Why the 2021 offseason is his most important yet
All of these poor decisions have a trickle-down effect, as the Titans desperately need to claw their way back among the AFC’s elite, keeping pace with teams like Kansas City and Buffalo, before they fall back into obscurity.
Robinson will need to make difficult decisions on three specific Titans whose contracts expired at the end of the year: wide receiver Corey Davis, whose fifth year option Robinson declined in May 2020, tight end Jonnu Smith and linebacker Jayon Brown.
Personally, I value Davis and Smith the most out of the group, as it’s imperative that the Titans continue to understand the importance of stockpiling offensive weapons in today’s NFL. Davis posted his best season as a pro in 2020 and is a great complement to WR1 AJ Brown. Smith is a versatile tight end that, frankly, needs to be featured significantly more in the passing game.
Losing either player would cause a significant step back in offensive talent. As great as Tannehill is, he benefits from having players like Davis and Smith around him just as much as they benefit from him. To put it bluntly, we cannot afford to replace Davis and Smith with lesser-talented players and expect similar output from their replacements.
Regardless of whether or not Davis and Smith remain Titans, Robinson cannot afford to neglect the wide receiver position as he did over the course of 2020.
Slot receiver Adam Humphries is likely to be a cap casualty, as his time in Nashville has unfortunately been hampered by injuries. Robinson needs to understand that the Khalif Raymond and Cam Batson experiments are only holding the team back, and needs to bring in a legitimate speed threat to help this offense become even more explosive.
Robinson will also need to begin tending to an aging offensive line, as 4 of the 5 starters will be 30 or older once the 2020 season kicks off. The unit’s best player, Taylor Lewan, will also be returning from an ACL tear. Understand that Robinson did work to inject some youth into the OL through his Wilson selection. Wilson’s failures are showing its long-term impacts as Robinson will need to tend to the offensive line this offseason.
Essentially, Robinson looked at the 2019 Titans offense and said “run it back” in 2020. In a sense, it worked. The group posted nearly 30 PPG but laid an egg against playoff teams in Green Bay and Baltimore in the final three games of the season. The offensive line is old, Davis and Smith could be on their way out, and Evans has so far been unable to bring the explosiveness that the team hoped for and still desperately needs.
The bubble will pop on this offense sooner than later. Understanding how and where to invest in this unit is of extreme importance this offseason, as the Titans must continue to get more explosive on offense in order to compete for a Super Bowl.
Defensively, well, Robinson is back to square one. The group is terrible. Awful. Pathetic.
Once again, the edge position needs catering to. I’ve argued that Clowney should be brought back if the price is right, and signing JJ Watt would certainly be a step in the right direction. The Titans need to continue building around Jeffrey Simmons who flashed early in 2020, but fell victim to double teams and lasting COVID impacts as the season progressed.
If Jayon Brown does indeed depart, David Long is the clear on-roster replacement to play alongside Rashaan Evans. Long is a fast player with good instincts, but really is better served in a back-up role or used in certain packages. The Titans need to improve at the linebacker position, as the current group lacks physicality and consistency.
Whether it’s at the edge or ILB position, the Titans would be wise to invest early and often throughout the 2021 draft to beef up their front seven.
Other than Malcolm Butler, the defensive back group was abysmal in 2020. The aforementioned Joseph and Fulton did not make a positive impact, Kevin Byard had his worst season as a pro, and Kenny Vaccaro began to look a step slow.
Cornerback Adoree Jackson, whose fifth-year option was exercised by Robinson, missed most of the season with a bizarre knee injury and looked completely out of sorts when he was on the field. Amani Hooker played significant snaps across the secondary but, in my opinion, should not be assumed as a potential starter.
Some early moves that could support this group would be reconstructing Butler’s expensive contract and bringing back nickel corner Desmond King, who Robinson acquired at the trade deadline for a 6th round pick. King is a versatile piece who could grow into a key player should this defense pull itself from the depths of the league’s worst units.
In the NFL, you either get better or get lost. Fortunately for the 2020 Titans, they had enough individual talent in guys like Tannehill, Henry, Davis, and A.J. Brown to remain successful, win the division and make the playoffs.
However, relying on a small handful of high-performers is not sustainable. By ignoring investing in the wide receiver position last offseason, compounded by poor decisions made via free agency, and an absolute whiff of a draft so far, Robinson has put himself in a difficult spot this offseason, one in which he will need to make several difficult decisions.
Whether or not he makes the correct ones will determine whether or not this team continues competing in the AFC, or if they begin tapering off and away from the playoffs.