Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson has a tough task on his hands this upcoming off-season.
Not only does Robinson have to somehow maneuver the salary cap to chase after a top-tier free agent pass rusher — which the Titans’ defense desperately needs — he also has to oversee a major coaching assistant search.
But before Tennessee can dive into the free agent market and sign fresh meat, they have to address their own group of guys that are set to become free agents. Corey Davis, Jayon Brown, and Jonnu Smith headline the extensive list of players that’ll be free to sign with other teams once the 2021 NFL league year begins on March 17th.
As it stands though, it’ll be difficult for the Titans to re-sign all of their core free agents.
Well, the threat of other teams offering big money to lure players away still exists, and the fact that the salary cap will take an expected dip, according to ProFootballTalk, adds another wrinkle to the situation.
So with those factors in mind and a few others, I decided to take the Titans’ impending free agents and place them in three categories:
Likely to Re-Sign, Up in the Air, and Likely to Go Elsewhere.
With that in mind, let’s get started…
Likely to Re-Sign
WR Corey Davis (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Let’s kick this off with one of the big ones.
Corey Davis wasn’t your typical banner guy for consistency before the 2020 season. Instead of quickly becoming “the guy” the Titans hoped he would be after they drafted him with with the fifth overall pick in 2017, Davis faded into the background, often times looking like another regular body that graced an NFL football field.
That wasn’t the case in 2020 though, as Davis finished with the best single-season numbers of career. He finished 16 yards shy of hitting 1,000 receiving yards on the year, and hauled in a career-best five receiving touchdowns.
Those numbers weren’t just boosted by gaudy stat lines either, as Davis caught at least three passes and gained 30 or more receiving yards in 12 of the 15 games he played in this year.
With those numbers to his name, and finally looking like he’s turned the corner in his development, Davis is ready to cash in and be rewarded for the hard work he’s put in.
However, it remains to be seen if Davis will receive his long awaited payday from the Titans, or from another team that’s fallen in love with Davis’ growth in 2020.
With Arthur Smith gone, and a new offensive coordinator needed, I think Tennessee will do their absolute best to have as much continuity as possible heading into the 2021 season.
That plan of continuity should include Davis, a key part of the Titans’ one-two punch in the passing game alongside A.J. Brown.
iDL DaQuan Jones (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Jones has been a mainstay on the Titans’ defense for the last six seasons, and has mostly done his work as a heavy interior presence that can get dirty in the trenches and stop the run.
He’s also developed into a good leader for Tennessee, which is an aspect of the game that flies too far under the radar these days.
However, if there’s been one knock on Jones, it’s that he doesn’t provide a lot as a pass rusher as an interior defensive lineman. Before 2010, there weren’t a lot of interior guys that could stand out as pass rushers.
But in these times of modern, position-less football, it’s almost uncommon to see a starting defensive lineman not possess at least some pass rush arsenal. That’s not to say every linemen needs to pose some threat as a pass rusher, but for the sake of modern times, it’s better if you do.
If the Titans want to get even more dynamic at defensive tackle, then you can move on from Jones, and prepare to acquire a veteran option or use a draft pick on a younger guy and roll the dice.
But with more pressing needs on Mike Vrabel’s team, it might be safe to say Tennessee will bring back Jones, and roll with the seven-year veteran once again.
DL Jack Crawford (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Crawford brought his pass rushing skills — and a thick British accent — to the Titans in 2020.
He didn’t do anything spectacular, but his versatility helped the Titans out in a big way defensively down the stretch.
Crawford should be back next season.
TE Anthony Firkser (Restricted Free Agent)
Firkser has carved out a role in Tennessee, mainly as Jonnu Smith’s backup. But with Smith expected to receive some nice offers in free agency, you could see Firkser as the Titans’ starting tight end next season.
Even then, Firkser is a restricted free agent, so he’s likely going to be back in Tennessee one way or another.
TE MyCole Pruitt (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Pruitt has turned into a depth tight end the Titans can trust. He’s good as a blocker, and still finds his way into a touchdown or two every so often.
I expect him to be back.
TE Geoff Swaim (Unrestricted Free Agent)
How much of a surprise was Geoff Swaim in 2020?
He was nothing more than a bottom-of-the-depth-chart tight end once the 2020 season began. But as the year went along, Swaim became more of a receiving threat on top of his initial skills as a blocker.
Overall, it was a decent year for Swaim, one which I think will be rewarded with another deal to return to Tennessee.
CB Chris Milton (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Milton hasn’t received a ton of snaps on defense during his time in Tennessee. Instead, he’s made his money by putting in work on special teams, and has given the Titans a little bit of a special teams ace to call their own.
He should be back in 2021.
Others: RB D’Onta Foreman (RFA), OL Jamil Douglas (RFA), DB Joshua Kalu (RFA), LS Matt Overton (UFA), OLB Wyatt Ray (Exclusive Rights Free Agent), CB Breon Borders (ERFA), WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (ERFA), FB Khari Blasingame (ERFA), DL Matt Dickerson (RFA), OT Ty Sambrailo (UFA), LB Nick Dzubnar (UFA)
Up In The Air
ILB Jayon Brown (Unrestricted Free Agent)
In my opinion, Brown is more likely to stay in Tennessee than he is to leave, but with his skillset being useful in combating the growing number of pass catching running backs, you never know what may happen.
The former UCLA product won’t receive the big money he was hoping for due to his down 2020 campaign and a season-ending elbow injury to boot. But he should land back in Tennessee, as the Titans don’t have the means to go after a replacement
David Long Jr. is a nice young linebacker that’s played well in the first two seasons of his young career. However, he isn’t as good in coverage as Brown, which might give Robinson and company some pause in regards to sliding Long in as the in-house replacement.
CB Desmond King (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Desmond King’s situation is an intriguing one.
On one end, he’s still a reliable player that could eliminate any worries about the slot corner position. On the other hand, his play has declined in quality over the last two years or so, and that includes his short stint in Tennessee.
Kristian Fulton is waiting in the wings, and was used primarily as a nickel back for the Titans as a rookie. But he’s shown to be a fairly unreliable option there thus far, given that it’s not his natural position in the secondary.
For now, King is sort of on the outside looking in. Mostly due to the fact that he could be expensive, and there’s some depth in the Titans’ secondary even if King leaves (Fulton, Amani Hooker).
OLB Jadeveon Clowney (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Jadeveon Clowney brought a lot of excitement to Tennessee after he signed with the team in early September, mostly due to the fact that he had the potential to bring something the Titans haven’t had in years:
A competent pass rusher.
Clowney was still seen as a player who was best as a run defender, but from what was said about him coming into the year, it made you think he would shore up the weakness at pass rusher and would finally come into his own as the disruptive force many had expected him to be when he was drafted number one overall in 2014.
But as you can guess from the tone, Clowney’s 2020 “prove it” year was nothing short of a failure.
He didn’t record a single sack, he faded in and out of games far too often, and he ended up not finishing the season due to a knee injury that required surgery.
Clowney signed a $13M contract with Tennessee after a disappointing year with the Seattle Seahawks, but it’s hard to imagine him getting that type of money once free agency rolls around once again.
I’m sure the Titans would love him back, and it’s certainly possible that he’ll return, but currently it’s a little difficult to say if he’ll be back or not and what his market will look like.
WR Kalif Raymond (Unrestricted Free Agent)
We first got introduced to Kalif Raymond in training camp of 2019. He made a name for himself as a undrafted speedster that became one of the more consistent performers in practice and the preseason.
Raymond carried that momentum into the regular season, specifically in the back half of 2019, and turned into the Titans’ go-to guy for catching bombs down the field.
If you remember his big touchdown catch against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, or his game sealing touchdown catch to beat the Indianapolis Colts on the road, then you get the idea.
Raymond was expected to come into the 2020 season as the WR4, a testament to his hard work and the performances that soon came after because of it. However, Raymond became more of an afterthought than a key guy in the offense as the season went along.
So much so that Cameron Batson, who missed the entire 2019 season due to injury, jumped over him on the depth chart.
Now Raymond is an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team without any loose ends. Tennessee could want him back as a WR5, and to bring some versatility on special teams. It just depends on what the Titans do this offseason in regards to their other pressing needs.
K Stephen Gostkowski (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Gostkowski’s 2020 season was, in short terms, a roller-coaster.
From missing four kicks in total in Week 1 (one XP and three field goals), to finding his stride as each game passed, Gostkowski never found the big stretch of consistency that he was looking for.
Take those consistency issues, and the fact that he’s up there in age, and you just don’t know if he’ll be back next season. But if he’s not, who will kick for the Titans in 2021 and beyond?
Others: LB Daren Bates (UFA), OT Marshall Newhouse (UFA)
Likely to Go Elsewhere
TE Jonnu Smith (Unrestricted Free Agent)
In this day in age, teams around the league will overpay for young offensive talent who haven’t posted big numbers, but have the necessary tools to take the next step statistically and become a force to be reckoned with.
Jonnu Smith falls into that category.
His pure athleticism and play-making at the tight end position screams “star in the making”, he just needs the targets to make the all too familiar leap into stardom.
That’s why I think someone, whether it’d be the Jacksonville Jaguars or some other team with loads of cap room and a need for offensive talent, will drive up the price for Smith.
The Titans would then be forced to do one of two things:
Get into a bidding war, or let Smith walk.
If I were a betting man, then I’d bet on Tennessee walking away from a high priced battle for Smith’s services.
CB Tye Smith (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Tye Smith has bounced on and off the Titans’ roster for the last few years or so. He can give you some special teams play, and can jump in as a boundary corner if you’re dealing with some injuries.
But I wouldn’t expect him back.
Simply due to the fact that Smith can’t handle speed at the wide receiver position, and that the Titans can do a lot better than Smith as their CB4-CB5.
Others: RB Senorise Perry (UFA), LB Will Compton (UFA)
Which free agents do you think will walk, and who will be back? Let us know in the comments below!