Those are hard words for a Tennessee Titans fan to write, but we all know that all good things must come to an end.
But this is Brett Kern. Brett Kern! He’s been a staple of the Titans since the Lower Paleolithic. Okay, that’s a wee bit of an exaggeration. Paleontologists haven’t yet discovered fossilized Brett Kern footprints in the middle of the Bermuda grass at Nissan Stadium, but Kern has been a staple with the Titans since 2009.
To put that into perspective, let’s enjoy some fun Brett Kern factoids before I explain why cutting him was the right move.
Vince Young was the quarterback when Kern took the field for his first game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 1, 2009. To say things were bleak when he joined the Titans is an understatement.
Who can forget the Titans opening the season 0-6 before limping into the bye week? The franchise had just suffered the worst defeat in team history, a 59-0 drubbing on the road at New England (The Pats scored all 59 points in the first 3 quarters). And to bring this back around to Kern, Reggie Hodges punted 6 times for the Titans on that cold, snowy November day for a sparkling 34.7 average. One of his punts flailed 21 yards. Enter Brett Kern during the bye week when Denver inexplicably released him.
Since Kern’s first game against the Jags the following week, the Titans have used 12 starting quarterbacks. I apologize in advance for the PTSD the following list may cause some of you, but those QBs are Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Rusty Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, Jack Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger, Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Blaine Gabbert, and Ryan Tannehill. We’ll pause the article here for those who need to take their meds before reading further.
Kern played under five Tennessee Titans head coaches, Jeff Fisher, Mike Munchak, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey, and Mike Vrabel.
Kern rushed the ball 5 times for 21 yards in his Titans career. That’s a respectable 4.2 average per carry. All 21 rushing yards came on a single carry in a 2011 game against his old team, the Denver Broncos. It was the 2nd quarter, and Kern’s surprising 1st down rush was the key play on the 79-yard drive that ended in a field goal that put the Titans ahead 10-7.
He fumbled on the play and recovered it himself. It was the team’s longest rush at that point in the season. The other rushes…. you do the math. We won’t talk about those.
Kern is the only player in NFL history to play with two 2,000-yard rushers while not changing teams. Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, Kern’s first year with the team. Derrick Henry ran for 2,027 yards in 2020.
He has consistently been among the NFL’s best punters throughout his career. His lifetime average of 45.9 would send just about any punter to the Pro Bowl most years, let alone considering those are career numbers. Very few punters in the game have been as good at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line as Kern during his tenure with the Titans. Under most normal circumstances, you don’t let a guy like that go.
But these are not normal circumstances.
The Tennessee Titans were at a crossroads at punter
Ryan Stonehouse is quite possibly a generational talent. Like Derrick Henry, he is capable of doing things others at his position simply cannot do. As a senior at Colorado State last season, he averaged a whopping 50.9 yards per punt.
Don’t be fooled into believing that gaudy figure was compiled because he didn’t punt often enough. He maintained that average while punting the ball 58 times in 2 games. And his hang time? Rumor is that’s why NASA had to delay the Artemis I launch. They were still waiting for that one ball he kicked against the Cardinals last Saturday to land.
But a great leg isn’t the only factor the Tennessee Titans considered when making such a bold roster move.
The financial situation certainly factored into the decision. Kern was poised to earn $2.75 million this season. Stonehouse will set the Titans back just over $700,000. Cutting Kern saves the franchise roughly 2.2 million in cap space.
That’s a lot of money when considering an already close competition. The possible need for infusions of talent at other positions, particularly offensive line and receiver clarified the choice.
Then there’s Father Time. This isn’t to say Kern was packing for the “old folks home” this summer. He’s still an excellent punter, and if someone like Stonehouse hadn’t come along, he’s Pro Bowl-caliber. But Kern missed games in each of the last two seasons, and the Titans have struggled with punting in those games.
Stonehouse is 23 years old. That’s not a guarantee he won’t get hurt, especially if he’s running for first downs when things go wrong, but a 23-year-old should bounce back faster and maybe not miss those games.
Tying into the injury situation is the future of the position. As I noted above, Kern could have stuck around Nashville a couple of seasons longer and played at a high level, but then what? Do the Titans scour the alleys and waiver wire for their next punter? Do they cycle through multiple players before settling on the next one? Bring in an undrafted rookie?
Stonehouse could easily solidify the position for another decade before a younger, cheaper version of him comes along to push him aside. This move wasn’t solely about 2022 but also three seasons from now.
No one wants to lose a beloved team legend, but choosing Stonehouse was the right choice. A difficult predicament for the Titan’s brain trust, but the correct call.
As Titans fans, we look forward to many years watching Stonehouse boom punts. Hopefully, he won’t have to do it too often, but when he does, the only locals who won’t rest easy are those in Brentwood or Madison, depending on which direction he kicks.
And what about Brett Kern? He was more than just a football player. He was an asset to the Greater Nashville community and a real class act. Kern raised the bar high both on and off the field. He will be missed in a Tennessee Titans uniform, and I wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors, whether he moves on to another team or hangs up the cleats.
To our former punter, a Nashville legend and treasure, and our new one, may it work out for everyone, and best of luck to you both.