What challenges will Jon Robinson and the Titans face in setting up this roster for long-term success while also taking another step forward towards a Super Bowl?
As the 2018 NFL Draft nears, the Tennessee Titans are entering an important phase in their development, at a point where a team must transition into contending for a Lombardi trophy. After two straight 9-7 seasons, the team fired HC Mike Mularkey to chase something greater than playoff contention. Now, GM Jon Robinson must continue to add talent through the draft to transform this team from a playoff contender to a Super Bowl contender. This is an important delineation to make. A number of teams have become perennial playoff contenders without becoming a perennial Super Bowl contender. The Titans can not be a team that makes a few wild card appearances before fading back into obscurity.
The Titans truly face a win-now scenario that they have not experienced for years. In the past, Tennessee has only been building for the future. Now, with a championship window opening, the team must focus on maintaining a high level of success in the future as well as adding pieces that will push the Titans over the edge to challenge teams like Pittsburgh and New England in the AFC.
Thus far, the Titans have set themselves up for short- and long-term success with their signings in free agency. They signed two proven players at the top of their games in Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler to bolster position groups that were already solid and turn them into strengths. Furthermore, these signings will continue to benefit the team in the foreseeable future because both of these players are relatively young and have several years of high level production in their future, barring injury.
Robinson did well to avoid chasing risky, unproven, or aging free agents like Sammy Watkins, Jonathan Stewart, or Prince Amukamura. It only takes a few big free agency busts to set a team back years, as it hinders their ability to use cap space in the future. The Philadelphia Eagles’ “Dream Team” is a prime example of when weighty free agent contracts backfire and set a franchise back a few years.
The best teams manage to continually reload through the draft and avoid lengthy rebuilds. That isn’t to say that a team must only select safe prospects with a high floor in positions of need, but selecting a player that will take a few years to develop or will need to sit behind established starters becomes less attractive to a franchise that seeks to make the jump from playoff contender to Super Bowl contender.
The Titans face a number of decisions in the upcoming draft during this important transition period. They must determine whether to address more pressing needs at ILB, prepare for the future at EDGE and OG, or add to a solid position group like WR or DL. Further than that, they have to make a decision as to what kind of prospect they draft. For instance, if the Titans decide to draft an EDGE prospect in Round 1, do they draft a player who needs seasoning like Josh Sweat (who has elite traits, but needs seasoning) or a high-floor player like Sam Hubbard that may not have the same ceiling? Do they give up future draft picks to secure an elite talent or trade down to add more assets?
All of these conflicting interests must be balanced for a team to find long-term success, which is why very few teams have managed to keep a championship window open for more than a couple of years. Robinson has done a stellar job in putting this Titans roster in a position to succeed with a ton of success in both the draft and free agency. Hopefully, Robinson will continue to experience success, in partnership with HC Mike Vrabel, as the Titans’ championship window begins to open in 2018.