The saying goes, "You win some, you lose some." But, with yet another loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans' hopes of making it to postseason play are pretty much nonexistent. While the Titans have clearly shown improvement over their 2012 version, it simply has not affected the team's win-loss column as positively as hoped.
Football Outsiders now gives the Titans a 5.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, down from the 16.7 percent chance they had entering the weekend. The statistical analysis site also projects Tennessee to win just 6.8 games this season.
At most, that is an improvement of only one game over their horrendous 2012 season. If the team does fail to make the playoffs, head coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster's job security will come under serious scrutiny.
Jake Locker has sustained three serious injuries in just 18 starts over the last two seasons. Concerns about his durability could easily lead the organization to look for an alternative, regardless of Munchak's and Webster's job prospects.
Defensively, the Titans have shown major improvement over last season. Tennessee's defense has gone from allowing 29.4 points and 374.9 yards per game in 2012 to 22.3 points and 326.6 yards per game. Improvements on the offensive side of the ball have been much more minute.
Ultimately, the $100 million-plus the team spent on free agents during the offseason did improve the team, but it didn't put the team over the top. Heading into 2014, the Titans should be much more pragmatic when dealing with free-agent acquisitions.
Let's take a look at who could be on the way out of town when the offseason rolls around.
|Tennessee Titans 2014 Free Agents|
Taking a look at Tennessee's impending free agents, Alterraun Verner is the standout, but Bernard Pollard and Ropati Pitoitua are guys either the current regime or a new one would take a long look at bringing back.
Pollard has proven himself to be a leader for the defense, preaching accountability and playing with a certain level of toughness and swagger. Pitoitua has quietly been a quality addition to the defensive line rotation.
His size has been a boon in run defense, but he struggles to gain pressure when rushing the passer. As a two-down end, the Titans should be able to re-sign him to an inexpensive contract. Pollard's limited coverage abilities should put a ceiling on what he could fetch in free agency, making it very realistic for him to return to Tennessee.
Verner, on the other hand, could cost a fortune and it doesn't appear that the Titans will have the cap room to retain him. Quarterback's have a 30.2 rating when passing to receivers covered by Verner and he is rated fifth-best in the league on Pro Football Focus.
With all the all the money coming off the books due to expiring contracts, it would seem as though the Titans should have plenty of cap space to sign their star corner. However, the Titans have more than $20 million in salary increases coming up next season, and the team is currently projected to be over the 2014 salary cap by $816,000.
The most glaringly bad contracts belong to Kamerion Wimbley, David Stewart and Chris Johnson. Stewart will be the second-highest-paid right tackle in the league on a player option for $6.4 million.
Wimbley's contract jumps from $5.4 million to $7.6 million after a season in which he's played on less than 30 percent of the defensive snaps. Chris Johnson continues to fall well short of earning his $10 million contract.
He's currently averaging 3.8 yards per carry, good for 35th in the league, and cannot be used in every phase of the game. The fact that the Titans had to sign Shonn Greene for short-yardage situations is an indictment on Johnson's rushing ability.
It's not likely that any of the latter players will be cut due to the large amounts of dead money it would create; however, Wimbley's contract is especially poor for what he brings to the team.
Through 13 weeks, the deficiencies of this team are becoming more and more transparent. David Stewart is not the tackle he once was, and his regression has hurt Chance Warmack's progression. Michael Roos is on the downside of his career as well, but he appears to have quite a bit more left in the tank.
The Titans will need to make a point of finding at least one tackle of the future in the offseason. Moise Fokou and Colin McCarthy are both guys that would provide quality depth at inside linebacker, but they lack the polish to be starters in this league.
The Titans will need to invest another early pick on their linebacking corps rather than find patchwork talent in free agency. In the likely scenario that Verner finds a new home after this season, cornerback becomes a major need on an improving defense.
Tennessee is in dire need of a pass-rushing defensive end to help create a more consistent pass rush. The defense has taken major steps in the right direction this season, but this is still a team that needs more intangibles on both sides of the ball.
Finding the answer to Jake Locker is a question that will hover around the team the same way it did all last offseason. Despite all the spending, the biggest question was his development When healthy, Locker looked like a guy that had made major strides in his development, but, once the injury bug hit, he proved incapable of dealing with the pain.
Despite what Tennessee's record will likely be at the end of this season, the Titans are a much-improved team over their 2012 selves. The Titans will be without their third-round pick in the upcoming draft after trading it to the San Francisco 49ers to move up and take Justin Hunter in the 2013 draft.
Many of the issues with the Titans over the last few seasons has been with coaching. The team has earned the identity of being unable to close out games or win games within the division. Over the last three seasons, the Titans are 4-12 in division games.
Whether Munchak is given the opportunity to lead this team is yet to be seen, but if he does remain, his coaching prowess will need to take some major strides for this team to become playoff-caliber.
The Titans have lots of promising young talent on both sides of the ball, and their continued development will be integral to the team's success in 2014.