Breaking down Tennessee’s free agency priorities

Nathan Jahnke previews free agency for the Tennessee Titans, naming players to re-sign, let walk, and target.

| 8 months ago
(AP Photo/Joe Howell)

(AP Photo/Joe Howell)

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.

Let walk

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.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I don’t think the Titans need to be particularly aggressive with free agency. Developing continuity and giving their younger players time to mature should be the focus here.

    • Panthers/Truth

      They need some mid career (mid 20’s) to share their experience with their young players, and a little winning experience wouldn’t hurt either. Here’s my list of FA targets for the Titans.

      (1) RB Lamar Miller (5’10”, 224, 4.40-40) – He only turns 25 this season, has averaged 4.6 YPC for his career with the Dolphins, has little millage (only 632 career carries), and is a great receiver. He’s a perfect fit for a Mariota led offense. The Titans have no RB speed (Mariota needs it), and the draft doesn’t offer any top speed RB’s.

      (2) RT (if they don’t draft OT at #1) Kelechi Osemele (6’5″, 330, 27) of the Ravens, Mitchell Schwartz (6’5″, 320, age 26) of the Browns or Ryan Schraeder (6’7″, 300, age 28) of the Falcons – Both are very good pass blockers.

      (3) FS Tashaun Gipson (5’11”, 205, age 25) – He had a great 2014 for the Browns, but a very poor 2015, thanks to injuries, which should keep his price down. Everyone loves the Chiefs (former UT player) FS Eric Berry 6’0″, 211, age 27), but the Chiefs say they will franchise tag him.

      • Panthers/Truth

        Here are some more FA’s I like, but they are more iffy for the Titans.

        (4) DE Greg Hardy (6’4, 279, age 28) – He’s a great pass rusher (even getting double digit sacks at 290 pounds with the Panthers), but a problem child off the field, and in the locker room (that’s why the Panthers didn’t re-sign him, and the Cowboys won’t either). He played for Mississippi, so he might like Nashville, but he might be a hard sale, because he’s never played in a 3-4 defense before. He would be a big improvement over the Titans best lineup of Blackson at DE on running downs, then kicking inside to NT on passing downs, and replaced at DE by Klug. He’s a big risk, but is he worth it for his pass rush?

        (5) C Stefen Wisniewski (6’3″, 307, age 27) – He’s just above average, but he’s the best by far of a poor FA group at C. His signing would hurt the Jaguars.

        (6) RG Brandon Brooks (6’5″, 335, age 27) – He’s a good pass blocker, and his signing would hurt the Texans, but who would move to LG, him or Warmack.

        (7) CB Casey Hayward (5’11”, 192, age 26) – He’s a good CB, but CB’s are always overpriced as FA’s, so I prefer drafting them.

      • brains646

        Joe Barksdale is better than all the OT you mentioned and had a better season last year on a terrible club.

        • GoodMojo1

          I like Joe B., if Tunsil is not #1. I like M. Schwartz and Schraeder too.

    • GoodMojo1

      They need to make sure Mariota doesn’t get crippled while the younger players mature. He cannot keep getting hit at the pace Titans QBs have been getting hit for the past few seasons.

      Mariota could also benefit from a high football IQ C to help him develop, as in helping him recognize defensive alignments at the line, changing protections, potential audible opportunities, etc. Those situations are tailor made for an Alex Mack or a Stefen Wisniewski. MM8 has already said words to the effect he’d like to emulate Peyton Manning at the line of scrimmage”,

  • Frank Galovic

    My thought is that they do need veteran help on the OL. They have a lot of youth with six linemen from last year with 3 or less years experience. They need that veteran to provide leadership. Lewan could develop to that position but needs to mature a bit.

    • Panthers/Truth

      In the NFL quality wins, not numbers. The Titans only quality OL is Lewan, Warmack is just OK (a better run blocker, but a below average pass blocker at least) who has never lived up to his draft position, while the rest of their O-Line stinks (OG Quinton Spain has some good potential). Both their 2016 draft picks (#66 OG/OT Poutasi tops out as a backup OG, and #208 C Gallik will always be fighting to hold onto a roster spot) were huge reaches,, and predictable flops. Starting C Schwenke has never lived up to his physical potential, at least partially due to injuries.

      • Frank Galovic

        They haven’t had a decent OL coach since Munchak was promoted to HC. I’m not disagreeing with you on the quality that is why I think they should go FA for several linemen. They have plenty of cap room. I just think that if they can trade the top pick for a few spaces down and a couple of later picks and perhaps a one next year. There looks to be some quality OL in free agencies that are not at the end of their careers. What I see in the play of their young OL people is bad technique. Lewan often gets beat because he tends to lean to far into the defensive player and then can’t stay with them. Warmack has poor technique when he pulls. His first step when he pulls is backwards instead of to the left. He often gets to the hole just as the back gets there and causes a traffic jam. Even on run blocking once he gets a step or two down field he starts to get off balance.

        Now, some people can never be coached out of their bad habits. But the Titans have so many needs where they don’t have the overall quality that they need and they can’t address it all. They also need that seasoned OL to show these younger players how to practice, Ihow to play and how to carry themselves on and off the field.

        I see Gallick first one out. Bell is someone who is the third guy in. I do like Spain. I didn’t understand drafting Poutasi. So, my thought is picking up a left guard and a right tackle in free agency, drafting a wide receiver and DB’s. If a athletic linebacker with size is available then get him also. Cut Woods, keep Hill and draft a DL.

        As far as I can see they only three areas they are set on: QB, ends and kickers.

      • Anthony

        i dont think we’ve seen enough of poutasi at guard to call him backup material Ken Whisenhunt should have never put him at tackle when our entire scouting department called him a guard at the next level throughout the draft process

  • Frank Galovic

    If they let Douglas go they might need another slot receiver. Caroo could fill that need in the draft but I would prefer Docston (sp?). I just don’t see Hunter as a long term solution in the receiving corps.

  • Kenneth

    We don’t need that POS Brown. He’s tweeted on his twitter like three times he wants out of Tennessee

    • Panthers/Truth

      Brown just thinks he’s a better fit as a 4-3 OLB.

  • Alex

    All this stuff about free agency lineman but does anyone remember Andy from the bills who we spent a lot of paper for???? Be careful how much you spend on an oline in free agency.. He is a free agent for a reason cuz if he was that good his old team would have kept him… Good lineman are too valuable these days to let one walk in free agency

  • GoodMojo1

    If you lead the NFL in sacks allowed, you can’t just give up on OL spending (or drafting, for that matter) because you’ve spent too much money. You simply must fix your offensive line.

    If your “Face Of The Franchise” Quarterback misses 25% of his rookie season due to injuries to both knees (either of which could have been season-ending or career-ending) suffered inside an unreliable pocket, you can’t just say, “screw the offensive line, we’ve focused on offense too long now, it’s time to focus on our defense.” The Titans cannot continue to allow Marcus Mariota to suffer these big hits.

    We are where we are. The Titans are where the ownership, the executive offices and the prior GM have left them: At the bottom of the league, in a state of rebuilding.

    There will be no instant turnaround to what used to be. My hope is to immediately be able to watch some good, competitive football (Yes, from the Titans…) beginning this coming season. Last season, I couldn’t finish most Titans games, and then would lose my appetite to watch other teams play better football later in the day. I’m tired of that.

    The return of the Tennessee Titans to a position of strength. The ascension to a position of perennial excellence must start from where they are… at the bottom. The rise to competitive starts from the same place, but the pieces to get there are fewer and more of them are already in place.

    Long-term dominance will be built through the draft, no doubt. Stacking successful drafts on top of successful drafts will build a roster where they can plug in a couple of FAs here and there, each off-season to remain at or near the top of the league… like the Patriots seem to do.

    Again, the Titans are where they are. They have Marcus Mariota and a few other pieces on the weakest roster in the NFL. They have a lot of CAP money and the #1 pick in the draft, which may or may not be trade bait. The need to upgrade the roster is as self-evident as is the need to do it right.

    Job #1: Mariota must be protected either by FA alone, or through a combination of FA and draft. This will come with the development of both the run game and pass protection. No one will look effective until There are options in FA at C, RT, and LG that are viable. Tunsil alone is not a solution, because the interior OL is still a big problem.

    After job #1, there are other options. If the OL is completely handled through FA, Jalen Ramsey at #1 is a great option, with an FA S . If not, Tunsil at #1, FAs at C, LG. S, and CB, then draft away in either circumstance.

    No organization can afford to blow money year after year. Smart moves must be made, because money sat on does no good either, its got to be put to work. I’m hoping Jon Robinson’s strength in talent evaluation pays off for the Titans in FA as well as the draft, so they can get some veteran experience in to help raise up the youngsters already here, and those coming in.