The 2013 season is over for the Tennessee Titans and, like any other general manager in the league, Ruston Webster has plenty on his plate. After firing former coach Mike Munchak, Webster must lead the search for a new head coach before deciphering how to best build next season's roster.
The Titans will enter the offseason with just more than $3 million in cap space and 16 free agents that will need to be either replaced or re-signed. There are several high-profile players on the roster bubble who could be released in order to clear some cap space.
Whoever the new head coach is could factor immensely into decisions on roster personnel. Based on how the team performed this past season, here's who will likely be released to create cap space and how that money can best be spent.
Players who were chosen to be released have either been rumored to be on the outs or eliminated by simple deduction based on a comparison of playing time to annual salary. Kenny Britt is an obvious candidate for someone who will receive no consideration for being brought back.
2014 Free Agents
Michael Otto, Bernard Pollard, Kenny Britt, Damian Williams, Robert Turner, Alterraun Verner, Antonio Johnson, Ropati Pitoitua, Chris Spencer, Kevin Walter, Marc Mariani, Jackie Battle, Rusty Smith, Kevin Matthews, Leon Washington and Herb Donaldson (RFA).
Pollard and Verner stand out as clear priorities for being re-signed after the secondary became the strength of the defense this season. Pollard led the team with 99 tackles and Verner earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after Gregg Williams was brought in to help make the defense more aggressive.
Both players have exhibited an interest in being re-signed by the Titans, per The Tennessean, but Verner has made it clear that he would like to test his value on the free-agent market.
Verner says he will definitely test the open market in free agency this offseason but not shutting the door on staying w/ #Titans.— Jonathan Hutton (@hutton1045) December 29, 2013
Pollard proved to be a huge pickup for the defense, bringing accountability to the defense while providing vocal leadership and a swagger the team has lacked for some time. At 29 years old, it's tough to gauge how much gas Pollard has left in the tank, but a three-year deal seems like it would satisfy both sides.
For the past two offseasons, the Titans have tried to usurp Verner from being the team's starting corner by giving Tommie Campbell as many snaps as possible with the starting defense. Campbell failed to take advantage of the opportunity on both occasions and has become no more than a special teams player.
Just four seasons into his career, Verner will be a highly sought-after target in free agency. The team is currently paying Jason McCourty $7,173,333—good for 13th-most at the position—and has another $7 million wrapped in Michael Griffin.
The Titans will need to weigh how much money they would like to sink into one position unit. The franchise tag for cornerbacks will cost teams upwards of $10.7 million this upcoming season. The Titans could designate Verner as the team's franchise player and take their time to negotiate a new contract later.
Williams, Pitoitua, Johnson and Washington were all solid contributors over the past season and appear to be the next guys in line to be brought back.
Possible Cap Casualties
The following players are leading candidates to be cut for cap space based on playing time, effectiveness and need.
|Player Name||Snaps||Cap Figure||Dead Money||Cap Space Saved|
|Sammie Lee Hill||389||$4,066,666||$1,333,333||$2,733,333|
Spotrac.com. Snaps from ProFootballFocus.com
As made clear by the latter chart, the Tennessee Titans could create an extra $33 million in cap space for another big spending spree during the free-agent period. There are a few positions of emphasis in this scenario and others that fill depth.
What position is most important to address this offseason? (QB excluded)
In this scenario, the Titans' key positions of emphasis during the offseason are as follows: running back, tight end, defensive end, offensive tackle, linebacker and quarterback.
Derrick Morgan has proven to be a quality defensive end over the last few seasons, but he's not the threat the team needs from the outside. With Jurrell Casey proving to get better and better with every season, the Titans are in need of a pass-rush specialist that is capable of pressuring opposing quarterbacks more consistently.
Craig Stevens is awful expensive for a backup tight end that made just two receptions in 2013 and has only once made more than 11 catches during his five-year career. There are far cheaper options for the Titans if they're seeking a blocking tight end. Taylor Thompson has proven to be a failed experiment, after constantly running the wrong routes and dropping passes when given the opportunity.
David Stewart has been an exceptional player for the Titans over the years, but his play has regressed sharply after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons. At 31 years old and a $6.4 million cap hit, the Titans can easily find a younger, cheaper option at the position to continue the offensive line overhaul that began last offseason.
Much like Stewart, Chris Johnson has been a very valuable member of the Titans offense, but his play has regressed over the years. If it weren't for his hefty salary, Johnson may not find himself even being considered as a player to cut.
Johnson averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry and rushed for only 1,077 yards but was paid $12 million for the season.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding Jake Locker's future, be it a new coaching staff or his injury proneness, he will likely get one more shot to prove he is a franchise quarterback. However, the team would be wise to bring in a developmental backup should things end the way they have the last two seasons for Locker—on IR.
The young linebacker corps has left much to be desired after a promising start to the season. The unit failed to make splash plays through the majority of the season, and the team will look for more dynamic talent to infuse into the lineup.
Whether the Titans deal with these position units via free agency or the draft remains to be seen. Once it becomes evident which of their free agents they will be able to re-sign, and who will be available in free agency, the picture will become clearer.