With free agency drawing ever so near, it’s time to discuss what the Tennessee Titans’ plan should be heading into this crucial stage of the offseason.
As we all know, this specific free agency cycle is a very important one for Tennessee.
The defense needs more help on the defensive line, both inside and on the edge. Luckily for the team, this group of upcoming free agents is full of game changing pass rushers and disruptive interior defensive linemen that can take your defense to the next level.
Names like Matt Judon, Ryan Kerrigan, Carl Lawson, Yannick Ngakoue, Shaquil Barrett, and Melvin Ingram are all scheduled to become free agents once the new league year begins on March 17th. While some of those names don’t qualify as the game-changing pass rusher the Titans would love to have, they’d still slide in and give you a great deal more talent from a pass rushing standpoint.
On the offensive side of the ball, it’s more about finding a way to retain the services of the players that are scheduled to hit the market, players that have been a big help towards elevating the offense to heights the franchise has never seen before.
It’ll be an interesting yet urgent free agency period for Jon Robinson and company, one that’ll surely be filled with twists and turns.
With all that in mind, let’s dive deeper into what the Titans’ free agency plan should be, and what players could be targeted to fill the holes that this roster currently has.
1. End The Stigma and Finally Add Some Legit Pass Rushing Help
If you watched the Titans at all in 2020, which I assume you all did, you know that Mike Vrabel’s team has a big problem on their hands. Defensively, they’re lacking any sort of consistent disruption on the defensive line, and that lack of disruption has led to an alarming amount of problems for the once respectable unit.
However, with the pass rushing problem reaching its peak in 2020 and Robinson seemingly prepared to be ultra aggressive when it comes to pursuing big ticket pass rushers in free agency, it looks like those once horrifying defensive issues could be on their way towards being eliminated.
That’s not to say signing a big time pass rusher will 100% cure their woes defensively, but it’d be a big step towards doing so.
For options, Robinson would be wise to look towards names like Shaquil Barrett (unlikely to make it to the market), Ryan Kerrigan, Carl Lawson, and Matt Judon (at a reasonable price).
If you sign a guy that doesn’t qualify as an “explosive pass rusher” like Kerrigan, or even a guy like Romeo Okwara, then you’d still have to add another early round pass rusher once the draft rolls around.
Even if that were the case though, those options still qualify as upgrades from their pass rushing situation in 2020, something I’m sure this team would greatly appreciate.
High tier options: Shaquil Barrett, Matt Judon, Carl Lawson, Bud Dupree
Realistic options: Ryan Kerrigan, Carl Lawson, Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Houston, Romeo Okwara
Low tier options: Jadeveon Clowney, Markus Golden, and more
2. Keep Jonnu Smith By All Means Possible
Now this one is about as obvious as it gets right?
The Titans should, in no way, shape or form, lose Jonnu Smith this offseason. I know I said he’d be one of the free agents the Titans seemed likely to lose, but that was before I saw the price of the franchise tag for the tight end position.
Silly ole me.
If Tennessee does decide to slap the franchise tag on Jonnu Smith, it’d cost them around $10.6M for the 2021 season (as currently projected), which at first sounds expensive. But when you compare that number to the actual money he could receive on the market, it doesn’t seem like so bad of a number after all.
Combine that with the fact that you’d be able to keep Smith for another year, while also getting the chance to continue negotiations with him regarding a new deal, it sounds like a win-win situation for Tennessee.
Of course, we all know Smith would like to get paid, believe me, I want players who are due for big time raises to get paid as well. But the guaranteed $10.6M, combined with the fact that he’d be a key contributor on a contending team, it truly sounds like this franchise tag situation doesn’t sound all too bad. There’s also the transition tag, which is a similar idea but would be slightly cheaper.
With a new offensive coordinator, regardless of what happens with Corey Davis, the Titans need to keep Jonnu Smith by any means necessary. He’s too talented of a player to let go, and he’s too important of a piece for this offense.
3. Play The Price Game With Corey Davis
The Titans want Corey Davis back, and I think Davis wants to be back as well. Sure, he’s gone through a roller coaster of a time in Tennessee with all the injuries and consistency issues on the field. But I think he’s finally figured his game out, and is due for more success alongside A.J. Brown barring any sort of major setback.
That’s why I don’t think Davis will be in a hurry to jump into the market and find a deal with a new team.
When it comes to Davis potentially returning to Tennessee, the discussion will always start with the money he’s looking for in his new deal.
We don’t know the AAV number that’s floating around with Davis, so we’ll rely on the tools available to us to get an idea of it. Spotrac has Davis’ market value coming in at around $9.8M per year, which in all honesty, sounds just right for a player like Davis.
A receiver that’s struggled in the past, but found a way to put it all together in a contract year, and has the tools necessary to continue said success.
If I had a word for it, I’d call the number a “safe” one for Davis, a number that I’d pay Davis myself if I was in the shoes of Robinson.
But if that $9.8M projection turns out to be too low, there might be a bit of a problem. If it hovers around $11M or more, then we start discussing potential options to replace Davis.
It’s all about the price game at this point, as it always is once free agency rolls around in March.
We’ll see how it all plays out.
4. Find Competent Wide Receiver Depth
Let’s discuss a problem that’s been brewing ever since the start of the 2020 season for the Tennessee Titans.
Wide receiver depth.
This team has ZERO of it right about now, all the way from spots 2-6 on the depth chart. There’s the unknown regarding Corey Davis’ situation, Adam Humphris was cut just last week to free up cap room, and most of the depth pieces that “contributed” last season are set to hit the free agent market.
There has to be some work done to not only address the lack of depth, but to improve the overall talent of the group moving forward.
Kalif Raymond, Camerson Batson, and even Nick Westbrook-Ikhine made notable contributions to the Titans’ offense last season. But they’re not guys you should want patrolling key depth spots at receiver.
Just take a look back at the Titans’ wild card game against Baltimore. When Corey Davis suddenly left the game due to injury, it was Kalif Raymond who had to slide into Davis’ spot on the field, and that’s only because Adam Humphries was already out with an injury himself.
You can’t have that type of situation if you want to keep improving and maintaining your current status as a top team. That means finding better guys to hold down those important depth spots, whether you find them in free agency or in the draft.
Since we’re hot on the topic of free agency these days, there’s a couple of guys out there that you could sign to drastically improve depth at receiver.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is a bigger-bodied, physical wide receiver that fits what the Titans want their receivers to do on offense. He’s a decent blocker, he’s improved as a route runner, and he can separate and rack up yards after the catch.
He’d be a little expensive though, but it’s just an idea.
Marvin Jones is another veteran you can sign as a WR2 replacement for Corey Davis if things get a little expensive with him.
T.Y. Hilton is another interesting name on the market as well, along with the likes of Kendrick Bourne, another good YAC receiver in Sammy Watkins, and even an older guy like A.J. Green could be in play as a depth piece, as Robinson has gone down the veteran receiver route in the past (Andre Johnson, Eric Decker).
Tennessee could also opt towards going down the draft route, but with the unknown factor surrounding draft prospects and the limited personal contract during this year’s pre-draft happenings, I’d be more comfortable relying on proven veteran talent.
High tier options: Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster
Realistic options: Marvin Jones, Sammy Watkins, A.J. Green, Corey Davis, Rashard Higgins
Low tier options: Mohamed Sanu, Tyrell Williams, and others