Who on the Tennessee Titans roster will benefit the most from Jon Robinson’s free agency moves to this point in the offseason?
Whenever a team adds a starter in free agency, many focus on the impact that player will have on the team as a whole, or a unit as a whole. But what makes a signing truly great is how it affects the other players on the team and elevates the existing roster. Often in free agency, a team simply adds the most talented player they can find regardless of fit, or lack thereof. This often results in free agency busts. Fit will almost always trump talent in the NFL.
The Tennessee Titans have made some fantastic moves in free agency by bringing in Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis, while keeping DaQuan Jones, Josh Kline, and Quinton Spain with the team. These players should all play well in their own right, but the reason all of these moves look so fantastic on paper is that each and every one of these players is a good fit on this team and can elevate those around them in a variety of ways.
The “Heisman Backfield” of Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry both received a ton of support with these free agency moves. The addition of Lewis–a slippery, agile, and dynamic running back–provides Mariota with yet another capable pass-catching target and talented option in the backfield who will force teams to respect the run. At the same time, Lewis also provides the perfect complement to the bruising, physical running style of Henry. Both backs have different skill sets for different situations and can both be more effective by sharing carries and staying fresh over the course of a game.
Mariota and Henry will also benefit from a consistent front five on the offensive line, now that Spain and Kline have been retained for the foreseeable future. It is imperative that the line continues to open holes and keep Mariota upright, which they did an admirable job of in 2017. Spain and Kline are both known commodities to the Titans. The easiest way for an offense to falter is through spotty line play (see: Seattle Seahawks) and with both of these guards returning, the Titans will not have to plug an unknown commodity into the line and hope for the same level of chemistry and effectiveness up front.
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On the defensive side of the ball, the addition of Butler allows for more flexibility in the defensive backfield, as Logan Ryan can now move to the nickel/slot cornerback position where he has historically excelled. No longer will players like Brice McCain or LeShaun Sims be forced to cover a player like A.J. Green now that the Titans have three above-average cover corners to stop opposing pass-catchers consistently, which has been a struggle for previous Titans teams.
Furthermore, the defensive backfield will be aided by the re-signing of Jones, because a strong pass rush helps out a secondary immensely. Jones may not seem like the most important piece of the Titans defense because he doesn’t have the flashy sack totals of players like Derrick Morgan or Jurrell Casey, but Jones has steadily improved as a pass rusher and plays a key role for one of the league’s best run defenses. He consistently clogs up running lanes, which allows the linebackers to rack up tackles after Jones forces running backs to redirect. The re-signing of Jones may go unnoticed by a majority of fans outside of Tennessee, but his presence will be felt next season, as he helps both the secondary and the linebacking corps behind him.
In all likelihood, these players will not put up gaudy stats that are often used to indicate success in the NFL. Butler has never racked up an extraordinary number of tackles or snagged more than four interceptions in a season. Lewis will split carries with Henry. Jones has never put up above average stats at his position. Kline and Spain play the perennially under-appreciated guard position.
Despite this, the success of these players should be measured by how they elevate the players around them and put the roster as a whole in position to succeed. All of these signings show that Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson truly understand how personnel fit into this team and are truly committed to building a cohesive roster where every member has a defined role that will complement one another; instead of just a group of talented players. By prioritizing the signing of players based on their fit rather than talent or potential, Vrabel and Robinson have constructed a roster that is built to last and succeed for a long period of time.