The 5 Toughest Decisions Tennessee Titans Will Have to Make This Offseason
Any time a new coaching staff is brought in, there are a lot of tough decisions to be made. After all, the reason that there's a new coaching staff in the first place is because things weren't working out, so of course changes need to be made.
Even so, some decisions are more difficult than others, and in the case of Ken Whisenhunt, there are a lot of tough ones.
Obviously, his first course of business will be to finish putting together his staff, but after that, here are five of the toughest decisions he and the Tennessee Titans front office will have to make this offseason.
1. How Much Time to Spend Seeking Trades for Veteran Players
The Titans are in a difficult situation this year as far as the salary cap goes. They don't have a ton of wiggle room, and even though they could free up a lot of money by cutting players like Chris Johnson, David Stewart and Kamerion Wimbley, they'd also be picking up a lot of dead money.
Now if they could find trade partners for those players, things would be better. You could still lose a lot of the money, but you at least get draft picks or other players out of it.
For some of the players the Titans will want to cut, there are certainly teams that would be interested in trading for them. However, finding interested teams and coming up with deals takes a lot of time and energy that could be used elsewhere.
The Titans still need to hire the rest of their coaching staff and start scouting players. Some teams have already started meeting with prospects during the Shrine Bowl practices, so the Titans are already behind in that department.
Cutting players is quicker and easier and, in the end, usually gets you the same result, but with few draft picks, lots of holes and not a lot of cash, the Titans might find it worth their while to try to search for trade partners.
How much time and effort to put into it will be something they'll have to figure out on their own.
2. What Is Jake Locker's Future?
I'm still not sure what the Titans intend to do with Jake Locker. Whisenhunt didn't draft him, and Locker's inability to stay healthy so far has cost the Titans a lot of games.
Whisenhunt is an offensive guy, so he may decide to go in a different direction with quarterback. And with several high-end quarterback prospects in this year's draft class, it wouldn't be a bad time to grab one.
After all, you never know when a quarterback class could turn out like 2013's awful group.
On the other hand, Whisenhunt could roll with Locker and see how he does with one more chance. Whisenhunt won't be fired for one bad season, so it'd be easy to just call it a mulligan and try again in 2015 with a new quarterback.
That is, assuming that Locker doesn't put the Titans too low to grab a top prospect in 2015.
Either decision could blow up in their collective faces if it goes wrong, so it's a decision I don't think they'll take lightly.
3. What Positions Should Be Targeted in the Draft?
Right now, the Titans need a pass-rusher, a corner, a strong safety, a middle linebacker and a kick returner to be what you could call "complete."
If they cut Johnson, add running back to the list of needs. Ditto with offensive tackle if they cut David Stewart. And if Whisenhunt decides to move on from Locker, then you have to throw quarterback into the mix.
On the bright side, it looks like a top prospect at a position of need will fall to the Titans, who pick 11th overall. This year's group of pass-rushers features Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack as top-level talent, and one will certainly be available when the Titans pick.
The offensive tackle class is great too, with Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson both worthy of top-10 selections. Then there's lauded middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the great group of quarterbacks that declared this year.
All in all, it's a great draft class, especially for what the Titans need.
On the other hand, the Titans don't have a third-rounder and have more holes than they can possibly fill in the draft. Free agency can help some, but with little money to work with, the Titans are going to have to prioritize.
Rome wasn't built in a day, but the Titans need to make sure they get the right building blocks to start it off.
4. Who Should Be Cut?
I've mentioned Johnson and Stewart because I think, with the tremendous amount of money they're owed in 2014, their futures have already been determined.
But they aren't the only ones the Titans could cut. Wimbley is set to make a lot of money in 2014, but he wasn't very productive in 2013. However, in a 3-4 defense, he might suddenly be worth what he's being paid.
After all, keeping him on means not having to look for another rush linebacker in the draft or free agency.
Then there's Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jake Locker's contract is guaranteed, so if the Titans decided to bring in another quarterback, Fitzpatrick is likely the one who'd get axed.
Then any big earner could be cut if the new staff gets aggressive and wants to free up more money. Jason McCourty and Michael Roos are great players, but they also cost a lot, and Whisenhunt may not like them as much as Mike Munchak did.
Cutting players isn't easy, but Whisenhunt didn't bring any of the current players in himself, so any of them could be on the cutting board.
5. How to Approach Free Agency
Now a lot of this will be decided by how aggressive the staff is with their cuts, but they could, if they so chose, cut enough players to be very aggressive in free agency and continue to go after big names.
In 2013, the Titans landed both Andy Levitre and Bernard Pollard, both of whom were big-name players. Before that, in 2012, the Titans were one of the final two teams Peyton Manning considered signing with.
This year, among the biggest names in free agency are Jimmy Graham, Brian Orakpo, Jairus Byrd and the Titans' own Alterraun Verner. Will the Titans get aggressive and go after one of those big names, or will they pursue other players?
Will they try to target certain positions in free agency and leave the rest to the draft, or will they just sign the best players they can?
Who knows? Even after the Titans know how much cap space they'll have, there are a lot of ways they can approach free agency. It'll be interesting to see which route they choose.