Tennessee Titans Smart to Lock Up Jurrell Casey Before Contract Season

Rivers McCownNFL AnalystAugust 29, 2014

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After watching Alterraun Verner bolt in free agency this offseason, the Tennessee Titans probably knew that a Jurrell Casey extension had to be the top priority for them.

A long-term rebuilding project is already hard enough to complete when you're unsure about your quarterbackbleeding your top young talent to the free-agent market just makes it take longer.

Signing Casey to a four-year, $36 million deal is not without risk, but the defensive lineman poses less risk than most due to his performance last season and the fact that he's still only 24 years old.

Let's talk about the risk.

First, there's the inherent risk that comes with any NFL player: that they're one snap away from a devastating injury that will sap them of their talent. Casey has started 45 of a possible 48 games thus far in his career, so there's no reason to believe he is particularly at risk.

Another thing to look at is the chance that his previous season represented him at the peak of his talents. Casey's never had a season as good as his 2013 campaign before, particularly as a pass-rusher.

The risk inherent in that is the idea that the Titans may be paying for his career year and instead receive only 75-80 percent of the numbers Casey produced in 2013 going forward.

Jurrell Casey's Advanced Stats, 2012-2013
YearSacksPFF HurriesFO HurriesPFF Grade
Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders

While I don't think you can totally reject that theory out of hand, there are a few reasons to cast doubt on it.

One is that Casey did show flashes of being a capable pass-rusher on a game-to-game basis in 2012he just didn't maintain that level of play consistently. Casey was heavily talked up by Greg Cosell in the 2013 offseason on The Shutdown Corner podcastCosell predicted a breakout season based on what he'd seen on the tape.

The other, of course, is Casey's age. While aging curves for NFL defensive linemen tend to be pretty messy, Casey is so young that a major step forward fits the narrative of a massive improvement rather than a small-sample-size fluke.

I don't think there's any reason to think that Casey is in line for a massive production slash, though I wouldn't be shocked if his production dipped to 85-90 percent of his 2013 season.

Finally, we need to project Casey's role in defensive coordinator Ray Horton's new defense.

A lot of publications act naively about this switch, as if every 3-4 is rooted in two-gapping across the defensive line. Horton is no dummy. Casey will predominantly find himself in one-gap roles in the base defense. There's no real need for concern here.

Highest Paid 3-4 Ends
PlayerTeamTotal ValueAvg/YearTotal Guaranteed
Haloti NgataBaltimore$48.5 million$12.13 mil$27.1 million
Calais CampbellArizona$55 million$11 mil$17 million
Jurrell CaseyTennessee$36 million$9 mil$20.5 million
Darnell DockettArizona$35.3 million$8.825 mil$15 million
Desmond BryantCleveland$34 million$6.8 mil$12 million
Over The Cap, Media Reports

Given Casey's youth and production, I think he compares favorably to most of the top-paid 3-4 defensive ends. Funnily enough, Horton's defense has produced four of the five above.

While we don't know the entire structure of the contract yet, the figures put it just above Darnell Dockett's on average salary.

Casey's representatives seem to have sought guaranteed money first and foremost, which is a smart strategy as total years and dollar amounts are frequently packed to make contracts seem bigger than they are. Often, those years aren't seen by the players, as they get released before the contract ends.

The continued escalation of the salary cap makes me think that the Titans would have done better to tack another year or two onto this contract, but otherwise this is a clear win for them.

Casey doesn't quite set the market, as he might have as a free agent, but this is a pretty secure deal and he also seems likely to see all of it. That's a rarity as far as NFL contracts go.

This extension is a major win for Tennessee. It means the team will have something to build on as it tries to discern where its offense is going.