We’re (almost) done with the first week of free agency, which has been a wild ride for all 32 teams across the NFL.
Over 200 deals have been agreed to, millions of dollars have been committed, and narratives have been tossed around like a beach ball on a hot summer day.
For the Tennessee Titans, their free agency experience has been plagued by a little inconsistency. From finally signing an impact pass rusher, to failing to sign a quality WR2 (as of yet), it’s clear this offseason has seen its fair share of both smooth and bumpy rides for Mike Vrabel’s team.
Jon Robinson still has a couple of needs left, but until those are filled, let’s hand out some grades for the Titans’ first week of additions….
TE Anthony Firkser
With Jonnu Smith leaving, the Titans needed to retain the services of Anthony Firkser. They were likely to do so anyways considering his status as a restricted free agent. But nonetheless, the team got it done and brought back a now truly important player in their tight end room.
Firkser will now probably combine with Geoff Swaim, and maybe another draft pick, to spearhead the tight end position as a group.
I wouldn’t call it a multi-headed monster, but the group has talent and will stand to add more once the draft rolls around.
TE Geoff Swaim
Geoff Swaim’s story in Tennessee is a bit of a miraculous one.
At first, it wasn’t even a guarantee he’d make the roster out of training camp. There were too many guys at the position, and he felt like a bit of a training camp body, nothing more.
But he stuck on the roster, waited until he got his opportunities later in the year, and impressed with each passing snap, especially as a blocker when he lined up in extra tight end sets or when he lined up as a fullback in run heavy I-formations.
All in all, a down start but an ending that trended upwards for the former Cowboy and Jaguar. I can dig this signing and it should pan out as an important one with Jonnu Smith and potentially MyCole Pruitt not returning to the team in 2021.
CB Janoris Jenkins
Jenkins is a signing that falls in line with the theme the Titans are taking with the defense so far in the offseason.
If you struggle playing man coverage, they don’t need you here. Except for the case with Malcom Butler, who was simply a cap casualty.
Jenkins and man coverage is like white on rice, they belong together and they’ve excelled at times when they’re together. Although Jenkins isn’t the youngest guy, he’s a veteran who has a ton of experience.
For now, Jenkins will probably be one of the starting boundary corners alongside Kristian Fulton if things go well with him. Either way, I expect the Titans to draft a young corner this year or next and push him to be Jenkins’ replacement on the outside.
DL Denico Autry
This signing was probably the second best one aside from the Dupree mega deal.
Autry is a versatile interior defensive lineman that has a lot of experience playing 3-technique (lining up between guard and tackle in the B-gap) and 5-technique (lining up just outside the tackle in the C-gap).
He can slide between those spots as the situation calls for, and can equally give you very good (and sometimes dominant) play. The thing that makes this signing so salivating is the fact that he and Jeffery Simmons have the potential to turn into one of the league’s most powerful interior defensive line combos.
We know about Simmons and his tendency to completely overpower linemen in the trenches. If you add Autry’s tendency to do the same thing, his versatility, and his production over the last 3 seasons (102 tackles, 20 sacks, and 26 tackles for loss), you’re potentially getting an absolute monster of a duo.
Love this signing for the Titans.
EDGE Bud Dupree
After a season in which the team only accumulated 19 total sacks on the season, the Titans desperately needed pass rushing help.
So they went out and got that in the form of Bud Dupree.
For starters, Dupree is an excellent run defender. Which is important when you factor in specific sub packages and whether you’d have to take a pass rusher off the field on early downs.
To add on, Dupree has unlocked something in his game. He’s much more consistent now compared to when he first entered this league, and its shown on the field.
His 19.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in the last two seasons are by far the best numbers he’s had in a two-year stretch, and he missed the final five games of last year. He’s also become a regular three-down player, playing at least 80% of the total defensive snaps in Pittsburgh during the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons.
He was on pace to play at least 90% of the snaps in 2020 before he tore his ACL, which only adds to the evidence of Dupree’s value as a three-down player.
This is the type of player any team would want leading their pass rush. He’s athletic, explosive, powerful, and extremely agile. Even though questions still linger about how much of a product he was of Pittsburgh’s dominant defensive line, you still can’t take away what he’s done the past two years and the disgustingly good traits he possesses physically.
It was a reported five-year, $82.5M deal for Dupree, with a yearly average salary of $16.5M. But his cap hit will stay at around $5.1M in 2021 before rising to $19.2M in 2022.
It’ll be hard for Dupree to make his production meet the value of his contract, especially when he’s coming off a torn ACL. However it’s not impossible to do so, as Dupree has the traits and the previous production to make it possible.
I can roll with this signing.
OT Kendall Lamm
I’m not all that familiar with Lamm’s game, so I can’t give an accurate judgement on how good this signing is.
I know he’s a good run blocker, which is a big plus in this Titans offense. But as Greg Cosell points out, he’s not a good pass protector. That could mean some problems, since the Titans had pass protection problems at right tackle last season.
But quick-fire conclusions aren’t a thing here, so we’ll first see how the right tackle competition pans out, then watch whoever’s out there and save our thoughts for that time.
OT Ty Sambrailo
The explanations on Sambrailo and Lamm’s signatures will be short because they’re both in the same boat.
Both are swing tackles who will have the opportunity to battle it out in camp to steal the starting right tackle job.
I don’t have a favorite right now, but whoever’s the more technically sound of the two in pass protection probably gets my vote. Well, without sacrificing a lot in the run game of course.
Sambrailo only gets a C+ here because his performance last season left a bad impression. But he has a chance to redeem himself, so it’s not all bad.
LB Jayon Brown
Talk about a bargain signing.
Jayon Brown was expected to command anywhere from $9M-$10M per year on the open market, and it’s easy to understand why. He’s excellent in coverage as a middle linebacker and is can run downhill and thump some running backs in the run game.
If you can get that type of player for only $3.5M against the cap, then you’re winning somewhere.
It’s likely that Brown hopes to have a big year in 2021 and cash in next offseason, but he’s still here in Tennessee under a cheap deal nonetheless.
Now the question is, who’ll be his main running mate? You’d figure it’d be Rashaan Evans, but Evans struggled so much in 2020 that it might be time to give David Long Jr. some more snaps.
Either way, the Titans got back a big piece at a low price in the midst of a sea of change on this Titans defense.
CB Kevin Johnson
I just don’t get this one.
Kevin Johnson has never played well anywhere he’s been. Not only that, he’s accumulated a number of nagging injuries over the course of his career.
If there were a plus with him, it’s that he’s a long corner who has some speed. Not only that, but his greatest skill is supposedly his ability to play man coverage, a specific skill the Titans have obviously been hunting for. But even with those physical attributes and scheme specific skills, Johnson has never found the key to unlock his own potential.
If the Titans add another good, ready to play corner in the draft, then this signing won’t be such a hit.
However, if this team relies on Johnson to be as important as a starting nickel back, or even an injury replacement as a boundary corner, oh boy.