The decisions that led to the demise of the 2020 Tennessee Titans weren’t made during the team’s loss to the Ravens in the wildcard round of the playoffs. They weren’t made at any point during the regular season either.
Rather, those decisions were made during the offseason—a disastrous one for the Titans.
A series of major springtime whiffs by general manager Jon Robinson led to the Titans not being able to improve upon their 2019 finish.
It was clear when the Titans lost to the Chiefs in the 2019 season’s AFC Championship that they had some clear weaknesses, especially at pass rusher. To Robinson’s credit, he made aggressive moves to get the problems fixed.
The issue, though, is that virtually every move he made backfired. It’s not that Robinson was passive during the offseason, because he certainly wasn’t. Rather, virtually every one of his decisions was a failure.
It took 17 games, but the #Titans‘ terrible depth at WR finally came back to bite them. Yet another indictment of a horrific offseason for Jon Robinson.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) January 10, 2021
Chief among Robinson’s failures were the acquisitions of free-agent outside linebackers Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney, on whom the Titans spent a combined $21.5 million.
Beasley and Clowney were supposed to join forces with Harold Landry to create an explosive pass rush for the Titans, but that never got close to happening.
Beasley showed up to Training Camp injured and 10 days late. He turned in five lackluster, sackless performances before the Titans released him in Week Nine.
Clowney’s season was cut short after just eight games due to an injury, though he was mostly ineffective in those eight games. Like Beasley, he registered zero sacks.
Robinson shouldn’t be faulted for going after Beasley and Clowney—the Titans needed pass rushers, and they seemed to be some of the best available. Both players were, however, failures, and that ultimately falls on Robinson, regardless of how justifiable the initial decision to go after them was.
Another free-agency failure by Robinson was his decision to essentially neglect the wide receiver position, which really came back to bite the Titans on Sunday.
Instead of bringing in a veteran backup or even drafting a mid-to-late-round rookie, Robinson proceeded with the trio of Kalif Raymond, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Cameron Batson behind the Titans’ three starting receivers on the depth chart.
Because of injuries, QB Ryan Tannehill had to rely on all three of those players against the Ravens in the Titans’ playoff loss. It wasn’t surprising when none of them, Raymond in particular, came through.
Vrabel: Inability to build positive routines for rookies early probably set some of them back.
Me: Other teams had effective play from rookies.#Titans
— Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) January 11, 2021
The 2020 NFL Draft also proved to be catastrophic for Robinson.
None of the six players the Titans selected made much of an impact for the Titans.
Second-round pick CB Kristian Fulton played just seven games and played a minimal role in those games. Third-round pick RB Darrynton Evans was nothing more than a kickoff returner and gunner on special teams. Fifth-rounder DL Larrell Murchison was merely a rotational player. Seventh-rounder QB Cole McDonald was cut early in Training Camp. Seventh-rounder Chris Jackson didn’t prove very much worth.
What about the Titans’ first-round pick, you ask? He didn’t make a single start or come close to doing so because he was too busy living out a real-life simulation of the video game Grand Theft Auto.
Isaiah Wilson, who the Titans took with the 29th pick, spent his rookie year having multiple stints on the COVID-19 list, running from the police, hanging with strippers on a boat, and crashing into a concrete wall while intoxicated.
In Robinson and the Titans’ defense, the COVID-19 pandemic made scouting players difficult by taking away Pro Days and in-person meetings.
However, plenty of other teams drafted good players that helped them in 2020.
The Titans, on the other hand, got zero help from their draft class, and that falls on Robinson.
There’s certainly hope for players like Evans and Fulton to have bigger roles and make an impact in the future, but getting no discernable impact from them in 2020 really hurt the Titans.
ALL ABOUT THE ROSTER
Problems with coaching and execution certainly plagued the Titans throughout 2020. Vrabel made some mistakes, the first of which was promoting from within to replace retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and several players, namely safety Kevin Byard and LB Rashaan Evans, regressed.
But the Titans’ primary problem in 2020 was with personnel. They just didn’t have enough juice, particularly up front on defense.
That’s not to say that the Titans had a bad roster in 2020. They certainly didn’t, which is why they were able to win 11 games.
The reason why they weren’t able to get past that and make a playoff run, though, comes down to the few holes the roster did have, which were gaping.
You’re just not going to be very successful in the NFL when you’re relying on the likes of 33-year-old Brooks Reed to get after the quarterback and career backup journeyman David Quessenberry to protect the QB.
The future of the Titans will depend on Robinson’s ability to hit a successful mulligan with the 2021 offseason. It would be hard to imagine him turning in a worse performance than he did in 2020.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel & George Walker IV/USA Today & The Tennessean