Linebacker Brian Orakpo of the Tennessee Titans announced his retirement from the NFL to reporters on Monday afternoon. His presence in the Titans’ locker room over the last four seasons was a big reason why the franchise was able to turn things around.

The Titans signed Orakpo during 2015 free agency to a four-year deal worth up to $31 million. He played the entire length of that contract and earned all of the money, something that rarely happens these days with big free agent acquisitions.

When Orakpo came to Tennessee, the franchise was in shambles. They were coming off of a two-win season with Ken Whisenhunt at the helm, and Orakpo’s first season with the team yielded just three wins.

“When you think of the Tennessee Titans before,” Orakpo said, “it was an easy W for opponents to come in here whenever the Titans would play. It would just be considered a win.”

After three straight winning seasons for the Titans, that is no longer the case.

Obviously, the massive culture change that has taken place within the Titans organization is a credit to improved leadership. Since Orakpo joined the team, they have a new controlling owner (Amy Adams Strunk), a new general manager (Jon Robinson), and they have had two new head coaches (Mike Mularkey and Mike Vrabel).

The change in leadership provided a much-needed steadying force to a locker room and franchise that was about as erratic as possible.

“Togetherness, holding each other accountable,” Orakpo said when asked what the Titans’ improved leadership has given the team. “Everything that both of those guys [Mularkey and Vrabel] have instilled in everyone. Obviously, Jon bringing the right kind of guys on this team, the right coaches.”

It’s one thing for a coach to come into a situation and try to implement a culture change or a new philosophy, but it’s another thing for the players to buy in. The Titans certainly bought into their new leadership, and it has certainly paid major dividends.

Orakpo’s leadership in the locker room is a big reason why the team bought into the message that the coaching staff tried to sell to them.

“I really appreciated what [Orakpo] was able to do,” Vrabel said, “along with a lot of other guys, to spread that message in the locker room…A player-led locker room and guys that are able to hold other players accountable and hold their coaches accountable is when you can start to have success in this league.

“…At some point in time, to take the next step, the players have to hold each other accountable, and sometimes those are good conversations, and sometimes those are uncomfortable conversations. You have to find a way to ultimately demand and get the best out of each other.”

In a league where dysfunctional locker rooms are becoming more common by the day, the Titans’ stands out like a sore thumb. While Jaguars players have fought each other and Steelers players have existed in a living soap-opera, the Titans locker room has existed as a brotherhood.

It is immediately clear when entering the Titans’ locker room that all of the players have a vast amount of mutual respect. They love playing for and with each other.

Orakpo’s presence and leadership within that locker room over the last four years has been a major contributing factor to that environment.

“This is one of the few teams where we literally are brothers,” Orakpo said, “where you don’t have to worry about any distractions, anyone getting in any trouble, none of that B.S. that you see around the league. This is a group of a bunch of professional men who take their job extremely seriously, and we go out and play for one another.”

Considering the drastic dip that Orakpo’s productivity took in 2018 and the fact that his contract was set to expire, retirement was probably the right decision.

He may not have been a force on the field in his final NFL season, but Orakpo remained a crucial member of the Titans nonetheless. His presence will be missed by his teammates, and he deserves a lot of respect from Titans fans for his immense contributions.

Cover image: USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel

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