7 Offseason Moves the Titans Must Make
They played the Arizona Cardinals close and scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Unfortunately, a turnover in OT cost them the game after the Cardinals capitalized on it and scored the game-winning field goal.
With their season over, the Titans need to start thinking ahead to 2014. Here are seven moves they absolutely must make this offseason.
1. Replace Mike Munchak
I think it's a foregone conclusion that Mike Munchak will be fired at the season's end. Hopefully, the Titans do him the courtesy of letting him finish the season, since he's been a loyal member of the Titans in one way or another for his entire career, but his time as head coach is over.
He built a team with a lot of talent on it, but I don't think he really put together the kind of team that wins consistently in today's NFL. He also has made a lot of questionable decisions as a coach.
He'll be fine in the long term. He's undoubtedly one of the best offensive line coaches out there, so I can't imagine it'll take too long for him to find work.
Still, before they can make any serious moves in free agency or plan for the draft, the Titans will need to find a new head coach. There are a lot of candidates out there, like Lovie Smith, David Shaw or Art Briles, who will be popular among other teams as well.
Starting early will make it a lot easier to get the coach they want when all is said and done.
2. Cut Chris Johnson
Cutting Chris Johnson would free up a ton of money for the Titans to pursue other free agents or extend current players.
Johnson's base salary in 2014 is around $8 million. I'm not sure how much of it is guaranteed, but it goes without saying that cutting Johnson would free up a lot of cap room.
Johnson has underproduced for the last three seasons. His best season since he signed his contract was 2012, where some big gains in late games put him at over 1,200 yards, but even then, when the yards came, it was too little, too late.
For 2013, Johnson has been very productive as a receiver (328 receiving yards, four touchdowns), but has been underperforming in the running game, only breaking 100 yards once and only netting 860 total yards in 14 games.
In Johnson's defense, he hasn't been utilized correctly for most of the season, but if you're going to be paid like an elite player, you have to perform like one. Johnson is done performing like an elite player, so it's time to stop paying him like one.
3. Trade or Cut Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jake Locker
The new regime, whoever that may be, is probably going to want a new quarterback in town. Whether that be a free-agent acquisition or a player it picks up in the draft, it'll have to make room on the roster.
Because the Titans are without a third-rounder this year, I think the ideal move would be to trade Jake Locker. He's still young, and there may be some coaches out there who liked what they saw from him on the field.
It'd also be nice to give Locker a chance somewhere else, since his time in Tennessee is likely over. He's still young and showed a lot of progress on the field, so someone might take a chance on him.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a high-end backup and could start if the Titans feel like the quarterback they bring in isn't ready to start right out of the gate. However, he's also the lesser player and probably has less guaranteed money in his contract, so cutting him may make more sense if the Titans can't find a willing trade partner.
4. Go After Jay Cutler, and Do It Early
Given the quarterbacks who will likely be available when the Titans select in the draft, I think going after upcoming free-agent quarterback Jay Cutler may be the wiser route. And the Titans do appear to be interested in him, per NFL.com's Kevin Patra.
The Chicago Bears may franchise Cutler or sign him to an extension before he hits the market, but if the Titans do seriously pursue Cutler, they'll have to hit the ground running.
When the Titans were courting Peyton Manning, they ended up missing out on a lot of other free agents because they had to keep money set aside for Manning. They won't want the same thing to happen with Cutler, so gauging his interest early on is critical.
If Cutler passes on the Titans, they'll have a lot of walking-around money to re-sign guys like Bernard Pollard, Alterraun Verner or Ropati Pitoitua, extend other players like Derrick Morgan and Jurrell Casey, or pick up new free agents from other teams.
The Titans are going to have a lot of holes they need to fill in the offseason. If they end up repeating the Manning fiasco, it'll make filling those holes a lot tougher.
5. Consider Franchising Alterraun Verner
If the Titans let Alterraun Verner enter free agency, he's going to get a sizable paycheck from someone. He has five interceptions and 22 passes defensed on the season, and there are still two games to go.
The Titans may be all right at the corner position without Verner, but keeping him would be ideal if they can.
There aren't any other players who will be free agents the Titans would need to franchise, so they would be free to use it if they wanted. Of course, if they could just work out a long-term contract from the get-go, that would be preferred.
If worst comes to worst, Verner would have a ton of trade value, so if the Titans franchised him, they could potentially get some compensation if the two sides can't agree to a long-term deal.
6. Re-Sign Bernard Pollard
I was worried that the Titans might have made a mistake signing Bernard Pollard. He was generally known as a safety who can help with run defense, but is a liability in pass coverage.
Despite that reputation, Pollard has been pretty good in pass coverage this season. If it weren't for the many personal fouls he gets (many of which are unwarranted, per Jim Wyatt and John Glennon of The Tennessean), he'd be pretty much exactly what the Titans need from the strong safety position.
For the season, Pollard has 0.5 sacks, three interceptions and 88 total tackles. He also brings an attitude to the defensive secondary that has been good for the team, so keeping him in Nashville would be great for the defense moving forward.
7. Consider a Lot of Cuts
If the Titans are going to try to retain players like Bernard Pollard and Alterraun Verner, or go after a quarterback like Jay Cutler in the offseason, they'll need to free up a lot of cap space. Unfortunately, that means making a lot of cuts.
Cutting players is tough, but it's called rebuilding for a reason.
Kamerion Wimbley had a solid 2012, but he's been quiet this season. So far, he only has eight tackles and two sacks. He's 30 years old too, so he's likely not going to improve much, if at all, going forward.
George Wilson signed a fairly cheap deal with the Titans, but he's only there for depth purposes. He has 37 tackles on the season and four defended passes in the time he's played, but if the Titans retain Pollard, Wilson won't be playing much in 2014.
Colin McCarthy and Moise Fokou have each been fairly good, but neither has done anything impressive enough to make them more than backups. If the Titans plan on drafting a middle linebacker early on in the draft, then cutting one of the two makes sense.
If the Titans are aggressive with their cuts, they can afford to be aggressive in free agency. Cutting valuable players can be tough, but sometimes, it's necessary.