Four free agents the Titans should avoid next week

Last offseason, Jon Robinson ignored some red flags and swung for the fences in both free agency and the draft… and got burned. The trio of Isaiah Wilson, Vic Beasley, and — to a lesser extent — Jadeveon Clowney contributed almost nothing in 2020 despite being the three highest profile additions to the roster last offseason.

The Titans winning the division and finishing 11-5 in spite of that disastrous haul is a testament to the roster Robinson spent four years building prior to 2020. He’ll need to return to his usual high hit rate over the next couple months to maximize Tennessee’s chances of making another postseason run.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that he should avoid all red flags — sometimes those can allow you to get a high-quality player at a discount — but he definitely should be steering clear of chronic injury issues (like Clowney) and players who aren’t willing to put in the work that it takes to be a professional football player (Wilson and Beasley).

It’s also important to keep in mind that you’re buying a player’s future, not their past. While past performance is clearly a good indicator of what a player is capable of, it’s also not a given that they’ll duplicate that production in a new environment or later into their career. That’s also where age comes into play. A 24-year old wide receiver coming off an 850-yard season should be viewed differently than a 29-year old receiver with similar production.

With that in mind, here are four guys who I think the Titans should avoid in free agency next week.

Matt Judon

I get why some are enamored with the Ravens edge rusher. He’s been consistent and reliable since becoming a starter in Baltimore in 2017, missing just two games during that stretch and producing at least six sacks each year. For a team that is coming off of the Jadeveon Clowney experience… a guy who never gets hurt and is pretty consistently productive sounds awfully nice.

However, there is considerable downside to him as a free agent prospect. For one, he’s going to be 29 years old before next season kicks off so we’re not talking about a “normal” second contract guy who is 25 or 26. Judon is approaching that magical age where most players start to see some decline in performance. Obviously, mileage can vary for different players at different positions, but the chances are that Judon’s best season has already happened.

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The other thing that makes me very wary about signing Judon is the fact that he accumulated an awfully high number of his sacks/pressures as a direct result of being unblocked or cleaning up pressures caused by other players thanks to the Ravens extremely blitz-happy defensive scheme.

Judon benefited from playing in that scheme and from a secondary that has ranked among the best in the NFL during his time in Baltimore. That gives me some serious concern that his success might be as much a product of the system as it is a product of his individual talent.

Ultimately, I think Judon is an above average role player. He’s certainly not a transformational player, and at age 29, it’s unlikely that there is some untapped upside to be accessed. That would be fine if he was expected to get paid like a role player, but with most projections I’ve seen putting him in the $14-million per year range, he’s a guy that I cannot see living up to that kind of price tag. Frankly, I think you could get comparable play from a guy like Ryan Kerrigan at a fraction of the cost.

Bud Dupree

Dupree checks a lot of the same boxes that Judon does. His 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons ranks eighth in the entire NFL despite missing the final five games of the 2020 regular season due to a torn ACL (more on that in a moment). For perspective, that’s more sacks than the entire Titans team had last season.

Like Judon, there is zero doubt that Dupree would be an upgrade over what Tennessee has had opposite Harold Landry the last two years. But also like Judon, he’s a player who is coming from a system that allowed him to shine. Where the Ravens had their secondary and blitzing to free up Judon, the Steelers had T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, and Cameron Heyward to draw attention away from Dupree. Credit to him for taking advantage, but he won’t find those complementary pieces with the Titans.

Add in the fact that he’s 28 years old (just a few months younger than Judon) and coming off a torn ACL that was suffered in December and you have yourself some pretty real reasons for concern. ACL surgery isn’t the long term career killer that it used to be and there is little doubt that Dupree will be ready to go for training camp, but it is still pretty common for guys to see a decrease in production in their first season after the injury before returning to their pre-surgery form in the second year. Are the Titans — who are very much looking at a short term window with this current version of the offense — willing to wait a year to see their full investment in Dupree pay off?

I could get behind Dupree at the right price, but if he’s going to be in the $15-million per year plus range, I think there is too much risk here.

Leonard Floyd

A former top-10 pick coming off a 10.5-sack season would seemingly be an attractive target in free agency, but Floyd is probably the most extreme version of the two guys we just discussed.

Like both Judon and Dupree, Floyd is on the older side for a second contract guy. He’ll be 29 by the time the 2021 season kicks off. However, my bigger concern with him is what I’d call The Aaron Donald Effect. Floyd was a huge bust in Chicago, producing just 18.5 sacks in four seasons. Then he landed in L.A. and notched 10.5 while playing next to the best defender in the NFL.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Dante Fowler had a nearly identical narrative heading into free agency last offseason. Fowler signed for three-years, $45-million last year with the Falcons and produced just three sacks in his first season in Atlanta.

So are we to believe that Floyd’s game finally made the leap in year five? Or is he just Dante Fowler 2.0? I’d let someone else find out.

Will Fuller

The speedy former Texans receiver is one of the more intriguing names on the free agent market coming off a career-best season in 2020. When he’s been on the field he’s been electric, averaging almost 15 yards per reception. Fuller was on pace for a 1,278-yard, 12-touchdown season prior to getting suspended for PEDs.

Given the connections between the Titans staff and Houston combined with a need at wide receiver, it makes some sense that Fuller could draw some interest from Tennessee. With A.J. Brown in place to be the Titans do-it-all X receiver, Fuller’s blazing speed would be a tremendous complement and give this offense a true vertical threat for the first time since Nate Washington’s prime.

However, the drawbacks with Fuller are clear. He’s failed to play a full season once in his first five seasons and hasn’t topped 11 games since 2016. Jon Robinson was adamant about needing players who were capable of playing full seasons in his recent press conference and Fuller does not fit that description.

We can also guarantee that Fuller won’t play his first full season in 2021 as he still has one game remaining to serve of his six-game suspension. While one game shouldn’t completely change a team’s view of a player, it’s also worth noting that another failed test would result in a 17-game suspension for Fuller.

I love the idea of a healthy Will Fuller in this Titans offense across from A.J. Brown, but I can’t stomach the thought of investing in a guy with this many injury red flags.

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