Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson has zigged while AFC South has zagged

Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson appears to be one step ahead of all of the other teams’ general managers in the AFC South.

The praise for Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson has been pouring in all offseason. After a great draft class, some shrewd free agent signings and building a winning culture as the Titans went 9-7 in his first year in charge, most of it was deserved. His second offseason got off to a slow start, as he let free agency come to him and didn’t chase big-time players, but his under-the-radar signings and what-looks-to-be-stellar draft class have reinforced his legend.

His most recent move may just be the most underrated of them all. The prospect of signing Eric Decker came with mixed reactions from Titans fans. Many loved the idea of continuing to add talent on offense, while others didn’t see the need after drafting two wide receivers in the first three rounds in April. Decker provides an element that no other receiver on the roster can; a big-bodied, smooth, physical, smart weapon out of the slot. Corey Davis has the potential to be that, but it takes time to master the craft.

Bringing in Decker can be taken in a number of different ways. Robinson might not feel comfortable going into the season with two rookies within the top three receiver spots on the depth chart. Robinson might not be sold on Tajae Sharpe or Harry Douglas as the fourth receiving option.

Or, and I like this one the best, Robinson is countering the moves that other AFC South teams have made. Take a look at what the teams in the Titans’ division have done this offseason.

The Indianapolis Colts have completely revamped their defense, signing and drafting a shocking amount of players on that side of the ball. First-year GM Chris Ballard made some really nice moves, on paper, over the offseason, and the Colts look primed to contend again if Andrew Luck can stay healthy and the defense plays up to their talent level. Players like Malik Hooker, Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard would’ve been the best players on the Colts’ defense last season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars continue to win offseasons, this time spending a ridiculous amount of money to woo two of the biggest defensive free agents, A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell. They also signed Barry Church to fortify their strong safety position. Consider back-to-back top-four draft picks Dante Fowler Jr. and Jalen Ramsey, as well as 2016 free agent big money signings Tashaun Gipson and Malik Jackson, and the Jaguars have used up an unforeseen amount of capital to build a monster of a defense, on paper.

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The Houston Texans went about things a bit differently this offseason. Their defense is already stacked, so they attacked their most glaring weakness: quarterback. They gave up a 2018 second-round draft pick just to get rid of Brock Osweiler, then gave up their first round pick in 2017 and 2018 to trade up for Deshaun Watson. Cap-strapped with not a lot of room to work with, the Texans couldn’t make many moves this offseason and won’t be able to do much next offseason either. But their defense is set for years to come and they don’t have to worry about that side of the ball for a while.

So what did the Titans do? The secondary was always going to need to be fixed, as was the special teams unit, so Robinson started with those two areas. He signed two new secondary starters in Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien and two special teams aces in Daren Bates and Brynden Trawick. Wide receiver was a huge need going into the offseason, but Robinson didn’t splash money for free agent options like Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor or Pierre Garcon. It appeared that Robinson was taking a passive approach, but he was just letting it all come to him; an approach that has paid off huge dividends for the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers over the years.

In a very talented defensive back draft class, Robinson spent just one pick on a defensive back (Adoree’ Jackson). He drafted playmakers and leaned heavily on offense. Three of his first four picks were pass-catchers: two receivers (Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor) and a tight end (Jonnu Smith). Almost everyone was expecting Robinson to snatch up two or three defensive backs throughout the draft. Instead, he loaded up on offense, providing his franchise quarterback with dynamic weapons.

The offense seemed set for the future, and then he added Decker, one of the best receivers in the league (consult any analytics, metrics or stats site) over the last six seasons. Even after a season in which the Titans offense was as good as it had been in almost a decade, Robinson wanted to pour resources into it and improve it. He saw the changing tide within the division. He saw the Jaguars and the Colts stockpiling defensive talent, while the Texans were already blessed with it.

Instead of focusing primarily on the side of the ball that everyone else was pining to make the best in the division, he went offensive. I imagine his thought process was something along the lines of: “We have Dick LeBeau, he can make something happen with the defensive talent we’ve got. Keep building those defenses, AFC South rivals, we’re just going to outscore your offense every single week.”

The Titans defense isn’t great, that much is clear. It would’ve taken a lot of money and draft capital to get to the perceived level of their AFC South counterparts (not the Colts) and challenge their defensive units. Robinson never wanted to do that; at least not yet. In the meantime, who is going to stop these offensive skill players with a top-three offensive line blocking for them?

QB: Marcus Mariota

RB: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, Khalfani Muhammad

WR: Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe

TE: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw

They say defense wins championships. Ask Bill Belichick if he’d rather have the Jaguars/Texans/Colts combined defense or a top offense. It’s no surprise Robinson came from the New England Patriots organization. He learned from the best.