Ran Carthon's first season as the Tennessee Titans GM was always going to be tough, but what did he have to work with, what did he need to fix, and what have the results been?
Something I should also get out there before I go any further, Mike Vrabel and Ran Carthon go hand-in-hand here. They have said that until they are blue in the face and Carthon has said repeatedly that the leader in their conversations and meetings has been Mike Vrabel.
Since this is the era of collaboration, I may single out Ran Carthon by name, but there is no decision made this offseason that didn't get rubber-stamped by Mike Vrabel first.
Still, the buck is going to stop with him and if he isn't there to help Mike Vrabel make decisions then why have a GM at all?
Tennessee Titans free agency moves
Let's go back to the end of the season and take a snapshot of what this team was when Ran Carthon was hired to be the next GM of the Tennessee Titans. After the obvious cuts, Carthon had to decide what do to about the Tennessee Titans' top free agents, David Long Jr., and Nate Davis.
The Titans decided to let both players go and swapped them out with former San Francisco 49ers backups Azeez Al-Shaair and Daniel Brunskill.
I'm not going to say that is an even swap considering that most Tennessee Titans fans considered David Long Jr. and Nate Davis as borderline Pro Bowl players over the last two years. However, if they can be consistent and play a full season then that could be more valuable than near-Pro Bowl talent that misses five games a season.
I would say that there was an upgrade when Ran Carthon brought in Andre Dillard and Arden Key to replace Taylor Lewan and Bud Dupree. Similarly to the rationale for the other two free agents, getting healthy players that you can count on is an upgrade and this time they got notably younger at the positions as well.
Those were the successful moves of free agency, but the team absolutely fell short at wide receiver. Even if they didn't like the wide receivers in free agency, they could have used the cap space that they spent on backup/special teams linebackers like Luke Gifford and Ben Niemann and signed D.J. Chark or Marvin Jones. Believe it or not, their 2023 cap hits are very similar.
The plan in free agency looked like it was going to replace injury-prone and expensive veterans with young, talented players who hadn't gotten an opportunity to start because they were behind a logjam of good talent in front of them.
While that plugged holes at left tackle and (another) EDGE, it still left a massive void at tight end, left guard, and wide receiver. If the season started before the draft, guys like Trevon Wesco, Jamarco Jones, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine would have been projected to get 500+ snaps.
How the Tennessee Titans did in the draft
The Tennessee Titans added solid value in the draft class. According to most projections, they made value picks with Peter Skoronski (1st round), Will Levis (2nd round trade-up), and Jaelyn Duncan (6th round).
One of the problems is that they didn't really fix any of the major needs that the team had, and this brings us to the most concerning thing about Ran Carthon's first year with the Tennessee Titans. He doesn't seem to have a real idea of what he wants to do as a general manager.
During his introductory press conference, he talked about his job being to build a team and not to collect talent. If you are building a team, that means that you need to actually draft players that make your team better instead of using the "best player available" strategy and drafting guys that sit on the bench instead of making your team better.
That isn't the only time that you can see Carthon contradict his own supposed philosophy. One of the only interviews that he did that wasn't curated by the Tennessee Titans, was his appearance on Chris Long's podcast in January.
In that appearance, he talks about his draft strategy and how he believes that the best way to draft is by spending the first few rounds identifying and filling needs. That isn't what he said after the 2023 NFL Draft when he was defending the Tennessee Titans passing on a wide receiver.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the Tennessee Titans spent their three picks in the top 100 selections on one starter, one eventual starter (Levis), and one situational player (Spears). Meanwhile, those picks locked in a massive role for Nick Westbrook-Ikhine as a starter on the boundary for the Titans.
Tennessee Titans vision for the future
The Tennessee Titans needed someone to take a firm stance on whether this was going to be a rebuild or a reload, and no one did.
As long as Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry are on the roster, this team is going to be too talented to truly tank. However, after the team decided that wide receivers weren't important, it seems like they are going to put a lot of strain on Ryan Tannehill and Tim Kelly to pull something out of thin air on passing downs.
This team is incomplete and they don't have the future draft capital to do anything big enough to address that. Right now it seems like Mike Vrabel and Ran Carthon are perfectly content with letting Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill play out their contracts and hit free agency next year without getting anything in return.
Everything that the Tennessee Titans are doing suggests that they are a team that is too proud to admit that they need to rebuild and so they are pushing to win six or seven games in 2023 and then they are going to try to finish the rebuild then.
By doing that and by keeping the veterans on the roster, they are limiting the effectiveness of that rebuild both in draft position and potential draft compensation for guys like Tannehill, Henry, Kevin Byard, or Denico Autry.
At this point, if they end up with a top-10 pick it will be because Mike Vrabel failed to get the team that he built to win football games, it won't be because of some grand plan to set themselves up better for future success. That means that the Tennessee Titans season won't be a success unless he can make the playoffs.
That doesn't seem like a plan to me, it seems like a team that couldn't commit to a direction so they chose to sit on the fence and hope that it was an easier path next year. If I had to put a grade on it, it would be a "C-" and that is if all of the non-Levis moves work out.