S.W.O.T. Analysis: Offensive Line

The legal tampering period of free agency starts Monday, March 14. It will be here in no time. So it’s time to take a look at the state of the Titans’s roster is currently at, and what could be in store for the future.

To do that we are going to use tried and true method of analysis used in business, a S.W.O.T. analysis. For those not familiar with this I will keep it simple a S.W.O.T. analysis analyzes the strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats to either a business, strategy, product, etc. 

For analyzing the Titans position groups, I will be selecting one thing to highlight under each category:

  • Strength: What is the main strength of the position group heading into 2022
  • Weakness: What is the biggest weakness of the position group heading into 2022
  • Opportunity: What’s an area of opportunity that the position group can improve upon, or an opportunity the team can exploit to improve
  • Threat: What is an external or internal threat to the position group that can bring them crashing down

Previous position groups covered:

Today we finish up the offense with an analysis of the offensive line.

Position Review

The Titans’ offensive line got off to a horrible start in 2021. The first game was so bad that players got boo’ed and then the face of the offensive line, Taylor Lewan, thought it would it be a good idea to write a thank you not to the opposing defensive end. Disastrous.

If it weren’t for Quinton Spain, that may have been the most loser move by an OL in 2021. Lewan did somewhat get back to normal as the year progressed and he got further removed from his season ending injury in 2020, but he wasn’t ever back to his elite self that he was prior to the injury.

He wasn’t alone though, as he was joined by three other starting offensive lineman as can what only bee described as regression revolution for the Titans offensive line. While it wasn’t the worst offensive line this team has seen hit the field, it played well below its talent level as a whole.

The lone starting bright spot was Ben Jones, who did battle through some injuries, but still managed to put together another solid year, and it doesn’t seem from a bird’s eye view he’s quite ready to stop that trend.

Saffold and Davis, who worked out together in the offseason, just couldn’t ever put it together for long stretches. Saffold could mainly put the blame towards being unable to stay healthy for two games at time. Seriously, and I hope he recovers well this offseason, he looked like an Ole Miss player trying to stop the clock every game.

Davis, in my opinion, was the biggest disappointment. He had a rough offseason with being placed on the COVID list for an extended amount of time, and having to play with a sub par right tackle. Certainly the latter can contribute to a player having to do too much at times to compensate, and the former, well everyone recovers differently from that, but that’s just speculation. Davis did end up getting better as the season goes, but that seems to be the running theme for this offensive line year after year.

Quessenberry, while a good story, and he did play well in fill in duty in 2020, just wasn’t the player the Titans thought he was. You need more than a good story and being a nice guy to be a starter in the NFL, and sometimes the Titans front office, and coaching staff forget that. But ya know, for the boys or whatever.

Speaking of starting right tackles, the Titans drafted Dillon Radunz in the 2nd round, foregoing offensive playmakers, as they like to do. Dillon Radunz, despite the Titans beliefs, can be starting tackle in the league, but they had other plans in mind. Inexplicably they decided they were going to spend the majority of the offseason and preseason trying him out at both guard and tackle.

Why? Maybe point to Saffold’s decline, and they saw it coming? Either way, in the preseason, it was very obvious that he was in over his head at guard, and much better at tackle. Radunz spent a year essentially off in 2020, due to COVID shortening his team’s season, so to bring him in, and try to experiment instead of getting him comfortable in his natural spot, where you needed a better player than Quessenberry, was an odd choice.

He got the start in the San Francisco game at left tackle, and he did better than either of the previous back ups, Bobby Hart and Kendall Lamb, did for a rookie from a small school with his last experience playing at LT was in October 2020. Signals to me, Quessenberry should not be brought back in a starter role, and Radunz could step in at right tackle right away, but we will see.

Position Preview

  • Positional Spending: $42,240,666 (11th most)
  • Top Cap Hit: Taylor Lewan – $14,693,971
  • Under Contract
    • Taylor Lewan: 2 yrs left, $27.7m in cash
    • Rodger Saffold: 1 yr left, $10.5m in cash
    • Kendall Lamm: 1 yr left, $3.2m in cash
    • Nate Davis: Last year of rookie deal
    • Dillon Radunz: Second year of rookie deal
    • Corey Levin: Meh
    • Daniel Munyer: Gross
    • Aaron Brewer: 1 yr left, $895k in cash
    • Jordan Roos: Nah
    • Derwin Gray: Double Nah
    • Brandon Kemp: Triple Nah
    • Christian Dilauro: Not related to Jason Derulo
  • Pending Free Agents
    • Ben Jones
    • David Quessenberry: RFA
    • Avery Gennesy: USFL

The Titans have some decisions to make in regards to the offensive line. Lewan and Saffold are both being highly overpaid for what they brought to this team. I have been firmly on the train, since last offseason, that Lewan needs to agree to rework his deal to make it more team friendly, so he can get what he wants, retiring a Titan, and get what the team needs, a more manageable contract. If this doesn’t happen, he should be shown the door, and that’s an unpopular opinion, but it’s an opinion I stand by, but I hope the deal gets reworked.

Saffold says he’s no where close to thinking about retirement, but man I don’t know how much more this body can take. You saw the wheels begin to fall of in 2020, as far as being able to stay healthy, but his talent was still up there. This year both areas fell off, and I think it is time for the Titans to cut bait, but I could also see a restructure to try and keep some stability on the offensive line.

Center is a massive hole, and there are a lot of people who think Aaron Brewer can fill in the Ben Jones void, but I am not as sure on that line of thinking. Jones does a lot before the snap, and has been a mainstay for this team since he signed. I am of the belief that he is still a top 10 center in this league, and he can remain that for a few more years.

I think there is a storyline involving David Quessenberry that no one is really talking about, and that is he is a restricted free agent for the upcoming offseason. This is a huge advantage for the Titans that is flying under the radar. Despite being 31, he only has 3 accrued seasons where he was active for more than 6 games that season. He was put on IR in 2014, which counts as an accrued season, and then both the 2020, 2021 season saw him reach that milestone. You can read more in depth about the RFA tender and what it means here, but essentially the Titans have two viable paths:

  • Tender at a 2nd Round value: A non-guaranteed 1 year, $3.986 million deal. Any team can submit an offer sheet for Q, and if the Titans don’t match it, they receive the other team’s second-round selection in the upcoming draft.
  • Tender at an Original Round value: A non-guaranteed 1 year, $2.433 million deal. Any team can submit an offer sheet for Q, and if the Titans don’t match it, they receive the other team’s soxth-round selection in the upcoming draft.

I know that Q has major haters in the fan base, but in my mind, the Titans would be crazy not to cut Kendall Lamm, and use that money towards one of those options. Worst case scenario you have a back up right tackle who knows the offense and played the most snaps for the team out of any offensive player in 2021. Best case scenario, someone else signs him, that sees an average starter, and you get a draft pick in a deep draft class.

Radunz has to find a spot somewhere on this offensive line in 2022, and needs to be the long term solution for that spot. Whether thats right tackle, or the weird obsession of LG by the Titans, the offensive line has to have a spot for him.

Strength: Leverage

No, I am not talking about an offensive lineman’s ability to gain leverage against the opposing defensive player, I am talking about the leverage the team has with their offensive linemen’s contracts status.

They don’t need Lewan’s permission to do a simple restructure, they can let Saffold test the market or do a simple restructure as well. They can keep a viable offensive line piece in Quessenberry, as I detailed above, or get a draft pick for him. They also can get Ben Jones, who is currently 32 years old, probably for a nice contract to help him finish out his career here.

I think all of these things are a strength, but they can also lead to the problems I have listed for weakness, and threat. I will always look at the offseason from a business point of view. Facts over feelings, supply and demand, etc etc. So, right now the team is in a spot to use their leverage to help with the cap space they need.

If Lewan is truly for the boys, like he promotes 24/7, then the Titans should be using that leverage, and get his capo number down. Lewan is still at a viable age to where he can be an above average left tackle for a few years. That is one less spot the Titans would have to worry about, and again he has said it himself he wants to retire here. If I was at the negotiating table, and I was wanting to do an entirely new team friendly deal, I would be throwing this out there. Then just say, oh you won’t do a new deal? Well, here’s a restructure. Leveraged!

Saffold is definitely a restructure or cut candidate. He has zero leverage in these negotiations, because so what if he goes into free agency. There are a ton of directions this team can go to fill his spot on the offensive line. Leveraged.

Weakness: Father Time

If the Titans starters for 2021 all stuck around for 2022 and all started, the Titans would have 4 players over the age of 30. That would have to be the oldest offensive line unit in the league. Father Time has only been bested by one two players in the NFL’s history: Tom Brady and Andrew Whitworth. So the odds are not great that this offensive line, as it hypothetically sits in the scenario, is a great long term option.

The Titans have to absolutely get younger, the only problem with that is finding suitable replacements at the right age that don’t cost you big bucks, because that’s the issue you have already. Most of the replacements you could find in free agency are either really young, and super expensive, or older, and the same amount of money you’re already spending.

There are some viable options that would make sense. If the team is gung-ho on Radunz being a guard, and he gets that left guard spot, you could get Trenton Brown, who is about to turn 29, for less of a cap hit than what Saffold would be carrying this year. This would buy you time to find a replacement for that tackle spot in either the draft this year or next.

If the Titans want an actual left guard replacement in free agency, so that Radunz can play the right tackle, I would be targeting Connor Williams who is a pending free agent. He is going to be expensive over the length of the contract, but his first season cap hit would be super minimal for 2022. He is also going to turn 25 at the start of this season, and he would be a long-term investment at left guard.

I am definitely on the re-sign Ben Jones train, but he will be 33 as the season begins. He can definitely still play at a high level, and Jason Kelce, 34-years old, is a good example of a player at center playing great at 34 and has 2 All-Pros, and 3 Pro Bowls since turning 32. However, you never know when Father Time will call you name, so Jones would need to take extra career of himself in the offseason to avoid being the next on the hit list.

Opportunity: The Double Dip

The biggest opportunity, and probably the best way to erase the weakness, is to double dip in this year’s draft. There are guys who can be future starters, and even push to start in year one at both the interior and exterior positions of the offensive line. Two guys I really like are Dylan Parham, University of Memphis, and Tyler Smith, Tulsa.

Parham is an interior offensive lineman who has actually played, both tackle and guard. He was even a converted high school tight end into an offensive lineman. The major knock on him entering the draft was his weight. He played around the 285 lb mark in college, but he entered the senior bowl at 313 lbs, much heavier than what he was in college, and didn’t look to lose a step.

Parham also got extensive reps at center at the Senior Bowl, and showed he can step into that role if a team needs him to be snapping the ball. I think he will end up climbing up the boards starting with his combine performance, and going through pro days and interviews. Teams will fall in love with the kids versatility and talent. I think a 3rd or 4th round grade is what he currently has, and if he is there in either of those rounds when the actual draft happens, you snatch him up quickly.

Smith is awesome. Probably the most fun you will have watching offensive line highlights, and I think he will end up jumping up to the 2nd round, maybe even late first when it’s all said and done. You just can’t ignore his physicality and his consistency.

He is just an angry man throwing anyone in his path down to the ground. Much like Parham, if he’s still there in round 3, or you have an opportunity to trade up for him in round 2, you do it. He would be worth it, and could be the guy at tackle for a decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Titans drafted him in Round 1, to be honest, even though it would send Nashville into a meltdown.

Threat: Inconsistency

Whether due to injuries, suspensions, or to expiring contracts, the Titans haven’t had the same opening day starters in back to back for 10 seasons straight, possibly more, I gave up looking after 2012. Lately, under Vrabel, it seems the Titans offensive line rarely gets into a groove until midway or later in every season.

It is simply exhausting from a weekly viewing standpoint to see the offensive line struggle right out of the gate for several weeks, year in and year out. And yet, here the Titans are again as it being biggest threat to this position group.

The Titans will yet again not field the same offensive line on day one this season as the previous season. That could very well be a great thing because they drafted or signed guys that were improvements over the previous iteration. However, that also means the unit needs time to gel.

The biggest way to overcome this threat is having your starting offensive line set at the start of offseason activities, and not playing around with different line-ups. This also requires players to be healthy and available too. This would help tremendously in speeding up the process of this unit building chemistry at a quicker pace.

This is also asking a lot. If you bring in modestly priced free agents, and draft picks, the team is going to want a camp battle. It’s natural for the team to want that and they should, but it sure would be nice to have the starting offensive line set earlier than the Titans typically do under Mike Vrabel, to get over the hump they have every year way earlier than lets’s say week 8.

Conclusion

The offensive line is at a crossroads. It has expensive pieces on the left side not living up to their contractual obligation. The entire right side a veritable question mark, and a void at center. There is a lot of work to be done at an important position group for how this team runs its offense.

There is limited realistic opportunities in free agency to improve upon the offensive line without breaking the bank, but there is great depth in the draft. The problem with leaning heavily on the draft is that we have seen that it takes a monster effort for this staff to play a draft pick on game day week one.

So there’s no easy answer, just difficult decisions when it comes to this offensive line in 2022.

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