Tennessee Titans Should Regret Releasing Jason McCourty
It has become clear that Jason McCourty was more important to the Titans than we (or the Titans) realized.
There are a lot of overreactions that can be made in response to the beating the Tennessee Titans received at the hands of the Houston Texans yesterday. I am all for getting the #hottakes out of your system on Sunday, but by Monday we should all realize that it’s just one game and (as long as Marcus Mariota is healthy moving forward) the Titans still have plenty of time to get back on track. However, I did have one postgame thought that I do not consider to be a hot take: the Titans should have never released Jason McCourty.
Business over Football
In the business world of football, releasing McCourty made total sense. He is 30, has battled injuries, and his cap hit of $7M for 2017 was more expensive than his level of play warranted. There were talks of a restructured deal being discussed, but in the end parting ways without any cap implications made the most sense. McCourty wasn’t a great fit for their scheme, and GM Jon Robinson had already paid big money for Logan Ryan and clearly had intentions of drafting a CB in the upcoming draft.
Hindsight is 20/20, but this move didn’t make a whole lot of sense from an actual football perspective. Jason McCourty might not have been a top tier CB anymore, but he would have been a solid #2 to Ryan. He had a 74.1 rating from PFF in 2016; comparable to Dre Kirkpatrick’s 74.7, who is getting paid $9.3M to play for the Cincinnati Bengals this season. Obviously, age and situation are a factor in those contracts, but I think overpaying for McCourty would have been worth it. Furthermore, some other moves the Titans made make me question the decision even more. Why save that money on McCourty and then blow almost all of the cap relief on a lackluster player like Sylvester Williams ($5M cap hit in 2017)? I would have rather the Titans used a combination of Austin Johnson and Antwaun Woods at NT and keep McCourty than to spend it on a player who has only played ⅓ of the defensive snaps and made a minimal impact thus far.
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I myself didn’t realize it until recently, but McCourty has been phenomenal this season. He currently has a 86.1 Pro Football Focus rating and was rated the third overall CB going into yesterday’s game. That ranking dropped to #8 after being matched up against A.J. Green, but Green was still held to just 63 yards (and a TD when rookie Jabrill Peppers was in coverage). A CB who can defend a #1 WR is just what the Titans could have used yesterday. DeAndre Hopkins abused a combination of Adoree’ Jackson, LeShaun Sims, and Brice McCain for 107 yards and a TD. The Titans’ secondary wasn’t great last season, but they finished a decent 18th against the #1 WR. Much of that credit should go to McCourty, as defending the top WR was usually his responsibility. With Ryan mysteriously elsewhere on the field against Hopkins, McCourty was sorely missed.
Bridging the Gap
The other benefit of keeping McCourty is that he would have allowed the Titans to ease the young CBs into the rotation. Despite some growing pains, both Sims and Jackson have shown promise. But they have basically been thrown into the deep end and asked to swim, and their struggles shouldn’t come as a shock. McCourty’s presence could have allowed them (especially Jackson) to get their NFL bearings and learn the ropes at a more manageable pace. I still have high hopes for Sims and Jackson, but we might see a few more ugly games before it gets better. And with the struggling McCain the only other veteran CB, this CB group is just one injury away from things getting REALLY ugly. McCourty might have been expensive depth, but for a team trying to make a playoff run, it would have made a lot of sense to keep him around.
I think it is important to reiterate that the decision the Titans made to release McCourty makes sense. And that even though McCourty has been great in Cleveland, he might not have been as successful had he stayed in LeBeau’s scheme. But with what looks to be another year of struggles for the Tennessee secondary, letting Jason McCourty go may have been the wrong decision.