With the success of Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser, could the Tennessee Titans let Delanie Walker go this offseason?
The thought of Delanie Walker playing elsewhere after this season may be a frightening thought for many Titans fans, however it is possible that it could be a reality.
Walker has missed the past three games due to a a re-occurrence of an ankle issue stemming from his ankle dislocation that cost him all but one game of the 2018 season. In his absence, the TItans have called upon Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser to step up to the plate, and they’ve both done a solid job.
Prior to his first start of the season in the Week 7 win over the Chargers, Smith only had six catches for 97 yards in six games. Since then, he has accumulated 16 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown, and has become one of Ryan Tannehill’s favorite targets.
Firsker had only one catch with Walker as the starter, a 25-yard reception in their Week 6 shutout loss to the Broncos. Since then, he’s seen his role increase, netting seven more catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
While those stats aren’t exactly remarkable, the Titans are 3-1 with Walker out of the lineup, though that isn’t to suggest the team was losing games because of Walker. The point is, he’s 35 years old, and with two young tight ends stepping up to the plate in his absence due to injury, his days could be numbered in Nashville.
Since signing with the team in 2013 after spending his first seven seasons as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Walker quickly became a fan favorite in Nashville, developing into one of the best tight ends in the league.
However, even when he has been healthy this season, he’s not made the impact on games that he had in the past, netting 21 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns in six games, excluding the Chargers game in which he only was on the field for five plays before the plug was pulled on him. His two touchdowns came in the Week 1 victory over the Browns.
Walker has one year left on his contract after 2019, but according to Sportrac, the Titans could save $6.7 million in cap space by releasing or trading Walker, while enduing $1.6M in dead money.
Smith also has two years left on his contract as well, and Firkser will be an exclusive restricted free agent, meaning if the Titans tender him a qualifying contract (which can be as little as the league minimum) Firkser would have to either sign it or sit out the 2020 season.
This means that more than likely, Smith and Firkser will be back in 2020, while Walker could end up being traded or released if the Titans do not think bringing back the 13-year veteran will be worth it. It’s also possible Walker just retires, which would make the situation much easier to swallow.
Walker turns 36 next August, and with his recent injury history and two extremely talented tight ends who are much younger still on the roster, him not being on the team in 2020 could be a harsh reality.
Delanie Walker is a huge fan favorite, and it would be tough to see him go, but, as the saying goes, the NFL is a business, and sometimes part of that business is saying goodbye to fan favorites. Walker is no exception.