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Discussion in 'The Mainboard' started by Pharoh, May 1, 2015.
from John Glennon at The Athletic:
So much for offensive continuity in 2019 after Matt LaFleur’s departure
There was an understandable air of dejection about Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota when he met with media for the last time in 2018.
He was disappointed the Titans’ playoff hopes had ended one day earlier in a loss to Indianapolis, even more frustrated a nerve injury had kept him from playing in the contest.
One topic, however, seemed to bolster Mariota’s spirits.
He was asked how comforting it would be to deal with a smooth offseason, one in which Mariota wouldn’t have to worry about absorbing yet another new offense under another new offensive coordinator.
“It will be nice to get into the building when we have the opportunity to do so,” Mariota said that day, as teammates cleaned out lockers around him.
“You’ll be familiar with what is going on. I think everyone will have an opportunity to go out there and get ready to play, and you’re not really trying to (learn) a new system.”
Sounded good at the time, anyway, right?
Instead, the news Monday — as reported by several media outlets — that Green Bay had settled on Tennessee offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur as the Packers’ new head coach meant Mariota and the Titans once again will start from scratch.
One step forward, one step back.
The Titans’ new offensive coordinator will be Mariota’s fifth play-caller (and fourth offensive coordinator) in five seasons, following in the footsteps of Ken Whisenhunt, Jason Michael, Terry Robiskie and LaFleur.
One could certainly make the case LaFleur didn’t produce miracles with Mariota and the Titans in 2018, illustrated by the fact the team finished 25th in overall offense, 29th in passing and 27th in points per game.
But let’s give those numbers perspective.
First, the Titans were dealt a huge blow in the season opener when Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker was knocked out for the year, and another early blow when receiver Rishard Matthews strangely asked for his release.
Second, there was evidence the Titans’ offense was at least moving in the right direction as the season progressed:
In Mariota’s first six games, he threw three touchdown passes and five picks, but in his final eight, he threw eight touchdown passes and three picks. He posted zero games with a quarterback rating over 100.0 in his first six appearances but topped 100.0 four times in his final eight.
Running back Derrick Henry totaled just 474 yards and five touchdowns in his first 12 games but piled up 585 yards and seven touchdowns in his final four.
The Titans didn’t top 20 points in regulation once in their first seven games but scored 25 points or more five times in their last nine contests.
“When you have a new offense, it takes time,” Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan said after the season. “Especially this kind of offense, it’s different than anything I’ve ever done before. But I think the boys really started to get it toward the end. I think it’s a positive the way we finished the season … December felt like we did a much better job.”
Which is why there was at least guarded optimism for the Titans’ offense heading into 2019.
It was based in part on the late upward trend, but also at least as much on the fact there would be continuity in the system. Instead of spending months memorizing new schemes and new routes, Mariota and company would have time to better themselves in the same system.
Just how important is continuity for a quarterback?
There may be no better person to ask than Titans backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, a former first-round selection who — incredibly — has played for a different head coach and different offensive coordinator in each of his eight years in the league.
Gabbert showed at least some promise in his first two seasons, throwing 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. But he eventually got caught in the wash, winding up as a journeyman backup.
“Being able to go into the offseason the following year and install the same stuff you did the year before — rather than starting from scratch and learning the base stuff — is a huge luxury nobody ever really talks about,” Gabbert said last season. “When you’re in the same system year in and year out, you can kind of take a step forward in mastering the system.”
Keep this point in mind, too.
Mariota won’t be the only offensive player starting over in a new scheme, as the Titans’ corps of young receivers faces the same challenge. Former first- and third-round picks Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor will be welcoming a third offensive coordinator in as many seasons in 2019, after making strides during their sophomore years.
ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck pointed that out when I interviewed him during the season about Mariota’s career growth.
“It’s not just (Mariota) learning new offenses, but everyone around him,” Hasselbeck said. “Marcus might know that one of his receivers is supposed to sit down in a certain area on a route versus zone. But if the receiver doesn’t know, that doesn’t help.”
Maybe Titans head coach Mike Vrabel will land a star as the team’s next offensive coordinator, with the internet spouting possibilities as varied as former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, Chicago Bears quarterback Dave Ragone and even Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara, among 0thers.
The 39-year-old Kingsbury is the shiniest object in the bunch, a college quarterback whisperer who tutored Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield and Pat Mahomes.
Then again, the Titans might want to be careful about hiring another young up-and-comer.
The last one, after all, is already a goner.
I hated Helf at Oregon, but he is a good football mind and if he was able to bring the Reid/Nagy system to Tennessee that would be awesome.
I was watching Trubisky highlights yesterday and it was insane how open WRs were on a regular basis. Must be really nice.
For the love of God please hire an OC that has called plays before
The Athletic's Travis Haney put out a player power rankings for the Titans
I will post it in installments because it is pretty long
We’re squarely in the taking-stock portion of the NFL calendar, an inventory check that now includes the Titans’ need for another new offensive coordinator following Matt LaFleur’s departure for Green Bay.
For today, let’s assess each player on the roster coming out of the 2018 season — and what it means for 2019. One through 50, it’s essentially a roster power ranking.
We’ll start with the players who didn’t finish the season on the active roster before getting to the final 50.
*Snap counts courtesy of Football Outsiders; contract info via spotrac.
Notable injuries (missed majority of the season)
Johnathan Cyprien, S
Snap Count: 0 (IR preseason)
Contract: Through 2020
Cyprien was lost during camp, so we have no data points for his season. Cyprien and the player brought in to replace him, Kenny Vaccaro, present one of the trickier offseason decisions for Jon Robinson and the team’s front office. Keep one? (Which one?) Keep both? (Is that worth the money?)
Robinson told team reporter Jim Wyatt this week that Vaccaro’s play at least merited a discussion about a new deal.
Delanie Walker, TE
SC: 39 (all offense; IR Week 1)
Contract: Through 2020
The Titans missed the Pro Bowler badly after his devastating Week 1 broken ankle. Walker had accounted for roughly 25 percent of Marcus Mariota’s targets in the previous two seasons. Maybe there’s a silver lining, in a way, that Mariota didn’t have his security blanket this past season, especially considering Walker will be 35 by the time the 2019 season begins. That said, the 2018 offense had a mountainous climb the second he went down. He’ll be a welcome re-addition.
David Fluellen, RB
SC: 92 (6 offense; 86 special teams)
No Flu shots were required during this Tennessee season; he carried the ball just four times. Fluellen showed promise in Week 10 against New England, carrying the ball three consecutive plays — but then he immediately suffered the season-ending knee injury. Fluellen has great special teams value, though this is another opening for the Titans to consider replacing the 26-year-old.
Kevin Pamphile, OL
SC: 167 (155 offense, 12 special teams)
One of the final players to make the roster, Pamphile played a vital role in September before he was lost for the season. He played tackle and guard during that chaotic first month, most notably filling in for Taylor Lewan in the Week 2 win versus Houston. Presuming he bounces back from the injury, Pamphile likely played his way into a role for 2019.
Notable in-season cuts
Nick Williams, WR
SC: 62 (49 offense, 13 special teams)
We all know how Williams’ time as a Titan came to an end, the unfortunate, ill-timed drop in Buffalo. He worked his tail off to earn a roster spot, and then a hamstring injury wound up keeping him off the final 53-man. The journeyman found his way into the lineup by Week 5, though Titans fans likely wish he didn’t. Good guy, good story — bad ending.
Rishard Matthews, WR
SC: 103 (95 offense; 8 special teams)
It isn’t talked about much nationally, but did anyone in the league make a more boneheaded decision this past season than Matthews? Le’Veon Bell at least induced divided opinions; there’s simply no side in support of Matthews. He whined about not getting the ball enough during a stretch in which the offense was decimated by injury, including at quarterback. He forfeited the bulk of the $5 million he was owed in 2018, as well as the $7.75 million extension he negotiated for himself in August.
In an odd season for Tennessee, this was the strangest chapter.
50. Aaron Stinnie, OL
Snap count: 4 (all offense)
Contract: Through 2020
The rookie more or less took a redshirt season. Despite being inactive for 13 of 16 games, Tennessee obviously thinks something of Stinnie’s potential as a developmental project.
49. Matt Dickerson, DL
SC: 31 (28 defense, 3 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020
The rookie was hardly active enough (inactive in 11 weeks) to get a good read on his potential. He logged just 28 total defensive snaps. That said, two tackles in Week 17 versus the Colts at least provided something of a high note on which to end the season.
48. Tyler Marz, OL
SC: 125 (99 offense, 26 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Marz held up in his Week 2 start against Houston, keeping Blaine Gabbert mostly clean against the Texans’ vaunted defensive front. Beyond that, he wasn’t much of a factor. But, hey, he did contribute enough for us to learn to say his name (it rhymes with carrots, it turns out).
47. Brynden Trawick, S
SC: 341 (all special teams)
He didn’t have a repeat of his Pro Bowl season in 2017, ending up with just eight tackles, but Trawick is still someone the Titans consider valuable in his limited role as a special teams guy.
46. Daren Bates, LB
SC: 387 (347 special teams, 40 defense)
Contract: Through 2019
Not the best of signs when your 2018 season is best known for when you took your helmet off in a preseason game to celebrate a hit — and for your “prowess” as a locker room DJ. Bates’ rep as a special teams ace didn’t really surface all that often. He finished with 10 tackles.
45. Corey Levin, OL
SC: 201 (140 offense, 61 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020
Levin’s most important moment came when he entered for Quinton Spain during the Jets game, sending a shockwave through the offensive line — and the group seemed to get the message from that point on. Levin’s 2019 spot isn’t safe, but the staff has played him enough (140 offensive snaps) to show it has some trust in him.
44. Cam Batson, WR
SC: 211 (178 offense, 33 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
For a stretch during the middle of the season, it seemed as if Batson would begin to eat into Taywan Taylor’s reps. But then Taylor got healthy and closed relatively strong, reasserting himself. I do recall one thing that LaFleur said about Batson. “He always knows what he’s doing,” he said. Those kinds of guys tend to stick with teams. Batson might have a future in this league, given his smarts and speed.
43. Beau Brinkley, LS
SC: 139 (all special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Not a whole lot to say here. If you’re a long-snapper, that means you had a nice season. After going three seasons without a tackle, Brinkley did register five in 2018.
42. Bennie Logan, DL
SC: 288 (229 defense, 59 special teams)
The 2018 addition was a quiet piece of the defense — and that’s not a good thing. It’s a challenge to recall a single standout play in which he was involved. It’s difficult to imagine he’d return after completing his one-year, $2 million deal.
41. Darius Kilgo, DL
SC: 174 (131 defense, 43 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Kilgo flashed in the Monday night win in Dallas, with a tackle for a loss, and performed on par with what you’d expect from someone added to the roster in late September. He played in 11 games, making five tackles.
40. Kendrick Lewis, S
SC: 491 (275 defense, 216 special teams)
The eight-year pro filled in decently when called upon, making three starts, but there was a serious gap between Vaccaro and Lewis. It was sort of clear why Lewis was out of the league in 2017. But he didn’t hurt Tennessee too badly when he was out there, perhaps aided by his relationship with DC Dean Pees — whom Lewis played for in Baltimore.
39. LeShaun Sims, CB
SC: 482 (212 defense, 270 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Much like Lewis, Titans coach Mike Vrabel made it clear that there was a gap between the starters and Lewis and Sims. The snaps worked out that way. Sims, however, suffered no gross lapses when forced into action late in the season following Logan Ryan’s injury. He continues to be a serviceable rotational corner who functions well on special teams units.
38. Will Compton, LB
SC: 279 (79 defense, 200 special teams)
The way Vrabel raved about Compton in the preseason as a professional, I thought he might be on track for a larger role. But injuries and Rashaan Evans’ gradual emergence relegated Compton to mostly special teams work — and a role as a “For the Boys” co-captain with Taylor Lewan. Compton was on a one-year deal and seemed resigned to the fact he wouldn’t be back in 2019.
37. Dane Cruikshank, S
SC: 244 (42 defense, 202 special teams)
Contract: Through 2021
Cruikshank caught the long Week 2 touchdown and regularly showed his speed and athleticism as the punt-team gunner, but we still do not know much about how the rookie’s raw ability will translate as a defender. At minimum, the fifth-round pick yielded a special teams ace for the Titans. Can he develop into a viable safety in the next couple of seasons?
36. Austin Johnson, DL
SC: 524 (400 defense, 124 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
That’s a lot of snaps, and a lot of unremarkable snaps. The 2016 second-rounder simply isn’t making the sort of impact you’d expect from someone selected so early. Then again, the low bar is Kevin Dodd, so at least Johnson is still in the league? Johnson’s inability to develop into something more is a key reason why the line is a position of need entering 2019.
35. Derrick Morgan, LB
SC: 538 (532 defense, 6 special teams)
A couple of different injuries really hampered Morgan, whose sack total regressed from nine in 2016 to 7.5 in 2017 to just one half-sack in 2018. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time considering Morgan’s contract is up. The 30-year-old did close fairly well. Maybe he’s got more left in the tank, but he’ll likely be proving that elsewhere.
34. MyCole Pruitt, TE
SC: 297 (192 offense, 105 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Pruitt found a role late after the injury to Jonnu Smith, emerging for the game-winning TD against the Redskins. (Credit to Derrick Henry, too, for being a Hall of Fame-level decoy on the play-action pass.) Pruitt’s reception in the seam earlier in the game was a better pure play. It’ll be interesting to see where Pruitt falls on the tight end depth chart. He might be the odd man out, but he ended up being a nice surprise.
33. Brian Orakpo, LB
SC: 584 (573 defense, 11 special teams)
Contract: retired Dec. 31
Orakpo’s leadership was his greatest asset, but he appeared to be a step slow all season before injuries eventually cut short his final year. Like Morgan, Rak saw a precipitous drop in his sack production, going from 10.5 (2016) to seven (2017) to 1.5 (2018). He was an influential part of some solid defenses the past four seasons and will be missed in the locker room. Of note: Orakpo swears he isn’t retiring to merely bake cupcakes.
32. Kamalei Correa, LB
SC: 469 (321 defense, 148 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Correa was very boom-or-bust. He registered 3.5 sacks (of his 19 total tackles) and yet was a healthy scratch for several weeks. but he still has to show he can be relied upon for consistency if there’s a bigger role in his future. This will be a big season for him, again considering Orakpo and likely Morgan will be gone.
31. Jack Conklin, OT
SC: 526 (498 offense, 28 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020 (presuming his option is activated)
So. What was Conklin’s deal in 2018? It’s clear he wasn’t right, for whatever reason(s). The Titans have to hope it was simply a matter of not being fully back from the ACL injury. But Conklin wasn’t great in 2017, either, and that’s concerning with the team on the verge of picking up his fifth-year option. Will the top-10 pick, the guy who was an All-Pro as a rookie, return this season — or at any point? The pressure on Conklin isn’t quite Mariota-level heat, but there’s definitely going to be a lot of curiosity regarding him this year.
And for the move-him-inside crowd, do we even know that’s something he could do well? Maybe the team gives that a look, but there’s no guarantee that he’s suited to make that switch. The staff will give a top-10 pick every chance to re-assert himself as a bookend on the right side.
30. Josh Kline, OG
SC: 1036 (975 offense, 61 special teams)
Contract: Through 2021 (out after 2019)
29. Ben Jones, C
SC: 998 (986 offense, 12 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
28. Quinton Spain, OG
SC: 905 (856 offense, 49 special teams)
There’s not much to split these three interior linemen, who had moments of being serviceable — and some weeks of total haplessness. Watching every sack in the Houston game opened a window into miscommunication and, well, being physically dominated. Whether it’s these three or others, Tennessee’s brass has to find a way to better protect Mariota. Period.
Jones was one of the team leaders and he’s close with Mariota, but it’s difficult to imagine his stay lasting beyond his final year in 2019. The team has an out with Kline after the upcoming season, it’s worth noting. Spain was perhaps the most consistent of the group, but then again he was the one replaced during the Jets game — and his deal is up.
Whether it’s through the draft or finding value deals such as Pamphile, the interior line desperately needs a shakeup. Even when put together for weeks at a time, it’s abundantly clear this isn’t the 2016 group any longer. The Titans can ill afford to live in the past.
27. DaQuan Jones, DL
SC: 657 (587 defense, 70 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020 (out after 2019)
Jones would at times show up, but he didn’t appear to be someone worth a $4 million deal — and his price tag bumps up to $6 million in 2019. Jones had a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2017, but didn’t log one in 2018. This might be the worst deal on the team, leaving the team to only hope he improves in his second year in Pees’ system.
This is a position the team desperately needs to upgrade. It has to look for someone who can win more one-on-one battles. Jones doesn’t do that enough.
26. Luke Stocker, TE
SC: 669 (479 offense, 190 special teams)
Watch enough film, and you see Stocker is a physical blocker who is pretty damn consistent. He gets dinged by fans for not being more athletic, or whatever, but he’s not out there to be Tony Gonzalez, or even Walker. For what he’s asked to do, Stocker is an underrated piece of the offense. That said, because of the relative depth at the position, it’s a coin-flip whether Stocker returns. The Titans do not have another tight end as big or as physical as Stocker; that does matter — especially given the lingering O-line concerns.
25. Anthony Firkser, TE
SC: 275 (181 offense, 94 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Firkser appeared in the preseason to be a dependable pass-catcher, and he proved that during the season when he was forced into action. He caught 19 of 20 targeted passes, missing just one in the Week 16 game against Washington. If the Titans run out of room and can’t protect Firkser, he almost certainly won an audition for another club.
24. Sharif Finch, LB
SC: 390 (207 defense, 183 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020
Finch was one of the bigger surprises of the year, going from UDFA to someone who produced at the same level as Orakpo. That might say as much about the outgoing Orakpo as it does Finch, but the 23-year-old is long (6-4) and twitchy. He could develop into a regular rotational player where help is needed with Orakpo and (probably) Morgan moving along.
23. Blaine Gabbert, QB
SC: 211 (all offense)
Contract: Through 2019
The lasting image of Gabbert’s 2018 will be that misfired pass that was intercepted 12 yards short of Taywan Taylor. It was brutal. No way around it. But Gabbert should also be credited for doing enough in wins against the Texans (in Week 2) and Redskins (in Week 16). He made some really nice throws to make those victories happen. But will those glaring, terrible misses be enough to damn him returning for the second and final season on his deal?
22. Tajae Sharpe, WR
SC: 597 (592 offense, 5 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
When the offense was limping along, in Weeks 5-7, Sharpe had an inspired stretch of play — including a ton of third-down conversions. The receiver group needed it as Mariota worked his way back to full health and the losses of Walker and Matthews were rather pronounced. He was solid but widely unremarkable. It was clear he was playing hurt the final month. If Sharpe wants to be re-signed, he’ll need to demonstrate much more than that in the year ahead.
21. Jonnu Smith, TE
SC: 653 (610 offense, 43 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020
The light seemed to come on for Smith around the Dallas and New England games. It was unfortunate the injury against Jacksonville cut short his season. But there was enough athleticism to demonstrate that, yes, Smith is capable of becoming Walker’s heir apparent. He needs to build on what he did during the middle part of the season, leaving behind a really forgettable start.
20. Darius Jennings, WR
SC: 361 (181 offense, 180 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Jennings lands so highly because, well, it was so unexpected to see him assert himself in the kick return role. I recall talking with Jennings in the preseason about the fact he’d never scored an NFL touchdown — and then he did in Week 1 on a kick return against Miami. He’s a smart guy and a good locker room presence, especially given the younger receiver group. It’s kind of amazing other teams didn’t unearth his kick return ability; credit the Titans for doing so. Jennings finished fourth in the league in total kick return yards and first in yards per return (31.7).
19. Taywan Taylor, WR
SC: 454 (444 offense, 10 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020
The knock on Taylor continues to be how well he picks up new offenses — and now he’s going to have another new offense to learn. The straight-line speed and ability are certainly there, as evidenced when Taylor got behind the Jets’ secondary twice. It would seem to say a lot if someone as gifted as Taylor is not able to be counted upon as a special teams threat. We’ve perhaps seen Taylor’s ceiling. I’m just not sure where he goes from here.
18. Harold Landry, LB
SC: 756 (592 defense, 164 special teams)
Contract: Through 2021
Landry has Pro Bowl potential if he’ll develop another move or two to go with a killer first step and his instincts. This offseason will be vital in helping him grow into one of the league’s best outside pass-rush threats. The tools are there. It’s easy to see why some believed Landry would be off the board in the first round — and why the Titans traded up to get him in the second.
17. Dennis Kelly, OL
SC: 421 (376 offense, 45 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Despite dealing with a serious illness early in the season, Kelly became one of the more valuable pieces of the team as the season evolved. He was plugged in at both guard and tackle, and he performed well in spot duty. Kelly has perhaps positioned himself to take over one of the starting spots next season, depending what happens with Conklin and the guard spots.
16. Ryan Succop, K
SC: 133 (all special teams)
Contract: Through 2022
Succop made 26-of-30 field goals, never suffering a miss that cost the Titans a game. He made 3 of 4 from beyond 50. The PATs got a little leaky late in the year — he missed three down the stretch, one of which was blocked — but overall it was another strong season for the one-time Mr. Irrelevant.
15. Kenny Vaccaro, S
SC: 782 (747 defense, 35 special teams)
Everyone around the team noticed how seamlessly Vaccaro fit in despite not arriving until early August. I recall talking with him then, and he was genuinely excited to play a more traditional safety role (as opposed to the slot corner position he manned in New Orleans). Vaccaro ended up eighth on the team in tackles, just ahead of rookies Landry and Evans. He covered well. Figuring out who to bring back will be tough for Robinson, but if Vaccaro isn’t re-signed, it will not be because of his play; it’ll be because of accounting.
14. Malcolm Butler, CB
SC: 929 (833 defense, 96 special teams)
Contract: Through 2022 (out after 2020)
Butler (and the Titans) will certainly hope for more of the competent late-season guy than the player who was torched early and often in the initial part of the season. The big-splash FA’s contract balloons to $10.5 million in 2019, so it’ll really be time for Butler to shine in his year 29. He desperately needs to demonstrate that the slow start was a fluke.
13. Dion Lewis, RB
SC: 600 (all offense)
Contract: Through 2021 (out after 2019)
The new offensive coordinator will have tools, with Henry and Lewis, but will he have a better feel for the flow and how to capably use both backs? Don’t overlook Lewis’ value as a pass-protector, especially against the blitz. That’s a glaring hole in Henry’s game, and Lewis chips extremely well. There’s got to be a way to better use two very talented backs, with two different skill sets.
Lewis practices often in the return role; it’s hard to believe he didn’t get a single chance on a punt return, given Adoree Jackson’s misadventures back there.
12. Adoree Jackson, CB
SC: 1059 (957 defense, 102 special teams)
Contract: Through 2021 (presuming option is picked up)
Jackson is emerging as an upper-tier cover corner in the league, which was a godsend given Butler’s early-season woes. He’s still a bit inconsistent, as evidenced by completely shutting down Josh Gordon one week and then having T.Y. Hilton run circles around him the next week.
Again, it’s past time to give someone else the keys to the punt return game. There’s a far greater probability of a Jackson gaffe or injury than a quality return. Dion Lewis would seemingly be an excellent choice to spell Jackson.
11. Rashaan Evans, LB
SC: 500 (495 defense, 5 special teams)/i>
Contract: Through 2021
Evans went from an intermediate contributor to a defensive centerpiece by the end of the season. His instinctive ability to fill run gaps showed precisely why he was evaluated as a first-rounder. The potential is there for Evans to grow and, along with the two other, high-level inside ‘backers, form one of the most dominating defensive cores in the league. Evans can be top-5-at-his-position special, just based on the way he developed during his rookie season. He told me in December he had to remind himself that the NFL, and the way he treated it, were no different from being at Alabama.
“I had to calm down and remember that it’s football. It’s just football,” Evans told me.
10. Marcus Mariota, QB
SC: 775 (all offense)
Contract: Through 2019
We know the Mariota 2018 tale: good when he was on the field — but not on the field enough. If there are offsetting statistics that illustrate his season, it’s these two: He set a franchise-record for completion percentage, but yet managed only 11 touchdowns.
It’s clear to everyone now that the nerve issue suffered in Week 1 was a handicap throughout the season. It just never went away. But we’re to the point now that it doesn’t matter what body part is hurt or how badly; Mariota simply has to produce to remain a part of this franchise. That’s really all there is to it.
Mariota is a terrific human, someone who is extremely hard to root against. But he can’t miss a quarter of the season in 2019 and expect to be back in 2020. That isn’t personal; it’s business, as it should be.
9. Derrick Henry, RB
SC: 401 (all offense)
Contract: Through 2019
He showed the potential to be No. 1 here, but not until December. Some of that was on him, some of that was on usage. It’ll be a fascinating 2019, to see where Henry goes from here (with another new coordinator) — and whether he can earn an extension before the season is complete. If he’d had just a few more weeks like he closed, maybe he’d already have a new deal on the way.
8. Logan Ryan, DB
SC: 904 (856 defense, 48 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Ryan was excellent in his slot corner role and proved particularly adept in Pees’ scheme, particularly when it came to disguised and delayed blitzes. The Titans really missed that once Ryan went down in the Giants game. He’s paid extremely well, but Ryan is a pro’s pro and worth all of the paper.
7. Taylor Lewan, OT
SC: 902 (852 offense, 50 special teams)
Contract: Through 2023
The unit as a whole wasn’t great — that’s been documented — but it’s difficult to find too many instances of lapses by Lewan. He got the big paycheck and didn’t immediately regress, as some guys do. He’s continuing the franchise’s long-standing history of consistent left tackles. Lewan is fiery (sometimes to a fault), but he brings an edge and a personality that Tennessee needs, frankly. Guys on other teams do not care for him. One NFL GM could be heard in the Nissan Stadium press box calling Lewan a “fraud of a left tackle” during one of the games this season. Every team needs a wrestling heel, and the Titans have theirs locked up for a few years.
6. Corey Davis, WR
SC: 872 (all offense)
Contract: Through 2021 (presuming option is activated)
Davis probably didn’t get enough credit from fans for answering the bell in a big second season. With more consistent quarterback play (or health, really), Davis would have had a 1,000-yard season. Vrabel made sure to point out that Davis is an able and willing blocker. I’m not sure that Davis is tracking toward the A.J. Green or Julio Jones tier, something you might say he should be doing as the No. 5 overall pick. But if you pair a veteran slot guy such as Golden Tate with Davis, here’s betting he’s a Pro Bowler in 2019. He’s got another gear from what we’ve even seen. Just watch that Philadelphia game again.
5. Jayon Brown, LB
SC: 979 (850 defense, 129 special teams)
Contract: Through 2020
Brown laid to rest any questions about his ability to be an every-down back, even though he appears a little undersized to play in the middle of the defense. Welcome to the new NFL, where smaller ‘backers can make an impact against a faster, more spread-out offensive league. Brown almost single-handedly kept the Titans in the Week 17 Indianapolis game with a pick-six and, later, a forced fumble and recovery.
Brown is trending toward becoming every bit the draft steal that Kevin Byard proved to be for Robinson.
4. Wesley Woodyard, LB
SC: 738 (713 defense, 25 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
At less than $3 million a season, Woodyard (113 tackles) — a perennial captain and the leading tackler in 2018 — is easily the best value on the team. He was Yoda to a learning Jedi in Brown. The Titans have to hope that Wood, who’ll be 33 this summer, has a couple more years like 2018 left in him. When he was in there, he was as consistent as any player on the roster.
3. Brett Kern, P
SC: 140 (all special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
It’s perhaps not the best thing for the Titans that their punter is ranked this highly, just as he would have been in 2017. But it’s reality, and Kern is really, really good. And when you play as many close games as the Titans tend to play, field position matters.
2. Kevin Byard, S
SC: 1137 (1043 defense, 94 special teams)
Contract: Through 2019
Byard was on the field for 99.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That’s jaw-dropping. He wasn’t just there; he was beasting on just about every down. His nose for the ball and willingness to do whatever it takes is remarkable, but he’s also extremely adept in coverage — regardless of whom he’s picking up.
It’s criminal that Byard wasn’t selected as a Pro Bowler. Regardless, the league is starting to notice that one of the very best safeties in the NFL plays in Nashville. The respect that he covets is coming; he just needs one or two more of these seasons.
1. Jurrell Casey, DT
SC: 756 (745 defense, 11 special teams)
Contract: Through 2022
Week 17 was a true illustration of Casey’s importance. The Titans were going to have a tough enough time getting to Andrew Luck with Casey. Without him? Forget it. Even if Casey isn’t making a play, he’s disruptive to whatever it is an offense is trying to do. Large men are not supposed to be as agile and capable as Casey has proved to be.
The knee injury was unfortunate, but he was hobbling around without a brace when we saw him in the building Dec. 31. Perhaps it will not require much more than some rest and rehab.
After leading the team with seven sacks (and 11 tackles for a loss), Casey remains the most underrated player in the NFL.
from Travis Haney:
Titans Offseason: Tennessee needs another OC. And a healthy Mariota.
When we submitted our weekly power rankings throughout the course of the season, we were asked for a GIF to correspond with the current mood of the team. I decided immediately that I wanted to have a theme, and so one Michael Gary Scott became our narrative guide to the 2018 Tennessee Titans season.
Michael Scott was a more inspired choice than I realized. His range of emotions over the years captaining “The Office” deftly conveyed the highs and lows of a turbulent Titans season.
One thing we learned in 2018 was that the Titans are in more capable hands with Mike Vrabel than Dunder-Mifflin ever was with Scott running the show. Vrabel never came to work with a burned foot from a George Foreman Grill, that’s for damn sure.
And Vrabel told us he kept the final team meeting short. Scott typically struggled with messaging — or keeping himself from throwing parties.
The takeaway from Vrabel’s first season is a mixed bag.
The good: The team went 9-7 for a third consecutive season, the first time the Tennessee franchise has completed three consecutive winning seasons.
The downside: Because the division was deeper, with Houston and Indianapolis again having healthy quarterbacks, the Titans missed the playoffs (unlike a year ago). In 2017, Mike Mularkey and his staff led the team to a win in Kansas City to reach the divisional round.
So there’s natural angst with some fans that comes from watching two AFC South rivals play into January. But the fact of the matter is that Houston and Indianapolis were much better, more complete teams than the Titans were. Mounting injuries to key players, a list that began with Delanie Walker and eventually included Logan Ryan and Jurrell Casey, only made the gap wider.
That the Titans were even in contention was something of a miracle, especially once Marcus Mariota went down with the mysterious nerve injury that defined — and derailed — his season.
Tennessee enters this offseason with one immediate need: to find the person who will become Mariota’s fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons after Matt LaFleur’s somewhat surprising hiring by the Packers.
First, Mariota needs to get healthy. This calendar year will be the most important in his professional career, determining whether the Titans will extend him — or if he’ll be on another roster by kickoff of the 2020 season.
Greatest offseason need
Mariota has proven to be an incredibly divisive topic among Titans fans, but one thing the base can agree on is that Mariota needs help. The focus of the early part of this year for the front office should improving the offense around the 25-year-old, perhaps reducing some of his injury risk in the process.
In fact, the situation isn’t dissimilar to the one after Mariota’s rookie season — which coincided with GM Jon Robinson’s arrival.
Just as Robinson did then by trading up to draft tackle Jack Conklin, the Titans need to address a line that contributed to allowing 42 sacks, the most in Mariota’s four seasons (four more than his rookie year). The interior line particularly struggled; it’s now two years removed from the success of the 2016 season, Mariota’s best year. It’s time to revamp that area.
The team could also use an experienced receiver in the wake of Rishard Matthews’ curious decision in September to ask for his release. The three core pieces at the position — Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe — were all 23 in 2018.
Add to all this finding another coordinator, one who doesn’t rock Mariota’s boat to the extent that it winds up being another reset button. Given his tenuous future with the team, there’s no time for that.
As good as the defense was, finishing in the top 10 in several categories, the Titans were among the league’s worst in terms of creating pressure without the blitz. God knows where it would have been if not for the consistency of Pro Bowl selection Casey, as evidenced by how ineffective the front looked after Casey went down with a knee injury in Week 16.
The Titans could use an end with the ability to win one-on-one battles, helping both Casey and a talented group of young edge rushers. DaQuan Jones has been just OK in that role (despite a fairly lucrative contract). It’s a draft class loaded with defensive line talent, and that just might be where the Titans turn with pick No. 19.
Salary cap situation
The Titans are in the middle of the league, with $40 million-$45 million in remaining cap space. They intentionally backloaded a few of their recent deals, such as the one for cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Impending free agents
Unrestricted: S Kenny Vaccaro; OG Quinton Spain; LB Derrick Morgan; OL Kevin Pamphile; TE Luke Stocker; DL Bennie Logan; ILB Will Compton; S Kendrick Lewis; S Brynden Trawick.
Restricted: RB David Fluellen.
Depending on his health, the team might want to bring back Pamphile. He was valuable in September before going down with an undisclosed injury.
The team would have had to make a decision regarding outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, but he retired Dec. 31. The other veteran outside linebacker, Morgan, is unlikely to return after an injury-riddled season that saw his sack total drop to 0.5. (Morgan had nine sacks in 2016 and 7.5 in 2017.)
Vaccaro signed a one-year deal in August. He’d like to return, and the team would surely like to find a spot for him. But he was signed after 2017 starter Johnathan Cyprien went down. It’s unlikely that the Titans would sign both, and Cyprien’s release would come with a doable $1.5 million cap hit. It’s the toughest choice the team will have, sorting out that position opposite Kevin Byard. Vaccaro had a nice season in Dean Pees’ scheme and is a better defender in coverage.
Blaine Gabbert was shaky enough, especially in the Week 17 start against the Colts, that it may be time to move on from him as a backup quarterback. Getting out of Gabbert’s final year would come at about a $500,000 cap hit, but that may be money well spent if the Titans can locate a quality backup. Given Mariota’s injury history, a dependable backup would be a wise investment, even if those can be challenging to locate and sign.
Even if Tennessee wanted to move on from Jones, the 2014 fourth-rounder, he’d have a jarring $7-million-plus cap hit this season. Robinson said this week in a radio interview that he believed Jones improved as the season went along. Offensive guard Josh Kline is in a similar spot to Jones. The team has a reasonable out after this season but would owe Kline almost $7 million to walk away now.
The team, at least the players under contract, should return mostly intact.
If Mariota had a solid 2018, the Titans would likely move to extend him in this offseason. Instead, after he missed almost four games, the team will kick the decision into the fall. It needs to know how he’s going to respond to this nerve issue, even if he’s unconcerned about lingering effects. He has said he just needs rest.
Byard, whose rookie deal is up in 2019, probably should be extended at this point. It’d be a smart goodwill gesture to someone who has become one of the team’s most valuable players.
Running back Derrick Henry, who is also up after 2019, is trending in a similar direction after closing last season strong; if he starts similarly this fall, the Titans might look to lock him up, as well.
The one free agent the Titans need to pursue
Going back to one of the original needs, Golden Tate sure would make a great deal of sense. He was among those Robinson considered at the trade deadline, but he was ultimately dealt from Detroit to Philadelphia.
Perhaps the 30-year-old native of suburban Nashville is ready to return home. A three-year deal in the neighborhood of $12 million per wouldn’t break the bank and it would give the Titans a proven commodity and a solid locker room presence.
One hangup: The Titans surely wouldn’t be alone in the Tate market.
Other players/positions to target in free agency
In Gabbert’s place, the Titans will look at veteran backups such as Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor. There will likely be a number of teams kicking those tires, however. Former Titan Ryan Fitzpatrick would also constitute a significant upgrade from Gabbert.
The Titans have typically looked for value pieces such as Pamphile, but it might be worth paying a veteran interior lineman to solidify one of the guard spots.
No. 19. The Titans finished behind only the Steelers among non-playoff contenders.
Potential players/positions to target in 2019 draft
Expect the Titans to either go offensive or defensive lineman with that 19th pick, and then take the opposite with their second-round choice.
Any of those Clemson defensive linemen would be worth a look, though it will cause some to have Kevin Dodd PTSD. (Our Dane Brugler projected Christian Wilkins to Tennessee in his most recent mock draft … and I didn’t even know that when I wrote this!)
Michigan’s Rashan Gary fits the bill of someone who can win up front, but would he be there at 19? Wouldn’t think so. But this first round will be loaded with defensive front talent. Brugler projects 13 linemen and/or edge rushers to go in the first round.
Given the fact that Vrabel’s son Tyler plays for Boston College, he’ll have some insight on Zach Allen. Pairing Allen and Harold Landry, his old B.C. teammate, would be fun.
It’d be interesting to see Tennessee take a mid-round quarterback to develop. You’d have to hope the decision-makers have better judgment than when they took Luke Falk in the sixth round a year ago. That was a whiff.
West Virginia’s Will Grier or North Dakota State’s Easton Stick would be intriguing Day 3 prospects.
Remember, too, that the draft is in Nashville. Maybe the Titans would consider keeping Vandy’s Kyle Shurmur in town. Vrabel will appreciate the link to Giants head coach Pat Shurmur.
It was more or less a held serve by Vrabel, though it doesn’t seem as if there’s pressure imminently building for him. After all, the team went through myriad bouts of adversity, not just including key injuries; Vrabel also had to navigate a seven-hour, eight-minute opening game and losing his defensive coordinator just minutes before a key divisional road game, in Indianapolis.
It was an atypical ride; surely 2019 brings a bit more stability. The front office and players like Vrabel and believe in his ability to help elevate the franchise. Say this: It didn’t look like a staff or team that’s backsliding. There’s promise in 2019.
At least they have this going for them
Brett Kern is a damn good punter. That’s not a punchline; field position is vitally important in the NFL. The 32-year-old is headed to his second consecutive Pro Bowl.
The Titans make the playoffs next year if …
They stay healthier, especially at the quarterback spot.
Look, every NFL team deals with injuries. It’s central to the sport. However, a team’s success is linked to the severity of those injuries and whether they’re suffered by key players. The Titans didn’t avoid that in any way in 2018.
With a little better health fortune, they’ll be situated to again duel with Houston and Indianapolis. Those teams aren’t going anywhere, setting up a deep division for the foreseeable future. The Titans, in fact, are a little worse off, just because they still aren’t certain about their quarterback. It wouldn’t be surprising to see three AFC South teams in the postseason in the next year or two, depending how the schedules set up.
Do we make a play for Kubiak?
Eye on the payroll: Analyzing the salary situation for the Titans next season
In a salary-cap league, money matters are always significant for the Titans and their NFL counterparts.
The end of the Titans’ season gives the team’s front office even more time to analyze the financial decisions of 2018 and to look ahead at the financial future.
Why can’t we do the same?
Feel free to set your payrolls accordingly.
I should note that base-salary numbers in this article are based on NFL Players’ Association information, while cap numbers come from both Spotrac.com and Overthecap.com, two outstanding resources.
How did the Titans’ big 2018 free-agent signings pan out?
The Titans were active in the 2018 free-agent market, making two big-money signings — cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis — as well as other smaller ones like defensive lineman Bennie Logan, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebacker Will Compton among others.
It was a tale of two seasons for Butler, who signed a five-year, $61 million deal last March. That contract is the ninth-biggest among NFL cornerbacks, per Spotrac.com.
In the Titans’ first eight games, he was torched for seven touchdown passes, and — per Pro Football Focus — surrendered 39 receptions for 618 yards, an average of 15.8 yards per catch. In the second eight games, Butler didn’t surrender a single touchdown pass, and he allowed just 19 receptions for an average of 8.4 yards per catch. In other words, Butler’s signing looks a lot better now than it did halfway through the season. He’ll have to remain much more like the second-half Butler to justify the big dollars.
The four-year, $19.8 million deal Lewis signed last year is 10th-biggest among NFL running backs, but the numbers didn’t follow suit for Lewis during his first season with the Titans.
He averaged just 32.3 yards per game on the ground, scoring one rushing touchdown. His receiving numbers, of course, were much better, as Lewis snared a career-high 59 catches for 400 yards and a touchdown. But the Titans paid for a dual-threat back, as Lewis had come off a big rushing season in New England, totaling 896 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
The Titans signed Logan to a one-year, $4 million deal but didn’t appear to get much impact from the 6-2, 315-pound nose tackle. Granted, most interior defensive linemen don’t produce a lot of flashy stats. Still, Logan averaged about 15 snaps per game and produced 16 tackles. Could Antwaun Woods, cut by the Titans multiple times and now a productive starter on the Cowboys’ defensive line, have done more for less here?
Gabbert signed a two-year, $4 million deal last offseason, a pretty reasonable rate given what other backups were getting. He didn’t get the job done in his biggest opportunity, throwing a pair of critical interceptions and missing receivers in the season-ending loss to Indianapolis.
But as much criticism as Gabbert took, he did steer the Titans to two of their nine victories — one in a starting role against Houston and one in a relief effort against Washington. Not too many other backups could make the same claim.
In terms of bang-for-the-buck, it’s hard to imagine anything better than what the Titans got from Vaccaro, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal after Johnathan Cyprien was injured. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees called Vaccaro a good fit from the first day he walked in the team’s meeting room.
Vaccaro missed three games because of an elbow injury, but he still totaled 70 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss, an interception and defended five passes. There was plenty of praise for his tone-setting, physical style of play as well.
Compton signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract last offseason. He was a good locker-room presence and graded out well when he got in games. But overall, injuries and better players kept Compton from making an impact. He played just 80 defensive snaps.
Which players will see big salary jumps next season?
The most notable name on this list is Marcus Mariota, who will see big money, the result of the Titans exercising their fifth-year option on him. His base salary jumps from $705,000 to $20.1 million, and his cap hit jumps from $7.7 million to $20.9 million.
Assuming he has a decent season in 2019, Mariota’s next contract — whether it’s a franchise tag or a long-term deal — is almost certain to rise even higher.
Here are others looking at big raises:
The left tackle’s base salary jumps from $1 million to $14.5 million, and his cap hit increases from $10.7 million to $16.7 million. That’s the result of the Titans making Lewan the highest-paid lineman in NFL history last year, signing him to a five-year, $80 million contract. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Lewan will count — on average — about $15.5 million toward the cap in each of the next four seasons.
His base salary goes way up in his second season, from $3.5 million to $10.5 million. The cap hit more than doubles as well, from $6 million to $13.1 million. As I mentioned earlier, the Titans better hope Butler’s second-half of the season play is indicative of what’s to come.
The guard gets a base salary bump from $2.5 million to $5.75 million, though his cap hit only rises from $5.75 million to $6.75 million. The increase is part of the four-year, $26 million deal Kline signed last offseason.
His salary doubles from $2 million to $4 million next season, though the cap hit only rises from $4.3 million to about $4.8 million.
The defensive lineman’s base salary rises from $4 million to $6 million, and his cap hit jumps from $5.3 million to $7.3 million. It’s part of the three-year, $21 million deal Jones signed last offseason. He posted 39 tackles this year, along with 14 quarterback pressures and four tackles for loss.
Could any players be cap casualties before 2019?
When assessing whether to cut a player with years left on his contract, teams always have to assess at least one pro and one con.
They have to figure out how much money might be saved under the cap, but also how much “dead money” — guaranteed money left on the player’s contract — remains. That guaranteed money will still count against the team’s cap, either in a one-year lump sum or divided over the next two years.
I don’t think the Titans will have a huge need to trim payroll this offseason, as they have more room under the cap than most teams.
But if they decide it’s necessary to do some cutting, these are the bigger names that might make financial sense:
If the Titans couldn’t find a way to get both Vaccaro and Cyprien on manageable deals, would they consider cutting Cyprien? If so, the Titans would save $5.25 million under the cap, but also have $1.5 million dead money on their hands. That could be split into two years at $750,000 each if the cut came after June 1.
It would be hard to imagine the Titans parting with their starting center, who can also play left guard. But if they did, the dead money figure would be $875,000. The team would save $4.5 million under the cap.
Judging from some of general manager Jon Robinson’s recent comments, I get the sense he’s OK with keeping the backup quarterback on board for next year. But if the Titans found someone they like better, they’d save $1.5 million and only have to deal with $500,000 dead money. He wouldn’t really be as a cap casualty as much as a simple cut.
Note: If you’re wondering about Kline, who had some struggles last season, he doesn’t look like a cap-casualty candidate. The Titans would save $3.25 million under the cap, but they’d have a whopping $3.5 million of dead money.
Which key players are entering the final year of their contracts?
On offense, the list includes offensive linemen Jones and Dennis Kelly, Mariota and Gabbert, running back Derrick Henry, and receivers Tajae Sharpe and Darius Jennings.
On defense, the list includes safety Kevin Byard, cornerbacks Logan Ryan and LeShaun Sims, defensive lineman Austin Johnson, and linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Kamalei Correa.
So which players are likely to be extended before 2019?
My guess is the Titans would like to get him signed to a long-term deal this offseason, as the Pro Bowl player is already among the top safeties in the game. The Titans extended Lewan in a similar situation last season, and there’s always the possibility the team gets a bit of a long-term discount for tearing up the final year of the rookie contract.
The Titans running back might fit in the same category, but I’m not so sure about that. As outstanding as he was during the final month of the season, he doesn’t have the track record or consistency of Byard.
As far as veterans go, the Titans might well look into a new deal for the 27-year-old cornerback, who’s proven a good addition the past two seasons. Ryan is scheduled to count $10.7 million against the cap this season, but if the Titans gave him more money long-term, perhaps the team could reduce his cap figure in 2019.
Which pending Titans free agents might the team re-sign?
Offensively, I’m sure the team would at least be interested in re-signing guard Quinton Spain, who made $1.9 million last year.
But the three-year starter will be due a bump and a long-term deal, so it remains to be seen whether his asking price fits with the Titans’ plans.
Another possibility might be tight end Luke Stocker, who played a significant blocking role last year and also chipped in with 15 receptions, two for touchdowns. With blocking tight ends hard to come by these days, re-signing Stocker at low cost might be wise.
Defensively, it seems unlikely to me that Logan or Compton would be back, based on reasons discussed above.
The big name on that side of the ball is linebacker Derrick Morgan, who’s had a very productive career for the Titans. But a lessening role on the defense and just half a sack last season would likely mean a significant pay cut for Morgan, who made a base salary of $6.5 million in 2018. He might be inclined to look for a bigger role and paycheck elsewhere.
TE coach Arthur Smith named OC yesterday
The Titans announced Monday afternoon that tight ends coach Arthur Smith had been promoted to the offensive coordinator position vacated by Matt LaFleur.
“I am excited for Arthur and for our team to be able to elevate a deserving coach,” head coach Mike Vrabel said in a release. “I was impressed throughout the season in gameplan meetings with his ideas, in-game with his understanding of situations and the ability to get the most out of his position group.”
The longer the “search” went on, the more it became clear that an internal candidate would likely be chosen. The 36-year-old Smith had reportedly risen to the top of that pile. Here’s what we know about Smith, the decision and what it means for the Titans.
Continuity was paramount, in the end
Vrabel, entering his second season, was sensitive to the amount of coaching change the team has seen — especially on the offensive side of the ball. That’s of particular importance for quarterback Marcus Mariota. He’ll still be transitioning into his fifth coordinator in five seasons, yes, but at least it’s someone he already knows and presumably within the system (or systems) he’s already learned.
It’s not as if someone is coming in with a dramatically different scheme and philosophy. Even most of the verbiage figures to remain the same, and that’s a key piece of maintaining some level of consistency. There will be no new playbook, no new language to pick up.
“We spent a good bit of time last week talking about this opportunity,” Vrabel said in the release. “He has a great deal of familiarity with our players and the continuity of the offense will allow our players to continue to develop and improve.”
It had been exactly two weeks since LaFleur left for Green Bay. With several other OC openings coinciding with the Titans’ vacancy, other teams’ interviews were regularly publicized while there was virtually no information coming from Tennessee. Vrabel likely realized all along that this specific point in time called for continuity. The Titans were not in the market for one of the “name” coordinators out there, just because it would have led to another mashing of the reset button. This isn’t the time for that.
The move is a certain help to GM Jon Robinson and his ability to get the best read possible on Mariota entering his critical contract year. If another system were being installed, it would be challenging to ascertain where Mariota is in Year 5. It’ll be challenging enough as it is, given the nerve issue — and there still will be some kind of curve under Smith, you’d have to imagine. But this negates wholesale change, and that makes sense.
Smith is nothing if not the embodiment
Smith is the most familiar coach in the entire building, considering he’s been with the Titans since 2011. He’s on his fourth different staff, surviving the changes from Mike Munchak to Ken Whisenhunt to Mike Mularkey to now Vrabel.
There are sometimes holdovers from previous staffs, but to hang on through three different changes is rather rare and rather significant. And it says something that Vrabel would consider Smith after being around him for just one year. (Vrabel was hired one year ago this week.)
Smith was the only primary position coach to be retained from Mularkey’s time. (Three other assistants were kept, and Craig Aukerman was eventually promoted to special teams coach.)
Vrabel seems to be intent on maintaining some kind of staff cohesiveness. He will have to change only one position coach, and even that person could be promoted to replace Smith. Strength coach is the only major change he has made or will make outside the organization.
That suggests that someone who is intelligent and adaptable feels good about who he hired for his first head-coaching gig; I’d read that as a positive sign if I were a Titans fan. More often, first-time head coaches usually have a miss or two that requires change from years 1 or 2. But that isn’t the case here.
Additionally, an internal promotion like this only strengthens the sense of loyalty in the building, both to Vrabel and the team as a whole. There are coaches down the depth chart who believe if they work hard they can have opportunities to rise within the organization; that’s important for overall team chemistry and getting the most out of your staff.
This becomes the marriage of approaches I’d written about
I wrote recently that I thought Vrabel should view LaFleur leaving as an opportunity to evaluate the offense now that he’s had a full year to understand the personnel and what he wants his team’s identity to be.
In elevating Smith, someone who had experience working in the previous offenses as well as LaFleur’s, he can pluck what he liked from all the previous playbooks. I’d imagine most of it will remain close to what 2018 resembled, but if there were elements he particularly liked or found success from in previous regimes, he can do that.
It goes back to Vrabel’s comment that Smith knows this roster, perhaps better than any coach on staff, just because he’s been around it as it’s come together — even predating Robinson’s arrival.
This decision could be a key to unlock more offensive line success, with Smith understanding what made the group highly successful in 2016 and perhaps what it didn’t acclimate well to in 2018. He’s seen the rise and fall, and everything in between; that would seem to be valuable context.
The players are behind it …
… at least if we’re going by offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, who, let’s face it, doesn’t mince words. If he didn’t like it, he’d probably let us know. But this qualified as high praise.
He’s done a great job with the team’s tight ends
Losing Delanie Walker in Week 1 figured to spiral the entire tight end group, but Smith coached his tail off in the development of second-year player Jonnu Smith. By December, even without a Pro Bowler in Walker, he had one of the deeper, more versatile position groups on the team.
The Titans use tight ends in all sorts of different ways, often employing heavy looks in run sets. Luke Stocker’s role as a blocker was often vital, especially with the offensive line inconsistency. In the pass game, if you look back, the seam route was a fairly regular staple of what the Titans would do offensively. Stocker had a big catch there against Miami in Week 1, getting the Titans into scoring position, and MyCole Pruitt’s play against the Redskins helped rescue Tennessee in Week 16.
Going back to his work prior to 2018, Smith helped Walker take the next step in his career. Walker’s first and only 1,000-yard season, in 2015, came in Smith’s first year as the team’s tight ends coach. Walker’s broken ankle prohibited him pushing for his fifth consecutive season with 800-plus receiving yards. So you’d better believe Walker, who’s progressing to be a full-go by this summer, will be a central part of Smith’s offensive plans.
It’ll be fascinating to watch which elements of Smith’s time in Nashville become a part of the new-slash-old offense — and what that ultimately means for Mariota entering this crucial time in his career.
Like the continuity but first-time coordinators seem to almost always shit the bed in clutch situations. I’d give it a B- . Could have done worse.
I have no idea what to think good or bad. No track record as a play caller, so who knows ?
as a longtime Titans fan I really love seeing John Glennon with the opportunity to write for The Athletic. Guy covered the local beat about as well as anyone for a long time. He got screwed by Gannett, but fuck them he's better off now
Reviewing the 2016 Titans-Rams trade: Goff gives L.A. the big edge, but Tennessee can rally
Determining the winner of an NFL trade can be a tricky task.
One year after the Titans and Los Angeles pulled off their blockbuster deal in 2016, for instance, the Titans looked as if they’d produced a smashing victory:
Tennessee had improved by six wins over 2015, rookie tackle Jack Conklin had earned All-Pro status, and the Titans were looking at a bevy of upcoming draft picks in 2017. The Rams, meanwhile, regressed by three wins, fired coach Jeff Fisher and still had plenty of questions about rookie quarterback Jared Goff.
How things have changed.
When Goff and the Rams take the field for Super Bowl LIII against New England next Sunday, it will serve as the clearest indication — at least to this point in time — that Los Angeles has emerged the trade victor.
The Rams may have paid Tennessee the famed “king’s ransom” to move up to the No. 1 overall position in 2016, but Goff has emerged as the most sought-after building block in the NFL — a franchise quarterback, one who’s guided his team to the title game for the first time in two decades.
It’s entirely possible the storyline is rewritten again in another year or two, should young Titans talents like Conklin, Derrick Henry, Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith — some of the players Tennessee wound up drafting via the trade — help lift this team to new levels.
But the Rams have a decided hoof up on the Titans at this stage of the game.
“I think (judging a trade winner) is one of those things that always evolves, and it evolves until careers are over,” said Charles Davis, an analyst for Fox NFL and the NFL Network. “But from where we have to judge it right now, if Jared Goff is in the Super Bowl, then the Rams won because that’s what you’re after.
“Why did the Rams go up to No. 1? To get the quarterback who would take them to the Super Bowl. So right now, they’ve won it.”
Making the right move
Does that mean the Titans made a mistake in trading away the top overall selection in the 2016 draft, in exchange for what eventually would turn into seven draft picks?
Let’s remember what the Titans looked like leading up to the 2016 draft.
They were only months removed from a 3-13 season, one that saw the Titans finish 28th in points scored and 27th in points allowed. In other words, GM Jon Robinson inherited a mess, a team that needed plenty of help on both sides of the ball.
“You didn’t have an offensive line, you couldn’t rush the passer and you couldn’t cover people,” said Floyd Reese, a former Titans general manager who’s now a radio host for 102.5-FM in Nashville.
“You couldn’t do a bunch of those things that you had to do to be a decent team. So I think (Robinson) was looking for quantity: ‘Let me try to replace a bunch of these players. Let me get guys in there that are going to be young, healthy and cheap, and have a chance to play.’”
One of the Titans’ few bright spots in the 2015 season had been rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who showed great promise by throwing for more than 2,800 yards, accounting for 21 touchdowns and posting a 91.5 quarterback rating.
So even if the Titans had chosen to keep the top pick, they wouldn’t have been interested in either of the top two 2016 quarterbacks — Goff or Carson Wentz. It’s entirely possible Nashville native Jalen Ramsey might have worked his way to the top of the team’s draft board, but the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback wouldn’t have addressed all the Titans’ needs.
The bottom line is that even if Robinson hadn’t made the trade with the Rams, he almost certainly would have dealt the pick to another team in the month remaining before the draft.
“The Titans had no need for a quarterback, and there was going to be somebody that was going to fall in love with (Goff or Wentz),” Reese said. “Someone would have wanted to jump up and get themselves in a position to take somebody like that.”
Plenty of potential
The terms of the deal were as follows: The Rams sent the Titans six picks — a 2016 first-round pick (15th overall), two 2016 second-round picks (Nos. 43 and 45 overall), a 2016 third-round pick (76th overall), a 2017 first-round pick (fifth overall) and a 2017 third-round pick (100th overall).
The Titans sent the Rams the first overall pick in 2016, as well as a 2016 fourth-round pick (113th overall) and a 2016 sixth-round pick (No. 177).
Tennessee would eventually parlay those six picks into seven selections, all of whom have contributed to the team in some way. Here’s a closer look at those seven choices:
Conklin had a tremendous rookie year, stepping right into the starting lineup, allowing just one sack in 16 games and earning All-Pro status. His second year was strong as well, but after injuring his knee in the 2017 playoffs, Conklin wasn’t the same player in nine games last year. The Titans have to hope a strong offseason will help Conklin return to his previous level, even if he’s playing in a different blocking scheme than he was earlier in his career.
Defensive lineman Austin Johnson has been a steady rotational defensive lineman, generally effective against the run on early downs. But there hasn’t been much playmaking exhibited by the 43rd overall pick in 2016.
Henry is one of the big wild-cards here, one of the players who could conceivably turn this trade back in the Titans’ favor down the line. After a very sluggish first half of the 2018 season, Henry exploded down the stretch, carrying 87 times for 585 yards and seven touchdowns in the Titans’ final four games. Will that production continue in 2019? “I actually talked to two or three personnel guys around the league after the first half of the season, and they had no explanation (for Henry’s struggles),” Davis said. “They were like, ‘He looks slow. He doesn’t have much thump.’ I don’t know what happened or where the switch got flipped, but boy it came on in a big way. Now you want to see that continue on over 16 games. But boy, he’s a guy who could definitely be a good player and a building block.”
Cornerback LeShaun Sims has been productive for a fifth-round pick, starting nine games and totaling 72 tackles and two interceptions over three seasons. He is in a good role as the team’s fourth cornerback.
Cornerback Kalan Reed, the last player picked in 2016, played in seven games over two seasons for the Titans.
Wide receiver Corey Davis, like Henry, is a wild-card who could swing the balance of the trade if he reaches the Titans’ projections for him as the fifth overall pick of the 2017 draft. He had solid sophomore numbers last year — 65 catches, 891 yards, four touchdowns — but will need to more consistently show the playmaking ability he flashes from time to time. “Corey Davis is a No. 1 receiver that I think continues to get better,” Charles Davis said. “The biggest thing for him is going to be continued health, plus consistent quarterbacking.”
Tight end Jonnu Smith looked as if he was making good strides last season, catching three touchdown passes in one four-week stretch before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 13th game of the season. He’s another player that may well have more upside moving forward.
There’s no doubt the players acquired through the trade have made big contributions to a Titans turnaround, as the team has finished 9-7 in each of the past three years and in 2017 recorded the franchise’s first playoff win since 2003.
But more will be needed from them if the Titans are to move to the next level.
“I think at this point in time, you’d have to say (Conklin) was a hit (for the Titans), Derrick Henry is going to be a big hit, and you’ve got other players that are going to get themselves in position where they can be here a while,” Reese said. “So at some point in time … when that happens, I think you can probably look at (the trade) and say that’s exactly what you wanted to do.”
The ultimate prize
The Rams eventually parlayed their three picks from the Titans into four selections. There hasn’t been much production from the selections outside of Goff.
Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, a fourth-round pick in 2016, did make the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2017, but has totaled only 25 catches over three seasons. Tight end Temarrick Hemingway and wide receiver Mike Thomas, sixth- and seventh-round picks, respectively, in 2016, have combined for eight NFL catches.
But it’s fair to say the Rams aren’t concerned with those selections, compared to where Goff has helped lead them.
Things didn’t look so promising during his rookie season, when Goff went 0-7 as a starter, throwing five touchdown passes and seven interceptions during Los Angeles’ 4-12 year.
But Goff has taken off under coach Sean McVay, throwing a combined 60 touchdown passes the past two seasons — versus 19 interceptions — and posting quarterback ratings above 100.0 in both 2017 and 2018.
The Rams have a 24-8 regular-season record over the past two years, have reached the playoffs both seasons, and will have a chance to capture the Lombardi Trophy next Sunday.
So for Goff and the Rams, the monster trade of 2016 is paying big dividends already, while the Titans must hope their haul eventually reaps similar rewards.
“The trade is a fluid-type thing, and we’ll be able to write the history of it all later,” Davis said. “Who knows who is ultimately going to win it?
“But right now, the clear-cut winner is the Rams because Goff has helped them reach the ultimate prize, which is getting to the Super Bowl. If he wins the Super Bowl, then it’s a knockout.”
Barnwell's projected Vegas win total for 2019:
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Projected over/under: 8.5 wins (over -105, under -115)
The league's most confusing team was wildly inconsistent in its debut season under Mike Vrabel; while the 9-7 Titans soundly defeated the Patriots and finished the season with four wins over playoff teams, they lost to the Dolphins and Bills and were swept by a combined 44 points in two losses to the Colts, with the second costing Tennessee a playoff spot.
Marcus Mariota will be on his fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons. With Mariota yet to complete a full 16-game season as a pro and the AFC South going up against the AFC West and the NFC South in 2019, the Titans could struggle to hit nine wins for the fourth consecutive campaign.
Travis Haney with a Q&A with Jon Robinson:
Jon Robinson had been the Tennessee Titans’ general manager just shy of three months when he made the decision that would define the foundation of his tenure, if not all of it: He traded the 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick to the Los Angeles Rams for a half-dozen selections in that draft and the one that followed.
The ripples are still being felt on both sides of the country.
The move “feels like yesterday,” Robinson told The Athletic last week. He recalled being in his pickup truck (a Nissan Titan, he said, laughing about the irony) when he finalized the deal with then-Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
“I said, ‘Congratulations. You’re now the owner of the No. 1 pick,'” Robinson said.
Of course, Fisher is the same guy who had previously guided the Titans to their only Super Bowl appearance. And against the Rams, as if the tale needed another layer.
The team that is now led by Sean McVay — and the quarterback whom it took with that top pick, Jared Goff — played Sunday in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
While the Rams moved up to get Goff, the Titans’ haul ended up including right tackle Jack Conklin, receiver Corey Davis and running back Derrick Henry.
“They had a plan for how they were going to go about trying to build their football team,” Robinson said. “I’d say they have been successful, obviously, being in the Super Bowl. (GM) Les (Snead) has done a great job. Coach (Sean) McVay has done a great job. They’ve got a bunch of good players out there.
“For us, it was trying to maximize that pick and trying to bolster a roster that we felt had some voids in it. You hit on some, and you don’t hit on some. I think I’ve gone on record, stating that it starts with me. I’ve got to continue to do a better job. I am proud of what we’ve been able to do. We’re one of six teams to have three consecutive winning seasons, coming from where we were (five wins in the two seasons prior to his arrival).
“We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’ve got a bunch of guys in the locker room that believe in the process. We’ll continue to add those types of guys to get us back in the tournament. I think there’s a lot of guys that got a taste of that in the ‘17 season and ‘18 postseason, and they want to get back to that.”
The Athletic: You all promoted tight ends coach Arthur Smith to take over the offensive coordinator position vacated by Matt LaFleur. Was he someone whom, all along, you were comfortable taking on that added responsibility?
Robinson: I’ve always admired Arthur. I got to know him when I got here and he was on staff. When we made the (coaching) change last year, he was one of the coaches that I recommended to Mike (Vrabel). I don’t know that Mike really knew Arthur that well, but he was a guy that I thought did a good job with his position group. I thought he was really involved in every facet of offensive football, whether it was run-blocking or pass-blocking, route concepts. He’s a smart guy. He’s extremely dedicated to being a good football coach. He’s easy to talk to. He’s a good evaluator. I had a good rapport with him. I thought he was really, really respected by the players, which is a huge gauge.
We did our due diligence. But at the end of the day, we felt like it was really important for all 11 of those guys (on offense) — much is made about Marcus (Mariota), which that’s extremely important for continuity, but it’s all 11 on offense to have that same base and that same foundation. There’s some new things that we’ll put in, I’m sure, just like every other team. And there’s some things that we’ll take out and some things will carry over. But he’s a really smart guy and a good football coach, and I’m glad he’s our coordinator.
What does it say about Smith that he was able to survive those three coaching changes, from Mike Munchak to Ken Whisenhunt to Mike Mularkey to now Vrabel, to get to this point with the same franchise?
He’s one of us. He loves ball. He’s passionate about his players. He teaches his players and coaches his plays and comes up with ideas to put them in the best position to be successful so that the team is successful. I was just really happy for him. He’s certainly paid his dues, and he’s earned it.
What was your overall takeaway from the 2018 season? Certainly not giving you all any outs, but you did deal with plenty of adversity and still had a chance in Week 17 to earn a playoff berth. And as you mentioned, it was the franchise’s third consecutive winning season.
It was different, you know? It’s a new coaching staff. And I thought the coaching staff did a great job of connecting with the players. I thought Coach Vrabel’s message on a weekly basis was really good. He respected them; they respected him back.
We start off in Miami on that eight-hour marathon of a game (seven hours, eight minutes officially), and we lose one of our top offensive weapons (Delanie Walker) for the season. You don’t prepare for that. You do, but you don’t. You’re kind of counting on those guys. We drop that one. Then, we run off a few.
Then, Rishard (Matthews) isn’t on the team anymore, and he was our leading receiver the year before. So, two of your top offensive weapons aren’t on the team by Week 4 or 5. So, it’s easy to say you plan for that, but are other teams built like that? If Houston lost DeAndre Hopkins, if Indy lost T.Y. Hilton — there’s not another T.Y. Hilton that’s just going to step up.
But the guys kept fighting. We found a way to keep scratching and clawing to win games. For it to come down to one game to get in the tournament, after all the adversity we went through, I was really proud of the team and I was really proud of the coaches for fighting through the adversity. Adversity makes you a stronger team in the end. I think we’ll hopefully be a better team this year than we were last year. That’s the goal.
Since you mentioned it, is there anything else you’d like to say regarding Matthews now that the season is over? That did seem to put you all in a bind.
Nah, I mean, I’ve talked at length about that one. We kind of went different ways.
I guess I wasn’t expecting Mariota to be such a divisive subject among Titans fans, some ready to run him off after the Week 1 injury and some standing by him regardless of his play or health. What do you make of where he is at this point in his career, particularly given the fact that he’s entering the fifth-year option season and there’s some kind of decision coming relatively soon about his future in Nashville?
First off, he’s an important piece for our football team. He works extremely hard. His teammates are very important to him. I think he gives us a really good chance to win when he’s out there. We’ve talked about the health and the durability and all that, and there’s some stuff that we can do offensively to help him. And there’s some things that he can do within the scope of the offense to eliminate some of those hits. I think that’s kind of what we talked about, to take stock of that during the offseason so that when we come back in April and we’re rolling, we’re on the same page. It’s just, “I can do this better. We can do this better.” We’re all seeing through the same lens.
Anytime you’re the general manager or you’re the head coach or you’re the starting quarterback, you’re going to face scrutiny. That’s what you sign up for when you sit in the chair or put on the helmet. That’s what you sign up for. There’s probably plenty of people who have been ready to tar and feather me, too. But with much is given, much is expected. (Mariota) understands that, just like I understand it and (Vrabel) understands it. We’re just trying to do what’s best for the team to try to win football games.
Are we correct to presume this a delicate, complicated situation — given the nerve injury and how it impacted last season? Ideally, he would have put up numbers similar to his 2016 season (26 TDs, nine INTs), and maybe you could go ahead and get something done now. But you aren’t really there right now, are you? There’s more to see, I guess?
With any player, when you start talking contractual stuff, there’s always stuff you’ve got to work through. There just is. There’s a cap we have to manage. There’s cash flow we have to manage. There’s a lot of factors that we have to manage. But certainly, if you could turn back the hands of time, you’d love for him to have been out there 16 straight games — 18 straight games, or whatever it might have been — and we’d be making a deep run in the tournament. But that’s not how it played out, so that doesn’t do us any good to sit here and hindsight it.
We picked up the option. He’s under contract (in 2019). As I’ve said before, he’s the quarterback here. There’s several different avenues that we can go down. I know that he likes the football team. He wants to be here. He’s expressed that to me. I told him that we want him here, too. We’ve just got to get to continue to try to work through this. Whatever avenue fits both of us the best, then that’s the one we’ll go down.
Is it an instinctual thing to know when it’s time to take one of those avenues?
We’re just kind of taking it a day at a time and continuing to evaluate things and look at things. When you feel it’s the right thing to do, and when it feels right for him, too, then that’s what we’ll do.
How much is this offseason priority finding help for Mariota, whether it’s via the draft or free agency? And does that at all resemble the situation you entered in 2016, after his rookie season and prior to his best season?
That’s every year. That’s every offseason for every team in the National Football League.
OK, but what about in particular respect to protection? (The Titans allowed 42 sacks, the most in Mariota’s four seasons.)
Offensively, the more that we can establish the run game and protect the quarterback and get open and get guys that can catch it and run with it, the higher your chances are for success. That’s what every team is trying to do.
Are there other players that you’re looking at extending beyond their rookie deals? Maybe safety Kevin Byard is one who gets a new deal before he gets to his fifth year, just based on his play?
There’s several guys on our team that we’re having internal discussions about future deals. … There’s a lot of guys that kind of fall into that bucket.
How do you feel like you did with the free-agent additions in 2018? Corner Malcolm Butler is obviously someone who had his ups and downs after signing his five-year, $61 million deal.
I thought Malcolm finished the season really, really strong.
Did that make you feel better about the contract and bringing him in?
I was proud for him. It wasn’t anything about — I was proud for Malcolm. The day after he came in and signed, I looked out on the field and he was running sprints by himself. I know he’s a competitive guy. He got off to a fast start in training camp. He was getting interceptions and breaking up passes. Then, when the season kind of got here, he was — I felt like he was pressing a little bit.
And then he kind of just settled down. He remembered what got him to where he was, as a player. I thought he really finished strong. I was really proud of him for self-evaluating and getting him back to where he was.
Can that happen sometimes to guys who have signed big deals and are moving into expanded, featured roles with new teams?
Absolutely. I think it happens quite frequently around the league. There’s an expectation level. You just put a lot of pressure on yourself and get amped up. You’re trying to catch a touchdown every pass or you’re trying to get a sack every time you rush the passer or you’re trying to get an interception every time the ball is in the air. That’s not how the NFL works; just go out and do your job and do what got you to where you are. Nine times out of 10, you’ll be OK.
Derrick Henry was another player with a big second half, as we all saw. What are your thoughts on his breakout final month?
I’m really proud of the way that Derrick finished. We had already made the trade with Philly, for DeMarco (Murray), when we drafted Derrick. That can be hard for a young player, especially a Heisman Trophy-winning player: Coming to a team that has a former player of the year and MVP, all the accolades that DeMarco had. DeMarco was really good for us. Derrick kept working and kept working and kept working.
I think the early part of the season this year, he was frustrated at himself — as I read in several of his comments. But it finally clicked, the light came on, whatever it is. He started running like the player we’d envisioned. It’s a testament to him and the coaching staff, to keep working and keep grinding away at it. He believed it was going to pop. The coaches kept working with him and encouraging him. I read the story about him and Eddie (George) talking. I thought that was really good. That says to me that Derrick takes ownership and takes a lot of pride in his position and what he means to the team and what it means to Eddie.
Moving forward, how do you go about balancing having Henry and Dion Lewis — another of the bigger free agency acquisitions from a year ago? It seemed as if that was a tug-of-war throughout the season that never developed a natural rhythm.
I think it’s gameplan specific. I think against certain personnel groupings, we might throw the ball or hand the ball to Dion. And there’s certain personnel groupings we’ll let Derrick do a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s going to be gameplan specific. I think balance is the key word. In my opinion, it’s good for both of those guys. They’re both competitive guys. Most every player in the National Football League is competitive, if they want to hang around the league. They all want to start. They all want to get the ball. DBs want the ball thrown at them, so they can try to break it up. That’s the nature of (players); that’s what got them to where they’re at. So, both of those guys want the ball.
Is there a way that it works well with both of them?
Absolutely. I think you can hand it and throw it to both of them. I think there’s certain runs that are really more tailored to Dion, and obviously some more runs that are Derrick’s style of runs. The more you can use those guys, to play off one another, to keep defenses kind of guessing a little bit, that’s advantageous to us.
At this point, for whatever reason, is it fair to say that Jack Conklin just hasn’t been himself since 2016? And what can he do to get back there?
He came in as the eighth overall pick. He checked a lot of boxes and had an outstanding rookie season. He was first-team All-Pro and did a really good job blocking guys. He did a good job and played some good football for us in ‘17 — and then had the (knee) injury. He had it late. It took a little bit of time for that to come back. Anytime you’re coming off a major injury like that, there’s always some — you’re a little leery. Anybody would be. I would be.
But Jack’s a competitive guy. He’s a tough guy. He’s a smart guy. He works hard. I think it’s just getting that mindset and that comfort level of what he showed as a rookie. He was just out there playing. … I think that’s where Jack is just itching to get back to, just to get back out there and play the way he did at Michigan State that got him drafted, play the way he did his rookie year here. He’s more than capable of doing that. He wants to be the solid starting right tackle, a player you don’t really have to worry about.
How much of a success story has Jayon Brown become, emerging in his second season to be a full-service inside linebacker? (Brown was second on the team in tackles and sacks.)
It’s a testament to the coaching staff for working with him and a testament to Jayon for buying into the coaching and taking all the things that Coach (Dean) Pees and Coach (Tyrone) McKenzie and certainly Coach Vrabel were trying to teach him on a daily basis. I’ve always liked Jayon. I liked him when I flew to Colorado and watched him play (for UCLA) against the Buffaloes on a Thursday night. He can run. He’s athletic.
He needs to continue to take on a leadership role. His play certainly exudes leadership, and I know guys respect him. I know he really likes this football team and his teammates really like him. He’s growing in that. I started to see that leadership come out of him. He needs to continue to take those steps, like a lot of those younger players. It’s the same thing with Byard. From his rookie year to his second year, I saw him take on more of a leadership role. And even more so (last) year. (Brown) needs to continue to do that and grow into being one of the important players on the team.
Losing Brian Orakpo to retirement (and maybe Derrick Morgan, whose contract is up), you’re suddenly very young at that edge group. Does that become an area of focus in free agency, trying to maintain a veteran presence there?
With any position group, you hope to strike that balance. You want that veteran presence, that solid guy to show the way.
How big of a loss is Orakpo in that way?
I’ve got a ton of respect for Rak and what he did for this football team. He and I had a good conversation when he told me that he had ran the good race and fought the good fight and it was time to move onto the next chapter in his life. I’m proud he was part of this team. He did a lot for this team.
Certainly, I respect his play on the field and his presence in the locker room … the way he prepared like a pro is supposed to prepare … and the expectations he laid out for himself, because he didn’t want to disappoint his teammates. He wanted to be prepared to play at a high level, week in and week out. I think that’s a good example for all young players, to start there and try to emulate that.
Even as good as the defense was most of the season, it did seem like pass-rush consistency was one of the bigger issues for the team, didn’t it?
There’s a lot of factors when you’re talking about pass rush. Coach Vrabel has said it a million times: The coverage has to match the rush; the rush has to match the coverage. I thought, schematically, we tried to put guys in position to win. Offensively, they’re trying to minimize your strengths; that’s the chess match that we fight on a weekly basis. But I thought there was definitely some good snaps in there, but we’ve got to continue to get better because that’s a premium thing in this league, is to get pressure on the quarterback and force errant throws or incompletions or get sacks.
I think the sack numbers get misconstrued sometimes. Sometimes it’s just about affecting the pass play. If you’re affecting the passer and they don’t complete the ball — sacks are great, but the most important thing is that the other team doesn’t get yardage.
What was your ultimate takeaway after Vrabel’s first season? You all made a difficult decision to replace Mularkey, finished with the same record — but fell short of the postseason. What did you think he did well?
One of the things that Mike does a really good job of is he’s in tune with every phase of the game. He’s in tune with every position group. He’ll bounce around from position meeting to position meeting, just hearing what’s being coached. He puts pressure on the coaches to teach the players in a manner that they can grasp it, so that they can go out and play aggressively and play with speed and quickness. He’s extremely hands-on, whether he’s working with the tight ends or working with the linebackers or working with the receivers. He bounces from position group to position group and rolls his sleeves up gets dirty with those guys, trying to get better.
That’s the one thing that I’ve always believed in and what I believe in: Everything we do is to try to help the team and try to make each individual player maximize their ability to help the team on a weekly basis.
Low yards and not many points: Arthur Smith has to find ways to buck Titans’ trends
The good news regarding new Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is that he doesn’t plan to — at least initially — change much of the team’s offensive scheme from last season.
The potential bad news regarding Smith is that, well, he doesn’t plan to change much of the team’s offensive scheme from last season.
Let me explain:
It is without question a positive that Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will get a second consecutive season in a similar system, despite the fact he’ll be working under his fourth offensive coordinator and fifth play-caller in five years.
Keeping the play-calling language intact from last season, as Smith plans to do, will benefit not only Mariota, but a whole host of young Titans skill players like Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith and Derrick Henry, among others.
Instead of spending OTAs and training camp learning what to do and where to be in an offense, they can concentrate on things like improving their timing or bettering their route-running in a familiar system.
The question that must be answered, though, is this: Will a second straight year in a similar scheme really be enough to jump-start this Titans offense?
Because as we all know, things were bad last season, with the Titans finishing 25th in offensive yardage and 27th in points scored. The Titans produced just 19.4 points per game last season, one of only seven NFL clubs that averaged fewer than 20 points.
It’s not as if last season was a huge exception either.
The Titans haven’t posted a top-10 offense — in yardage or points — since 2003 when the likes of Steve McNair, Eddie George, Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett guided the team to a 12-4 record.
In recent years, that lack of a prolific, explosive offense has — in my opinion — kept some fans from really jumping on board with this team. The Titans, after all, have produced three inning seasons in a row, something only five other NFL teams can claim at present. But how many times over those years have we seen Nissan Stadium overflowing with enthusiasm — from the home fans, that is?
I asked Smith on Tuesday whether he thought fans, in general, demanded a more entertaining offensive team these days than was the case years ago.
“If you can look aesthetically pleasing, people will like that in the short term,” Smith said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to win games and it will always come down to that. You can lead the league in points, and certainly, we’re going to try to score as many points as we can. But at the end of the day, we’re going to try to win as a team in all three phases.
“I know what you’re saying, where people are infatuated with the college game. You go watch a Big 12 (football) game, it looks like a Big Ten basketball game. It’s 54-53. That’s not what it’s going to be. The NFL is not going to let you — there’s been what, one game played like that?”
That’s a logical answer, but it still seems to me that — especially in these days of electric offenses — fans are hungry for entertainment.
Sure, the old argument that defense wins championships could be hauled out again after the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl, which featured a grand total of 16 points.
But let’s face it: It was offense that got both the Rams and the Patriots into the title game. Los Angeles finished the regular season second in total yardage and second in points scored, and New England wasn’t far behind — fifth in total yardage and fourth in points scored.
Taking things a step further on the offensive front, the four teams that played in the conference championships — the Chiefs, Rams, Saints and Patriots — finished first, second, third and fourth, respectively, in points scored during the past season.
In other words, piling up points is a legitimate way to make the big games, even if the very last contest was a low-scoring affair.
So just how can Smith make the Titans a higher-scoring team, one that could produce more victories and potentially ignite a greater passion on the homefront?
One of the big priorities will be keeping Mariota more healthy after the Titans’ starting quarterback took a beating last season — he was sacked 11 times in a loss to Baltimore alone. Mariota missed three full games in 2018, and was limited in other contests — or forced to the sideline early — because of injuries.
Smith has some ideas on better protecting Mariota, who hasn’t played all 16 games in any of his four seasons.
“I think there’s things you try to accomplish, to make sure you keep changing the launch points for him. That helps,” Smith said. “(Also), the way the game’s going, (if) you’re able to run the ball or you’re able to move people off the line of scrimmage, it opens up a lot of things for him … Play-calling can definitely help. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but there’s definitely a conscious effort to keep him healthy.”
The return of Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker should help as well, following a season lost to injury. It’s to Smith’s credit as the former tight ends coach that he was able to coax 63 catches and seven touchdowns out of a group that included Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker, Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt.
So it will be interesting to see what he can devise when Walker — who has five seasons of at least 60 catches — rejoins the lineup.
“It’s definitely an advantage,” Smith said of the Titans’ tight ends. “If you can get into (one running back, three tight ends), you can give the defense a lot of different formations to worry about. Or whether it’s two backs, spreading them out in empty or giving them (one running back, one tight end) personnel, there are a lot of formations you can create.”
But the Titans have to hope that a number of players can take significant strides on the learning curve as well.
Can Mariota, for instance, put together the kind of season he did in 2016 when he threw 26 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions? Can Henry continue to be the marauding force that he was in the final month of last year? Can Davis and Taylor combine for, say, 130 catches and 10 touchdowns next year, as opposed to the 102 and five they totaled in 2018?
Those are the kind of questions that need to be answered in the affirmative.
Because as good as it is that the Titans maintained continuity with Smith and the offensive system, it will only matter if the offensive results are better than they were last year.
Bill Barnwell's 5 moves the Titans should make this offseason:
1. Cut Johnathan Cyprien. The Titans have gotten little out of Cyprien, who was inconsistent as a four-year starter in Jacksonville before missing 22 of his first 32 games in Tennessee. The team might prefer to bring back Kenny Vaccaro or address strong safety in the draft, but Tennessee can do better than paying Cyprien a $5.5 million base salary in 2019. Parting ways with the 2013 second-round pick would save $5.3 million.
2. Pick up Jack Conklin's fifth-year option. After tearing his ACL in January 2018 during Tennessee's playoff loss in New England, the right tackle had an uneven third season. The 2016 first-rounder missed the first three games of the season rehabbing the knee, went down for one game with a concussion and then sat out the final three contests of the season with knee issues.
It's natural to be concerned about Conklin's knee, but the Titans have to pick up his fifth-year option and hope the 24-year-old will look like his usual self in 2019, another year removed from the injury. Most offensive linemen are able to recover from ACL injuries without missing much, so unless there are complications we don't know about, the Titans should still consider Conklin to be an essential part of their future.
3. Add edge-rushing help. Both Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are free agents, and while GM Jon Robinson knew this day was coming, the preparations haven't gone as planned. Kevin Dodd, a second-round pick in 2016, was cut after two anonymous seasons in Tennessee and is out of football. Meanwhile, 2018 second-rounder Harold Landry had 4.5 sacks in his rookie season. Landry showed promise, but relying on him to be the primary pass-rusher would be aggressive.
The natural thing would be to look at what's going on with the Patriots, but I wonder whether the 270-pound Trey Flowers might be too big to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Mike Vrabel's defense. In a draft full of front-seven help, the Titans seem likely to address the edge with the 19th pick. Rashaan Evans, a first-round pick last year, also will likely see some reps on the outside as well, although his best role is alongside Jayon Brown on the interior.
4. Be realistic about Marcus Mariota. We've seen Mariota play four seasons as a pro quarterback. What we know is ... well, not much. He is capable of great plays and has a knack for big conversions in the fourth quarter, but there also are games in which he looks out of sorts from the start. Mariota struggles with turnovers, as the Oregon product has a below-average interception rate and nine or more fumbles in three of his four seasons. He is on his fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons, after Matt LaFleur left for the Packers, and you might argue that none of those five coordinators has built an offense that actually plays to his strengths.
What you can say with the utmost confidence, though, is that it's difficult to count on Mariota to stay healthy for all 16 games. He has yet to do it as a pro, suffering a meaningful injury each year, though he has missed only eight games across four seasons. In 2015, it was MCL sprains on both of his knees. In 2016, he fractured his right fibula in Week 16. In 2017, he got by with a mere hamstring strain. But last season, the 2015 No. 2 overall pick struggled with neck, elbow and nerve injuries, with a stinger eventually keeping him out of Tennessee's must-win game vs. the Colts in Week 17.
At this point, expecting Mariota, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, to suddenly play 16 games in a row for years at a time is naive. The Titans have to treat the backup quarterback spot less like a fallback plan and more like an inevitability. They need to pay a premium and go after someone they're more confident in for two or three starts per year than Matt Cassel or Blaine Gabbert, who is under contract with the Titans for 2019.
There are free agents who represent a match for Mariota's mobility in Tyrod Taylor and Robert Griffin III, but given that the Titans haven't really built their offense around that mobility, they don't necessarily need a quarterback who is comfortable running the read-option. I wonder whether there might be a fit with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was Tennessee's starting quarterback in 2011 and would qualify as one of the better backups in football. If the game of musical chairs ends with Keenum out of a starting job, the Titans would do well to pay a premium to bring him to Nashville.
5. Extend Kevin Byard. While the free safety was never going to keep up his eight-interception pace from 2017, he had every bit as good of a season in 2018 as the one that got him an All-Pro nod two years ago. He didn't get the same recognition because he picked off "only" four passes, but that's the reality of how voters perceive interception totals as driven by defensive backs when the cause can more often be quarterbacks. The 2016 third-round pick chipped in with two sacks and also threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Dane Cruikshank when the Texans forgot to cover the Titans' gunner in Week 2.
Byard is a free agent in 2020, and while the Titans could choose to go year to year and use the franchise tag on him, Robinson might understandably want to reward one of his best draft picks since joining the organization. The two sides should eventually come to terms on a deal with an average annual salary of about $10 million.
The three teams that have shown the most interest in wide receiver Antonio Brown to date are the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskinsand Tennessee Titans, league sources told ESPN.
He’s a world class player but he would walk all over Marcus, our coaches, and whatever back up is throwing to him for half the season...
we really don't want this kind of production on our team? Surely Mariota is enough of a leader that he can manage AB's personality. Tomlin lets players do whatever they want. That wouldn't be the case in a locker room with Lewan and Vrabel policing things
good god people we drafted Kevin Dyson over Randy Moss because of this same bull shit
also team let's draft Bruno Reagan from Vandy
graded as the best C in the SEC this past year and was just as good at G in previous seasons. He is a local kid who didn't earn a combine invite because he played at Vandy instead of Bama or LSU so he will be available in the 4th round range
That’s Wild that people wouldn’t want Antonio
Thought he was 32 for some reason. He’s only 30. Consider me changed from no thanks to cautiously optimistic.
if it doesn't work out it would make the decision to move on from Mariota even easier. If he can't command a locker room in year five and put together a 16-game season with the type of talent we would be surrounding him with (AB, Davis, potentially Walker, Henry, Lewis, an improved OL, etc) then fuck the guy forever
Yea might as well go for it. Team go get AB and see what happens next year. Reevaluate everything at the end of the year and go from there.
Cyprien probably getting released this week
4 years and $36 million to Adam Humphries, filling a need at slot WR
I'm a fan. Could be a decent safety valve if Delanie isn't the same player.
That'll do JRob.
i like these moves
Grading the move: The Titans get the slot receiver they desperately need in Adam Humphries
The Titans found Marcus Mariota a weapon at wide receiver in free agency, agreeing to terms on a four-year contract with Adam Humphries.
The four-year deal is worth $36 million, according to Mike Garafolo and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.
Why they made the move:
The numbers tell the story on this one. No team got less production (575 yards) from receivers in the slot last season than the Titans, according to SportRadar.
Humphries, meanwhile, was one of the best slot receivers in the NFL in 2018. Only four wide receivers — Tyreek Hill, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyler Boyd and Adam Thielen — produced more yards from the slot than Humphries (666) in 2018. His 42 first-down catches from the slot ranked first, and his 59 receptions from the slot ranked tied for second. Overall, Humphries caught 76 passes for 816 yards with the Bucs.
Humphries has been an extremely efficient player. His 72.9 catch percentage over the last two years ranks ninth among all wide receivers. He knows how to get open, can help the Titans’ offense move the chains on a consistent basis and has some juice when the ball is in his hands.
In 2017, the Titans used the No. 5 overall pick on wide receiver Corey Davis. Humphries should complement Davis’ skill set on the outside and help the Titans improve from last year’s rank of 25th in passing efficiency.
What it means for the market:
Humphries’ deal hits almost the exact average-per-year mark of the three-year, $28.5 million contract that Jamison Crowder will reportedly be signing with the Jets. Golden Tate is older than both players but has been more productive. And Tyrell Williams, who plays on the outside, should definitely eclipse these numbers.
Signing grade: A.
I like this move a lot. Humphries fills a need for the Titans. He’s been a productive player. He’s only 26 years old. And the contract falls in line with the market at slot receiver.
Beat writer thoughts:
This move makes a ton of sense, given GM Jon Robinson’s connection to Tampa Bay (where he worked previously) and the Titans’ borderline desperate need for a productive veteran receiver after Rishard Matthews abruptly quit the team in September.
Humphries, who was excellent on third down last season for the Bucs, essentially fills the Matthews void for less money. And fewer headaches. This is a particularly important addition for Marcus Mariota entering a season that will go a long way in determining his future in Nashville. —Travis Haney
Grading the move: With Rodger Saffold on board, the Titans should be even better on the ground
The Titans added a veteran piece to their offensive line, agreeing to terms with former Rams left guard Rodger Saffold on Tuesday.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it’s a four-year deal worth $44 million and $22.5 million guaranteed.
Why they made the move:
Marcus Mariota was sacked on 11.3 percent of his dropbacks last season, which tied for the highest mark in the NFL with Ryan Tannehill. Part of that was obviously due to Mariota’s willingness to hold onto the ball and extend plays. But the other part of it was protection up front.
Saffold was the top guard on the market. He’s allowed just two sacks in the last two seasons combined, according to STATS. As The Athletic’s Travis Haney points out, Saffold can now take over for Quinton Spain on the left side of Tennessee’s offensive line.
While Saffold has held up well in pass protection, he’s even better in the run game. Last season, the Titans ran the ball 48.4 percent of the time, second most in the league, according to SportRadar. They ranked 12th in rushing efficiency, but with Saffold in the mix, they are now positioned to be even better on the ground.
The only negative with Saffold is his age. He turns 31 in June. But he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down and has missed just two games in the past three seasons.
What it means for the market:
It’s not a strong market for teams looking for help at guard, but Saffold’s deal lines up with what the Bills are reportedly paying center Mitch Morse.
Signing grade: B.
It’s not an exciting signing, but Saffold is a really good player who will help the Titans offensively. Adding him at left guard and wide receiver Adam Humphries (who can get open quickly) in the slot should help Mariota cut down on his number of sacks in 2019.
Beat writer thoughts:
The 2018 Titans allowed 42 sacks of Marcus Mariota, the highest total in his four seasons. It’s something that played a key part in Mariota missing nearly four games due to a recurring nerve injury.
GM Jon Robinson had to somehow bolster the interior line, which particularly struggled at times in protecting the passer. The 30-year-old Saffold’s addition certainly accomplishes that.
Saffold has been healthy the past three seasons, earning All-Pro honors in 2017, and presents a stout inside presence to go with Pro Bowler Taylor Lewan at left tackle. Derrick Henry, who has shown a penchant to favor running left, will also greatly benefit from the line’s revamped left side. If right tackle Jack Conklin returns to his 2016 form, or something close to it, the Titans’ offense may finally be ready for a leap up the NFL ladder. —Travis Haney
Got Cameron wake
Grading the move: Even at 37, Cameron Wake can boost the Titans’ pass rush
The Titans added some pass rush to their defense, agreeing to terms on a three-year deal with edge rusher Cameron Wake.
Per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, Wake’s three-year deal is for $23 million, with $10 million guaranteed.
Why they made the move:
The Titans went into this offseason knowing they needed to bolster their pass rush. Tennessee finished last season ranked 22nd in adjusted sack rate. The Titans have one of the league’s more underrated players at defensive tackle in Jurrell Casey and now add Wake as an edge rusher next to him. If second-year player Harold Landry can make the leap, that’s a formidable group. The question: At 37, can Wake still be effective?
The numbers suggest he can be. Wake’s overall numbers (six sacks, 17 QB hits) dropped last season as he dealt with a knee injury, but they were still respectable. He produced a sack or QB hit on 8.42 percent of his rushes. That ranked eighth among the 174 players who had at least 200 pass-rushing snaps.
In the past two seasons combined, Wake has produced a sack or a QB hit on 9.63 percent of his pass-rush opportunities. Here’s a look at how that compares with the other free agents in this year’s class.
Even though this is listed as a three-year deal, the guess here is that the Titans are unlikely to be committed to Wake beyond 2019.
What it means for the market:
The market for pass rushers is thinning. The one name still available is Ezekiel Ansah.
Signing grade: B.
Signing a 37-year-old player is not ideal and obviously comes with risk. But I think Wake can give the Titans some pass rush for one season. Assuming that the contract details reveal Tennessee can get out of the deal relatively risk-free after 2019, this is a reasonable move that should help the Titans next season.
it's shocking that golden tate is still available. i can't imagine that the titans still have money available and they already filled a hole at slot wr but tate is definitely better than taywan taylor and tajee sharpe, right?
It's just refreshing to have a front office that at least addresses the obvious needs, even if we aren't chasing the big names.
Vaccaro got 4 years for and $26 million with $11.5 million of that guaranteed
also got backup RB and special teams contributor David Fluellen back on a one-year deal
Glad we resigned Vaccaro we lucked out getting him last year at the last minute
We just traded for Tannehill. Giving a 2020 4th-round pick and a 2019 7th-rounder in exchange for that bum and a 2019 6th
We now have the most injury prone starter and backup in the league
Josh Kline released
Pretty fucking good backup though.
Tannehill>>>>>Gabbert, so I like it. We will have a QBBC and start whichever one is healthiest game by game. Two injury-prone QBs is better than one!
yeah looking at his stats he can at least complete a forward pass. So that is a big plus and clearly makes him an upgrade at backup QB, which we all know was a major area of need
we have addressed most of our needs so far. Draft will be key for OL and DL/OLB but apparently it's a deep class for DL so we should be in a good position to really improve the rush
from what we hear, Mariota isn't the type to be reading sports news. But I hope the fact that the #1 headline on ESPN.com is about this trade flips some kind of switch that magically makes him a durable QB who consistently turns in great passing performances
Tennessee Titans get: QB Ryan Tannehill, 2019 sixth-round pick
Miami Dolphins get: 2019 seventh-round pick, 2020 fourth-round pick
Titans grade: C+
Dolphins grade: C+
If you have aspirations of playing quarterback in the NFL, now might be a good time to get to Miami. Days after the Dolphins missed out on signing free agent Teddy Bridgewater to presumably replace Tannehill, Miami decided to respond by getting rid of its starting signal-caller anyway. Tannehill's seven-year run as Dolphins QB1 ended with Friday's trade, as he'll now become the backup to Marcus Mariota in Tennessee.
This is a very similar swap to the Case Keenum trade from earlier this offseason. Like Keenum, Tannehill was on an untenable base salary ($18.7 million) which held no trade value. The Dolphins would have been forced to cut Tannehill, but to facilitate a deal, he was willing to take a pay cut down to a $7 million base salary with incentives. The Broncos were forced to chip in $3.5 million of base salary for Keenum because they owed him guaranteed money, but while the Dolphins didn't owe Tannehill any more money, they paid $5 million of the $7 million in what likely amounted to buying a better draft pick.
Tannehill saw the writing on the wall and took the sort of pay cut he would have been forced to make in free agency anyway, but in doing so, he got to ensure he would be in a promising situation. The Titans have been playoff contenders or participants three years running, and they might have made it into January with a better backup last season.
After seeing Blaine Gabbert implode during the Week 17 play-in loss to the Colts, the Titans couldn't let him return as Mariota's backup for 2019. Tennessee should have prioritized the backup position earlier, of course, given how frequently Mariota gets injured. Tannehill was never stunning as Miami's starter, and he has his own ugly injury history, but his mobility and comfort booting off play-action make him a good fit for what this Titans scheme is likely to look like under Arthur Smith, the team's latest offensive coordinator.
There might even be a bit of a quarterback controversy if Mariota gets hurt and Tannehill plays well in the starter's absence. Over the past four seasons, Tannehill has posted a 91.1 passer rating to Mariota's 89.4 mark. Mariota's Total QBR is much better, owing in part to his superiority as a runner, but both Mariota and Tannehill are in the final years of their respective deals. The Titans organization is making this move for its own peace of mind, not Mariota's.
I would grade this higher for Tennessee's side if the Titans had managed to swap late-round picks and paid the extra cash for Tannehill's base salary. The Dolphins had no leverage here; because Tannehill needed to take a pay cut to make any sort of trade palatable, the former first-round pick essentially had a no-trade clause. Given that there weren't any starting jobs out there, it's hard to imagine that he would have preferred any situation to the one behind Mariota in Tennessee.
From the Dolphins' side, it seems clear they're going to make a move for a quarterback this offseason, given that the only passers left on their roster are Jake Rudock and Luke Falk. They struck out on Bridgewater, and while there were rumors linking the Dolphins to Kyler Murray in the beginning of the draft process, the Heisman Trophy winner's meteoric rise up the charts means he might come off the board to the Cardinals at pick No. 1.
Independent of the Dolphins' landing Murray, Dwayne Haskinsor another young quarterback in the draft, Miami probably needs to add at least one competent veteran for 2019. It's slim pickings in the free-agent market; the most plausible addition is Floridian Blake Bortles, who was cut by the Jaguars this week
I don't need to tell you Bortles has warts, and the Dolphins wouldn't make a long-term commitment to the former third overall pick, but it's at least worth remembering that Bortles threw for four touchdowns in Week 2 against the Patriots, who were coordinated by new Dolphins coach Brian Flores. You can understand why the Dolphins would have preferred Bridgewater, but unless they want to bring back Brock Osweiler or take a flyer on AJ McCarron or Sam Bradford, Bortles is actually the best option available.