan Ryan’s slot corner spot.
Ryan has not signed anywhere yet so it’s still theoretically possible that he comes back to Tennessee, but it seems more likely that he finds a better offer elsewhere at this point. So if he leaves, who replaces him? The obvious roster candidate is second year safety Amani Hooker. He played a ton of snaps as a third safety in 2019, but during his senior year at Iowa, he primarily played slot corner, grading out as PFF’s best slot coverage performer since 2016.
Outside the roster, there remain a few free agent options, but the best route to filling this spot is through the draft in my opinion. The Titans secondary simply couldn’t run with the Chiefs in either matchup this year. Yes, Malcolm Butler missed both games, but Ryan struggled mightily when asked to chase Tyreek Hill in the slot. If your goal is to get past KC moving forward, you’re going to need to get younger and faster in the secondary.
The Titans are in a good spot to land an instant impact corner at pick 29 if they so choose and this is a strong corner class.
From top to bottom, there simply aren’t that many holes on a team that went 9-4 against a schedule that featured seven games against division winners with Ryan Tannehill at the helm. Edge rushing help was widely considered the biggest need spot outside of retaining their own guys and the Titans believe they’ve addressed that.
I don’t know if that’s enough to get them over the top, but I do think that mostly running it back always made the most sense. The Titans will bank on development and familiarity to lift a group that was tantalizingly close to the goal last season.
2021 Comp Pick Watch
The guys at OverTheCap.com have a comp pick cancellation chart that they are updating as free agency rolls along. They currently show the Titans projected to get a 3rd round comp back for Jack Conklin (the highest level of comp pick available) and have Vic Beasley’s addition canceling out the pick they would have received from Marcus Mariota.
If Beasley’s addition means Kamalei Correa winds up elsewhere, we could see that pick effectively replaced depending on where contract numbers come in for him.
The Titans are probably going to re-sign a few more of their own guys, but they aren’t going to bring back all the players that are floating out there right now. Several of those players could generate significant interest, including Correa, Logan Ryan, Tajae Sharpe, MyCole Pruitt, Wesley Woodyard, Austin Johnson, and LeShaun Sims. Players that were released by the team like Delanie Walker, Cameron Wake, and Dion Lewis will not count towards the compensatory pick formula if/when they are signed.
It’s a virtual lock that the Titans will be in line to receive some 2021 comp picks. The questions now are how many and in which rounds?
TB12 to TB
The mystery is over. Tom Brady is leaving New England and heading to Tampa Bay. [Insert joke about retired people moving to Florida here.]
It’s going to be extremely jarring to see Brady in a Bucs uniform for the first time. It will also be similarly jarring to see someone besides Brady wearing the Patriots uniform and lining up under center in New England.
Reports are unclear on the exact number of years and contract details, but it sounds like he’s going to wind up getting $30 million or more per year. Obviously, fans are going to compare how Brady fares in Tampa with how Ryan Tannehill does for the Titans regardless of how real or not real the Brady-to-Tennessee rumors ever were.
For Brady, this move makes perfect sense. The Bucs have a nice roster with an embarrassment of riches at receiver and tight end with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard leading the charge combined with a solid offensive line.
The Titans will never face Brady’s Bucs unless the two teams meet in the Super Bowl. The next Tennessee-Tampa Bay regular season matchup won’t come until 2023 unless the 17th game mixes things up before then.
Philip Rivers lands in Indianapolis
Speaking of aging quarterbacks changing teams for the first time, Rivers will enter the AFC South as the Colts new quarterback on a one year, $25 million deal. That relegates Jacoby Brissett to being a really expensive backup for 2020.
Rivers has had an interesting career. The eight time Pro Bowler has thrown for at least 4,286 yards and 23 touchdowns for seven straight years while maintaining a YPA of at least 7.2 each year over that stretch. However, he’s always found struggles in the postseason and he’s coming off easily his worst season since at least 2012.
At age 38, Rivers no longer has his fastball physically, but he’s still capable of winning with his mind and now he’s reuniting with Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni, two guys who know him well from their time in San Diego together. The Colts don’t have the weapons that the Chargers do, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m more worried about them under Rivers than I was with Brissett.
The Titans are officially dynasty killers
This was the end of an era and the final image of this unforgettable run will always be Logan Ryan skipping into the end zone for a pick six to bury the stake deep in the heart of the Patriots in Foxborough. You’re welcome, NFL.
Brady and Belichick separating for the first time since 2000 is going to make for some fascinating comparisons this fall. Will we finally be able to settle the debate of which man was most instrumental to the Patriots dynasty?
First, we will need to figure out who will follow in Brady’s footsteps for New England. I think the most interesting option is Cam Newton, who is currently sitting on the trade block after the Panthers brought in Teddy Bridgewater. Belichick has reportedly always been fascinated with running quarterbacks and what you could design for an offense around that skill set. What better way to let him tinker than setting him up with arguably the greatest running quarterback of all time (for now)?
The other options available? Andy Dalton could make some sense. Smart guy who will manage a game and has lots of experience. The most hilarious choice? Jameis Winston.