The Tennessee Titans Have an Incredible Salary Cap Situation

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 24: Marcus Mariota /

The Tennessee Titans are set up very well financially for the future.

Derek Carr’s massive contract with the Oakland Raiders has, in recent days, prompted Tennessee Titans fans to ponder just how big Marcus Mariota’s payday will be when his rookie contract expires. Though we are still likely two years away from getting that query answered, it gives good reason to examine how Jon Robinson has masterfully manipulated the salary cap in his first two years as general manager.

Every year during the month of April, fans of every NFL team begin clamoring for expensive and often overrated free agents. Titans fans are no exception to this principle. If the Titans’ front office decisions were made democratically by the city of Nashville, the organization would be paying wads of cash to above average players like Malik Jackson, A.J. Bouye, and Alshon Jeffery.

Free agency does have a purpose, but that purpose is often misconceived. Unlike the world of baseball, where every so often guys like Alex Rodriguez are left unsigned because a smaller market team cannot afford them, you simply will not find franchise building blocks in free agency. The rare exceptions, like Drew Brees, Deion Sanders, and Reggie White, are anomalies.

The purpose of free agency is to creatively find a way to improve your team to complement the players you’ve drafted. For some franchises, that could mean spending big money. A personal favorite signing of mine this past offseason was DeSean Jackson going to Tampa Bay. Despite the fact that the Buccaneers will be paying him a good bit of cash, he’s joining an already talented offense and could really help take it to another level.

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When Tampa Bay inked Jackson, they did so knowing that the true stars of their offense will continue to be Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. They know that Jackson is getting older, and he won’t be relied upon to carry the team, but there’s a good chance that he’ll push them over the hump and help them squeeze into the playoffs in 2017.

As you can see in this example, and with multiple others, spending big money in free agency is not always a bad thing. However, when you do so expecting to build your team around the player(s) you sign, the results will be poor. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles how they feel about DeMarco Murray.

Jon Robinson, in his first two off-seasons, has taken a wisely conservative approach to free agency. The approach has certainly paid off, as the production he’s received far outweighs the investments he’s made. Names like Ben Jones and Rishard Matthews certainly didn’t make the headlines at the bottom of the screen on SportsCenter, but both were quality starters in their first year with the Titans who proved to fit the offensive scheme.

In the same fashion, 2017 acquisitions such as Eric Decker won’t dominate jersey sales, but each has a good chance to be really good in the Titans’ offensive and defensive systems.

Thanks to the lack of spending, and partially because the roster was so terrible when Robinson arrived, the Titans have a very high amount of cap space, totaling just over $42.2 million. The five highest annually paid players currently on the roster are (in order) LB Brian Orakpo, CB Logan Ryan, DT Jurrell Casey, LB Derrick Morgan, and RB DeMarco Murray. Each of those five players will have a cap hit of less than $10 million in 2017.

The problem that teams who spend money in free agency run into, even if they do it with a proper mindset of adding support to drafted talent, is extending contracts of those drafted players. It’s a problem that the Raiders, who gave big contracts to CB Sean Smith, LB Bruce Irvin, and G Kelechi Osemele last year, will certainly run into. Their building blocks are Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. Carr is now signed longterm, but Mack’s negotiations could turn into a nightmare.

The lack of huge contracts on the Titans’ salary cap benefits them in two ways. First, they can continue spending conservatively in the month of April. The other benefit, and probably the most important, is that it allows them to lock up their stars to longterm contracts without a ton of damage done.

Think about this: if the Titans signed Marcus Mariota to an extension right now (Yes, I know it’s not possible under the CBA. Bear with the hypothetical.) worth $30 million per year, and then turned around and gave LT Taylor Lewan an extension worth $13 million per year (which would give him a higher annual salary than Tyron Smith of the Cowboys), the Titans would still be under the salary cap.

In fact, even if you add an $11 million per year extension for RT Jack Conklin to the pool, the Titans would still have $2 million in cap space. If you remove contracts of players like Brian Orakpo, Eric Decker, and Delanie Walker who figure to be gone or making less money by the time these extensions happen, the Titans will have even more space.

It’s rare for a perennial playoff team to be in an ideal salary cap situation, but that’s precisely where the Titans find themselves. So, next April when the start of free agency rolls around and the Titans “disappoint,” know that Jon Robinson has a plan. It’s a good one.