By agreeing to terms with guard Rodger Saffold and defensive end Cameron Wake on Tuesday, Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson solidified his best quality as a GM.
That quality? His ability to identify needs and fill them aggressively at a reasonable value.
Robinson’s keen ability to fill needs dates back to when he first took over as the Titans’ GM back in 2016. After trading away the first overall pick of the draft, he systematically added capable players at positions of need.
To fix the team’s lackluster talent at running back, he traded for DeMarco Murray and drafted Derrick Henry. To add protection for quarterback Marcus Mariota, he signed center Ben Jones, claimed guard Josh Kline off of waivers, and drafted tackle Jack Conklin.
So much is happening in free agency! So many trades… @Titans I’m still on the team right?
— Taylor Lewan (@TaylorLewan77) March 13, 2019
That pattern of identifying and quickly filling roster needs during an offseason continued for Robinson over the next few seasons.
When the Titans needed a cornerback in 2017 to fix their horrific secondary, he scored big time in free agency with Logan Ryan. When they needed a #1 receiver, he took Corey Davis fifth-overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. When they needed a pass-catching tailback following DeMarco Murray’s retirement in 2018, he went out and got Dion Lewis.
Over the first two days of 2019 free agency, frequently referred to as the “legal tampering” period, Robinson continued the trend. Arguably, it has been his most successful free agency period to date, though only time will actually tell.
Particularly, Robinson’s moves on Tuesday solidify him as one of the NFL’s savviest general managers. The Titans’ need for a veteran receiver was pretty obvious, so it would have been pretty inexcusable to not make a move for someone like Adam Humphries.
The other positions he upgraded, though, could have been handled in a much worse fashion or even completely ignored.
Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars royally screwed up their salary cap by giving guard Andrew Norwell a five-year contract that will twice pay him $16 million in a single season ($14M AAV). While having good guard play is certainly important, that’s a pretty outrageous price to pay for one.
In Rodger Saffold, who was named a second-team All-Pro last season, the Titans got a much better deal. Saffold’s four-year contract will never pay him more than $12.4 million in a single season.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) March 12, 2019
Robinson and the Titans also could have completely ignored their need for more interior offensive lineman. They could have decided to roll with Quinton Spain for another year or simply kick Ben Jones to left guard as they did when Spain was benched at one point last season.
Instead, Robinson negotiated a fair contract and significantly upgraded a position which had consistently detrimental production last season.
By bringing in five-time Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, someone on the back nine of an outstanding career, Robinson made another great choice.
There was a lot of pressure from fans to bring in a young free agent pass rusher like Preston Smith or Za’darius Smith, both of whom were ultimately given obscene amounts of money by the Green Bay Packers. 30-year-old Justin Houston’s name was also thrown around a lot.
Electing to bring Wake into the fold instead of those other guys makes sense for a few reasons. First, Wake is significantly cheaper and doesn’t do hardly any guaranteed damage to the salary cap beyond 2018.
Second, Wake will likely only be asked to play the role of “situational” pass rusher, meaning young players like Harold Landry, Kamalei Correa, and Sharif Finch will get the playing time they need to continue developing.
— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) March 13, 2019
Additionally, Wake will probably be just as productive in terms of sacks, even at age 37, as the edge rushers that Green Bay signed. The Titans are going to make Wake’s primary objective to get sacks, something that has always been his specialty.
Za’darius Smith and Preston Smith both have struggled to rack up sacks thus far in their careers—neither has 10 or more in a single season.
Thus far in 2019 free agency, Robinson has filled three big needs without really breaking the bank. In this era, where teams frequently fork over ridiculous contracts to undeserving players, Robinson continues to stealthily pick his battles, and he pounces whenever a good opportunity arises.
He has outsmarted a lot of teams over the last few days, and chances are there will be more moves as this week progresses.
Cover image: Rich Barnes, Mark J. Rebilas, & Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today