The Tennessee Titans captured the AFC South Division title for the first time since 2008. However, they went a disappointing one and done, with a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round. Derrick Henry won his second straight rushing title and became just the eighth running back in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards. As they head into the offseason, the Titans have several critical decisions to make.
Pending Free Agents
The Titans have an astounding 29 pending free agents. The team currently sits at just over $3 million over the 2021 projected salary cap according to Over the Cap. That will make the decisions of general manager Jon Robinson, like many others throughout the NFL, that much more difficult.
Corey Davis, Wide Receiver
The Titans declined Davis’ fifth-year option prior to the 2020 season. Rightfully so, as the receiver didn’t live up to the expectation of a top-five pick. But 2020 saw a breakout season from Davis. He finally used his size to his advantage and he provided an effective one-two receiving tandem with A.J. Brown. The team will likely make every effort to re-sign Davis, but it’s likely he will be in a different uniform in 2021.
Jonnu Smith, Tight End
Smith has displayed a skillset worthy of being the top tight end. With his versatility and speed for his position, he has the potential to be among the more elite tight ends in the league. The Titans will likely make more of an effort to re-sign Smith than Davis. The tight end’s loyalty to Tennessee may be a factor in his return to Nashville. The team may also decide to slap the franchise tag on Smith.
Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End
The big-name edge rusher, who could’ve been the key piece for Mike Vrabel‘s defense. But Clowney was hampered by injuries all season. If he’s willing to lower his price tag, he could return to the Titans, but it is highly unlikely.
Anthony Firkser, Tight End (RFA)
Firkser has emerged as Ryan Tannehill‘s third-down security blanket. Even when opposing teams saw the film and knew he was the likely target, he still made the play more often than not. He will likely return, as his price tag will be on the lower end of the spectrum. If Smith doesn’t resign, Firsker will be even more critical for the Titans to re-sign.
Desmond King, Cornerback
An in-season acquisition, King made an immediate impact in his first game for Tennessee. He had a solid season overall. Depending on what decisions the team makes elsewhere in the secondary, King could return.
Jayon Brown, Linebacker
The linebacker missed most of 2020 with an injury. Prior to last season, he was a no-brainer to re-sign at just about any cost. The one area the Titans have depth is at linebacker, with Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans, which means that Brown will be playing elsewhere in 2021.
Potential Cap Casualties
If they want to re-sign some of their own free agents or other players who hit the open market the Titans are going to have to make some big-time cuts to free up money, $3 million just to get under the current salary cap. Unfortunately, that means hard decisions on some other players.
Malcolm Butler, CB ($10.2 million saved)
The former Super Bowl hero is coming off of his best NFL season. However, with his high salary, he makes the most likely casualty for Tennessee. The sides may opt to renegotiate his contract to lessen the cap hit.
Taylor Lewan, LT ($9.5 million)
One of the faces of the franchise may also find himself out of a job. Prior to his injury, he was still one of the top players at his position. His price tag may make him an expendable piece for the Titans unless they can re-work his money. Lewan seems more likely than Butler to make that sacrifice.
Adam Humphries, WR ($4.75 million)
His second season in Tennessee was much like his first, he struggled to stay healthy. That alone makes him a likely cap casualty, even though his $4.75 million isn’t an exorbitant amount.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
Just like a season ago, the Titans’ overwhelming needs are defensive. They need to readdress their pass rush after neither Vic Beasley nor Clowney had much of an impact and neither made it through the season. Secondary help is just behind pass rush on their needs.
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
The Titans will likely be very cautious with big-name free agents, after the way the Clowney deal panned out. But Watt is the paramount name on the market defensively. The fact that he wants to win just might have him lower his asking price, to play with his former coach Vrabel in Tennessee.
Bud Dupree, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
They will likely explore edge rushers and there are a handful of games that stand out on that list of free agents. Dupree has become a stud at the position, but the Titans may look at a cheaper option, like Aldon Smith or Pernell McPhee.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
If healthy, Jackson is still a big-play threat. But his price tag could be upwards of $8 million a year. If that’s the case the Titans would be better off re-signing Davis.
A.J. Bouye, CB, Denver Broncos
If the Titans release Butler, Bouye would be a cheap signing. He has a suspension that will cause him to miss the first game of the season, which could make his deal one that is more team-friendly.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
A big target to replace Davis, if he leaves Tennessee. But there’s likely a team with deeper pockets that will overspend for JuJu. His antics would likely keep him off of the Titans’ radar, which is why Antonio Brown isn’t on the list. But of the two, Robinson may take a chance on Brown as opposed to Smith-Schuster.
Previewing the Draft
For a team currently over the salary cap and that is likely to have to part with some of their core players, the draft may be the way to go to address their needs. While last season’s first-round pick Isaiah Wilson hasn’t panned out, they will try again.
Round 1, Pick 22: Edge Rusher
At this spot, the Titans may be in a prime position to select an immediate impact defensive player. First and foremost is an edge rusher.
Round 2, Pick 53: Cornerback
If they are able to solidify their pass rush needs either in free agency or in the first round of the draft, the second-round pick will likely be used for much-needed secondary help and depth.
Round 3, Pick 85: Wide Receiver
It’s likely by the time this pick comes around the team will address depth at wide receiver or tight end depth, depending on how things pan out with the likes of Davis, Smith, and free agency signings.
Early 2021 Expectations
After back-to-back playoff berths, expectations are high in Music City. If the team is able to address their weaknesses especially defensively, better than they did a season ago, this team could get out of the gate running to start next season. If the offense without coordinator Arthur Smith can continue to put up points quickly and efficiently behind Henry, Tannehill, and company, a few minor tweaks on the defense will make this team that much more dangerous.
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