It’s been a productive first week of free agency for the Titans. Between keeping several of their own key contributors and adding new weapons on both sides of the ball, the team is significantly better today than they were this time two weeks ago. But with division rivals improving all around them and $20+-million reportedly available in cap space, there’s no excuse to sit back and call it an offseason.
Even if the flashy signings are done, a big part of the offseason still remains. The Titans hold the second overall pick in the draft, which sounds like it will be used to take either quarterback Marcus Mariota or defensive standouts Leonard Williams or Randy Gregory. Any of the three could prove to be impact acquisitions, but the Titans also have six more picks. So how should they go about using them?
One option that hasn’t been brought up nearly enough is Indiana running back Tevin Coleman. While he’s considered a less sexy option than backs like Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Coleman was still one of the nation’s most dominant backs in 2014. The 6’0, 210-pound back rushed for over 2000 yards last season, notably carrying the Hoosiers past the Missouri Tigers in an upset victory in late September.
The Titans haven’t been linked to Coleman, but he would make for an upgrade over veteran tailback Shonn Greene as the team’s power back and could likely surpass second-year back Bishop Sankey as the team’s starter quickly.
Coleman’s combination of power, size and speed is something only matched by likely-first rounders Gordon and Gurley, both of whom are unlikely to end up in a Titans uniform unless they fall into the second round. While taking Coleman at the top of the second round might be deemed “reaching” by many industry experts, the NFL’s best teams make their success out of taking players that will improve their respective ball clubs instead of worrying about perceived “value.” Coleman would make the Titans significantly better and should be considered when Day 2 kicks off on May 1.
When it comes to the linebacker position, the Titans have had arguably the most flashy offseason of any team. They kept pass rusher Derrick Morgan and also went out and added former Redskins first rounder Brian Orakpo. But with a lack of top options on the open market to help bolster the offense, it’d be unwise for Tennessee to sit back and be content with the additions they’ve made.
Because of the underwhelming pool of offensive free agents out there, the best thing the Titans can do going forward is to continue stockpiling weapons for Dick LeBeau. They’ve done well to sure up the defensive backfield with the signings of Perrish Cox and Da’Norris Searcy, and at this point there aren’t any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball. But that doesn’t mean improvements can’t be made.
What’s the best way to spice up the defense? Unless the team is willing to part with multiple top draft picks to go sign Justin Houston, the answer to that question is adding Brandon Spikes.
Spikes is the top inside linebacker available on the free agent market. Teams get scared off by his inability to play on passing downs, but Avery Williamson and Zach Brown could both replace Spikes in those situations, giving the Titans one of the deepest linebacking cores in all of football.
While it may not make sense to go spend on another linebacker, the Titans can look to the Baltimore Ravens as an example of making a living through ample linebacker depth. The Ravens have used second-string talent like Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee and others through the years to fill the NFL equivalent of a basketball “sixth man,” giving the defense fresh legs and exploiting the opposition’s tired starters. Spikes would create a similar effect for the Titans, presumably taking a starting job and pushing Williamson, Brown, Zaviar Gooden and Kamerion Wimbley into the second-string platoon of talented linebackers.
Recent seasons have demonstrated that being defensively sound can help compensate for being subpar on offense, and that may be the Titans’ best bet at being competitive in 2015. They’ll be betting on youth to contribute in a big way on the offensive side of the ball. That’s a gamble that could go one of two very different ways. But constructing a defense to reckon with would go a long way towards making that much less of a problem, and Spikes would go a long way towards getting there.
The Titans entered the offseason looking for help at wide receiver. Adding Harry Douglas last week helped address that issue significantly, but outside of Douglas and Kendall Wright, Tennessee is still thin at the receiver position.
Adding Douglas should help the Titans stretch the field in the passing game, but the team could still use another short route option. And with one of the best slot receivers of the last decade on the open market, they may not have to look far.
Wes Welker crushed any rumors of him retiring back in February, stating his intentions to play in 2015. Unlike recently-retired Chris Borland, Welker has decided to stick with football despite a history of concussions. It can be debated whether that’s a smart choice, but if he’s suiting up in 2015, why not make it with the Titans?
At age 33, Welker is no longer the receiver he once was, but there’s still more than enough skill there that he could contribute to a new-look passing attack in Tennessee. Between the age and injury history, he would likely come at a discounted price, leaving the Titans with money to keep plugging other holes.
Adding a slot specialist like Welker into a mix of receivers that will include Douglas, Wright and a hopefully-improved Justin Hunter would suddenly give whoever the starting quarterback is in 2015 a more-than-capable group of receivers. The Titans will likely add another receiver into that mix via the draft, and rebuilding the passing game/making the offense more versatile will go a long way towards helping fix a running game that struggled in 2014.
At this stage of his career, Welker could very well be set on playing for a contender, but by adding the veteran receiver and a few other pieces, perhaps the Titans just might fit that criteria? They didn’t back in 2013, but this time might be different.
If recent rumors are any indication of the Titans’ plans at quarterback, they’re looking to take a chance on a new quarterback. Right now, that quarterback is reportedly Sam Bradford. But now there’s another option that could be of intrigue.
The Oakland Raiders released signal caller Matt Schaub on Monday, adding a seasoned veteran to what has at times been characterized as the worst quarterback free agent market ever. Despite struggles in recent seasons, Schaub will likely be a hot commodity for teams weary of drafting a quarterback or contenders in need of a backup. But is he worth checking out?
Schaub is just two years off a season that saw him complete 350 passes for over 4000 yards and 22 touchdowns. After an injury-plagued 2013, the veteran was traded to the Raiders before last season and was ultimately passed over for rookie Derek Carr. The Titans similarly have a young quarterback in Zach Mettenberger, but considering his struggles in 2014, Mettenberger hasn’t done enough that he deserves to be handed the starting job next year without competition.
Charlie Whitehurst and Jordan Palmer currently present Mettenberger’s competition for the starting job next year, neither of which is an overwhelming option. Whitehurst played well in minimal action in 2014 but hasn’t impressed in multiple NFL opportunities thus far. Adding a two-time Pro Bowler to the mix in Schaub would give the Titans a viable candidate to win the job, or would at least push Mettenberger and Whitehurst to show the Titans just what they have.
Alternatively, the Titans could look to draft a quarterback in the draft, with Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota the obvious choices at No. 2 overall. Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty could also be had later in the draft in the event that Tennessee’s front office isn’t sold on Winston or Mariota. But if the draft isn’t the answer, perhaps Schaub is.
When Dick LeBeau landed as the new associate head coach with the Titans, the first question by most was, “What former Steelers are coming with him?”
So far, the LeBeau pipeline has come up empty. The Titans have added pieces, but no Steelers. That said, there are still some Pittsburgh products on the market that could be of benefit to Tennessee.
Perhaps the most obvious fit for the Titans is linebacker James Harrison. The Titans have already added Brian Orakpo and re-signed Derrick Morgan, but still lack the necessary depth to effectively run their 3-4 defense. Despite his age, Harrison has proven that he is still in great physical shape, and adding him would give the Titans a potential replacement for the injury-prone Orakpo if nothing else.
Another option is former Pittsburgh corner Ike Taylor. At age 34, he’s lost a step or two, and would likely sit third or fourth on the depth chart. But adding another cover corner, especially one that has experience working with a prominent member of the Titans coaching staff, would also allow Cory Sensabaugh to slide in to his natural position of nickel corner full-time.
The most flashy name left is probably less of a fit, and thats Troy Polamalu. Before the Titans added Da’Norris Searcy, Polamalu was a much more logical potential add, but the veteran would have to be willing to accept a much lesser role than he’s used to if he wants to play in Tennessee. Signing the future Hall of Famer would make a great locker room acquisition and and depth signing, but the fit isn’t so clear-cut.
The Titans have a chance to build a talented, deep defense between the cap space they have and the roster spots they have to fill. Whether they opt to go with familiarity remains to be seen, but it’s certainly out there if they want it.
Rumors in recent days have suggested the Titans could be looking to deal for Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, using the second overall pick in the draft and the chance at having Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to entice Philly coach Chip Kelly into making a deal.
Doing so would take the step forward the Titans have taken in the first week of free agency and bring it some 15 steps back.
Whether Tennessee should take a quarterback with the second pick remains up for debate, but using the pick to get Bradford would be beyond ill-advised.
While it’s fair to say that a portion of Bradford’s NFL struggles can be attributed to playing on sub-par Rams teams, it’s also worth nothing that he’s played in more than 10 games just twice in his first five years. More recently, the 27-year-old has played in just seven games the last two seasons.
Who knows whether Mariota, Jameis Winston or Zach Mettenberger will go on to be durable NFL quarterbacks. But it’d be hard to do much worse than Bradford has thus far. The Titans have a great opportunity to either add a franchise quarterback or a future star at another position with the second overall pick, and using the pick to add a player who has already demonstrated numerous times that he can’t stay on the field would be a waste.
If Kelly called the Titans brass and offered Bradford in exchange for a mid-round pick, the case could be made that the former top pick was worth the risk. But to potentially hand Kelly the keys to a franchise player in exchange for a thus-far mediocre and injury prone quarterback would certainly make the 2-14 season the Titans just finished feel like it was all for nothing.
Hopefully it won’t all be for nothing.
Six days into NFL free agency, the Titans have managed to add linebacker Brian Orakpo, corner Perrish Cox, receiver Harry Douglas, safety Da’Norris Searcy and tight end Anthony Fasano while keeping several of their own free agents. But one place that’s yet to be addressed is running back, with second-year back Bishop Sankey and veteran Shonn Greene currently sitting atop the depth chart.
After struggling in his first season, Sankey figures to get another shot to prove himself, but the same can’t be said for Greene.
Greene joined the Titans in the 2013 offseason on a three-year, $10-million pact, but struggled to 392 yards in his second season in Tennessee. If similar numbers are in store from the 29-year-old next season, he’s not worth the $4.1-million he’s due in 2015. With a draft full of running backs and a plethora of veterans on the free agent market, Tennessee could do much better with the $3.35-million they’d get in savings by cutting Greene loose.
Whether the Titans decide to go after a back like Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and move on from Sankey in the hunt for a franchise running back or add a veteran like Ahmad Bradshaw, the team’s future appears much brighter without Greene in it. An extra $3-million could go a long way towards filling needs at receiver, linebacker (even with Orakpo now in the fold), defensive back and others, and Greene’s days on the Tennessee roster should be limited.