6 Moves the Titans Can Make to Free Up Cap Space
The Titans have about $19 million in cap space this season, but with about $5.9 million expected to go to Jared Cook by way of a franchise tag, they're down to $14 million.
That's still a good bit of cash, but with the team needing to re-sign players like Fernando Velasco and Rob Bironas, they could use some more cap space if they want to pursue any big-name free agents.
The Titans already missed a chance to save a ton of money by trading, cutting or restructuring the contract with Chris Johnson, so how else can they free up some more cap space to make room for big signings? Here are six ways.
1. Make Some Cuts
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There are quite a few players on the Titans earning more than they're worth, and some of them just need to be cut.
For starters, there's Eugene Amano. He didn't play a snap in 2012 because of injury and didn't play well in 2011. If Fernando Velasco is re-signed, there's no reason for the Titans to pay Amano the $3.9 million he'll make to play as a backup.
Jordan Babineaux is another player that the team needs to part ways with. He will pull in only $1.8 million, but there's a good chance he'll see no playing time at all in 2013.
Babineaux is already over 30, and his play at safety in 2012 was awful. With Markelle Martin coming off of injured reserve and the Titans likely to either sign or draft another safety this offseason, there's little room for Babineaux in the rotation.
2. Restructure Matt Hasselbeck's Contract
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Matt Hasselbeck stands to earn a base salary of $5.5 million this season. That's a lot of money for a backup quarterback.
While cutting him is an option, a better option would be to restructure his contract. Hasselbeck has already said that he'd be willing to restructure. Doing so would let the Titans simultaneously give him an extension and save some cash.
Hasselbeck has proven himself to be a valuable backup, so keeping him with the team beyond 2013 is just as important as not overpaying him in 2013.
3. Get a Long-Term Deal Done with Jared Cook
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I like Jared Cook as a player and think he's probably underrated after a season when he was underutilized, but he isn't worth the $5.9 million that a franchise tag would cost the Titans.
So, if at all possible, the Titans need to avoid using the franchise tag on him, and the easiest way to do that is to get a long-term deal done.
After all, if the Titans franchise Cook, it'll be just so that they can keep him around until they get a long-term deal done, so if they can do that before needing to franchise him, everyone wins.
Hopefully, even if the Titans do franchise Cook, they'll recover some of the money by then restructuring his contract into a long-term deal, but I think it'd benefit them from a cap standpoint to get the deal done sooner rather than later.
4. Trade Kenny Britt
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The Titans have insinuated that they may be done with Kenny Britt after 2013, so why keep him around in the last year of his contract?
After all, if Kenny Britt produces big next season, he'll be a free agent after finally being worth a first-round pick. On the other hand, if he keeps dragging his feet, he will just be a wasted player on the field when the Titans could be seeing more Nate Washington, Jared Cook and Kendall Wright.
Even though Britt is coming off of maybe his worst season and yet another run-in with the authorities, he's shown flashes of elite talent that some teams would be interested in.
If nothing else, he could give the Titans another late-round pick to use on a needed depth player or a developmental project.
Plus, Wright was a first-round pick in 2011 who will be going into his second year, and Cook will be seeing either a franchise tag or a huge deal, so they will want to get a lot of passes thrown their way already. Britt may be a piece on offense that the Titans don't really need.
5. Sign Cheap Free Agents
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There are a number of under-the-radar free agents that the Titans could pursue. Signing a few players that are less renowned than others at their positions may cost you a little bit more in terms of quality, but it could free up the cash that the Titans need to go after difference-makers.
For example, Chris Canty and George Wilson, while great players, are going to cost a lot of money. Wilson is an aging safety who could fall off at any time, and Canty is being looked at as probably the No. 3 defensive tackle in rotation.
Signings like that will break the bank while not contributing that much to what the team needs. If the Titans feel that they need another defensive tackle, they can find a cheaper one than Canty because it isn't an area of need.
The same goes for Wilson. While strong safety is a huge need for the Titans, picking one up in free agency may not be the best way to go about it. Speaking of which...
6. Use the Draft to Pick Up Impact Players
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You know what's great about draft picks? The rookie wage scale.
Right now, the Titans need to pick up a starting left guard, right guard, center, corner, strong safety and a second running back. They could pick these players up in free agency, but as much as they can, they need to obtain starting talent in the draft.
Luckily for the Titans, this year's draft is stacked with cornerback, interior line and safety talent, with a lot of mid-round talent at the running back position. If the Titans are awarded the third-, fifth- and seventh-round compensatory picks they are expected to receive and draft wisely, they could find legitimate starters for nearly all of these positions in the draft.
Nabbing a shutdown corner in free agency is expensive, but the 10th overall pick could be used to obtain either DeMarcus Milliner, Johnthan Banks or Desmond Trufant, all of whom would be great additions.
In the second round, it's likely that J.J. Wilcox, Matt Elam or Jonathan Cyprien will be available when the Titans select, and any of the three would be an upgrade at strong safety for them.
The two third-rounders could be used to pick up interior line players and running backs that could still be impact players.