In a surprise move today, the Titans released cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and right tackle Dennis Kelly, clearing an additional $13.6-million in salary cap space for the 2021 season.
Jackson had a brutal 2020 season that featured a knee tendinitis issue that lingered for 14 weeks and clearly hindered him after his return in Week 15. Still, at 25 years old and with some good performances in 2019 when he was fully healthy there seemed to at least be some hope for him turning into the high end corner that he was drafted to be in 2017. However, Jon Robinson is opting to get out of the fifth year option that they picked up just 10 months ago and saving the $10.2-million that Jackson would have been due.
The move leaves the Titans with Kristian Fulton, Breon Borders, and Chris Jackson as the top remaining options on the roster at cornerback and you have to figure that a big move (or two) is coming at this spot now. I’d look to a potential trade for Patriots cornerback and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore as an option. He’s 30 years old, but still plays at a high level and fits what the Titans are looking to do defensively. He’d need a new contract and is coming off an injury that would complicate a trade, but he is certainly available based on reports out of New England.
Former Bengals corner William Jackson III is another good fit. He figures to be one of the top free agents in the market at that spot and he excels in man coverage which fits the Titans preferred scheme. Other options could include Janoris Jenkins, Quinton Dunbar, Patrick Peterson, Gareon Conley, and A.J. Bouye. The upcoming draft class also features a load of talented corners, including Patrick Surtain, Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn, Greg Newsome, and Asante Samuel Jr. among others.
This move continues to underscore the Titans belief that the players were the problem on defense in 2020. As things stand today, just four of Tennessee’s 11 projected starters heading into last season will remain on the roster. Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, and Kenny Vaccaro have all been released while Jayon Brown, Jadeveon Clowney, and DaQuan Jones are not expected to be retained in free agency. This will be a very different looking Titans defense that takes the field in 2021, and that’s probably a good thing.
Kelly maybe the bigger surprise of the two. While the veteran tackle was just okay in 2020 in his first year as a full time starter, he wasn’t on a big contract at just $6.6-million cap hit in 2021. However, the Titans clearly believe they can find either better or more cost-effective (or both) play at right tackle elsewhere. As mentioned above, Kendall Lamm agreed to terms with the Titans yesterday and he could be an option for them there. However, this move also would seemingly hint at Tennessee going back to the well in the draft to find a higher upside replacement long term. With Taylor Lewan returning at left tackle and the Titans interior group of Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones, and Nate Davis rock solid, they can afford to help the right tackle spot quite a bit.
The Titans now sit at just over $25-million in available cap space before the Bud Dupree and Geoff Swaim contracts are added (no details available on those just yet). If I had to guess, I’d say those deals will carry about $8-million in 2021 cap charges combined which would leave the Titans with close to $17-million to work with to sign free agents and their draft picks. Odds are pretty good that we still see one or two more top of the market type deals for the Titans in free agency after these releases.