Tennessee Titans: The Dez Bryant Conundrum
The “Dez-to-Nashville” movement continues to generate a buzz, but those in favor of landing Dez Bryant shouldn’t get their hopes up.
Take a look at the numbers below:
"69 receptions, 838 yards, 6 receiving touchdowns74 receptions, 807 yards, 3 receiving touchdowns54 receptions, 563 yards ,1 receiving touchdown53 receptions, 795 yards, 4 touchdowns34 receptions, 375 yards, 0 TDs"
The numbers above belong respectively as follows to: Dez Bryant, Delanie Walker, Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis.
Yes, Dez Bryant – in a down year – had more receiving yards and receiving touchdowns than any Tennessee Titans receiver last season.
Despite that production, it’s nearing the end of June and the ex-Dallas Cowboys receiver remains unemployed. To some, he is unemployable despite having talent that cannot be ignored. Bryant’s off-field antics have many fans of different teams indifferent towards adding the former Pro Bowl receiver. For others, his label as a “locker room distraction” is a moot point as some believe his physical ability on the field far outweighs the concern of him behind the scenes.
The Titans have emerged as the clear-cut favorite to land Bryant. The idea alone has stirred up some mixed emotions. With the top two receivers in Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews limited during OTAs, the Titans could make a splash move by bringing Bryant to the Music City.
To understand what Bryant would bring to the Titans, let’s look at some statistics. Bryant had six receiving touchdowns last season. The Titans had 15 receiving touchdowns total. Factor out the tight end production and that drops the total to nine. Eliminate the running back receiving touchdowns and it drops it to six.
So, from a pure position standpoint, Bryant had as many touchdowns as all of the Titans’ receivers combined in 2017.
Has Bryant fallen off? It’s fair to say he has. However, the notion that he is a complete wash is not valid. The flame to still take over a game is still lit, and his experience alone is something the Titans’ receiving group lacks.
Inexperience and lack of depth is not ideal in the “work-in-progress” Matt LaFleur offense. No matter how brilliant the schemes and designs may be, the talent on the roster must be able to execute efficiently.
So far, Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor haven’t been able to shine against the Titans’ bolstered secondary in offseason practices. The team has made some additions to the receiver group, but no name-worthy standouts as some fans would hope for.
No matter which way you slice it, the Titans’ receiving group has to replenish the 500+ yards Eric Decker put up last year. The quartet of Davis, Matthews, Sharpe and Taylor should be able to do so with ease if healthy.
But that is the problem – the top two aren’t healthy at this point.
Signing Dez Shades of Patriot Move
The Titans’ rebuild has mirrored the New England Patriots, so much so that the team continues to add former Patriots to the roster.
In referencing the Patriots’ “model for success”, it is important to recognize that throughout the construction of the Patriots dynasty, New England’s brass made some splashy moves in signing players without the best off-field reputations or locker room personalities.
However, the team made it work. With the right HC in Bill Belichick, the Patriots turned high risks into high rewards.
For every Randy Moss, there is a Joey Galloway. The Patriots haven’t hit on all their “name-worthy” free agent acquisitions like Adalius Thomas, Albert Haynesworth and even the short-stint of Kony Ealy. The jury was out on Stephen Gilmore for the early part of the season, but he transitioned into a solid fit.
The Titans have to be willing to take risks in order to reap the benefits of the big rewards that come in late January.
Dez Bryant would be, hands down, the first high-risk free agent signing in the Jon Robinson era. Is Robinson ready to make a Patriots-esque maneuver?
My guess is Robinson – as many have stated before – will leave no stone unturned. At the right price, Robinson is willing to take the risk. Robinson is not willing to overpay for something that could blow up in his face.
Dez to play Watkins Role in LaFleur Offense
Bryant is notoriously recognized for his drops. However, it’s important to understand he makes his money in the red zone.
In LaFleur’s offense, Bryant would do for Marcus Mariota what Sammy Watkins did for Jared Goff. Bryant still demands attention, enough of it that other teams would have to respect his presence on the field.
Bryant would likely operate in a decoy role throughout drives, garnering attention while the rest of the receivers are afforded the opportunity to make plays with less defensive pressure.
Is that something Bryant would embrace? Possibly.
Bryant has the aggressive fire that the Titans’ receiving group desperately needs. It can be – and often is – construed as a “diva-like” mentality.
Does Mariota have the poise to not let Bryant’s antics affect his calm? I believe he does.
Mariota is unrattled and his belief in his teammates is undeniable. He already commented on the Titans pursuing Bryant and – similar to how he handled the possible addition of Eric Decker last offseason – elected to take the high road and express the confidence he has in his teammates on the roster.
Could the future hold an image of a Bryant tirade, with him berating his coaches or his quarterback? No. It doesn’t mean Bryant will not be on the Titans roster, it means HC Mike Vrabel will not allow it and Mariota will be unfazed.
It’s clear: Whoever is on the Titans roster come kickoff will have the trust of Mariota.
Vrabel is the X-Factor in Dez Pursuit
As the press conferences have vividly painted, Vrabel is in charge of this team. There is no personality too big and no talent that will intimidate him or alter his approach.
Would Mike Mularkey have been able to weather the potential storm of adding a Dez Bryant? Not likely. Vrabel, on the other hand, is the right man for the job.
Vrabel has been a member of the Patriots in the years in which they made splash signings. He knows the ins-and-outs of how to make it work – at least from a player standpoint and what he was able to observe from a coaching aspect.
The Titans’ locker room is now strong enough to handle a monstrous character like Bryant, but will they take the risk?
Vegas likes Nashville as the new locale for Dez to “throw up the X”. My guess is there is a 35% chance the Titans pursue Bryant.
However, mark my words: If the Titans sign Bryant, all it will take is a few Xs thrown up in Nissan Stadium to change the opinions of some in the fan base opposed to signing Bryant.
If adding Bryant helps the Titans win football games and propels this team to the next tier, I’m on board.