Is the Tennessee Titans’ passive approach to free agency the right way to do business during this particular offseason, given their situation?
Four days into free agency and the Tennessee Titans have made a few moves. They’ve revamped the special teams unit and added two key pieces that figure to help fix a bottom-of-the-barrel secondary. For many fans, though, it hasn’t been enough. Considering the Titans were coming into the new league year with a little over $60M in cap space (sixth-most in the NFL), this was poised to be a splashier offseason than last year’s.
Before the 2016 season started, new GM Jon Robinson treated free agency like the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots have for so many years. He waited back and picked up value where he could find it. On the offensive side, he traded basically nothing for DeMarco Murray, plucked away Ben Jones from a division rival, signed Rishard Matthews to a great contract, and scooped up veterans Matt Cassel and Andre Johnson. On the defensive side, he found cheap options at different positions that could contribute in several ways. Rashad Johnson, Brice McCain, Sean Spence, and Nate Palmer were all had for pennies on the dollar.
Every one of those players mentioned was an important contributor to the Titans’ six win improvement in 2016. They got a career year from Matthews, an AFC leading rusher in Murray, a great center in Jones, decent secondary play from Johnson and McCain, solid linebacker play from Spence, and good special teams coverage from Palmer. Cassel started and won one game. Andre Johnson made a game-winning catch against the Detroit Lions. They were all needed in order for the Titans to get to 9-7.
With the team heading in the right direction and a large amount of cap space available, a bigger offseason was expected in terms of free agent spending. Given the reports of the Titans willing to spend and the linkings of the team to top free agents like A.J. Bouye, Dont’a Hightower, and others, it appeared Robinson would make big-name, impact signings.
Day one began relatively slow. Johnathan Cyprien, a run-stopping strong safety, was the first signing. Then came special teams-centric acquisitions in former Oakland Raiders Daren Bates and Brynden Trawick. Later that night came the big fish, though, in Logan Ryan. A really good cover cornerback who is stout in the run game, Ryan was Robinson’s main target all along (he drafted him in New England). The following day resulted in another special teams addition in Eric Weems, who will replace Marc Mariani as the primary returner. The most recent signing, Sylvester Williams, is a nose tackle who has struggled mightily to live up to his first round hype for the last four years.
Sprinkled into those signings were some needed re-signings. Karl Klug, Nate Palmer, and Phillip Supernaw were all brought back on multi-year deals.
All in all, the Titans have signed nine players so far in free agency. Among those are two new defensive starters, four special teamers who might double as depth pieces, two rotation guys along the defensive line, and a third-string tight end.
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I guess the question, at this point, isn’t whether the Titans have been too passive in free agency. They’ve been active, and the amount of signings has shown that. But with a bevy of cap space, it’s fair to wonder whether setting a strict value on certain players has restricted the Titans from getting legitimate playmakers that could take this team to a different level.
I understand that there are looming contract extensions for Marcus Mariota, Taylor Lewan, and other internal pieces. I also understand that spending big in free agency doesn’t necessarily translate to wins (see Jaguars, Jacksonville).
I also know that a team doesn’t take the next step to greatness without blue chip players at every level of the field. Brandin Cooks would’ve been one had we traded for him. Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor might have been that blue chip receiver the Titans don’t have. Brandon Williams would’ve been a top 5 nose tackle anchoring our defense. Hightower would be that guy at linebacker, but it doesn’t look likely at all that he’ll become a Titan.
Free agency still isn’t over and there are plenty of good options still out there. Kevin Minter, Johnathan Hankins, and Cordarrelle Patterson are a few players I think the Titans should be in on. The Titans haven’t been linked to any other free agents as of late, and they have no visits set up. Maybe it will pick up soon. Maybe Robinson has his eyes on the draft and sees how much talent and depth lies within it.
All I’m saying is that it’s reasonable to critique the process with which the Titans have attacked free agency SO FAR. Every team and every general manager works differently. Robinson showed last year that the process worked for at least one season. He earned most of our trust after just one year. I hope that my reservations about this offseason’s method of doing business are proven to be wrong. After all, there’s a reason I’m writing about this and not in a front office doing it.