Ghosts of 2020 offseason puts pressure on Titans GM in 2021
Recapping the 2020 offseason
Before I get dubbed a Negative Ned or, even better, a “hater,” Robinson’s two most important moves of the 2020 offseason were wildly shrewd and successful.
He signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a 4 year, $118M contract to reward him for his explosive 2019 play. Tannehill has certainly been worth every penny and continued his high level of play throughout the 2020 season. Knowing that Tannehill is on track to be the tenth highest paid QB in 2021 makes his deal look even more like a bargain.
His other brilliant contract negotiation came with running back Derrick Henry’s 4 year, $50M contract. Henry is the best running back in the league and just recorded a historical 2,000-yard season. The Titans did not break the bank to keep the team’s best player and winner of 2020’s Offensive Player of the Year award, as he will be the sixth highest-paid RB in 2021.
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Not to be lost among the Tannehill and Henry deals, Robinson also showed good foresight with signing right tackle Dennis Kelly to a 3 year, $17.25M deal. Kelly is steady and unspectacular, but the deal proved to be important for reasons soon to come.
Were these obvious signings that “needed” to be done? Almost certainly. But from a financial perspective, Robinson deserves significant credit for signing two high performers on the offensive side of the ball and an important tackle in Kelly.
From there, the 2020 offseason reads like a nightmare.
The Titans progressed through free agency with mistake after mistake. Robinson’s biggest error was signing edge Vic Beasley to a 1 year, $9.5M “prove it” deal. The only thing Beasley has ever “proved” throughout his career is that he’s not committed to being a great football player. It took Robinson five weeks of the season to realize this, as Beasley was waived on November 3.
It was a head-scratching decision from the beginning, as Robinson has preached a culture of work ethic and bringing in players that are dedicated to their craft. Beasley was a bizarre no-show to camp and unproductive when he did get on the field.
Robinson looked to add veteran depth to the Titans’ cornerback unit through the signing of Johnathan Joseph, who was brought in on a cheap $2M deal. The deal reeked of nepotism, which has become a Titans’ staple in the Vrabel era, as Joseph spent nine years in Houston and saw his play fall off significantly near the end.
Joseph was certainly signed with the assumption that he would not play significant snaps but, due to injury, saw himself entrenched as a starter on Week 1. Joseph was a liability throughout his time in Tennessee and was also waived on November 3.
To reiterate, Joseph was a declining and aging player before the Titans signed him. Bringing on a 36-year-old cornerback for “depth” or “veteran leadership” is a dangerous move because there’s always the risk he might need to play more than expected. The Titans unnecessarily played with fire through this signing, and they got burned by it as much as Joseph got burned by receivers.
Robinson saved his splashiest and sexiest signing for the very end of the offseason, timing that was dictated by the player himself when he snagged coveted edge, Jadeveon Clowney, on a 1 year, $13M deal. Clowney went on IR halfway through the season and failed to make any sort of splash play prior to his injury.
While I do not think this signing was misinformed or even a failure, circumstances proved this to be an unsuccessful investment at an important position.
Robinson succeeded in keeping important players like Tannehill, Henry and Kelly intact for the 2020 season. But, other than bringing a minor sense of kicking consistency via Stephen Gostkowski, he simply did not improve the team at any position with newcomers via free agency. For a team that clearly needed to take a step forward to compete with Kansas City in January, this is simply unacceptable.
This brings me to the 2020 NFL Draft. Oh…the draft. Robinson’s biggest and most utter failure to date.
Rather than adding another wide receiver to back-fill Corey Davis, who was entering the final year of his contract, or improve on the defensive line, Robinson chose to invest his first round pick in Georgia right tackle Isaiah Wilson. At the time, the selection did make sense if you squinted really hard.
The Wilson selection showed commitment to the Titans’ bread and butter. A dominant and physical OL that excelled in run blocking. While it was not a sexy pick, this writer slept fine the night of April 23, 2020.
Wilson doesn’t deserve many words written about him, so I’ll keep it brief. He’s been a complete nightmare of a Titan since he was drafted and his time in Nashville is likely ending soon. His failures make the Kelly signing look as important as Tannehill’s or Henry’s, but will also have a lasting impact moving forward.
While Wilson didn’t make an impact due to his own poor decisions, no other rookie made any sort of mark due to injury or simply not being good enough.
Cornerback Kristian Fulton was chosen in the second round, but injuries hampered his entire rookie season. Fulton struggled to adapt to the NFL game over the condensed and COVID-impacted offseason and did not look the part of a second round draft pick even when he did play. The jury is obviously still out on Fulton, but he was simply a nonentity in 2020.
The same can be said for third round running back Darrynton Evans. Evans was hampered by a hamstring injury all year but was unable to unseat back-up running back Jeremy McNichols when he had the chance. McNichols’ pass-blocking ability was valued more than Evans’ speed by coaches, but it was frustrating to see Evans fail to insert himself in an offense that is nearly perfect except for the track speed that someone like Evans could offer.
The Titans rounded out their draft with fifth round defensive tackle Larrell Murchison, seventh round quarterback Cole McDonald and seventh round defensive back Chris Jackson.
Murchison was often a healthy scratch, McDonald was an obvious project that didn’t even make it to camp, and Jackson looked overmatched by the size and speed of the NFL.
Robinson cannot control injuries. Robinson sure as heck cannot control a global pandemic impacting the offseason’s practices.
But he sure can control who he drafts. And he did not make a single selection that helped the Titans in a positive way in 2020.