As we covered yesterday, the Titans may be in a bit of a bind when it comes to salary cap space this offseason.
While building a team with the draft-and-develop mentality is the best way to sustain long-term success, teams often supplement that process by adding high-value free agents when they have a window to contend.
And the Titans currently have a window to contend. However, if they want to maximize that window, Jon Robinson will need to remain smart with his money in a year where the salary cap will decrease for the first time in a decade.
Yesterday, we looked at wide receivers to avoid overpaying. Today, we’ll tackle a crucial position on the other side of the ball: pass rushers.
Pass Rushers to Avoid Overpaying
There is perhaps no greater need on this Titans’ roster than an impactful edge player who can get pressure on — and actually sack — the quarterback.
Good pass rushers aren’t easy to acquire. When you find one outside of the draft, they don’t come cheaply. There are a number of free agent edge rushers set to hit the market this offseason, but some will demand a salary so high it hamstrings what the Titans can do elsewhere.
Here are the players to avoid overpaying at this position.
Bud Dupree was a living example of disappointment through his first four years in Pittsburgh as he fought through inconsistency, often struggling to make an impact during games.
But years five and six were different, as Dupree finally put up the numbers the Steelers were looking for when they drafted him in the first round back in 2015. Dupree racked up 19.5 sacks combined over the last two years, just a half sack shy of his total from 2015-2018.
He’s an explosive athlete and appears to have fixed his game, becoming an effective pass rusher who can win with power or speed and make offensive tackles look silly in the process.
However, as tempting as those traits may seem, the Titans should do their best to steer clear of the former Kentucky Wildcat.
Dupree is coming off a late-season ACL tear, a major knee injury that required surgery and ended his 2020 season in Week 12. For guys who rely on explosive athleticism to get to the quarterback, injuries that can sap away that athleticism are an extreme concern.
Plus, there’s been questions regarding Dupree’s uptick in production and how much it was tied to playing alongside elite players on that potent Steelers defensive line, including Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and 2020 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up T.J. Watt.
Dupree is a good football player, but he’s not one the Titans should go all in on. Tennessee needs an edge rusher who can be that dominant force who makes his teammates better, not the one who needs dominant teammates to reach his full potential.
Robinson should look elsewhere for pass rushing help.
Judon is probably the pass rusher the Titans should avoid the most in free agency.
He’s a player that can give you something fun to watch in the mechanical aspects of pass rushing, but he doesn’t typically jump off the screen when you watch him.
He’s not particularly explosive, nor is he overwhelmingly powerful. Judon is just a good, sound pass rusher, nothing more. In his five years with Baltimore, Judon never posted double-digit sacks. He started all 16 games in a season just once.
Judon’s best year came in 2019, when the Ravens fielded a dominant offense that saw them leading at halftime in 13 of their 16 games (they won all 13). That kind of offense allows the defense to get after the quarterback relentlessly as the opponent is forced to throw to keep up. The situation allowed Judon to have his best year as a pass rusher, and even then, he only finished with 9.5 sacks.
It was the only season Judon was the best player on his own defensive line, playing alongside guys like Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams, Za’Darius Smith, and Yannick Ngakoue. The Ravens seem to be prioritizing Ngakoue this offseason as the free agent player to keep, which is telling in and of itself.
In five years with the Ravens, Judon averaged less than 7 sacks per season. Remove his rookie year and that average jumps to just 7.6. The only year he led his team in sacks was mentioned above, 2019, when he had 9.5. He’ll also be turning 29 years old later this year, putting him on the older side of this free agent class.
All this would be fine if the Titans could acquire Judon at a reasonable cost and use him as a supplementary pass rusher. But his market value as projected by Spotrac is currently over $15M, with rumors that he’s seeking closer to $20M. That kind of contract simply does not match his production. The idea is to acquire an instant impact player while not overpaying them. Judon is a solid but not spectacular player and would be the definition of an overpay at this amount.
What the Titans need is a game-changing edge player who can alleviate their pass rusher concerns without the help of dominant talent around them. Judon isn’t that.
Clowney hits this list for one simple reason: he’s an athletic specimen that still has a lot of explosiveness to his game, and he’s open to returning to the team that spent so much time chasing him — as Terry McCormick reported earlier this month.
Tennessee ended up paying Clowney a cool $15M in 2020, but that price tag will have to come down if he wants to return.
If it doesn’t come down or remain in reasonable range for the Titans, let’s say somewhere around $7M-$10M, then Jon Robinson needs to move on. As we’ve seen with Clowney in the past, he tends to overvalue his own market and then doesn’t report to training camp to get in sync with his coaches and teammates.
If the Titans are going to shell out big money to a pass rusher, they’re better off paying someone who doesn’t just disrupt the quarterback but who can actually bring him to the ground.
Let us know your thoughts on the Titans’ edge rusher situation in the comments below!