NASHVILLE — 2020 was one hell of a ride for the NFL. The season was completed and a champion was crowned. Now, for the Tennessee Titans and GM Jon Robinson, Super Bowl 55’s conclusion means new life and a clean slate.
Let the months of transaction talk officially begin.
Robinson spoke to the Tennessee media for the first time on Monday since the team cut Vic Beasley in November 2020. The Titans shortcomings last year were well documented and Robinson’s roster additions last offseason largely fell flat on their face. Head coach Mike Vrabel and his staff’s decision making was hardly pristine but it will be Robinson’s task to take another crack at building a champion amid a second COVID-smothered offseason.
Three clear hurdles Tennessee’s GM laid out on Monday currently stand in their way
No Combine and Titans Zoom limitations
The 2021 NFL Combine has already been cancelled due to concerns regarding COVID-19. The league sent out a memo to every franchise stating that all workouts will be done on college campuses across the country.
Pro Days were among the first NFL-related events to be impacted by the global pandemic last March. Scouts were immediately pulled from the road and organizations were sent scattering for a plan to get their in-person evaluations done. Nearly a year later, at least there seems to be a structure.
“We’ve already had a set of Zoom interviews with some guys over the last week,” Robinson said on Monday. “We’ve got some more this afternoon. We’re spending time with those guys virtually. We get five of those Zoom calls. It’s unlimited phone calls, but the Zoom calls, the face-to-face interactions, you get five. So, trying to maximize our time there.”
Video chatting with draft prospects is nothing new for the Titans and other NFL teams.
Prior to the pandemic, video calls were always a part of the process. They were never the main component, however. Teams were allowed a maximum of 30 prospects visit team facilities, host individual workouts and attend college pro days. All of these things led to copious amounts of interactions for front offices and scout to learn as much as they could before selecting player in April.
Now, Robinson and his staff must do Tennessee’s draft due diligence largely on the phone.
What are Pro Days worth for Robinson?
Virtual face-to-face conversations are one thing. College pro days are entirely another.
Titans player personnel, Robinson included, will be able to make the trip(s) to universities across the country. The schools, though, are having the same kind logistical issues many people are in the midst of COVID-19.
“Really, waiting on some of the colleges to plan out how they are going to map out their pro day,” Robinson said. “What are the players actually going to do and is it worth the trip to a particular college. Can you have interaction with the coach, with the player. We’re just being mindful of all of the state’s guidelines as it relates to travel and then the campus guidelines when we are on campus.”
Right now, less than 60 of the 127 FCS schools currently have their dates marked down for NFL teams to schedule around or attend.
Fortunately for Robinson and Tennessee, the GM now has experience with pandemic offseasons.
“You’re trying to develop a relationship and get to know these players over a wifi connection which isn’t the best way to do it,” said Robinson. “But, it is the hand that we’ve all been dealt. I think what I have tried and what we’ve talked about trying to do is being more inclusive with other members of the organization. The football staff. To have, maybe, more people on the call so that they can read body language, they can look at and listen to these prospects so that we get different opinions on how they’re performing with the questions that we’re asking.”
Whatever the Titans choose to do, Robinson must execute this offseason better than his last.
The 2021 salary cap has yet to be determined, leaving budgets for 20 unrestricted free agents up in the air. COVID-19 caused several opt outs in this year’s college football season among players with little recent tape to work off of. Tennessee faces its most pivotal offseason in a decade at the worst possible time.
Robinson knows what is on the line for these Titans. It is his burden, now more than ever, to keep them on a championship trajectory.
Featured Image: George Walker IV/The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports.