Tennessee Titans: State of Franchise at the Start of 2014 Offseason
Whenever there's a head coaching change or a front office change, it always seems like things are going horribly for the franchise.
Well, luckily that's not always the case. Sometimes, a team is on the verge and just needs a few pieces to be ready to take it to the next level.
The Tennessee Titans are a little closer to the latter than the former. Here are a few reasons why:
2013 in Review
First of all, let's look at what went wrong and what went right in 2013.
Well, the Titans finished 2013 at 7-9. It could've been better; it could've been worse. The Titans were a relatively healthy team this past season, but the injury that killed the season was the injury to Jake Locker.
In today's NFL, everything starts and ends with the quarterback, so having Locker injured effectively killed the season.
Other than that, the team looked pretty good. The defense was great, despite former defensive coordinator Jerry Gray's conservative approach, and the offensive line struggled but looked like it was coming together at the end.
Were Locker to stay healthy, the Titans would have competed for a playoff spot, so the new staff has a lot of talent to work with.
The Titans look good for the draft so far. At No. 11 overall, they have a high pick, and several of the positions they'll be wanting to draft (defensive end, offensive tackle, cornerback) are deep in this year's draft class, so things look good.
The Titans are also looking at a future with a different front defensively, so the kinds of pass-rushers they can take has expanded. They can find a place for Khalil Mack as well as they can for Kony Ealy.
Whatever direction they go in the draft, things look good for the Titans on that front, even though they're missing their third-rounder.
Let's face it: The Titans are going to need to make some cuts this offseason.
As of right now, according to Over the Cap, the Titans owe their players $127 million next season. When you remember that the salary cap in 2013 was only $123 million, you see that they don't have a lot of room to spare, if any.
Luckily, a few strategic cuts can free up a lot of cap space. Chris Johnson is probably a goner, and cutting him will free up $6 million.
Cutting David Stewart would free up even more and, more importantly, wouldn't result in any dead money that the Titans would have to pick up later.
Now, unfortunately, that means cutting two of the better players on the team, but neither is really worth what they're being paid in 2014, so it really isn't a big loss, and it'll give the Titans some breathing room for free agency.
Speaking of which...
I wasn't super enthusiastic about the hire of Ken Whisenhunt at first, but he's managed to put together a phenomenal staff.
UCLA had a stout defense in 2013, thanks in part to linebackers Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. Barr is likely a top-10 pick in this year's draft.
Lou Spanos, the defensive coordinator for that stout defense is now the linebackers coach for the Titans. That's a fantastic hire, if you ask me.
Mike Mularkey, former offensive coordinator for the Falcons and head coach of the Jaguars has signed on as tight ends coach. He ought to be a great resource for new offensive coordinator Jason Michael.
They also snagged Giff Smith, who coached the formidable Buffalo defensive line from 2011 to 2013, and Bob Bostad, who is probably the premier offensive line coach in college football, to do the same job for the Titans.
That, along with veteran coaches Whisenhunt and Ray Horton, both of whom have solid track records, give the Titans a great staff to start 2014.
Impending Free Agents
The Titans are going to lose a lot of starters to free agency, unfortunately.
Ropati Pitoitua came out of nowhere to end up as a solid defensive end. Alterraun Verner posted a Pro Bowl season, and Bernard Pollard fixed a position that had been broken for years.
Then there's the group of wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Damian Williams, Marc Mariani and Kevin Walter will all be free agents, reducing the receiving corps to only four players.
Lastly, there are the players who are likely to become free agents. If the Titans cut Johnson and Stewart, they add two more starters to the list of players that they'll lose.
Many of the players are replaceable, but losing that many starters is never a good thing.
The Free-Agent Market
Whisenhunt has some connections that could help the Titans going forward in free agency, which is good, because the Titans will need to fill quite a few holes via free agency.
Karlos Dansby is one name. With his former defensive coordinator and his former head coach working for the Titans, he's likely to give Tennessee a good, hard look.
Other than that, there is a strong market for running backs and defensive ends. Players like Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno, Brian Orakpo, Greg Hardy, Michael Bennett and Michael Johnson are on the open market.
On the other hand, the market for safeties, especially strong safeties, is pretty weak. Bernard Pollard would be an excellent pickup from the group that's available.
A lot of offensive tackles will be retained by their current teams, but as of right now, a lot of offensive tackles will be entering free agency, so there are options with them as well, it just remains to be seen how many will actually test the free-agent waters.