Finnegan might prove to be too pricey to keep in 2012
Free agency is gearing up in the National Football League. Some teams are fighting to keep key players and stay under the salary cap. The Tennessee Titans are under the 2012 salary cap by about $30 million.
This certainly offers new Titans General Manager Ruston Webster and Head Coach Mike Munchak enough room to not only keep some key players that are set to become free agents very soon, but to also sign some key free-agent acquisitions and have substantial cap room left to sign their 2012 draft picks.
In this first of a two-part series, we will cover the free agency acquisitions the Titans will need to make, and give insight into why—including the reasoning of players they could potentially lose in free agency to other teams.
In our second installment, we will cover the gaps the Titans will need to fill after free agency via the 2012 draft, including where they need to add depth to become playoff contenders in 2012.
Many questions linger for the Titans in 2012 free agency
A big question in Titan Town right now is: Will the Titans re-sign key players from the 2011 campaign or will they "set it and forget it" in regards to their value, allowing other teams to move in and snatch up some of their unrestricted free agents?
History tells us that Bud Adams and company put a value on their man, and don't go over, when it pertains to free agency and battling other teams in the 'more money wins' game.
Here is a look at free agents for the Titans and where I see things stacking up after the dust settles.
FB Hall remains a leader on and off the field for the Titans
FB Ahmard Hall
My take: The Titans do whatever they need to do to keep Hall paving the way for CJ2K. He is not only the lead blocker for Johnson, but a leader on the team. Players call him "The Marine," and rightfully so, due to his military background. He will require a solid payday and attract attention from other teams, but the Titans make a big play to keep Hall blocking for their featured tailback.
WR Donnie Avery
My take: While Avery finally came on the scene near the end of the year, I don't see him being kept, and if he is, it will be for a very marginal cap number.
WR Lavelle Hawkins
Re-signed Feb. 10, 2012
OT Michael Otto
Re-signed Feb. 9, 2012
OL Jake Scott
My take: I think Munchak and second-year offensive line coach Bruce Matthews will want to overhaul some of the line. Scott has been solid, at times, but I see him making a jump and the Titans letting him do so.
LS Ken Amato
My Take: Amato was sketchy several times in recent play on long snaps, often considered to be part of key special teams play for the Titans who love to rely on their ST play to dictate their pace and field position.
They'll get more experience here and Amato is probably gone.
DT Jason Jones will be a worthy FA retention in 2012
DE Dave Ball
My take: Ball has stepped up in play on the defensive front while continuing to be a mainstay in Special Teams. Ball will want more money than the Titans might feel he is worth.
DE William Hayes
My take: I see the Titans trying to re-sign Hayes and keep an up-and-coming defensive front somewhat intact. A lack of upfront pressure this year may sway the front office to look elsewhere, though. New defensive pass-rushing coach Keith Millard will make changes and get the guys he wants.
DT Jason Jones
Confirmed to be in negotiations for a new contract.
LB Patrick Bailey
My Take: Bailey had strong points this season, but I don't see him remaining with the team in 2012.
LB Barrett Ruud
My Take: With the visit of free agent Lofa Tatupu over the past week and the incredibly strong and commanding performance of rookie LB Collin McCarthy—who practically stole the job from Ruud when he fell to injury—I just don't see the Titans keeping that many linebackers, if they acquire Tatupu.
If they keep one more for depth, Ruud has the best chance of the other two linebacker free agents on the roster.
LB Tim Shaw
My Take: Shaw will be the odd man out. I don't see the Titans retaining him with front-runner McCarty and newly added depth in Tatupu.
Jordan Babineaux will take hold of the Safety position
CB Cortland Finnegan
My Take: The writing is on the wall here. The Titans would like to keep him—especially with Finnegan's improved play in the Nickel packages this year.
However, with the preseason distraction of Finnegan bolting in anger over contract negotiations, and his consistent comments to the media and in public about not being back, I think he's gone. The Titans have strong CBs in Verner and McCourty and could build more depth in free agency and youth in the draft. His number is too big and the Titans will simply "set it and forget it" here.
S Chris Hope
My Take: Not much to discuss here. It was surprising that he's hung on as long as he did. With the broken coverage being the only consistency in his play, he's as good as gone.
S Anthony Smith
My Take: Another player that I don't see the Titans making a move on. Not much to discuss here.
S Jordan Babineaux
My Take: I think the Titans make a strong play to keep Babineaux on the roster for the 2012-2013 season. His consistent play and mental strength at the position is simply a quality they can't pass up, especially with two other key safeties probably not returning.
S Michael Griffin
My Take: Michael Griffin will get an offer from the Titans, but I don't think it will be enough to keep him if another team needing a hard-hitting safety like Griffin makes him an offer he can't pass up.
Look for the Titans to get depth at Safety in free agency and the draft.
Nicks would be a solid interior offensive upgrade
7.) Tyvon Branch (S)
The Titans love to play zone coverage in many situations and Branch is great in the zone. He's weak in man coverage and unfortunately that is also where current S Michael Griffin would get burned.
6.) Jared Gaither (OT)
Having offered up great pass protection for Phillip Rivers in second-half season play for the Chargers, Gaither is an under the radar type that could be had for a decent price, and could play up hard for OC line coach Matthews.
5.) Brent Grimes (CB)
Atlanta might have a tough time affording and/or matching offers from other suitors for Grimes. He will want a long-term deal and if the Titans aren't sold on their current options being affective long-term for the team, the could make a play for Grimes. He would certainly be an upgrade and be a solid replacement for Finnegan if he's gone, which seems like.
4.) Carl Nicks (OG)
While I believe the Titans would be wise to make a strong play for Nicks, many other teams in the league will as well—if the Saints can't reach some type of deal in time. This would be a huge upgrade on their offensive l one that would make Hasselbeck and Locker happy, as well as offensive line coach Bruce Matthews.
Mathis would be an upgraded veteran pickup for the Titan
3.) Marshawn Lynch (RB)
The Seahawks running back went 'beast mode' several times over the past few seasons, and could offer the '"Smash" once again to the 'Dash' fo CJ. Lynch shouldn't reach big number offers so he definitely might get a bid from the Titans.
2.) Robert Mathis (DE)
The Colts may do anything they need to keep him, but in a rebuilding stage, he could very well be gone without a restructure. With that, the Titans should certainly try to swoop in and get Mathis at a solid price, and would offer a significant upgrade on their current defensive front.
1.) Mario Williams (DE)
Call me crazy. Ok, thanks for that.
But in all seriousness, Super Mario would be a huge catch for the Titans but would come at a heft price tag. He's proven his athleticism and flexibility playing on the line, two-point, three-point, and even in the backer position this year.
Too many teams might make big money offers to him (a la Albert Haynesworth, thought not quite as pricey). It's a stretch but would be a big move to put them in a stellar position on the defensive line.