The one year “prove it” deal has been a common strategy used by teams in recent off-seasons. With cash to burn, the Tennessee Titans could bring in a player (or two) to make an immediate impact without hindering their long-term cap situation.
WR Alshon Jeffery was one of the top UFAs available in the 2017 off-season, but no team jumped at the opportunity to sign him to a long-term deal. He felt he was deserving of a top WR contract, but teams were worried about his injury history and streaky play. So, instead of taking less money than he thought he deserved, he signed a 1 year, $14M deal with the Eagles. One-year deals allow the player a chance to prove what they are worth, and the team avoids long-term salary cap risk while simultaneously adding an impact player.
Philadelphia was rewarded for their gamble, as Jeffery had almost 800 yards with nine TDs and made a big impact on their Super Bowl run with 219 yards and three TDs in the postseason. Jeffery, in turn, was rewarded with the long term deal he was looking for; the Eagles signed him to a four-year, $52M contract extension in December.
I think the Tennessee Titans could benefit from “prove it” deals as well. They have some young players that are still developing, as well as three core players (Taylor Lewan, Marcus Mariota, and Kevin Byard) whose contracts will expire by 2020, and they surely want financial flexibility to re-sign them. Adding marquee players on a one-year deal will give them said flexibility, while also providing the new coaching staff with playmakers while they work to implement their system and evaluate their roster. Here are two players I think would make sense for a one-year deal.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
There are two WRs that would make sense in terms of a one-year deal: Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson. Like Jeffery, both have recent injury problems and a history of up and down play. Watkins’ speed would be desirable for the Titans offense, but he has a rocky history with new Titans WR coach Rob Moore, his position coach while in Buffalo. Instead, the Titans should focus on courting Allen Robinson.
Robinson tore his ACL in the first game of the 2017 season, which provides potential suitors with some question marks right off the bat. Add in the fact that he really has only had one great season (2015) sandwiched between two above-average years and signing him to a long-term deal seems even riskier. It is obvious that he is an extremely talented player, but, coming off a major injury and having an up and down career, are NFL teams really going to want to ink him to a long-term mega-deal?
Some people seem to think so, but I’d be willing to bet he doesn’t get the money he thinks he deserves. There’s a chance the Jaguars franchise tag him, but that would push them right up against the cap. They also may be encouraged enough by the play of rookie WRs Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to let Robinson walk. If he leaves Jacksonville, I think there is a definite possibility that Robinson would be willing to sign a large one-year deal instead of committing to a long-term contract at (what he believes is) below market value.
Enter the Titans. This offense is in desperate need of a deep threat, and still has yet to see the production they envisioned out of Corey Davis. Robinson could provide said deep threat and draw attention away from Davis and Rishard Matthews. If Robinson is back to his old self and Davis plays up to his potential, a passing attack of Robinson/Davis/Matthews/Delanie Walker would be an impressive arsenal for new OC Matt LaFleur’s offense. The amount of money it would take to bring in Robinson wouldn’t be cheap: I figure you’d have to pay Robinson at least $12M-$15M in order to bring him in on a one=year deal. But now is the time to spend for the Titans, and they can make a long-term decision in 2019.
Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets/Seattle Seahawks
If the Titans want to sign a defensive player to a short deal, Sheldon Richardson would be an ideal choice. Richardson was an absolute monster during his first few years in the league, but his level of play tailed off once Rex Ryan was fired. He also has been accused of poor attitude and effort, and has been suspended two different times. He was traded to the Seahawks in 2017 and had a good, if unspectacular, season. But he surely feels like he has yet to play up to his potential and seems like an ideal candidate for a one-year deal. Still just 27, there is a good chance he can re-emerge as the dominant interior force that he was during the Ryan years in New York.
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The Titans need versatile pieces in their front seven, and Richardson is a versatile player who can play all over the line. He also would bring added pass rush to the table, as the only Titans defensive lineman who really gets after the QB is Jurrell Casey. Tennessee only dressed four lineman against the New England Patriots, and their lack of depth and versatility was subsequently exposed en route to a big loss. The Titans would have a chance to see if his effort and attitude were still a problem, while adding a versatile pass rusher to improve their “front multiplicity” in the process. Richardson might not be as pricey as Robinson, but would still cost at least eight figures to bring him in on a one-year deal.
Could the Titans Sign Two Such Contracts?
Could the Titans afford to sign two such contracts? Certainly. Their salary cap currently sits at about $49M. Even factoring in rookie contracts (just under $6M) and a possible Lewan extension, the Titans would still have plenty of room for the $22M-$27M or so cap hit signing these two players would entail. They would also be left with a decent budget to make other FA deals.
Would signing two such contracts be ideal? No. The goal is to get quality players on reasonable long-term deals. But the Titans should definitely consider pursuing at least one of these players. If they are struggling to attract other free agents, it would make sense to throw their money around. The only person who might disagree with me is Amy Adams Strunk, as she is the one who has to foot the bill. Billionaire probs, amirite?