Tennessee Titans: Why Signing a Free Agent Running Back Makes Little Sense


Oct 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Houston Texans running back Ben Tate (44) is defended by Kansas City Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis (23) at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs defeated the Texans 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency just two days away, the rumors have begun to swirl about who the Tennessee Titans will have interest in signing.  It has been reported that the Titans are expected to talk to free agent running backs Donald Brown of the Colts, and Ben Tate of the Texans.

Although the Titans have a lot of needs, signing a running back is not the route they need to take to fix their problem.

Currently, Chris Johnson is the Titans running back heading into the 2014 season.  However, all signs point to the Titans cutting Johnson, unless he takes a pay cut.  Knowing Johnson and how high he holds himself, that will not happen.  The Titans are not going to pay a running back $8 million to average 3.9 yards per carry (YPC).  The production is not where the money needs it to be, and he will more than likely be let go.

So with the expectation that the Titans and Johnson part ways, the Titans will look to add a feature back in the 2014 offseason.  Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle will both be returning, but Greene will be a third down back, while Battle will see touches sparingly, as he was re-signed for his excellent play on special teams.

With all of that said, what are the chances the Titans make a serious run at backs like Tate and Brown?

Well I would sure hope not good.  It not only seems illogical, but also wouldn’t make good use of the Titans’ money, which will need to be used more carefully than it was last offseason, due to less cap space.

Brown is a former first-round pick out of the University of Connecticut, who is headed into his 6th season.  Brown has never had more than 135 carries in a season, and has never entered the season as the starter during his time in Indianapolis.  In 2013, he did look impressive carrying the ball for Indy, splitting carries with Trent Richardson, and catching balls out of the backfield.  After that solid season, Brown becomes one of the more attractive running back in free agency.  But for the Titans to sign Brown, it would cost them a multi-year deal, and money that is not worth spending for a back that has yet to have a year where he has started 16 games, and been a work horse back.

If the Titans were to sign any of the two, Tate, the 5th year running back out of Auburn, would seem to be the more reasonable signing.  However, like Brown, Tate has yet to enter any season as the starter in Houston, and has never been healthy for a full season.  Tate has been a very productive back while sharing carries and filling in for Arian Foster, and is also a very hard runner.  Tate has had 2 seasons in which he almost eclipsed 200 carries, but he never has.  To sign what is thought to be the best running back in the 2014 free agent class, will cost a lot of dollars.

Starting running backs in the NFL are losing value every year.  It has clearly become a passing league, and several teams are having success taking backs late in the draft.  The fact is, the running back position doesn’t nearly hold the value it did a decade ago.

My hope would be the Titans front office realizes that point, and addresses much more important needs during free agency.  Signing a veteran corner, a new right tackle, and adding strong pieces to the front seven, hold much more importance than signing Brown or Tate.

Truthfully, the most likely scenario is the Titans look to the draft for their 2014 starting running back.  You could name any guy in the class, and if it is after the first round, you can expect the Titans will be looking long and hard at those guys.  Of course the most popular names are Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, Auburn’s Tre Mason, and Heisman trophy finalist Andre Williams from Boston College.

Brown and Tate could very well be productive backs for other teams in the 2014 season.  However, the smartest thing for the Titans to do is avoid those guys.  Brown and Tate have a lot wear and tear on their bodies heading into their 6th and 5th seasons respectively, and should not be pursued by the Titans when free agency begins March 11. The Titans mindset should be to draft a young running back who is fresh, and ready to assume the starting role in 2014.

More than likely, you will see a rookie carrying the ball in the Titans backfield in September.