The 31-year-old, who played for the Titans from 2016-2020, was just as shocked as everyone else.
“It was a whirlwind of mixed emotions,” Kelly said.
“We understand that things can be cut off, picked up and uprooted in an instant, so we’ve always been a little hesitant to plant roots anywhere. Unfortunately for us, we had started to plant roots here.”
Vrabel on the #Titans releasing Dennis Kelly: “I have a lot of respect for Dennis…Decisions like that are always tough.”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) April 5, 2021
Kelly’s release was surprising mostly because of how well he played for the Titans in 2020.
In what was his first season as a full-time starter, Kelly did a nice job. He started all 17 games for the Titans at right tackle and helped pave the way for RB Derrick Henry’s 2,000-yard season.
Now, though, the Titans are set to go in a different direction at right tackle in 2021. They re-signed veteran OL Ty Sambrailo and added OT Kendall Lamm in free agency.
“When we saw the signing of Kendall Lamm, I looked at my wife and we saw the writing on the wall,” Kelly said.
Three weeks after his release, Kelly has yet to sign with a new team. That’s not an indictment on his talent, though.
The secondary free-agent market has been pretty slow in 2021 for a lot of veterans in Kelly’s position, notably former Pro Bowlers CB Casey Hayward and OLB Justin Houston.
Kelly said that, just like the other free agents still on the market, he’ll have to play the waiting game.
“There was some surprise around the league when I got cut,” Kelly said.
“Everyone’s just kind of feeling each other out and no one’s making a hard push one way or the other.”
Additionally, Kelly spoke about the situation surrounding former Titans OT Isaiah Wilson, who the team traded to the Dolphins in March following a long string of seriously concerning off-the-field incidents.
“That whole situation was very unique and pretty wild,” Kelly said. “But I know from firsthand experience that, at least everybody on the offensive line, offered advice, offered an ear, tried at times to get things going a little bit. Like, ‘you had some fun, but come on.’
“We had some tackle injuries, when Ty went down, I looked at him and was like, ‘you’re one snap away, now.’
“It seemed in one ear out the other for everything.”
The Titans will certainly miss Kelly in 2021. He was a steady presence both on the offensive line and in the locker room, and replacing him will be difficult.
“I have a lot of respect for Dennis and what he’s meant to this football team since I’ve been here,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said on Monday.
“Decisions are always tough when you’re talking about players that have been here for a while, but that’s the decision that we went with.”
Cover image: Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today