The Complete Guide to Tennessee Titans Free Agency
Starting in just a short time, NFL free agency will begin officially (March 12), although since Monday was the deadline for franchise tags and teams have already started making cuts, it can be argued that free agency has already begun.
In the end, eight teams used their franchise tags, removing eight players from the open market. Joe Flacco and Dwayne Bowe also signed huge new deals with their current teams, but for the most part, free agency is still wide open.
When unrestricted free agency gets into full swing, things can get complicated. To make it a little bit simpler, here's a guide to free agency for the Tennessee Titans.
1. Salary Cap
After signing former Bills safety George Wilson and neglecting to tag Jared Cook, the Titans will have about $18 million left to use this offseason.
That's quite a bit of money, and gives them a lot of freedom. They can probably sign one top-end free agent and still have enough money left over to re-sign priority free agents (more on that later) and the draft class.
However, signing a big name is still something they have to think on. The cost of a player like Darrelle Revis, for instance, would be enough with the expected amount needed to sign rookies to nearly wipe out their reserves for the season.
Of course, the Titans have several ways they could make more cap room if they needed, and I expect them to take advantage of at least a few of their options there.
Still, don't expect the front office to bring in the best guy available at every position. They don't have the budget for it.
2. RFAs and UFAs
The Titans have quite a few free agents this season, which is why they have a lot of money to kick around in free agency.
The only restricted free agents the Titans have are offensive linemen Fernando Velasco, Kevin Matthews and Kyle DeVan. Velasco is a priority free agent, but the Titans have not tendered him just yet, so he may end up seeing the open market.
The list of unrestricted free agents is longer. Among others, Jared Cook, Rob Bironas, Darius Reynaud, Sen'Derrick Marks, Javon Ringer and Quinn Johnson will all be up for grabs. The Titans will absolutely need to re-sign Bironas, who is one of the better kickers in the league.
The Titans would like to re-sign Marks and Reynaud, and without re-signing Johnson, they won't have a fullback who made the regular-season roster anymore, so they'd like to get him back as well.
That said, outside of Velasco and Bironas, all the unrestricted players are depth players or could demand too much money to be worth re-signing.
3. Franchise Tag Situation
The Titans were expected to tag Jared Cook, but that has become a little...complicated.
Jared Cook would have been tagged for a little over $6 million, the franchise tag cost for tight ends, but he has argued that he should be designated as a receiver, which would put his tag number at over $10 million.
While Cook calling himself a receiver may sound ridiculous, he actually had a pretty good case, since he lined up in the slot receiver position more often than he did as a tight end in 2012.
Because of the potential arbitration, the Titans elected to forgo using the franchise tag to keep Cook around, and he'll probably leave in free agency.
Cook was a great player, but for the kind of money keeping him around would cost, the Titans can afford someone on the open market who's just as good.
4. Players to Be Re-Signed
Thus far, the Titans are in talks with Darius Reynaud and Sen'Derrick Marks about long-term deals and were interested in potentially franchising Rob Bironas, but they've yet to re-sign any current free agents.
I expect Bironas to stay in Tennessee, where he's spent his entire career in the NFL, but Marks and Reynaud are players that will probably not be back. The Titans already offered a contract to free-agent defensive tackle Chris Canty, and will see Marc Mariani return to action next season.
Another player I expect to see in a Titans uniform again next year is Fernando Velasco. He was drafted by the Titans and is only a restricted free agent, so it would be much easier for the Titans to keep him around than the other unrestricted free agents.
Other than those few, it's tough to say who will stay and who will go for the Titans. It all depends on what the players think they can get out in the open market.
5. Team Needs
The Titans were 6-10 last season, and they certainly have a lot of holes to fill, mostly in the offensive line and defensive secondary.
The biggest need is offensive line. If Fernando Velasco is re-signed, the Titans will still need at least one guard, and perhaps two if Steve Hutchinson doesn't recover.
Safety was the next worst group, but the signing of George Wilson makes it a less drastic need than it was. A third starter-quality corner would be helpful as well, as the Titans defense was ranked 24th against the pass in 2012.
The Titans staff has also expressed interest in bringing in a second running back to complement Chris Johnson, which likely means they'll be looking for a third-down power back.
With the loss of Sen'Derrick Marks, another defensive tackle is a need, as is a kicker if Rob Bironas is not retained.
Last but not least, with Jared Cook avoiding the franchise tag, the Titans will need a new starting-caliber tight end as well.
A lot of these needs can be addressed in the draft, but before they get there, the Titans will look to fix some of these issues in free agency.
6. Potential Top-Tier Targets
Like I said, the Titans have the cash to bring in one big-name free agent if they see fit, and still have enough money left over to re-sign some of their own free agents and pay the rookies they'll pick up in the draft.
One big name that pops up a lot in connection to the Titans is Andy Levitre. He's almost certainly the top guard on the market and is an immaculate pass-blocker. Run-blocking isn't his strong suit, but he's certainly not bad at it.
If the Titans look to secure a corner in free agency, they can't do much better than former Steeler Keenan Lewis. Lewis led the league in defended passes this season and allowed only three touchdowns. It doesn't get much more shutdown than that.
If they want to spend big on a tight end to replace Jared Cook, one of the best—and most entertaining—tight ends that could be available is the former Giant Martellus Bennett. Bennett showed skill both with blocking and in the passing game in 2012, and his goofy persona earned him many fans.
Of course, signing any of these players would cost the Titans the lion's share of their cap space, so they may be better served by looking for slightly cheaper options.
7. Potential Second-Tier Targets
Since the Titans have several free agents they'd like to re-sign, they may do better to spread out their money to a couple of starter-quality (but not superstar) players.
One such player on the offensive line would be former Giant Kevin Boothe. Since the Giants recently re-signed left tackle Will Beatty and must also work on retaining Victor Cruz, someone like Boothe may fall by the wayside. Boothe, like Fernando Velasco, is capable of playing either guard or center and is a tough run-blocker.
George Wilson has already signed with the Titans, but that doesn't mean someone like LaRon Landry would be out of the picture. Landry just came off of a great year with the Jets and could be a more permanent solution to the Titans' woes at safety.
If Sen'Derrick Marks doesn't re-sign and Chris Canty ends up elsewhere, a great player to be the Titans' third guy in defensive tackle rotation could be former Buccaneer Roy Miller. He is a big-bodied, run-stuffing tackle who could really benefit the Titans in the trenches.
8. Potential Bargain Targets
Lastly, the Titans could always forgo signing big-name players altogether, and fill all the holes they can with cheaper alternatives.
Now just because players don't command huge salaries doesn't mean they're not good. The contracts signed by LaRon Landry and Martellus Bennett in 2012 were pretty small in comparison to what they're looking at this season. The Titans could catch lightning in a bottle with lesser-known names.
Among those would be the former Bills guard Chad Rinehart. He had a pretty solid 2011 season, but missed a large chunk of 2012 with an injury. He's solid as both a run blocker and a pass protector, and could cost half of what his teammate Levitre would command.
One area where the Titans desperately need depth is at defensive end. Behind Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, they have very little, so adding a guy like Wallace Gilberry, formerly of the Bengals, would allow them to occasionally rest their starters and still have a decent pass rush.
Another position suffering from a lack of depth is inside linebacker. Colin McCarthy is a great starter when healthy, but that's rarely the case, so picking up someone like Chase Blackburn as a more reliable backup could help.
Of course, these are just some of the players the Titans could consider. There are an infinite number of possibilities, and then there's always the draft in April to look forward to.