The Tennessee Titans front office has some important tasks to take care of during the 2018 offseason. Here’s a rundown.
For the Tennessee Titans, the upcoming offseason will be about a lot more than simply signing free agents and participating in the draft. When you’re a good team that wins a playoff game, you’re often met with important in-house decisions to make.`
Here are the four most important tasks that the Titans will need to take care of at some point during the next few months that don’t involve free agency or the NFL Draft.
1. Re-sign Veterans with Expiring Contracts
Because they’re much more talented than they have been in recent years, the list of Titans players with expiring contracts is slightly more star-studded than fans are perhaps used to. While there aren’t any former first-round picks headed for free agency, there are multiple players who were key to the Titans’ success in 2017.
The most notable names on the list are linebackers Erik Walden and Avery Williamson, defensive end DaQuan Jones, guard Josh Kline, receiver Eric Decker, and kicker Ryan Succop.
The team, almost certainly, will not bring back all of those players. It would be an expensive proposition, and drafting mid-late round replacements is much more cost-effective.
However, some of those guys will certainly be back in 2018. Luckily, because of the team’s incredible cap situation, they’ll get to pick and choose which ones they want.
Expect a distinct effort to re-sign Jones and Succop.
2. Decide on DeMarco Murray’s Future
In 2016, his first year with the Titans, DeMarco Murray re-established himself as one of the NFL’s premier running backs. He paved the way for the Titans’ massive improvement by leading the AFC in rushing and making the Pro Bowl.
It was expected by pretty much everyone that 2017 would be similar for Murray. However, he didn’t come anywhere close to meeting expectations.
Thanks to several nagging injuries and age, Murray looked like a completely different player last season. He looked slow, lacked burst, and often avoided contact. As a result, Murray’s stats in 2017 were worse than those he recorded in his really bad one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.
A fully healthy Murray, despite hitting the cursed age of 30, could do a lot of good for the Titans in 2018. Even while injured, he was a superb pass protector and a very reliable target out of the backfield in the passing game. But, if the Titans don’t want to pay for Murray’s services next season, they have an easy way out.
Having already paid Murray all of the guaranteed money dictated by his contract, the Titans could release him at any point before the start of next season and owe him nothing. If they choose to keep him, he will carry a pretty hefty $6.5 million cap hit.
To put things in perspective, Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell made $12.1 million in 2017 while playing on the franchise tag. Derrick Henry carries a $1.4 million hit in 2018.
The Titans aren’t really in need of cap space going into next season, but they certainly could decide it would be a more comfortable situation to use Murray’s money on a free agent at another position.
3. Activate Marcus Mariota’s Fifth Year Option
This one, unlike the other two, is a no-brainer.
NFL first-round draft picks sign four-year rookie contracts with a fifth-year team option. Teams have the opportunity to activate that option during the offseason prior to the player’s fourth year in the league.
Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan will play the 2018 season on his fifth-year option, activated last offseason by GM Jon Robinson.
When it comes to activating Mariota’s fifth-year option, it’s a matter of “when”, not “if.” Quarterbacks make the most money of any position in the league, and negotiating a long-term contract for them is an expensive endeavor.
There’s a good chance that whenever Mariota does sign his second contract, the annual salary average inches near $30M. QB Blake Bortles, whose fifth-year option was activated by Jacksonville last year, is set to make $19M next season. That’s a $10M+ difference.
Mariota is the Titans’ franchise quarterback. He may never be elite, but he certainly has already proved to be a high-quality starter. It will be intriguing to see what he’s able to do with a new coaching staff in 2018.
4. Sign Taylor Lewan to a Long-term Extension
If you were to argue with someone over who the best Titans player is, Pro Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan would likely be in the discussion, along with DT Jurrell Casey and TE Delanie Walker. He’s a big locker room voice, he consistently shuts down opponents’ best pass rushers, and he’s a fierce run blocker.
Heading into 2018, Lewan is set to play on his fifth-year option. He’ll carry a cap hit of $9.3 million.
If the Titans act wisely, they won’t let Lewan get anywhere close to free agency. He is a vital part of this team’s success, and they need him to be around for years to come.
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It has become a common practice these days to re-sign a star player during the offseason prior to them entering a contract year. That way, the situation doesn’t become a distraction.
The top five highest-paid left tackles in the NFL average $15 million in annual salary. Two of those five players, Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns and Tyron Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, are among the NFL’s elite at the position. The other three (Russel Okung, Eric Fisher, Cordy Glenn) rank from average to above-average, despite their hefty salaries.
It would make sense, then, for Lewan’s annual average to be right around that $15 million mark, perhaps a bit less if he’s willing to take a slight hometown discount. The contract will likely be back-loaded so that the Titans have more flexibility in building the roster during the immediate future, with a majority of the front-end salary being comprised of guaranteed money.