Why the Tennessee Titans Declined Jack Conklin’s Option

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Jack Conklin #78 of the Tennessee Titans blocks J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Jack Conklin #78 of the Tennessee Titans blocks J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Tennessee Titans had a difficult decision to make in regards to their former All-Pro right tackle.

The Tennessee Titans are coming off a successful draft weekend, but they had one more big decision to make. Lost in the excitement of the draft was the fact that the Titans still had to decide whether or not to pick up RT Jack Conklin‘s 5th year option. And this afternoon it was reported that the Titans have decided not to do so.

Two years ago, picking up his option would have been a no-brainer. Conklin made a splash as Jon Robinson’s first pick as the Titans GM by earning himself All-Pro status as a rookie. He followed that season up with another strong showing in 2017 en route to a Tennessee playoff berth and win. Unfortunately, Conklin tore his ACL in the first half of a divisional loss to the New England Patriots.

The injury slowed his return in 2018, and he didn’t see game action until game 4. He was not quite the player Titans fans had seen over the previous two years. It appeared he had lost a step – whether it was a result of rushing back from injury too soon or he difficulties adjusting to the new (non-exotic smashmouth) offense remains to be seen. His PFF grade of 66.8 wasn’t terrible, but there has been a steady decline in his scores over the past 3 seasons (80.6 in 2016 and 71.9 in 2017).

To make matters worse, he ended his 2018 season with another knee injury. Luckily it was not serious enough to require surgery, but having your season end with a knee injury two consecutive years is not ideal.

More from Titans News

Which brings us to the issue at hand – there was too much risk with Conklin to justify the commitment. With an approximate $13M price tag that comes along with the option, Jon Robinson and his staff must have really been in a pickle. Conklin has shown that he can play at a high level in the NFL, but he has a troubling string of injuries and has yet to show he can excel in a non-Mularkey offense.

Looking at the projected salary cap for 2020, all signs pointed to the Titans declining to pick up the option. With the current contracts on the books, they are estimated to have about $35M in cap space in 2020. This might seem solid at first, but it’s important to note that it does not include a QB’s salary. If Mariota is retained or franchised, that cap hit will be approximately $25M, which take a big chunk out of that cap space. The uncertainty of the QB position surely makes it tougher for the Titans to commit to Conklin’s option.

There is also an issue in terms of allocation of resources. Taylor Lewan is currently slated to have the biggest cap hit in 2019, with a whopping sum of $18.2M. And newly acquired G Rodger Saffold checks in at 4th with a cap hit of $12.4M. If the Titans were also to have Conklin’s 5th year option on the books it would mean that 3 out of the 5 top cap hits (pre-QB or other signings) were devoted to the OL.

Obviously, the Titans would still have other forms of flexibility. They could be the benefactors of 2019 cap rollover, there are some definite cut/restructure candidates (Walker, Jones, Wake, Lewis), and the maximum cap should continue to rise.

More from Titan Sized

But if we expect them to float around $185M in cap (as they have the past few years), then that means those 3 OL would have accounted for almost 25% of the total cap. Is that the best way to build a rounded team? Compare that to the Patriots, whose entire offensive line constitutes about 12.5% of their total cap.

The Titans did have the ability to pick up the option and then back out by next offseason with no dead money. However, Conklin’s recent injury history complicates that as well. If he were to get hurt in 2019 and was not able to pass a physical next offseason then the Titans would be on the hook for the $13M. This was part of the reason why the Jaguars decided to extend Blake Bortles instead of pick up his option – the threat of injury is a big factor when teams are making this decision.

The writing seemed to be on the wall for Conklin. With all the factors listed above, especially the QB uncertainty, it would have been surprising if the Titans picked up his 5th year option. But that doesn’t mean this is the end of Conklin’s career in Nashville. Conklin and the team could work out an extension before the season begins, or simply re-sign him at the end of the 2019 season if he bounces back. But with questions about Conklin’s play and health, Jon Robinson must have preferred keeping his options open next offseason instead of committing to Conklin at this point in time.