Jon Robinson likes to point out that there are several avenues available to him and the rest of the NFL’s general managers when it comes to building a roster.
Free agency is one of them. The draft is one. Trades are another way to go. There is also the waiver wire.
As the man in charge of the Tennessee Titans’ personnel decisions, Robinson has availed himself of all of them. He also has done his best not to place too much importance on any one when it comes to filling a particular hole. If he does not get what he wants one way, he is confident that he will get it another way.
Just like the next game is always the most important, though, free agency right now is paramount to Robinson and the Titans because it is next up in the current offseason. The legal tampering period – when teams can begin to negotiate deals with players whose contracts are set to expire – begins March 15 and the signing period starts two days later, when the league’s new contract year begins.
Yes, it is just the first step when it comes to building the Titans’ 2021 roster, but there are certain things Robinson and his staff must accomplish before they move on to the draft and all the rest of the subsequent steps.
Get a pass rusher: It is a virtual certainty that Tennessee will select an edge rusher somewhere in the first two days (Rounds 1-3) of this year’s draft, but the need for help in this regard is too great simply to take one stab at fixing it. The Titans tried last season but failed miserably when they paid a combined $22 million to Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley for a total of zero sacks. The only good is that neither player is on the hook for any money in 2021, which means they can try again only this time they have to get it right. Given that 2021 will be a contract year for Harold Landry, whoever they sign has to be someone who sticks around for more than just one year. Names to remember – Matt Judon (Baltimore), Carl Lawson (Cincinnati), Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh), Leonard Floyd (L.A. Rams) and Markus Golden (Arizona).
Get a tight end: The 2020 offense featured a versatile and well-balanced quartet of tight ends, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser and Geoff Swaim. All of them are set to be free agents. Firkser will be a restricted free agent, and there seems to be little doubt that he will receive a tender offer that will ensure Tennessee retains his rights, but he is a situational fit who will not play a majority of snaps. With running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown, the tight end never will be as prominent in the Titans’ scheme as it is in others, so they don’t need to spend big. But they need to get a proven player to start to rebuild that position group. Names to remember – Pharaoh Brown (Houston), Ross Dwelley (San Francisco) and James O’Shaughnessy (Jacksonville).
Replace Adam Humphries: The Titans freed up some salary cap space recently when they released Humphries, signed two years earlier to be their slot receiver. Injuries limited his production and forced the team to move on. Now, franchise officials need to throw some of that money right back at the same spot. The position is one that features a lot of option routes, so it makes sense to get a veteran who has seen much of the same things quarterback Ryan Tannehill has and will make the expected decisions after the snap. It would be asking a lot for a rookie draft pick to grasp the nuances immediately. Names to remember – Marvin Jones (Detroit), Curtis Samuel (Carolina), Pharoh Cooper (Carolina) and T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis).
Get younger, cheaper backup offensive linemen: Among the Titans headed for free agency are 33-year-old tackle Marshall Newhouse, 29-year-old tackle Ty Sambrailo and 28-year-old guard/center Jamil Douglas. Four of the five starters are or soon will be 30 or older, as is backup tackle David Quessenberry. Even with depth guys earning the veteran minimums, the cost for that kind of experience adds up. The Titans’ salary-cap situation no longer affords them the luxury of such proven depth. Names to remember – Joey Hunt (Indianapolis), Wlll Clapp (New Orleans), Jason Spriggs (Chicago) and Cole Toner (L.A. Chargers).