Tennessee Titans Free Agency: Keep, Walk or Tag Options for Every Free Agent
A lot of big-name Tennessee Titans are hitting free agency in 2014. Big pieces like Bernard Pollard, Alterraun Verner and Ropati Pitoitua will be unrestricted free agents.
On offense, the wide receiver position is going to be decimated, with Damian Williams, Marc Mariani and Kenny Britt all leaving the team.
So what should the Titans do with these players? Here are my thoughts on what the team will do with every free agent on the team—keep them, tag them or let them walk.
1. Kenny Britt
This is an easy one.
Kenny Britt looked like a future superstar receiver, but his off-the-field troubles and injuries made him start to look like he wasn't worth it.
Now, more recently, his production has dropped off, and he's lost the spotlight to Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter.
There's no reason to even consider bringing Britt back, and I seriously doubt that whoever replaces Mike Munchak will give it much thought.
2. Damian Williams
Williams was far from unstoppable in 2013, but he's been an integral part of the wide receiver depth in Tennessee since he was drafted in 2010.
In 2013, he had career lows in targets (23), catches (15) and yards (178), but he's been reliable in the past and is still young. He's also a decent kick/punt returner.
Since he'll be cheap and the Titans will need to address depth at receiver in free agency, they ought to keep him around.
3. Kevin Walter
Kevin Walter is a veteran receiver, but he just spent the entire season on injured reserve. With three great receivers on the team, another promising young one and other younger, cheap players to sign for depth, I don't know if Walters has a place on the team.
4. Marc Mariani
Marc Mariani is a tough player to figure out what to do with. He was a Pro Bowler in his rookie season as a kick returner and had a great sophomore year as well.
In 2012, on the other hand, Mariani suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. The same thing happened in 2013, after it looked like he was about to make a full recovery.
On one hand, if Mariani recovers completely, he's an extremely dangerous returner. A steady returner was something the Titans lacked for most of 2013, and it really hurt the team.
On the other hand, Mariani won't be getting snaps as a receiver, and who knows if he'll ever return to form? Kick returners can be found fairly late in the draft. The Titans ought to keep tabs on him and sign him if he looks like he can still be dangerous, but I doubt it.
5. Leon Washington
Leon Washington was a great midseason addition to the roster. Had he been the kick returner earlier in the season, when special teams was the worst it had been in years, a couple of games might have turned out differently, and Munchak might still have a job.
As it is, Washington is a 31-year-old kick returner who's been on three teams in the last two years. I worry he's another Darius Reynaud-type situation, and the Titans could mess up by signing him for any significant contract.
I'd be all for re-signing him, given how questionable the return position is right now, but he needs to be signed for the minimum, with no guaranteed money. The Titans can't afford any more dead money.
6. Ropati Pitoitua
Ropati Pitoitua wasn't a star this season, but he played very well for the Titans. Pitoitua earned a role as a starting defensive end, and despite being a better fit in a 3-4 defense, he played well in the Titans' 4-3 base.
Pitoitua was surprisingly effective as a pass-rusher, notching four sacks on the season. It's not a ton, but only Derrick Morgan and Jurrell Casey had more.
Still, after he notched the best performance of his career, I think there might be a surprising amount of interest in Pitoitua. After all, young, 6'8" defensive ends are hard to find, especially ones who seem to be improving.
If he can be brought back for cheap, then the Titans ought to keep him, but since I'm guessing he'll be able to demand a fair amount of money, and the upcoming draft class looks very deep at defensive end, the better solution may be to let him walk.
7. Antonio Johnson
The Titans are very, very deep at defensive tackle right now, with Casey playing like a madman, Sammie Hill and Antonio Johnson playing as effective run-stuffers, and Mike Martin and Karl Klug helping generate pressure from the inside.
Johnson was a surprise. He's been with the Titans before but was cut after he only made the practice squad. Since then, he's been with the Indianapolis Colts and has been nothing to write home about.
This season, he had the best year of his career, notching three sacks, a deflected pass, four tackles for loss and 22 total tackles in limited playing time. Sammie Hill is a better player, but Johnson isn't far behind if he plays like last season.
Plus, Johnson would be way cheaper. With defensive end thin, bringing back one of the cogs in the Titans' great interior line would be helpful.
8. Mike Otto
The Titans are likely to cut David Stewart to make cap space. If they do, I'd also expect them to spend a high pick on an offensive tackle as well, to replace Stewart as a starter.
When Stewart was injured this season, it wasn't Mike Otto who stepped into the starting role but the younger Byron Stingily. That tells me all I need to know about Otto's abilities.
Michael Roos has been a beast and has missed almost no playing time in his career. He's getting older, but backup tackles aren't a premium commodity with the Titans, so I don't see a reason to bring back someone whose experience alone would make him too costly.
9. Kevin Matthews
Kevin Matthews is the son of offensive line coach and Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and the brother of top tackle prospect Jake Matthews, but he isn't the same caliber of player as his father or brother.
He was actually cut by the Titans earlier in the season before being re-signed just a few weeks later. He's a backup center and hasn't given much indication that he's a reliable one.
There's not much reason to sign him when he may not make the roster anyway.
10. Rob Turner
Rob Turner was initially pegged as the starter at center for the Titans. He wasn't great, and there was marked improvement at the position when rookie Brian Schwenke took over, but as a backup, Turner would be high-end.
Schwenke had some injury problems in 2013, so having a fairly reliable backup would be a smart plan. Turner won't be expensive to bring back.
11. Chris Spencer
Chris Spencer is 31 years old and mostly plays center. The Titans could use a few backup interior linemen, but Spencer may not be what they're looking for (at least if they bring back Turner).
Backup guards can be obtained elsewhere in free agency, so I don't see a reason why the Titans would need three centers on the roster.
12. Bernard Pollard
Bernard Pollard is the free agent the Titans ought to be bending over backward to bring back.
Pollard took a one-year, fairly cheap deal when he came to Tennessee, which shows there was something he liked about the team. Unfortunately, the staff that signed him are all gone now, so he may not see a reason to stick around.
Pollard led the Titans in tackles, intercepted three passes and defended 10 passes this season and rejuvenated a strong safety position that has been a weakness for years.
He won't be super cheap to bring back, but he showed last season that he'll take less money if he likes where he is. Hopefully the new staff is likeable.
13. Alterraun Verner
This is the big one. Alterraun Verner was a monster in 2013, intercepting five balls and leading the NFL in defended passes with 23.
While it's great he was playing so well, the bad news is that he's going to be very expensive to keep around—very expensive.
Chances are the cheapest way to keep Verner in Tennessee would be to tag him and then use the tag as leverage to get him to sign a long-term deal. The only thing the Titans have to figure out is whether this was a career year for Verner or if he'll keep playing at a high level from now on.
I think he'll be quite as good as he was in 2013 going forward, but there's no doubt he'll be a solid corner for the rest of his career. He doesn't seem like the kind of player to quit trying after getting a big payday.
The Titans are deep at corner and have a lot of young, steadily improving players. Whether they keep Verner or not would depend on what they can get him for. If he's tagged, they can always trade him if they can't reach an agreement.
14. Jackie Battle
Jackie Battle was a fun player to watch in 2013. He's a big, powerful runner who's tough to bring down.
Unfortunately, he's pretty one-dimensional, and Shonn Greene fills a similar role on the team already. I expect the Titans to draft a running back to replace Chris Johnson at some point in this year's draft, and having two power backs is something they won't need.