The Tennessee Titans are horrible. At 7-8, with a 5 game losing streak, there is little hope left. But in week 18 at Jacksonville it will be a win-and-in game for both the Titans and Jags to have a chase to win the division with a horrid record of 8-9. Tennessee should not win this game, and I hope they do not. I know having 3-straight division titles is a nice accomplishment, but man this team is so banged up right now. Actually, they are the most injured team in the league with a league leading 19 players on IR currently, and a total of 31. Yes, half of their team has missed at least 3 games this year, if not more. You simply just can’t have a consistent season with so many guys playing hurt (Big Jeff Simmons, Ryan T), and with other contributors missing around half the season (Elijah Molden, Amani Hooker), and with projected starters missing most if not the whole year (Caleb Farley, Harold Landry III). I love the Titans and I love Mike Vrabel, but there is no reason why they should try to compete for the playoffs. With limited cap space, and an absolutely atrocious offensive line, making the playoffs just to lose in the first round at home, when you could have a solid mid first round draft pick is flat out dumb. And yes, if you took the time to read the title, I do believe that the Titans Super Bowl Window is over. This is how it happened, and this is how they can fix it.
Bad Draft Classes
Photo: Mark Humphrey / AP
A great playoff run in 2019 left the fans wanting more, as they were 2 quarters of solid football away from the Super Bowl. Their top 2 two picks from that year, Jeffery Simmons and A.J. Brown were budding superstars, Derrick Henry has single handedly ended Tom Brady’s Pats career, and Ryan Tannehill was the answer at QB. But looking for more pieces like A.J. and Jeff, GM Jon Robinson looked at the draft. It did not go as planned. First Round pick, OT Isiaiah Wilson played 2 snaps his whole NFL career and was traded the next offseason because of lack of work ethic and off the field issues. Third Round pick RB Darryanton Evans had injuries derailed what looked to be a promising career as a solid backup to King Henry. Fifth Rounder Larrel Murchason is a career practice squad guy, and the rest of the class was nothing special either. Only Second Round pick, CB Kristian Fulton, and undrafted free agent WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine have contributed.
2021 wasn’t much better, as CB Caleb Farley has struggled to stay healthy in his first two seasons, and has been burnt toast when he has played. OT Dillion Radunz has been ok, but for now remains a bust as he hasn't contributed much. 3rd Rounders, LB Monty Rice and CB Elijah Molden have both struggled with injuries, but Molden had a very good rookie season, but couldn’t stay on the field in 2022. In the 4th round, Robinson had a chance to take current Lions star WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, but opted to take Dez Fitzpatrick who is an absolute bust because of how well Amon-Ra has played his first two years. OLB Rashad Weaver has done well in Harold Landry’s absence, but still has more potential, and WR Racey McMath has been banged up, but he did show playmaking ability in the preseason this year.
2022 is too early to call, but the AJ Brown trade is a total bust, even with Treylon Burks showing promise. TE Chig Okonkwo has done well in limited opportunities, and OT Nick Petit-Frere has been a rock on the offensive line. Malik Willis has shown flashes of great dual threat potential, but has struggled mightily as a passer. He could be the QB of the future, or he could leave the franchise looking for another option.
Bad Free Agent Signings
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In an attempt to shore up the bad pass rush that applied no pressure to Patrick Mahomes in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, Robinson signed OLB’s Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney to 1-year deals. Beasley never played a game as a Titan, and Clowney had 0 sacks in 8 games. Now 1-year deals aren’t killers, but J-Rob could have used this money to sign a guy like Robert Quinn, who was productive for the Bears for a couple of years, including leading the league in sacks last season. Also, in 2021 signing Bud Dupree to a massive 5 years $82.5 million contract looked good at the time, but he hasn’t done much in the turnaround from one of the worst pass rushes to one of the best in just one season. Not offering WR Corey Davis a contract, after his breakout 2020, when he gelled with A.J. Brown to form a formidable duo was a mistake. Instead he traded a 2nd-round pick for Julio Jones, who struggled to stay on the field, and when healthy had no impact. The only good signings he had made in his time as GM were Denico Autry, who changed the defensive line into one of the best in the game, extending Harold Landry, and maybe the Austin Hooper signing this past offseason. And with Landry we don’t even know how good he will be coming back from his torn ACL. Would a big splash have made a huge difference? No, probably not, but bad signings make it so that other teams don’t want players, which in turn leads to salary cap problems, which Tennessee has had for a couple of seasons now.
Play Calling Issues
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I’m not going to bully Todd Downing here, but he needs to go. He was the reason why we lost in the playoffs, not Tannehill. Yes, Tannehill threw 3 picks, but at least one of them was play call related. I’m talking about the painful Mike Hilton pick deep in Bengals territory that killed a potential touchdown drive. D’Onta Foreman just carried the ball for 45-yards, and Derrick Henry is now rested. Why would you call for a wide receiver screen to your primary punt returner? There is no need to get cute in that situation. Just play the way you play your football and score. Even if the Titans kick a field goal there, it drastically changes the game. It makes it 16-9, and a later field goal makes it 16-12. The amazing 1-hand grab by A.J. Brown puts Tennessee in the lead 19-16. Cincy never scores again, as the Titans don’t need to push the ball downfield on that fateful final drive which ended in a Tannehill INT. Yes, Tanney threw the pick, but it was the horrible call that set it up. Downing’s predecessor, current Falcons coach Arthur Smith made the scheme that turned Tannehill into a Pro-Bowler, Henry into a 2,000 yard rusher, and the whole offense into one of the most feared in the league, but even he failed to gameplan and make the necessary adjustments to win in the 2020 Wild-Card game vs. the Ravens. He had no answer for the Ravens defensive line, who bottled up King Henry. He didn’t think to add an extra lineman, or use the play action to loosen them up. He had no adjustment for when Baltimore went into zone coverage, since Brown was burning the secondary. Jonnu Smith had just 2 catches, and Corey Davis had none. In the biggest moment of the year, a defense that was constantly getting torched, let up just 20 points, and the offense that was winning shootouts, scored just 13, including a measly 3 after the first quarter. This was a sign of things to come, as the defense has become a top-5 unit the past 2 years, while the offense has struggled (mainly because of injuries and play calling).
Mr. 1K Brown vs. Robinson
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This one is painful to talk about. On draft night, the Titans shipped Pro Bowl wideout Arthur Juan Brown to the Eagles as they couldn’t agree on a contract extension. The move surprised everyone and their grandma, as Brown was a fan favorite and looked like the next best receiver in football. Immediately he signed a 4-year, $100 million contract extension, keeping him in green for the next 5 years. The deal made sense in the following weeks, with Mr. 1K was perceived to be the villain, as Robinson offered him around $16 million a year plus incentives that would have made him around $20 million a year. Brown had said,”I would have stayed if they offered me $22 million.” Robinson chose not to give A.J. his money, and was subsequently fired after Brown torched the Titans this season. Once he was fired, more details about the trade emerged, and it was said that Mike Vrabel and Robinson had a huge argument about Brown after the game. Owner Amy Adams Strunk sided with her coach, and J-Rob was gone. He made many mistakes before this, but Brown beating the snot out of the Titans was the last straw. More reports came out that Vrabel didn’t agree with the Julio Jones trade and the A.J. trade at all, and some other key roster moves. Money Mike has a certain style of play that he wants his players to play with, and Brown embodied that, so naturally the coach did not like the decision to trade him. I was initially mad at Brown for the trade, as some reports said that he requested one when he realized that he wasn’t going to get paid a lot of money, like Tyreek Hill. With that view I agreed with Robinson, since the Vrabel point of view wasn’t out. But now knowing what we know, in my opinion, Jon Robinson destroyed the Titans future with this trade, and I have found my respect for 1K again, and he is still one of my favorite players.
How to Fix It
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Step 1: Lose to Jacksonville in week 18. Just get the better draft pick.
Step 2: The offensive line is old, and bad. Henry is somehow 2nd in the league in rushing despite playing much of the season with a 3rd string left tackle, and other starters missing at least one game each. Ryan Tannehill has 2 bad ankles and just got surgery on one of them because of the line. Speaking of Tannehill, if he never plays another game in two-tone-blue, his toughness was on another level. Both times when he got hurt he came back in the game to play hurt, and basically gave his life behind Dennis Daley’s atrocious blocking. He tried his hardest and he should not get blamed at all for this horrible ending. Draft and sign quality players the way the Chiefs did. KC built up a solid line in a year and Mahomes no longer had to run for his life on every play.
Step 3: Sign a solid WR2, and sign/draft and another explosive tight end to be on the other side of Chig. Treylon Burks is the undisputed WR1, and Robert Woods will likely be a cap casualty, so a need of a good second option for whoever the QB is, is a necessity. Tennessee also likes to use 2 tight end sets, and Geoff Swaim should not be TE2 starting in week 1. Get some explosive playmakers to rival the weapons we had in 2020, and the offense will actually score more than 14 points.
Step 4: Fire OC Todd Downing and strength and conditioning coach Frank Piranio. Leading the league in injuries and players used one year is fine, but two years in a row is unacceptable. I don’t know if the players are just injury prone, but really, how could a whole team just get hurt and it be their fault. Something has to be going on in the offseason training, and that needs to be addressed, because they can make all the moves they want, and if the players get hurt, another season like this will happen. I’m not going to explain Downing, they guy is just a moron and my dog can call better plays than him and it's not even close.
Step 5: Cut old players with big contracts and restructure other contracts to free up cap space.
Cap Casualties: LT Taylor Lewan, LB Zach Cunningham, OLB Bud Dupree, WR Robert Woods, QB Ryan Tannehill (may not happen).
Possible Restructures: OLB Harold Landry III
Step 6: Extend key pieces, and resign other role players.
Must Happen Extensions: DL Jeffrey Simmons, LB David Long Jr, RG Nate Davis
Possible Extensions: CB Kristian Fulton, RB Derrick Henry
Resign Players: S Andrew Adams, DB Lonnie Johnson, RB Dontrell Hilliard, LS Morgan Cox, DE Mario Edwards, TE Geoff Swaim.
Step 7: Sign Free Agents, and trade for other players.
Sign: OL Elgton Jenkins, WR Allen Lazard, OT Andre Dillard
Trade: Pats WR Kendrick Bourne, Packers QB Jordan Love
Step 8: Draft. Here is a full 7-round Titans only mock draft with a couple of UDFA I would like Tennessee to pick up, given the opportunity.
Photo: Adam Cairns / Columbus Dispatch
Round 1, Pick 13: Paris Johnson Jr, OT, Ohio State - The 6’7”, 295 lb Johnson is the perfect LT for whoever is under center.
Round 2, Pick 43: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia - Washington has a similar skillset to Chig Okonkwo, and pairing the two together would be lethal.
Round 3 Pick 81: Trade for Jordan Love
Round 5, Pick 147: Joe Tippmann, OC, Wisconsin - Another OL pick just for depth, since the injury factor scares me a bunch. I would rather have too many good O-linemen, than not enough.
Round 6, Pick 170: Jackson Mitchell, LB, Uconn - 2nd in the country in tackles, this LB is always found around the football. Mustache Mike loves players like Mitchell.
Round 7, Pick 209: Ja’quan Sheppard, CB, Cincinnati - CB depth is undervalued, especially since many of the Titans top cover men have missed time this season.
UDFA: Robert Burns, FB/RB, Uconn - Burns has excelled at FB this year, and due to the injuries in the backfield, he had 374 yards on just 74 carries for a 5.1 avg, and 2 TD’s. HE can also play special teams well, and catch the football. Having him blocking for King Henry can expand the offense, as Burns is also a threat to run the ball, unlike our past FB.
UDFA: Andre Szmyt, K, Syracuse - Giving Randy Bullock some competition is necessary as I haven’t believed in him since he blew the Jets game last year.
Photo: Jay Biggerstaff / USA TODAY Sports
QB: Jordan Love (1), Malik Willis (2)
RB: Derrick Henry (1), Dontrell Hilliard (2), Hassan Haskins (3)
FB: Robert Burns (1)
WR: Treylon Burks (1), Allen Lazard (2), Kendrick Bourne (3), Kyle Phillps (Slot), Racey McMath (4)
TE: Chig Okonkwo (1), Darnell Washington (2), Geoff Swaim (3)
LT: Andre Dillard (1), Paris Johnson Jr (2)
LG: Elgton Jenkins (1), Aaron Brewer (2)
C: Ben Jones (1), Joe Tippmann (2)
RG: Nate Davis (1), Dillon Radunz (IR)
RT: Nick Petit-Frere (1), Dillion Radunz (IR)
LE: Demarcus Walker (1), Mario Edwards (2)
DT: Jeffrey Simmons (1)
NT: Teair Tart (1), Naquan Jones (2)
RE: Denico Autry (1), Terrell Basham (2)
LOLB: Rashad Weaver (1)
MLB: David Long Jr (1), Monty Rice (2), Jack Gibbins (3), Jackson Mitchell (4)
ROLB: Harold Landry (1)
CB: Kristian Fulton (1), Rodger McCreary (2), Elijah Molden (Slot), Caleb Farley (4), Tre Avery (5)
FS: Kevin Byard (1), Lonnie Johnson (2)
SS: Amani Hooker (1), Andrew Adams (2)
K: Randy Bullock
P: Ryan Stonehouse
LS: Morgan Cox
KR: Hassan Haskins (1), Kyle Phillps (2)
PR: Kylpe Phillps (1), Amani Hooker (2)
Overall this is a very good roster, and the line is much better. If the team as a whole can stay healthy, then this team is a Super Bowl contender once again. Jordan Love has spent the last 3 years behind one of the best QB’s ever, and the Titans have a similar system to the Packers, so the transition should be fine. Love doesn’t want to spend more time behind A-Rod, and his asking price won’t be much since he has barely played. He was viewed as a boom or bust prospect, with a big arm and dual threat ability. With Malik Willis struggling to develop as a passer, I wouldn’t want to spend a make or break season with him under center. A revamped line will help Henry compete for another rushing title. Hilliard is the perfect 3rd down back, and Haskins can be worked into a bigger workload in his 2nd season. Okonkwo and Washington give Tennessee a potent YAC attack to mesh with Burks and Bourne’s big play ability. Lazard and Phillps are the two safety valves that are good go-to-options on short yardage and 3rd down situations.
On the defensive side of the ball, again, it's all about health. Big Jeff has played much of the season on a bad ankle, and when Autry missed time, the pass rush fell apart. If the unit can stay healthy, it will be top-5 in the league. The interior line are a bunch of bullies, and the edge rushers are quick and overpowering. With Landry back, it will create even more pressure on QB’s. The secondary is deep and good with many productive players. Kristian Fulton is a great CB1, and hopefully Farley and Molden are healthy next year, as Molden was a top slot corner in his rookie year, and Farley is extremely talented but has torn his ACL and herniated a disk in his back his first 2 seasons. The safeties are ballhawks and great with run support as well. If Amani Hooker can stay on the field, the secondary will be a problem. The only place on this hypothetical roster that I see a hole is linebacker. The depth isn’t great, but there is talent. Long is one of the best players you’ve never heard of, and Rice has played well given the opportunity this year. Gibbins is a decent role player, and Mitchell would round this group out perfectly. I hope Tennessee drafts him, since he is a beast.
The special teams unit is pretty average, besides Stonehouse who is a top-2 punter in the game and he's not number 2. The guy has an amazing leg, booming out 60 plus yard punts on the regular. Fat Randy is average, although I would have liked to see the team hang on to Josh Lambo, the former Pro Bowler, when we picked him up for one game this year. Cox is a Pro Bowl long snapper, not that anyone really cares, but he is great at his job, and don’t take long snappers for granted. Kyle Phillps showed promise returning punts in week 1, but a hurt shoulder made Robert Woods the primary return man, and then Kyle landed on IR. In kick returns, Tennessee has never been explosive and that will probably continue if they use the same guys on it, but it isn’t that important.
Overall Grade for an offseason like this: A-, with Tennessee returning to the top of the AFC South and Super Bowl contention.