Breaking down Tennessee's free agency priorities
With Marcus Mariota entering his sophomore season, the Titans have reason to be optimistic about the future. With the amount of salary cap space Tennessee has, they can be aggressive in free agency if they so choose.
Here are the moves the Titans should consider to help build towards the future.
The Titans are one of four teams without a player among PFF’s top 75 free agents, so there is no clear high-priority player they must bring back. They already re-signed the best player they had available in tight end Craig Stevens (79.2). However, there are some role players that are about to hit the market that the Titans can also affordably re-sign.
LB Zach Brown
The Titans used a trio of linebackers rotating in and out of two inside spots, and one of those players was Zach Brown (69.9). He was one of just six linebackers with two or more interceptions and no touchdowns allowed. His pass-stop percentage of 4.3 and pass tackling efficiency of 14.5 were both among the top five for inside linebackers. The Titans should be able to bring him back at a decent price, and have him continue to contribute in their nickel defense.
NT Al Woods or NT Sammie Lee Hill
For the last two years, the Titans have had two nose tackles who have performed well against the run, but they only really need one. Sammie Lee Hill (76.4 grade against run) missed part of the season with injury and performed better this season, while Al Woods (74.3 grade against the run) has performed better over the last few seasons. Woods has less wear and tear, so he is the better option, but the Titans can’t go wrong bringing either of them back.
The Titans could get away with not cutting any of their players and be just fine with their salary cap situation. In the event they do choose to cut someone, however, here are some reasonable options.
DE Ropati Pitoitua
The first player is defensive end Ropati Pitoitua (68.1), who lost his starting job to DaQuan Jones (79.3), which left him with just 30 snaps on the season. In the previous two seasons, Pitoitua has performed well against the run, but there is no role left for him on the Titans’ roster. They could keep him for injury insurance, but with a cap number of $3.8 million, he would be very expensive injury insurance for just their base defense. If Pitoitua leaves, he should get a shot to start in someone’s base defense.
WR Harry Douglas
The other player that should go is wide receiver Harry Douglas (54.8). While Douglas kept one of the two starting receiving jobs all season, the three younger receivers of Dorial Green-Beckham (73.6), Kendall Wright (72.4) and Justin Hunter (65.4) all out-performed Douglas on a per-play basis. Douglas averaged just 0.95 yards per route run on the season, second-lowest among NFL receivers with at least 300 routes. Douglas is already on the wrong end of 30 years old, and the Titans would free up $3 million by letting him go.
The Titans already have an average NFL defense, so it’s the offense that they really need to focus on. The one clear weak point on the offense was the line. 2014 first-round pick Taylor Lewan (83.3) played very well at left tackle, and third-year right guard Chance Warmack (64.3) was a top-10 right guard over the second half of 2015. It was the rest of the line where players were rotating in and out, and no one made a strong case for remaining a starter in 2016.
RT Mitchell Schwartz
At right tackle, one option they have is Cleveland free agent Mitchell Schwartz (86.6). The Titans’ right tackles last year allowed a combined 12 sacks, while Schwartz last year allowed just three.
LG Jeff Allen
At left guard, there are some good veteran options, but the Titans likely want to stay younger, so Jeff Allen (85.5) would make a nice fit. He graded very well as a run-blocker and didn’t allow a sack or hit in 2015 for the Chiefs.
Marcus Mariota was sacked 26.2 percent of the time when he was under pressure in 2015, the highest rate in the league. The Titans could afford to add both linemen and make a huge improvement, but even adding one would help keep the pressure away from Mariota, which would mean fewer sacks. RB Antonio Andrews averaged just 1.2 yards before contact per carry, and helping the offensive line via free agency would help get Andrews more room to run.