Free agency has been a whirlwind for the Titans so far as they look to retool a roster that went 11-5 last year, but disappointed with a first round exit in the playoffs. A quick recap of the moves that have been reported to this point:
Former Titans signed elsewhere:
WR Corey Davis to the Jets for three years, $37.5M ($27M guaranteed)
TE Jonnu Smith to the Patriots for four years, $50M ($31.25M guaranteed)
CB Adoree’ Jackson ($10.2M cap savings)
CB Malcolm Butler ($10.2M cap savings)
WR Adam Humphries ($4.5M cap savings)
S Kenny Vaccaro ($3.9M cap savings)
RT Dennis Kelly ($3.4M cap savings)
LB Jayon Brown for one year, $5.25M (guarantees not yet reported)
TE Geoff Swaim for one year, $2.5M (guarantees not yet reported)
TE Anthony Firkser for one year (no salary information available)
OLB Bud Dupree for five years, $82.5M ($35M guaranteed)
DL Denico Autry for three years, $21.5M ($9M guaranteed)
OT Kendall Lamm for two years, $6.8M ($3M guaranteed)
CB Janoris Jenkins (no information on terms of deal at this time)
LS Morgan Cox for one year, $1.2M ($0.9M guaranteed)
That’s a lot of movement, especially on the defensive side of the ball where the Titans clearly felt the need to significantly upgrade their personnel. However, they have also created some holes on offense to help pay for that upgrade on defense.
Roughly how much cap space do the Titans have left?
So where do the Titans stand now and what can we expect moving forward in free agency? We are tracking all contract information and cap hits as they come in here, but we are still lacking news on the contract structure for Bud Dupree to determine his 2021 cap hit and we don’t have any information at all on the Janoris Jenkins or Anthony Firkser deals.
But in the interest of understanding, let’s speculate a little bit about what those numbers might look like so we can get an idea of where the Titans stand from a cap standpoint, starting with Bud Dupree’s deal. Bud’s five-year $82.5M deal is pretty close to the numbers that new Chiefs guard Joe Thuney got (five years, $80M), though Thuney got a higher total guarantee on his deal than the number that has been reported for Dupree ($48M versus $35M). Thuney’s 2021 cap hit is a tiny $4.5M thanks to the way Kansas City structured his deal, and while I’m not sure the Titans will be that aggressive with suppressing the first year cap hit for Dupree, they will likely be in that ballpark. It’s certainly not going to be anything close to his average annual value of $16.5M. So let’s go with a $6M 2021 cap hit for Bud for the sake of some back-of-the-napkin cap math.
We don’t even know how many years or total dollars Jenkins got so this is really guesstimating, but let’s use his two-year, $16.75M deal with the Saints that he signed last offseason as a guide. The Jackrabbit had a great year in New Orleans, but he’s also a year older at 32 so it’s hard to see him getting more than that in a down cap year. His deal with the Saints carried a $4M cap hit in 2020, so we will stick with that for the Titans in 2021.
As for Anthony Firkser, we don’t know the numbers on his deal yet, but we do know that it is a one year extension. He was a restricted free agent and the Titans could have certainly kept him at the second round tender number of $3.4M if they’d wanted to, so it’s safe to assume his contract will be less than that. Let’s plug in $3M for now.
Two other quick notes… we know the reported values of the deals for Swaim and Brown, but we don’t know how much of that is guaranteed versus how much is incentive. We will assume worst case scenario that they are both fully guaranteed for now, but know that there could be a million or two gained back once we know the details of those contracts.
Spotrac has the Titans at $23,016,576 in available cap space without including cap hits for Dupree, Brown, Firkser, or Jenkins. Using the numbers I’ve assumed above for those four players, that would eat up $15.6M of that $23M in available space after backing out the bottom four contracts currently falling among the top 51. Given that the Titans also have to set aside another $3M or so for their 2021 draft class, that leaves them essentially out of room, but… as we’ve mentioned all offseason, the Titans still have the ace in their pocket of restructures. Restructuring Ryan Tannehill alone would create another $15.6M in cap space and they could get access to more if they convert salary to bonus for guys like Derrick Henry, Taylor Lewan, and Rodger Saffold as well.
Obviously, there is a downside with restructuring deals. It’s effectively just kicking the can down the road from a cap charge standpoint and that money still has to be accounted for in later years. However, given the expected rise in the cap in 2022 and beyond thanks to lucrative new TV deals, it seems like a good offseason to take that calculated risk. Plenty of teams have already done so.
As we get into the Titans remaining needs, it’s important to keep in mind that they do have additional cap space they can create so it’s not like they have to be shopping exclusively in the bargain bin from here on out.
Remaining needs and players available at those positions
The Titans still have some pretty significant holes in the roster as things stand today. The one that seems most glaring is the wide receiver spot where Tennessee has very little behind 2020 Pro Bowler A.J. Brown. Outside of Brown, Cameron Batson and former Colts Marcus Johnson and Chester Rogers have any kind of NFL experience to speak of and none of those three have ever exceeded 485 yards receiving in a season. Clearly, the Titans aren’t going to enter 2021 with any of these guys as WR2, but with the receiver market heating up and top options like Curtis Samuel (Washington), Marvin Jones (Jacksonville), and Emmanuel Sanders (Buffalo) off the board, things are getting a little dicey when it comes to the remaining receivers on the board.
Top Available Wide Receivers
The top three are all pretty attractive choices, even if there are some headaches involved in each one (injury concerns for Golladay and Fuller and TikTok concerns for JuJu). Golladay is being linked to the Giants and Bengals while JuJu has been connected with the Jets. Fuller’s market has been extremely quiet, though Tennessee makes some sense for him given his connections to Mike Vrabel and other coaches on the Titans staff who spent time with him in Houston. Obviously, the injury issues and the fact that he’s going to be serving a one game suspension to open the season due to a PED test last year are worrisome, but the on-field fit is undeniable given his game-breaking speed.
Outside of those three, Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton are both legitimate WR2 options at this stage in their careers even if you probably wouldn’t be over the moon about either one. Brown proved he can still be a productive player when he wants to be last season, producing 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight regular season games with the Bucs. It’s hard to see him ending up anywhere besides Tampa with his special relationship with Tom Brady, but the Titans were one of the teams who were in on AB when he got dealt from the Steelers to the Raiders so we at least know that they had real interest in him somewhat recently.
Sammy Watkins probably isn’t an option given his not-so-glowing review of Moore’s work with him in Buffalo at the outset of his career. I could be talked into guys like Breshad Perriman, David Moore, Keelan Cole, and Josh Reynolds as serviceable options, but none of them are proven commodities as anything more than a WR3 type role player. Maybe if you pair one of those guys with a high draft pick, you can have something interesting, but you’re putting an awful lot of faith in a rookie receiver at that point.
The other spot that seems to stand out is cornerback. I like the addition of Janoris Jenkins, but he’s 32 years old and more of a bandaid than a long term solution. They’re clearly planning on 2020 second round pick Kristian Fulton stepping into a bigger role, but the guys behind him — Breon Borders, Chris Jackson, Kareem Orr — are less appealing as a CB3.
With William Jackson III off to Washington in free agency, the Titans don’t have a ton of interesting options left on the market. Older vets like Richard Sherman, Casey Hayward, Desmond Trufant, and Xavier Rhodes are still out there, but all of those guys are best suited to play in a zone heavy scheme, not the man-based scheme the Titans want to run. Maybe you could take a risk on a reclamation project like Gareon Conley or Quinton Dunbar who would both be good scheme fits, but they carry substantial injury concerns.
There are some higher end options in the trade market with Stephon Gilmore and Kyle Fuller both reportedly available. I can’t imagine the Titans coming off a first round pick for either one of those guys — especially since they’ll both need new, expensive contracts right away — but if they could be had for a mid-round pick, that would create a pretty formidable trio in the back end to match with the additions of Dupree and Autry up front.
Patriots restricted free agent J.C. Jackson is also interesting. New England tendered him at a second round level, meaning that teams can negotiate a contract with him and if the Patriots decide not to match the deal, the new team would send a second round pick to New England. Jackson was second in the NFL with nine interceptions last year and at 25 years old, he’s a guy who has performed like a top-five corner over the last couple years.
Other positions the Titans could look to add include nose tackle, offensive tackle, tight end, and kicker, but it would be surprising if they were involved in top-of-the-market options at any of those positions.