The Tennessee Titans got an appetizer of success in the 2017 NFL season by making the playoffs and winning a playoff game. However, GM Jon Robinson wasn’t satisfied with the direction of the franchise and decided to part ways with head coach Mike Mularkey.
With new head coach Mike Vrabel entering the mix, the Titans hope to maximize the talent Robinson has added the previous to years to take the next step towards championship contention.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN took all 12 playoff teams and provided ways each team could stabilize and improve this offseason. What he said about the Titans is intriguing.
Barnwell: The Titans are in great financial shape if they want to hit free agency this offseason. They have $51 million in cap room, and it’s not tough for them to make more. Tennessee won’t bring running back DeMarco Murray back at his $6.5 million base salary, all of which is unguaranteed. The Titans can clear out an additional $4.1 million by releasing third safety Da’Norris Searcy.
$51 million in cap space is a lot, but the Titans have several big contracts on the horizon, including Pro-Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan and quarterback Marcus Mariota. Robinson understands how he needs to plan ahead to avoid cap issues in the future.
DeMarco Murray’s $6.5M unguaranteed raises a couple questions. Will he take a pay cut after cutting his production in half from 2016 to 2017? Will he even be on the team at all in 2018? He turns 30 in February. With the lack of running back depth on the roster, I find it unlikely that Murray gets cut before April’s NFL Draft – but that doesn’t rule out releasing Murray prior the the 2018 season. The Titans need a shiftier option at the position to compliment the Murray/Derrick Henry duo next season and it makes sense to add that player in the draft.
As far as Searcy’s future, he’s not worth the $4.1M that he’s on track to make. With the 2017 free agent signing of Johnathan Cyprien, Searcy moved to being a rotational safety and special teams player. I like the versatility Searcy brings in being helpful in the run and pass games, but that’s too much money for a back up. The don’t have to make this move, but certainly could if Robinson swings big in free agency this March.
Barnwell: Four of general manager Jon Robinson’s starters are in line to hit free agency. Given how the organization has doubled down on its Patriots pedigree by hiring Mike Vrabel as head coach, it would be a surprise if the Titans didn’t bring back guard Josh Kline. Starting defensive end DaQuan Jones took a step forward in 2017, although the team could choose to replace him with 2016 second-rounder Austin Johnson, who filled in when Jones went on injured reserve. Wideout Eric Decker and inside linebacker Avery Williamson seem likely to be replaced in the starting lineup on a permanent basis by 2017 rookies Corey Davis and Jayon Brown.
The Titans need upgrades at the guard position and I believe adding a player through the draft makes sense. I agree with Barnwell, that Kline will be back. I think DaQuan Jones should be resigned. He was on a tear before tearing his biceps late in the season and would add to the “front multiplicity” that Vrabel has spoken about.
Decker and Williamson are different conversations. Decker was signed to a 1-year deal in June after being cut by the Jets. He was second on the team in receptions (54), but only got into the end zone once in the regular season. He was consistently plagued by big drops at crucial moments, however he did deliver the game winning TD catch in the Chiefs playoff game. I don’t expect him to return.
Williamson is a toss up for me. While he was a draft day steal in the 5th round in 2014, his overall production dropped this past season. The Milan, Tennessee product is very good against the run, but has been considered a liability in coverage and was replaced by Jayon Brown in those situations. Both Williamson and Brown don’t seem like every-down linebackers and the Titans definitely need one to add with 31-year-old Wesley Woodyard – who was nothing short of a beast in 2017.
Featured image via Gary Glenn / Titans Online