S.W.O.T. Analysis: Outside Linebacker

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 move to a position that feels every offseason is in a constant state of flux, Outside Linebacker.

Position Review

After the into the 2020 season was over, it was apparent that the Tennessee Titans needed a major overhaul not only to the defense but also to the outside linebacker position. They ended up bing a major player in free agency by signing Bud Dupree to a 5-year, $82.5m deal.

They then spent a 4th round pick on Rashad Weaver. Arguably the most technically sound age rusher in the 2021 draft class. His season did not go as planned with off field issues, and then being placed on injured reserve, he was a non-factor.

The Titans brought in other rotational players but none of them really were major contributors. It was mainly Dupree, Landry, and another former Pittsburgh Steeler, Ola Adeniyi. Adeniyi made some flash moves on defense, but he also was a major player for the special teams unit.

Those three players accounted for 23 sacks, 23 QB hits, and 64 QB hurries, resulting in 110 total pressures. I am using PFF as reference so these numbers are slightly high due to the fact they round up their half sacks to a full sack. Sue me, I’m lazy this morning.

Position Preview

  • Positional Spending: $20,990,000 (9th Most)
  • Top Cap Hit: Bud Dupree: $19,200,000
  • Under Contract
    • Bud Dupree: Easy Team out after 2022
    • Rashad Weaver: 2nd year of rookie contract
    • Joe Jones: Just a guy
    • Tuzar Skipper: Also just another guy
  • Pending Free Agents
    • Harold Landry: Tag Candidate
    • Ola Adeniyi: UFA
    • Derick Roberson: RFA

Bud Dupree is a huge cap hit, but the Titans do have a method of getting that number down to roughly $8m and gain roughly $11m in cap savings. All they have to do is a simple restructure which doesn’t mean they have to extend Dupree’s contract at all just put some of the money split evenly among the 4 years left of his current contract.

But what about his out? Well it would make that a little more difficult, but the cap should shoot even higher in 2023, and it may not even matter either way, because they may be willing to keep him around depending on how the whole Landry thing goes.

Noted flesh colored track suit enthusiast, Buck Reising, reported last month that Landry’s aspirations for free agency is to be the highest paid player in the meeting room. For a guy with only one double digit sack season, that seems pretty stout of a price. But who’s meeting room, and what teams will look at him and think that’s the guy that can change my defense?

Most Titans fans know that Landry is durable and reliable, but he hasn’t developed an effective counter-punch in his pass rush arsenal. He also seems to thrive when there’s an above average player opposite of him. So what do the Titans do?

From what Jon Robinson said at the combine, it seems that we are likely to see the Titans use the franchise tag on Landry, unless they can work out a contract before the deadline. The deadline is tomorrow, March 8, at 3 p.m. CST.

“But, Zach, if the Titans tag Landry that will leave Landry with a $17.4m cap hit, and $24.3m over the cap!” That’s true, but the start of league year a week later they would need to be under the cap, and need to make various moves to get there. However fret not reader its not the end of the world.

The Titans would tag him with the idea in mind that by the July deadline, there would be a new contract in place to not only bring that number down, but have him with the team long term. He wants to be the highest paid player in the meeting room. By how much? Roughly making him the highest paid player by a few hundred thousand, is barely going to put him just barely on the outside of the top-10 of highest paid at the position. Here are the current top-10 by AAV, reminder; AAV =/= cap hit:

  • T.J. Watt: $28m
  • Joey Bosa: $27m
  • Myles Garrett: $25m
  • Khalil Mack: $23.5m
  • Demarcus Lawrence: $21m
  • Leonard Floyd: $21m
  • Frank Clark: $20.8m
  • Fred Warner: $19.04m
  • Trey Flowers: $18m
  • Cam Jordan: $17.5m

Beating out Dupree by a few hundred thousand isn’t that much of an overpay in the big scheme of things by NFL standards, but is it an overpay for Landry himself? Here’s what I would offer Landry edging Dupree out in signing bonus, guarantees, and yearly average:

Strength: The Force Multiplier

People on the bird app, love to hate on Bud Dupree’s career numbers. He’s not a sexy box score athlete by any means, and I get it. If your first instinct is to say whether a player is good or not is to just google “x player stats” and spout off generic information that my grandma could find, thats your prerogative. However, Dupree most of his career has been a force multiplier for the defense he is on. Look at the Steelers vaunted defense from 2020, using PFF charting data.

  • With Bud Dupree
    • 46 sacks (4.18 per game)
    • 259 total pressures (23.55 per game)
    • 23 total turnovers (2.09 per game)
    • 7 games with less than 100 yards rushing allowed. (63.6% of games)
  • Without Bud Dupree:
    • 15 sacks (2.5 per game)
    • 101 Total Pressures (20.2 per game)
    • 4 total turnovers (0.67 per game)
    • 1 game with less than 100 yards rushing allowed. (16.7%)

Obviously the per game stats are what you want to be focused on because that account for the number of games. It’s clear the impact that Dupree had on the Steelers defense in 2020, but let’s talk about the impact he had on the Titans, same format:

  • With Bud Dupree
    • 38 sacks (3.45 per game)
    • 189 total pressures (17.18 per game)
    • 10 total turnovers (1.36 per game)
    • 10 of 11 games with less than 100 yards rushing allowed. (90.9% of games)
  • Without Bud Dupree:
    • 14 sacks (2.3 per game)
    • 101 total pressures (16.83 per game)
    • 7 total turnovers (1.17 per game)
    • 4 of 6 game with less than 100 yards rushing allowed. (66.7%)

This also is with Bud Dupree coming off an ACL injury and playing through most of the season hurt. It’s truly incredible the impact he makes on the field, and how a lot of people just want to gloss over that fact because he isn’t producing sacks directly.

I am excited for what Dupree’s 2022, because he will be another year removed from ACL surgery and will have more strength and explosiveness ready at the helm for this Titans defense.

Weakness/Threat: The Landry Conundrum

Switching it up baby! I think this Landry situation is just a huge deal for this Titans position group that it can’t be contained in just one of the categories.

The Titans do have a conundrum surrounding whether or not what you pay Harold Landry will yield the returns that you want. To be up front, I am very neutral on whether or not Landry is in two tone blue in 2022 and beyond, so this will definitely show both sides.

It seems that 95% of fans fall into two categories: The Titans HAVE to bring him back, or let him go, because he’s not worth the money. The weakness for this position group, is that there isn’t really a better option at this point that saves you money without risking a drop in production.

Sure, Weaver could be cleared of all charges and have a healthy season and a productive one. Yes, maybe Hasaan Reddick, who is projected to be cheaper, can come in and contribute in this system. Possibly a draft pick from this super athletic EDGE class can be a force for the defense, but all of this is conjecture.

The real value with Landry lies in his availability. Landry has been on the field for 64 of 65 regular season games. He has played 82.5% of defensive snaps at that time, with the last two seasons being above 90%. He’s just been a mainstay on this defense, and obviously the staff considers him a leader.

However, what are you getting for that? Let’s check the stats according to pfref.com

  • 2018: 26 total pressures (4.5 sacks) (60% of snaps)
  • 2019: 32 total pressures (9 sacks) (86% of snaps)
  • 2020: 34 total pressures (5.5 sacks) (94% of snaps)
  • 2021: 43 total pressures (12 sacks) (90% of snaps)

Ok not that sexy of some numbers as you look at it, but they aren’t terrible. However, his best two years came when he had someone on the other side. This year, as we have established, it was Bud Dupree. In 2019, he started off hot, and the bulk of that production came with Cameron Wake on the field. When Wake was injured, Landry’s production fell off.

Landry isn’t just a pass rusher though, he’s an excellent run defender right? Let’s check Pff’s charting data to see what it says compared to his EDGE rush contemporaries. EDGE ranking is in parenthesis:

2018: 185 rush defensive snaps (72nd), 9 stops (t-72nd), 5.1 stop % (64th)
2019: 393 rush defensive snaps (1st), 23 stops (t-21st), 6.1 stop % (t-52nd)
2020: 410 rush defensive snaps (2nd), 25 stops (6th), 6.3 stop % (t-52nd)
2021: 325 rush defensive snaps (15th), 17 stops (t-21st), 5.4 stop % (t-71st)

The run stop percentage numbers probably look a little worse than what they are, because most of the runs are either stopped at the line or swallowed by an inside linebacker, but are you really looking to pay a guy who’s pass rush production hinges on another player, and at the same time is an average run defender just because he stays healthy, which by the way is a random ability that can’t be counted on every year.

The Landry truthers will hit with you the “but’s”. But this! But that! Those but’s seem to add up and end up just being a pile of excuses for a player who really isn’t tops at his position in the league but wants to be paid like one.

The Landry deniers will hit you with, his production is a total mirage! The most detailed example, with film evidence to back this up, is here at Broadway Sports. James, @NoFlagFilms, has an article detailing signing Harold Landry is a massive risk. He analyzed, and shows you the film to back it up, all 16 of Landry’s sacks including the Bengals playoff game. He came to this conclusion:

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

The low quality of Landry’s sacks in his NFL career has always been something that I’ve personally noticed, and now the Titans are in a bind, because they clearly value Landry, but should they?

If I were to liken this to two recent Robinson draftees that went elsewhere. It’d be Jack Conklin and Jonnu Smith. I think it’s more likely that Landry ends up on the Jonnu side of history, where he gets overpaid, fans are pissed, and he goes and does nothing for the other team. While Conklin, when he left, got all-pro in Cleveland his first year, and was on his way to another great season before suffering injury.

In the end, Robinson has earned the trust to make the right decision. If he feels Landry is worth the money, that Landry thinks he deserves after a career year in a contract year, then hopefully Landry repays him by taking that next step to being an elite player.

If Robinson decides Landry is too much money, then good luck in your future endeavors Landry, but you’ll probably just be another Avery Williamson, a player this fan base just had to have that proved to be nothing more than a product of the system.

Opportunity: The Youth Movement

The real opportunity though is the ability for a youth movement and to develop thee next stage of pass rushers. Depending on how they handle Dupree’s contract there is a chance he could be gone. A small chance, but a chance nonetheless.

We still have no clarity on Weaver’s the charges thats out against him yet, and whether or not that will have an effect on his availability. If it does, there’s something else to be thinking about with EDGE depth.

So why not plan for the future by taking the deepest EDGE class the draft has seen, and grabbing an explosive guy. I know, I know, you want offense, and that could still happen, but a draft isn’t for the immediate impact. The draft is for the future.

I am sure Robinson and Vrabel are salivating after watching the EDGE rushers put on a master class in the combine drills. I am not saying I would be happy going EDGE in round one, but with the way the WR class is stacked with depth, there is a chance the best player available in Round 1 is an EDGE.

Let’s not forget Rashad Weaver in all of this. Weaver has trained with Dupree, and as I said earlier he was one of the more technically sound pass rushers in his draft class, and lots of analysts have said he was one of the steals of the draft.

Hopefully, the case against Weaver is cleaned up one way or the other, but if he’s able to get healthy, which he already should be fine soon based on the surgery he got, and is able to continue training with Dupree, then look out at his potential as a future difference maker for this team.

Youth is the way to keep your team competitive as the years progress, and having pass rushers that can keep other players fresh, while still making an on field impact, would be awesome to have.

Conclusion

As it stands down, this pass rush from the EDGE position depends on two people: Landry and Dupree. In my opinion the Titans needs to start about having 4 viable pass rushers, those two vets, and Weaver + another, at the spot to try and expand their defense.

Because while the Titans raw stats showed they made a major improvement from 2020 to 2021, the per snap stats tell a different story where they’re in the bottom third of the league. Getting more help at the EDGE position can not only help stabilize the year to year production of the defense, which is otherwise volatile, but also improve the performance on a per snap basis.

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