NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Over the last five seasons, the Tennessee Titans have established a more-than-solid culture within their locker room.
It’s one of the major reasons why the team was able to propel itself to the AFC Championship game after a dismal 2-4 start to the 2019 season.
Following the departures in free agency of multiple big-time leaders, though, some fans are wondering whether the culture can sustain.
It’s a fair question with an equally fair answer: yes, the culture can sustain.
WHAT THEY’VE HAD
Kelly on not wanting to test free agency: There are a lot of pro’s pros in this locker room.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) March 17, 2020
When Jon Robinson was first introduced to the media after being hired as the Titans’ new general manager in 2016, he immediately made his priorities clear.
Robinson declared his plan to construct a roster full of players who are tough, coachable, love football and have a team-first attitude.
Mike Vrabel, when he was hired as head coach in 2018, professed practically the same vision.
That vision has certainly come to fruition. It’s why QB Ryan Tannehill had little interest in testing the free agency market.
“I want to be in a winning organization and a winning team with guys who love football, who want to get better each and every day,” said Tannehill, who signed an extension with the Titans almost a full day before other teams could contact him.
“I think the Titans organization is full of guys like that, full of people like that, and that played a huge factor in where I wanted to be.”
Offensive tackle Dennis Kelly, who signed an extension barely a few hours into the free agency negotiation period, shared similar sentiments.
“The locker room with the Titans is a special group,” he said. “Everyone really seems to get along, everyone really seems to have good chemistry.”
“There’s a lot of really pro’s pros in the locker room.”
HOW THEY GOT THERE
To get the locker room to that point, Robinson did more than just go out and find players that fit within his desired mold.
He also leaned on in-house players that already fit the “team-first, coachable” mantra. OLB Brian Orakpo, who retired following the 2018 season, was a crucial member of that group.
Perhaps the two other most crucial members of that group were TE Delanie Walker, who the Titans released a week before 2020 free agency began, and DT Jurrell Casey, who the team traded away on Wednesday.
During their respective tenures with the Titans organization, Orakpo, Walker and Casey held at least two traits in common: they were unafraid to be vocal, and they demanded winning habits of themselves and their teammates.
Want an example? Look no further than Walker’s comments from September 2019 seemingly taking issue with modern NFL players being averse to criticism. The sentiment was so strong and pertinent that it made politically-focused websites like FOX News.
Moments like that spread to the rest of the Titans locker room not to create a culture of mouthiness, but one of accountability.
WHAT COMES NEXT
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) March 19, 2020
Because of that, losing Casey and Walker is a rough off-the-field blow for the Titans.
But, just like when Orakpo retired, the locker room will be able to get through it and sustain the culture that’s in place.
It would be different if the Titans only had those two leaders on their roster and no one else to step up and soften the blow, but that’s not the case.
Robinson, in addition to leaning on the old guys, has consistently followed his vision by drafting and signing players who have similar attitudes, personalities and leadership traits
Losing Walker and Casey is merely an opportunity for new leaders to step in and fill those shoes.
Instead of worrying about who’s gone, Titans fans should turn their attention to players like safety Kevin Byard, who stands at his locker after games sometimes longer than anyone else and answers every single question with both substance and grace, win or loss.
Or, they should turn their attention to linebacker Rashaan Evans, whose high motor and infectious personality has already started to rub off on teammates just two years into his NFL career.
The list of potential new frontline leaders on the Titans roster could go on and on. Tannehill. Ben Jones. Kenny Vaccaro. A.J. Brown. You get the idea.
It is certainly fair for Titans fans to be sad at the loss of two franchise cornerstones, but worrying about the future from the standpoint of culture is not.
Cover image: Evan Habeeb & Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today