The Tennessee Titans are moving on from right tackle Jack Conklin and seemingly replacing him from in-house with Dennis Kelly, a decision that bears some risk.
Jack Conklin agreed to a 3-year deal with the Browns for $42M with $30M fully guarantee, per @RosenhausSports. He earns $20mil in the first year. Wanted to keep it short due to the projected increases in the salary cap. Conklin will only be 28 when this deal expires.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2020
The #Titans are re-signing OT Dennis Kelly to a 3-year, $21M deal with $8.75M guaranteed, per @FieldYates. Kelly — a fan favorite in Tennessee — caught a TD pass in the AFC Championship Game vs. KC. Now will get a chance to replace Jack Conklin.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) March 16, 2020
Conklin, a starter for the Titans since 2016, signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Browns Monday that will earn him around $14 million annually. Kelly, the Titans’ understudy tackle since 2016, re-signed with the Titans on a three-year, $21 million deal.
While Kelly has been reliable for the Titans in spots over the last four seasons, handing him the starting reigns at right tackle, a decision that probably mostly came down to cap space, could backfire.
The Titans know Conklin is a good fit for their system because of how well he played in 2019. With Kelly, they’re entering the realm of the unknown.
Kelly is certainly a solid player, and he has saved the Titans on numerous occasions when he’s had to fill in for Conklin or LT Taylor Lewan.
However, the Titans have never treated Kelly as if they have seen full-time starting potential in him. He has always firmly been entrenched as a backup, even when Conklin struggled in 2018.
It’s fair to wonder whether he actually does have full-time starting potential. Being able to make a spot start here and there due to someone being injured or suspended is a lot different than starting every game.
Not only does the Titans’ decision to move on from Conklin bear some uncertainty as to whether Kelly will be able to handle a full-time starting role, but this will be the first time since 2016 that the Titans’ main core of offensive linemen has been broken up.
The year before Conklin joined the Titans, the team boasted one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Then-starting QB Marcus Mariota nearly got killed behind a group that featured names like Jeremiah Poutasi, Will Svitek and Byron Bell.
With that being the case, improving the offensive line was one of GM Jon Robinson’s first tasks when he took over in 2016. He drafted Conklin and signed veteran center Ben Jones in free agency.
That core, along with Lewan, provided a foundation for the Titans’ four straight winning seasons that followed.
Breaking up the o-line core by moving on from Conklin won’t revert the group to what the Titans had before 2016, especially with Kelly sliding into his spot, but it could certainly hurt the offense.
If Kelly handles his new job well, the decision to give him the nod over Conklin in favor of some extra cap space will prove to have been a good one.
— Jack Conklin (@Jack_Conklin78) March 16, 2020
But if Kelly struggles, then letting the Browns get ahold of Conklin will prove to have been a mistake.
Time will tell which scenario will occur.
Cover image: Jeremy Brevard & Reinhold Matay/USA Today