How have early free agency moves affected the Titans’ 2018 draft?

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12: Malcolm Butler
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12: Malcolm Butler /

With several teams, including the Tennessee Titans, making waves in the early days of free agency, let’s examine how early moves will affect the team’s draft strategy.

Late Tuesday night, Tennessee Titans fans, myself included, began to worry about the decided lack of roster moves made by Tennessee as star players were being snatched up left and right. However, GM Jon Robinson quickly laid those worries to rest with two big signings from the 2017 AFC Champion New England Patriots roster.

First, Robinson signed CB Malcolm Butler to form one of the most dangerous cornerback rooms in the league alongside Adoree’ Jackson and former teammate Logan Ryan. On a 5-year, $61 million deal, the Titans have locked up Malcolm Butler for the foreseeable future. After two stellar seasons in 2015 and 2016, Malcolm Butler turned in a solid but unspectacular season marred by contract disputes and a mysterious benching in the Super Bowl in 2017. That said, Robinson must have felt comfortable enough with Butler in contract discussions to sign him. Butler’s value on the open market went down in 2017, but if he can return to form, it will be considered a bargain.

Shortly thereafter, Robinson signed elusive RB Dion Lewis to a four-year deal to pair with Derrick Henry and form one of the best one-two punches at running back in the league. Lewis put up well over 1000 yards last season in an offense known for a running back by committee approach. His skill set as an electrifying back in the run game and pass game comes with exceptional agility and quickness.

These two signings have already drastically altered the team’s current needs and priority selections in the draft, but the signing of one of the team’s own has also altered the team’s plans moving forward. With Avery Williamson signing with the Jets, Tennessee must now replace 92 tackles and three sacks heading into 2018. Second-year linebacker Jayon Brown should get more opportunities, but I expect the Titans to add competition at the position.

These three free agency moves should all alter the Titans’ draft in April. With the signing of Butler, a cornerback, one of the team’s biggest needs has been negated. Several experts have selected cornerbacks like Josh Jackson, Denzel Ward, or Mike Hughes for pick 25, but this is obviously no longer a possibility with the cornerback position becoming a strength for the team quickly.

Likewise, the signing of Lewis rids the team of another major need. The team no longer has to invest a draft pick in finding a second running back to replace DeMarco Murray and complement Derrick Henry. Although some experts had the Titans selecting Ronald Jones out of USC in the first or second round, this signing will most likely affect mid-round predictions where most anticipated the Titans selecting a back.

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The departure of Williamson forces the team to look for a veteran option in free agency, but without many intriguing options, teams will likely end up overpaying for linebackers and the Titans have already spent a large sum of money to attain the services of Butler and Lewis, with extensions on the line for several key contributors down the road. Thus, the team will likely look for talent at the position in the draft. With a number of intriguing options available in rounds 1 and 2, such as Rashaan Evans, Malik Jefferson, and Leighton Vander Esch, the Titans could add a difference maker in the middle of the defense for a fraction of the cost of a free agent linebacker.

Heading into the draft, by addressing important needs at cornerback and running back, the Titans have given themselves a lot of flexibility in selecting players and can now focus on getting better at other positions of need, like guard, edge rusher, linebacker, and backup quarterback. At most of these positions of need, the team is already solid, which allows them to focus on creating strengths with an infusion of talent in much the same way that cornerback and running back became a strength with the first two signings. For a team that was frequently criticized heading into the playoffs as a team without a ton of weaknesses or strengths, flexibility in the draft allows the team to take the next step towards a championship in the near future.

Next: More on the Dion Lewis Deal