One thing that those who follow the Tennessee Titans will agree on is that Mike Vrabel has consistently gotten the most out of the teams he has coached.
That is not to say that every decision he has made has elevated the team, for example employing Todd Downing as long as he did absolutely held the team and their offense back.
But by and large, Vrabel’s coaching has kept the Titans afloat and has been the reason they have been as good as they have. And even with the seven-game losing streak to end 2022, taking that roster with those injuries to a 7-3 start was admirable.
The Tennessee Titans have almost always had a chance throughout Vrabel’s coaching career no matter who has been on the field, and there is a reason he won the Coach of the Year award after the 2021 season. Even though that is a fantastic quality to have in a coach, it will always put the team in a certain dilemma.
Vrabel’s Tennessee Titans will never have best draft position
One problem that the Tennessee Titans are currently facing is that they are far from a Super Bowl-caliber team, but they are also far from being bad enough to draft generational talents. And that second part is something that will persist as long as Vrabel is the head coach.
It is worth noting that right now, we still do not have a firm grip on the Titans’ offseason direction, as they have left their plans a mystery even less than a week before the draft. If they decided to fully rebuild, that would involve gutting the roster to the point where ordinarily, they would likely have a chance to get a top-five pick in the draft.
But actually being bad enough to have that opportunity is what obviously matters, and that will be hard for the Titans to do under Vrabel. And you might look at that and think to yourself that if they lost seven straight to end 2022, being bad enough to get a top-five pick is possible, right?
Well, nothing is impossible obviously, but history suggests that a losing streak of that nature is unlikely to repeat itself, making a full season of similar results even harder to imagine. The things that happened towards the end of 2022 were so dramatic and are doubtful to happen again, at least for a long time.
What truly set the course for the end-of-season collapse was the firing of then-GM Jon Robinson. When you fire the GM of a team that is on track to make the playoffs -- as the Tennessee Titans were before Vrabel's historic losing streak -- that is a shocking but clear sign that you do not believe in the guys on the field, which absolutely would make them play scared.
The next game they played was an obvious indication of that, as they beat themselves with three first-half turnovers. It wasn't the backups costing the team either, you could argue that Derrick Henry's fumble was the play that lost them that game. When your stars start costing you games because of mental mistakes, it is a great sign that the locker room isn't doing well.
The absolute barrage of injuries that the Tennessee Titans suffered during the losing streak was also demoralizing, as it felt as if there was a laundry list of guys being added to injured reserve after every game. When things are so dire that you willing start Josh Dobbs behind an offensive line of Dennis Daley, Jordan Roos, Aaron Brewer, and a rookie right tackle, you do not stand much of a chance.
And who can forget about the epic disaster that was Todd Downing, whose failures with the offense are so well known by now and do not need any more explanation. Of course, it would have been hard for even a mastermind of an offensive coordinator to salvage what was left of this group by the end of 2022, but it does not mean that Downing was any good at his job.
So it was not just one or two things that undid the Titans, it was a combination of everything that derailed a near guaranteed division title and a subsequent playoff berth. Ultimately it was just too much to overcome, and it is safe to say that any team would struggle in that situation.
But 2023 will be a clean slate for the team, and even if they are fully rebuilding by September, they will still have an opportunity to get back to what they do best. One of the things they do best is absolutely shocking the world by winning the games they seemingly have no chance in.
In 2018 the Titans beat both teams that had played in the Super Bowl the previous season the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. In 2019 they beat the Kansas City Chiefs before beating the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. In 2020, they beat the Buffalo Bills after a tumultuous week. Maybe the most impressive series of upsets was in 2021 when the Titans beat the Bills and the Chiefs in a six-day span, before losing Derrick Henry and then beating the eventual Super Bowl-winning L.A. Rams.
Even in the 2022 season, when the Titans were known for looking outmatched against teams with winning records, they almost stunned everyone by going to Kansas City and winning a game with Malik Willis starting, but they did manage to go to Green Bay on a short-week and beat the Green Bay Packers.
This is not to say that they will absolutely not have a losing record in the coming season, and they still could be pretty bad. But chances are that with how they have fared over the years, they are going to win a game or two that they are not expected to.
So even if they are a three or four-win caliber team, which would take a lot to happen as is, they will win an extra game or two that they are not supposed to. That would put them at five or six wins, and subsequently too low in the draft to have the opportunity to draft one of the top quarterbacks, given the usual nature of the draft.
Understanding that the team will likely outperform their talent again, that may change their plans for the 2023 NFL Draft. The Titans have still been heavily rumored to trade up for a quarterback, and we have heard enough at this point to know that their interest is very real.
Unless something drastic changes, Vrabel is the man for the Tennessee Titans and they are going to want to keep him as their head coach for good reason. But we know that not only will he never lead a tanking effort for a high draft pick, but he will also likely do the exact opposite.
No situation is perfect in the NFL, and a drawback to having Vrabel as your head coach is that you cannot just rely on ever being in a position to draft the best quarterback. A huge effort will likely have to be made at some point to get that guy, and this year might make sense for that to happen.
The Titans already have the highest draft pick they have had in the Vrabel era, and they are at a clear crossroads with where their team is going. If trading up is going to be the only way for them to land an elite quarterback, then they might find it hard to pass up an opportunity that they realistically have.
They are also in a position where there is no one need in the draft that jumps out, and they are not acting that way either. With no definitive needs on a team that could benefit from a big shakeup, a big trade-up for a quarterback on Thursday could be the play.
One way or another, look for the Tennessee Titans to make a blockbuster move to jumpstart a new era for them, whether that is this year or sometime in the near future. With Vrabel as their head coach, it looks like that will be their only option.