The Tennessee Titans are currently in the midst of a three game losing streak, and if they aren’t careful, they could lose something just as valuable if things don’t turn around soon.
After eleven games, the top pass catching tight end in the league is not New England’s Rob Gronkowski, Carolina’s Greg Olsen, or Seattle’s Jimmy Graham. That distinction belongs to Tennessee’s Delanie Walker, and Titans fans know that it is not a fluke.
Nov 29, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (C) poses for a photo with fans prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Since coming to Nashville via free agency in 2013, Walker has been a model of consistency…on the field, in the locker room, and in the community. As the team started to slide, Walker continued to improve.
In 2013 he had 60 catches for 571 yards. Impressive first year totals given the fact that wide receiver Kendall Wright was the primary target, hauling in 94 catches and over a thousand yards that season.
In 2014 Wright’s numbers fell dramatically. Walker picked up the slack with an 890 yard season, the fourth best performance of any tight end that year.
Walker has proven to be even more valuable this year, and his 59 catches for 708 yards has him on pace to increase his productivity for a third straight season.
Oh…and one other thing…
He will be entering the final year of his contract next season, and it would be unwise for the Titans to allow him to hit free agency again.
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For starters, Walker has been a valuable asset in the development of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. Tennessee leads the league in tight end production, and while they are deep at the position, there is a significant drop off in talent with Anthony Fasano and Craig Stevens.
Not only are there no other Delanie Walkers on the team, but there are few tight ends in the entire league with his combination of hands, toughness, and leadership. Extending him would ensure that Mariota would have his most productive weapon as he continues to develop.
Greg Olsen provided similar stability to qb Cam Newton when he joined the Panthers in 2011 (Newton’s rookie season), and was rewarded with a three year, 22.5 million dollar extension earlier this year.
Extending Walker also shows Tennessee’s fan base that they are serious about returning this franchise back to respectability, while shedding their image as a frugal franchise. The Titans currently have over 20 million dollars in cap space, so money should not be an issue.
With so many questions surrounding Tennessee’s front office and coaching staff, keeping Walker beyond next season is certainly no slam dunk. Especially if the Titans turn in another dreadful season next year.
If he remains healthy and consistent, then Walker will have no shortage of stable franchises with playoff aspirations lining up to throw money at him next spring. He’s a difference maker. He can turn a good offense into an elite one.
Walker has been the Titans’ most consistent offensive threat the last three years, and the only threat on an offense devoid of quality backs and receivers this season. Opposing defenses know this as well, which makes his ability to produce week after week even more impressive.
If all else fails then Tennessee could use the franchise tag on Walker to buy them another season, but hopefully it won’t come to that. Hopefully the Titans will throw enough money Walker’s way to keep him around a few more years, and hopefully they do it sooner rather than later.
They can’t afford not to.