#1 The Tennessee Titans are approaching a crossroads in the next 12 months von laiyongcai92 14.02.2019 04:55

The Tennessee Titans franchise is coming to a fork in the road over the next 12 months and the path that Jon Robinson takes will set the course for the roster for years to come.Last weekend Jimmy Morris highlighted the 11 players who may be playing their last season in Tennessee. In addition to that group ó which includes 7 projected starters in Taylor Lewan Youth Derrick Henry Jersey , Delanie Walker, Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Rishard Matthews, Bennie Logan, and Quinton Spain ó the team is entering contract extension range for Marcus Mariota, Kevin Byard, and Derrick Henry next offseason. Robinson will also need to decide whether or not to pick up the 5th year option on Jack Conklinís rookie contract next spring and could even face decisions on what to do with Logan Ryan, Wesley Woodyard, and Ben Jones in this time frame. Thatís 13 of 22 starters that the Titans brass could be making long term commitments to (or deciding to walk away from) in the next 12 months and itís a group that includes many of the teamís best players. In fact, Iíd argue that 7 or 8 of the teamís top 10 players are listed above. The biggest of the decisions center around stars coming to end of their rookie contracts in Lewan, Mariota, and Byard. Lewanís contract has been the talk of the Titans offseason and for good reason. When the deal gets done it will almost certainly make Lewan the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Based on the recent contracts handed out to other top offensive linemen in Andrew Norwell, Zack Martin, and Nate Solder, I would expect the numbers to come in around 5-6 years with $15-17M per year and about 50-60% of the total dollars guaranteed. That would make it the second largest contract ever handed out by the franchise behind only Steve McNairís 6-year, $112M deal* signed in 2004.*In reality this deal was a restructuring cap maneuver made by former GM Floyd Reese to try to squeeze one or two more runs out of that early 2000ís Super Bowl window. That contract ultimately led to the ugly break up between the Titans and McNair when the ridiculous $23.46M cap hit came due in 2006.The next two major contracts are unlikely to come this offseason, but will probably get done before the start of the 2019 season. Kevin Byardís first two seasons as a pro have been outstanding and he already has his new coaching staff raving about his preparation and leadership. Those qualities have allowed him to quickly become an instrumental piece of the Titans defense. Though his rookie contract runs through the end of the 2019 season, it seems likely that the team would try to lock him up to a long term deal by the end of next summer. If Byardís 2018 performance is anywhere close to his First-Team All-Pro season a year ago, his agent will have a real argument to make him the top paid safety in the NFL. That throne currently belongs to Eric Berry who signed a 6-year, $78M deal before the start of the 2017 season. I think the floor for any long term deal would start at Reshad Jonesí 5-year, $60M contract. However, both of those potential contracts would be dwarfed by the looming Marcus Mariota extension. The Titans picked up Mariotaís 5th year option on his rookie deal earlier this offseason which means he is now officially under contract through the 2019 season. Franchise quarterbacks are the NFLís most valuable asset and itís reflected in their pay. The average annual salaries for quarterbacks hit the $30M mark with Matt Ryanís 5-year, $150M extension earlier this offseason and you can expect Mariotaís deal to top that number. There is no doubt that Ryan is more accomplished than Mariota, but the Titans QB is younger and has shown tremendous potential for the majority of his 3-year career to this point despite a less than stellar supporting cast. Besides Navy Malcolm Butler Jersey , quarterback contracts will continue to skyrocket as long as there arenít enough good QBs to go around. One small benefit to the Titans is the fact that Jameis Winston likely isnít going to be getting a mega-contract from the Bucs with his current off-the-field issues, so there will be one fewer contract to one-up for Mariotaís agents. If the Titans arenít 100% sold on Mariotaís long term prospects by the end of 2018, they can always choose to let him play out his 5th year option and then have the option to franchise tag him for a couple years before truly committing long term. The risk with that strategy is that you antagonize your most important player and you also likely end up paying more in the long run thanks to larger and larger comparable QB contracts hitting the market. If the Titans extend all three of these players before the start of next yearís training camp, they will have handed out three contracts worth more than $10M per year in less than 12 months after only giving out three such deals in the teamís entire existence to this point (McNair, Chris Johnson, and Jurrell Casey). Itís possible that they allow either Byard or Mariota to play on the final year of their deal in 2019 with the knowledge that they could use the franchise tag to hang on to them for another year if needed, but again, the franchise tag tends to be a distraction and frequently leads to hold outs during the offseason. If they can reach a reasonable deal without getting to that point, itís certainly in the teamís best interest to do so.Those deals would add roughly $60M per year to the Titans bottom line ó nearly one-third of the projected 2019 salary cap ó and will completely change the teamís cap dynamic moving forward. Tennessee currently ranks 4th in the NFL with $33.2M in available cap space for 2018 and roughly $68M (after rolling over their unused cap and assuming a league wide cap bump to $190M for next season) for 2019. That $68M number includes a $20.9M cap hold for Mariota and a $1.1M cap hold for Byard based on their current deals, so the Titans would be able to pay Lewan, Mariota, and Byard prior to the 2019 season and still have about $30M to spend on free agency and the rookie contracts for their 2019 draft class. That will make it very difficult for the Titans to afford Orakpo, Morgan, Walker, Matthews, Logan, and Spain. You could have three of those guys back, maybe four if one or two of them take a team friendly deal, but that wonít leave room for much else. And that doesnít even begin to speak to other 2019 free agents like special teams ace Brynden Trawick, depth tight ends Phillip Supernaw and Luke Stocker, or other potential depth/special teams players like Will Compton, Kevin Pamphile, Nate Palmer, and Michael Campanaro. Those roster spots will all need to be filled one way or another. Draft picks will likely play a big role in that, but I would expect at least two or three veteran starters to be playing elsewhere by 2019.The team has some opportunities to save money elsewhere if needed as well. Logan Ryan Navy Will Compton Jersey , Ben Jones, Wesley Woodyard, and Johnathan Cyprien will all have very little guaranteed money left on their deals for the 2019 season so they would be prime candidates to be cut or restructured next offseason. Of course cutting any of those players also means replacing another starter. That means that we will soon find out what Jon Robinson truly values. Where will he choose to invest his limited capital on the roster? Will he try to build a dominant defense and hope Mariotaís play can raise the level of the offensive players around him? Or will he continue to try to build Mariotaís supporting cast and hope to get by with one or two defensive stars surrounded by young or unproven talent? Will he invest more in receivers or offensive linemen? Derrick Henry will also be looking for a new contract by the end of 2019. Will the Titans give it to him, or will they choose to dip back in to the draft for a cheap replacement? Does Robinson prefer a dominant pass rush or a dominant secondary? These questions will start to be answered over the next calendar year and it could either set the Titans up for a long run of relevance and another legitimate title window or it could cause them to backslide in to more mediocrity (or worse). There is far more reason for optimism than fear for Titans fans heading in to this pivotal stretch though. Robinson has been excellent during his first two and a half years on the job, changing the culture and upgrading the talent of the team. His complete lack of fear when it comes to making bold decisions is refreshing and should serve him well as he faces some of the most important questions in this franchiseís history over the next 12 months. With this back drop, I will be taking a look at what analytics and history have to say about some of these team building decisions over the next few weeks, but if youíre Jon Robinson, who would you pay and whatís your plan moving in to this new era of Titans football?Get your ďHonorĒ Landry shirt here.Takeaways from the Titans initial 53-man roster The Titans finalized their initial 53-man roster for the 2018 season yesterday. There werenít any real shockers, but there were a few mild surprises among the selections. Here are the most surprising keeps and cuts according to me. Surprising KeepsAaron Stinnie, GI was pretty certain that Stinnie was going to be cut after a really bad showing against the Steelers in the preseason, but the Titans must have liked what they saw from him in practices. The 6í-3Ē, 312 pound UDFA guard from James Madison fits the athletic profile of a zone blocking guard though, running a 4.65-second short shuttle and a 7.63-second 3-cone during his pro day. Stinnie is a relatively raw prospect who only played two years of high school football and began his college career as a defensive lineman. I thought Tyler Marz was likely to be the 9th offensive lineman kept, but he ended up getting added to the practice squad instead. The Titans must think Stinnie has considerable upside to use a roster spot on him. Cameron Batson, WR/KRBatson is another guy that I donít think I saw on any 53-man roster projections. Most felt like the 6th wide receiver spot ó if the Titans chose to keep 6 ó would come down to Nick Williams or Deontay Burnett, but it ended up being the explosive Batson who got the nod. Batson played his college ball at Texas Tech, totaling 1,499 receiving yards over 50 games. He also returned kicks and punts during his Red Raider career. Batson is undersized at 5í-8Ē tall and 175 pounds, but he makes up for it with his explosiveness. He ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at Texas Techís pro day which would have tied for the fastest time at the combine if heíd run it there. Batson also posted blistering 3.96-second short shuttle and 6.69-second 3-cone and a 39Ē vertical. In addition to being a tremendous athlete, heís also a highly intelligent player, graduating from Tech with honors and majoring in accounting. Heís was a 2017 semi-finalist for the Campbell Award, an honor given to college footballís best scholar-athlete.During the preseason Batson was the Titans primary kick returner, picking up 161 yards on 7 returns. He also added 19 yards on 4 punt returns and 7 catches for 74 yards in the passing game. He repeatedly earned praise from Vrabel for his fearlessness in the return game and, obviously, special teams will be his primary role on the team. My guess is that Batson is the opening day starting kick returner with Adoreeí Jackson handling punts. Thatís probably what made him the choice at this spot over a guy like Deontay Burnett too. While he likely wonít get much work as a receiver in 2018 Youth Jonnu Smith Jersey , Batson clearly profiles as a slot type player who can offer elite run after catch ability. Something he showed off on the play below. Vrabel was very complimentary of the UDFA receivers that the team brought in right before cut day so that speaks to how much they must like Batson as he was the only one to make the roster.Matt Dickerson, DLDickerson probably qualifies as a surprise, but this is one that I thought was in play. I even had him making it on my second-to-last 53-man roster projection before regrettably leaving him off on my final version. Dickerson is a guy that Jim Wyatt first put on my radar when he mentioned him as one of the UDFAs that stood out to him during OTAs. Dickerson is a great size-weight-speed prospect at 6í-5Ē and 292 pounds with good movement skills. During preseason, Dickerson flashed consistently as both a run defender and an interior pass rusher. Dickerson figures to get some snaps a small part of the defensive line rotation for the Titans this season as the team only kept 5 at this position. Anthony Firkser, TEIf you read my early training camp practice reports or follow me on Twitter, you know I loved Firkser from day one. I didnít think the Titans would end up keeping him after an up and down preseason, but Iím glad to be wrong in this case. Firkser is a 6í-2Ē, 246 pound move tight end who played his college ball at Harvard. He led the Crimson in receiving yards during his senior season in 2016. After going undrafted in the 2017 draft, he spent time with the Jets and Chiefs at various times last season. During camp, Firkser made play after play in the passing game. He flashed that ability in the preseason game against the Steelers, turning in a 5 catch, 68 yard, 1 touchdown line, including this great grab up the seam. Firkser can contribute on special teams as well which gives him a chance to be active on game days this fall. I canít wait for NFL announcers to learn that he went to Harvard. Surprising CutsJulius Warmsley, DLThe fact that Warmsleyís omission from the 53-man roster qualifies as a surprise is a testament to the work he put in during camp and preseason. As a 28 year old player who had spent the better part of the last 4 seasons on and off various practice squads Warmsley didnít profile as a training camp darling coming in, but he ended up as one anyway.He earned some early praise from Vrabel and quickly vaulted ahead of David King on the defensive line rotation, even getting some snaps with the first team defense from time to time. He continued his excellent play throughout the preseason which led many to think he was a borderline lock for the 53-man roster. My read on why Warmsley didnít make the cut is that the Titans likely felt that the gap between Warmsley and Dickerson was relatively small and Dickerson is 6 years younger, offering higher long term upside. Nick Williams, WRWilliams made some waves early in camp and preseason and looked to be a likely roster candidate as a slot receiver who could contribute on special teams as well. However, like Warmsley, Williams is an older player at 27 years old and a hamstring injury suffered during the Steelers game likely played a role in him getting left off the 53. Itís possible that the Titans wait for Williams to heal and then add him back later in the season. Deontay Burnett, WRThis may be the least popular of all the Titans cuts. Fans loved Burnett, who showed great feel for the game and outstanding hands during preseason action. At just 20 years old, he also offered considerable upside as a long term development prospect. I understand why people liked him, but I think his undoing was likely special teams related. He didnít offer as much there as guys like Batson and Darius Jennings and was pretty much limited to just the slot role on offense. As a back of the roster receiver Navy Kamalei Correa Jersey , itís tough to make the team without offering more versatility. He went unclaimed through the waiver process before signing on to the Jets practice squad. Iím guessing the Titans would have liked to bring him back on their practice squad, but Burnett chose to reunite with his college QB, Sam Darnold, in New York. Akrum Wadley, RBWadley is a guy that many expected to compete for the third running back spot with David Fluellen, but that battle never really materialized in camp. The question then became whether he would force the Titans to keep four backs, but injuries held him back and left him on the outside looking in by cut day. The Titans signed Dalyn Dawkins to the practice squad already so it seems like they are moving on without Wadley altogether (though there are still four practice squad spots open as of this writing). Other TakeawaysLuke Falk didnít earn a spot on the 53-man roster and I agree with the decision to let him go, even if he provides some information about the offense to the Dolphins. He doesnít have an NFL arm and thatís not something that usually develops at the professional level. Keeping Firkser tells me that we are going to see plenty of 12 personnel in this offense. Matt LaFleur has commented that the Rams league-leading use of 11 personnel was more by necessity than design last season based on getting their best players on the field. I expect the Titans to use multiple tight end sets fairly often in 2018, though probably not at the level that Mike Mularkey did.The Vrabel Titans will prioritize special teams. The team kept at least three players ó besides specialists Ryan Succop, Brett Kern, and Beau Brinkley ó for their ability to impact the game on 4th down. Batson, Daren Bates, and Brynden Trawick are all on the 53-man roster to help in the kick coverage and return games primarily. Additionally, players like Darius Jennings, LeShaun Sims, Dane Cruikshank, and Will Compton all likely had their roster odds boosted by their ability to help on special teams. Jack Conklin was activated off PUP which means the team believes their starting right tackle will be ready to return at least a week or two prior to Week 7 (when he would have been eligible to return had he stayed on PUP). Thatís great news for the Titans. The Titans ended up keeping 4 players from their 2018 UDFA class ó Stinnie, Dickerson, Batson, and Sharif Finch ó even though it may not have been some of the guys fans expected to make it. Will the Titans have a Malcolm Butler/Wesley Woodyard/Quinton Spain success story out of this group?

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