2014 Team Needs: Tennessee Titans
Gordon McGuinness looks over the needs for Tennessee and offers free agent fixes for all three levels of the defense.
2014 Team Needs: Tennessee Titans
After another disappointing season that saw them miss out on the playoffs once again, the Tennessee Titans made a change at the top and come into the 2014 season with new head coach Ken Whisenhunt at the helm, after the former Arizona Cardinals leader spent a year in San Diego as the Chargers offensive co-ordinator.
The big question mark that the team haven’t been able to answer yet is whether or not quarterback Jake Locker is the man to lead them from the position for the next decade or not. We’ve seen flashes of good play but not with enough consistency, with injuries disrupting his career.
Outside of the quarterback spot they have a roster with plenty of talent at some spots, and some key areas of weakness at others so, with that in mind, let’s take a look at their three key needs this offseason.
Potential Cap Casualties
Last week’s cap increase has helped the Titans out, with them now having $10m in available cap space this offseason (per overthecap.com). That’s not a massive amount, but there are some ways they can free up some more.
– The $10m cap hit that running back Chris Johnson carries just doesn’t seem justifiable given his level of play since that 2,000-yard season. There’s still the odd splash play here and there, but the $6m they would save by cutting him could be better spent elsewhere.
– Is right tackle David Stewart still worth $6.4m? Declining play over the past few years would suggest otherwise, and the team could potentially upgrade at the position without spending any more.
– Meanwhile, the likes of Michael Griffin and Kamerion Wimbley have cap hits over $7m, and would seem like ideal candidates for restructuring.
Though he doesn’t get the recognition around the league he deserves, the Titans are poised to lose one of the better cornerbacks in the league if they are unable to bring Alterraun Verner back into the fold. Never grading any lower than +6.5 in a single season since entering the league back in 2010, Verner allowed just 579 yards through the air in 2013.
Free agent fix: After missing some time and playing hurt in 2013, the Titans may be able to take advantage of a reduced market for Tarrell Brown. The San Francisco 49ers’ best cornerback in recent years, Brown had the fourth highest coverage grade of any corner when he was healthy in 2012. He struggled with the injury in 2013, but came on strong down the stretch and was one of the 49ers’ top players in the playoffs.
While Akeem Ayers has shown himself to be a good player so far in his career, and Zach Brown had a pair of really good games late in the year that will give the team hope, the Titans could definitely improve over Moise Fokou in the middle of that defense. Our third-lowest graded inside linebacker in 2013, his struggles were across the board as he graded negatively against the run, in coverage, as a pass rusher and committed five penalties to top it all off. His -20.0 grade is particularly concerning given that he missed four games too, so it’s clear that the team should be looking for a replacement here.
Free agent fix: If you’re willing to believe that his play against the run was just a down year last year, there’s a real bargain to be had in Daryl Smith once again. There’s no denying he struggled getting off of blocks in 2013 but he was very good in coverage and offered something as a pass rusher on the rare occasions the Ravens sent him too. His poor play against the run came as a huge surprise, with positive grades in his previous two full seasons so if a team like the Titans are prepared to take a gamble, they may find themselves all the better for it by the time the 2014 season kicks off.
With Derrick Morgan on one edge, the Titans need to find someone to rush the passer opposite him. Kamerion Wimbley isn’t cut out for a full time role, while Ropati Pitoitua is good against the run but doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, and is a free agent anyway so might not be back. With the money they have available they probably won’t be chasing down one of the top edge rushers available, but there are some productive players out there who could add something to the defense without breaking the bank.
Free agent fix: An interesting option for the Titans to take a look at would be Willie Young from the Detroit Lions. A bit part player for much of his four year career, he had a couple of strong games in the second half of the 2012 season before taking over as a starter last year. His four sacks might not seem like much, but when you consider that he added eight hits and 48 hurries, giving him 60 total pressures from 499 pass rushing attempts, you see that he was a fairly productive pass rusher.
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.