Offseason Primer: Tennessee Titans
The 2015–16 season was quite unusual for the Tennessee Titans. Just a year after hiring a new head coach and seven months after drafting their future franchise player, the organization found themselves in a tumultuous position. As a result of that position, Ken Whisenhunt was fired and the team continued to struggle as the season progressed. With very few foundational players on this roster, Tennessee figures to be an active team this offseason. Here’s what we think they’ll do before next season begins.
Hire a New Coach: To say that Marcus Mariota and Ken Whisenhunt were not a perfect fit for each other would probably be an understatement. The fact that the team drafted Mariota, regardless of Whisenhunt’s personal preferences, displays just how clear it is that attaining a franchise QB surmounts all other organizational plans. Once Whisenhunt was let go and Mike Mularkey was in place, some thought his style would mesh better with Mariota. With Mariota’s injuries keeping him from playing, his congruence with Mularkey was never established. As the Titans enter this offseason, many assume they will look outside the organization for their new coach– with Mularkey being disqualified from contention due to his poor record in his short time as head coach.
There are quite a few coaches, many whose names have surfaced in prospective head coaching circles before, being linked to the Titans. Among them is recently departed Eagles coach Chip Kelly. The linkage is obvious, as Kelly was once Marcus Mariota’s college coach and Kelly has spoken highly of Mariota in the past. It remains to be seen whether Kelly would be interested in the Tennessee gig, however, as long as Mariota is their quarterback, one would have to assume Kelly’s at least going to inquire about the job. Though Kelly may be the most high-profile candidate, he’s not the only coach who could possibly wind up in Nashville. With a potential star quarterback in Mariota, many assume the next coach will come from the offensive side of the ball. That may be true, though there is no shortage of candidates with defensive backgrounds, an area the Titans could certainly use some help as well. Some additional candidates include: Teryl Austin (Lions Defensive Coordinator), Sean McDermott (Panthers Defensive Coordinator), and Gregg Williams (Rams Defensive Coordinator).
Austin and McDermott are relatively new names and are guys that have popped up recently due to the success of their defenses. Austin seems like the more likely candidate of the two, as McDermott has ties to other teams with openings and runs a 4–3 defensive scheme which counters the system currently in place in Tennessee. Austin currently runs a 4–3 as well in Detroit, but is familiar with the 3–4 and has ran it in his prior positions in other organizations. Gregg Williams is the familiar candidate, as his tenure throughout the NFL has spanned nearly 25 years. Williams is no stranger to controversy, as he was at the center of the Bountygate scandal and was also accused of being a “dirty” coach, by Mike Zimmer after a game this season against the Vikings where Teddy Bridgewater was concussed after taking a blow to the head by one of Williams’ players. Williams’ history as a head coach in the NFL isn’t great, but he has a history with both the Houston Oilers and the Titans organization and his name could surface as the Titans begin conducting interviews.
Improve Skill Positions and Offensive Line: The Titans have had only two 1,000 yard receivers in the past 10 seasons, with Nate Washington accomplishing the feat in 2011 and Kendall Wright in 2013. Additionally, they haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since Chris Johnson in 2013. Needless to say, the offense is in need of some major overhaul. With the quarterback position looking potentially stable in the future, though the Titans are no stranger to young QBs cliff diving (Vince Young, Jake Locker), it would be in their best interest to surround their young stud with playmakers who can help Mariota advance in his development as a pro-quarterback.
Obviously, much of the personnel decisions will rely on whoever the Titans brass decides to coach the team, even still, there are plenty of upcoming free-agents in 2016 that the Titans should certainly take a look at. Beginning with the running back position, it is perhaps the deepest position in which the Titans could acquire talent– as it is certainly needed. There are young targets like Doug Martin and Lamar Miller, who will come at a high price, but could be possibilities. Martin’s asking price may be too outrageous for the Titans to engage, due to his success this season as the top-rusher in the NFL this season behind Adrian Peterson, and it is assumed Tampa Bay will make a strident effort to retain him. There are less expensive veteran options to be had, such as the Bears’ Matt Forte, and the Packers’ lightning to Eddie Lacy’s thunder, James Starks. Each of their contracts will likely be shorter and for less money due to their ages. Forte could be an excellent option for the Titans, given his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, as current Titans RBs have caught just 70 passes this season, with 31 of them coming from Dexter McCluster alone. Forte himself, averages 60.5 receptions per season and could really diversify the Titans offense with his pass-catching abilities if signed. Numerous trade candidates exist as well, such as: DeMarco Murray (PHI), MarShawn Lynch (SEA), DeAngelo Williams (PIT), and Eddie Lacy (GB).
The Titans would also be wise to improve their depth at the wide-receiver position, as well as the offensive line. After spending numerous draft picks at each position, on players like Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham, Chance Warmack and Taylor Lewan, the potential of those players has not come to fruition. After the Andy LeVitre disaster, the Titans might be reluctant to spend big money on free agent offensive linemen, however, the depth and skill level of that group needs to be improved somehow, whether it be through the draft or the bargain bins of free agency. The wide-receiver position is a different story altogether. The free-agent pool is sparse, but there are receiving prospects to be had in the draft within the first few rounds, which could really help improve the Titans struggling offensive unit. Again, trades are always a possibility to help improve these positions, but it’s clear that the Titans would be best suited to conserve their draft picks and use them on young players, on rookie contracts.
Evaluate the Front Office: The Titans promoted Ruston Webster to the role of General Manager in 2012. Since then, he has had an array of curve balls thrown his way. In that time, longtime Oilers/Titans owner Bud Adams passed away and the front office has been somewhat disjointed since then. The Titans have not been a good football team under Webster, but that surely is not all his fault, as there have been a myriad of issues surrounding the team– top to bottom. With Webster’s contract reportedly expiring, it remains to be seen whether the Titans will keep him around for the next phase of the Titans rebuilding efforts, though the CEO and participating owners have given him public votes of confidence in recent months. There are numerous question marks surrounding the entire Tennessee organization and it is likely that once the team decides its front office situation and hires a new coach, everyone will have a clearer sense of the direction this team is headed.
Originally published at stevegrahamwatchessports.wordpress.com on December 31, 2015.