Re-signing Harold Landry is a massive risk

When general managers draft well, they’re rewarded with the challenge of maintaining the roster’s talent level, while preserving cap flexibility. Tennessee’s roster is getting older and more expensive, and they can’t keep everyone; making the correct decisions in free agency is a critical element of extending a talented team’s window.

The Titans’ fan base is in nearly unanimous agreement that Harold Landry should be given a long term contract. PFF projects a $15 million/year deal, Spotrac values Landry at $17.1 million, and Landry is reportedly seeking an APY greater than Bud Dupree’s $16.5 million. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume a 4 year, $64 million ($16 mil. APY) deal.

On the surface, this seems like fair compensation for an edge rusher coming off of a breakout season, but I believe the premise that Landry has “broken out” deserves serious scrutiny. Landry recorded career-high 16 sacks this season, but sacks aren’t a stable or predictive way of evaluating a pass rusher’s performance. Players are often overpaid for sack totals that have been inflated by things other than winning as a pass rusher. Landry ranked 70th in pass rush win rate among edge defenders, and was not double-teamed very often.

I’ve evaluated all 16 of Harold Landry’s sacks, and separated them into three categories:

  • Unblocked sacks (6)
  • Cleanup/coverage/pursuit sacks (6)
  • High quality (4)

Unblocked Sacks (6)

Since 2019, Harold Landry leads NFL edge rushers in cleanup/unblocked pressures and sacks. There isn’t really a talent or skill associated with running unblocked through an open gap, so it doesn’t make sense to pay a player based on these plays.

RG Hakeem Adeniji leaves Landry unblocked
RT Jawaan Taylor blocks Landry initially, and then disengages

Tennessee ran stunts very frequently, which made missed communications more common.

Landry comes free on a TE stunt
HB doesn’t stay into block, Landry comes free on a Flush stunt
Landry is unblocked on a Flush stunt from LB
C and LG leave Landry unblocked on a stunt

Cleanup/coverage/pursuit sacks (6)

This category includes sacks that occur later in the play, and result from the quarterback escaping the pocket, stepping up into pressure, or holding the ball for too long.

Harold Landry absolutely deserves credit for many of these sacks; despite the assistance of good coverage or poor pocket presence by the QB, Landry’s motor is one of his biggest strengths. But motor is not worth $16 million per year.

The final two sacks in this category, however, should barely be considered sacks at all. On the first play, Landry and Jones stop Josh Allen for no gain on a scramble. On the second play, Landry is the closest defender to Kyler Murray as he runs out of bounds for a short loss.

High quality sacks (4)

I consider four of Harold Landry’s sacks from the 2021 season to be “high quality”; these are sacks in which Landry defeated a blocker with a pass rushing move, in a reasonably short period of time.

On this sack against Miami, Landry executes the Ghost technique with near perfection. (I strongly recommend reading Brandon Thorn’s fantastic breakdown of this move.) The Ghost technique involves flashing the long-arm, and dipping underneath the tackle’s outside shoulder. Landry has the bend and acceleration to pull this off successfully.

Here’s another example of the Ghost technique against Orlando Brown Jr. in Week 7. When Landry has space to bend around the edge, he can be a very effective speed rusher.

But it’s extremely difficult to win consistently as a pure speed rusher in the NFL; without the threat of a power rush or inside counter, professional tackles have no issue executing aggressive vertical sets all game and sealing off the edge.

Landry recorded two sacks from a bull-rip move, using a wide pre-snap alignment to generate additional momentum, but he hasn’t developed the ability to consistently convert speed to power. To win as 250 lb. edge rusher in the NFL, you need to be a pass rushing technician, and Landry is simply not that.

Harold Landry is a good player

Landry’s open-market value will be severely inflated by an unsustainable high sack total, but he still does many things well.

Contrary to popular opinion, Landry is one of the best pass coverage edge defenders in the NFL. His 149 coverage snaps in 2021 ranked second among edge defenders, and he posted a respectable 66.8 PFF coverage grade. Landry’s ability to line up off the ball, and defend screen passes and tight ends makes him a versatile component of Mike Vrabel’s defense.

Harold Landry (Pass Coverage)

Landry is also an extremely reliable run defender, which I always find surprising due to his size. He plays with excellent pad level and gap integrity, and has the explosiveness to make splash plays in the backfield.

I also can’t go without mentioning Landry’s durability. His ability to stay on the field should play a significant role in his contract evaluation.

What should Tennessee do?

By signing Landry to an expensive, long-term deal, Tennessee would be heavily invested in two edge defenders, neither of whom I view as high-end pass rushers. But Tennessee shouldn’t be in any rush to get rid of a good player, so I view the franchise tag as the best option. This will cost $18 million for the 2022 Season, but my concern is with the long-term commitment, not the short-term cap hit.

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