In today's NFL, where there's always a rush to get players back on the field, the Tennessee Titans have taken a more cautious approach with quarterback Jake Locker. It's the right decision for a team that's already fading out of the playoff race.
Locker won't play against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night despite making progress in his recovery from a shoulder injury. Jim Wyatt and John Glennon of the Tennessean report the team is targeting next week's game against the Buffalo Bills for his return.
Not only will it give Locker 10 extra days to get his non-throwing shoulder back up to full strength, but he'll also get to face one of the league's worst defenses in his return instead of one of the best. Buffalo's revamped pass rush hasn't lived up to the hype with just 10 sacks so far.
Ultimately, it all comes down to making sure Locker doesn't suffer any further damage that has the potential to impact his career. Based on his first nine games, it's setting up to be quite a good one in Tennessee.
The Washington product has completed 59 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions in those games, good enough for a 93.7 quarterback rating. He had the best game of his career the week before going down with 378 yards and two touchdowns.
In other words, the Titans would be putting a lot at risk if they tried forcing him back in the lineup too quickly. At 1-4, the chances Tennessee is able to rebound to make a serious run at the postseason are slim, especially when you consider its schedule.
Since there isn't a sense of urgency in that sense, adding an extra week to his recovery time shows the type of long-term thinking more teams should utilize. Looking ahead isn't always easy in the middle of a season, but it's vital.
If everything continues on its current path, Locker should be able to lock down the Titans quarterback spot for the next decade, allowing the front office to finally focus on other areas. Matt Hasselbeck certainly isn't the answer.
Yet, one serious shoulder injury can derail those plans in a heartbeat, which is why it's so important to ensure Locker is 100 percent before returning. If he suffers any setback leading up to the Buffalo game, they should push him back again.
It's all about the future for the Titans right now, and Locker should be a big part of it. They just have to make sure he's healthy enough to lead the way moving forward.