The lockout will soon be over, and when it ends the Titans have their work cut out for them. They need to hit the ground running to deal with Chris Johnson's threatened holdout, Kenny Britt's offseason police extravaganza and to acquire a veteran quarterback.
Here are what should be the Tennessee Titans top seven priorities for the offseason:
In almost any other situation, trading a quarterback for value is usually THE top priority; not so with the Tennessee Titans. Bud Adams already announced that Vince Young will be cut so that the organization doesn't have to pay him once the new league year begins, so any teams interested in Young will likely just wait it out and let the Titans cut him before trying to sign him.
However, if the Titans play their cards right, they may be able to trade him to another team for a late-round pick. While the most value the Titans could get for him would be a fourth-rounder (at the most), something is always better than nothing, so getting some value for Young should be a top priority.
Chris Johnson only rushed for 1,364 yards last season, and for CJ2K, that's an off year. One reason his numbers suffered was that the Titans had little in the way of passing, so Johnson regularly faced nine guys in the box. Another reason was the deterioration of the interior line. Back in 2008 when the Titans went 13-3, their offensive line was the best in the country. If the Titans want to see double-digit wins again, fixing the interior line is a must.
One place to look is free agent guard Justin Blalock. Since he happens to be a free agent at the same time as his superior teammate, Harvey Dahl, he may not get the deal he wants from the Falcons and could leave for greener pastures. With two hall-of-fame interior linemen on the coaching staff (Head Coach Mike Munchak and O-line coach Bruce Matthews), the Titans pastures are pretty green.
Another option to consider is standout undrafted free agent center Jake Kirkpatrick out of TCU. He helped anchor the Horned Frogs' line with Marcus Cannon, helped them to an undefeated season, earned All-American honors and won a Rimington Trophy along the way. As an undrafted free agent, he'd also be a cheap, but effective option.
This is all about getting the most bang for your buck. Jason Babin had a great 2010 for the Titans, registering 12.5 sacks. Now, he's a free agent and is going to demand a big payday—a payday too big for the Titans to afford. Couple that with the rumors that he won't fit in Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray's new system (a bigger defensive line), and fans must assume he will be gone.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Dave Ball, one of the Titans' other defensive ends, got to the quarterback seven times last season. He also did this starting in only 11 games. He'll want a raise, but he'll still be a much cheaper option than Babin. He stands 6'5'' and weighs 277 lbs, so his size makes him a better fit in Gray's new system. Having him across from Derrick Morgan next season could be a devastating combination for Titans' opponents.
Kenny Britt has had a well publicized offseason in the worst way possible. He has had three separate run-ins with the law so far, and appeared at a Britney Spears concert in Nashville where she handcuffed him and then...rode him. It has become clear that he doesn't take his situation seriously.
In just seven starts last season, Kenny Britt caught 42 passes for 775 yards (an average of 18.5 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns. He has made it clear that he is a legitimate number-one receiver, but he has also made it clear that he is a legitimate headache off-the-field. He's one of the youngest receivers in the league, and is too talented to be cut right away, so if the Titans can rein him in and make it clear they won't tolerate any more immaturity, he could be worth keeping.
Stephen Tulloch has been the definition of consistency over the last two years. He has led the Titans in tackles both years, and improved every year since he was drafted. He isn't Patrick Willis, but he is a great middle linebacker, and is expecting a bigger paycheck than most fourth-round picks. Unlike Babin, Tulloch needs to be paid and retained.
The Titans took LB Colin McCarthy in the fourth-round of the draft, but he is comfortable either outside or inside, and is more of an insurance policy in case Tulloch leaves than a replacement. With rookie Akeem Ayers on the weak side, having Tulloch return will greatly improve the Titans' lackluster linebacker corps. Unless he wants an outlandish raise, he needs to be kept.
Chris Johnson thinks he is the best running back in the NFL, and he wants to paid like it. I happen to agree, but most people still seem to think some Adrian Peterson guy is better. Now, Johnson has threatened to hold out unless he gets a monster new contract. Everyone knows that the fastest man in the NFL is the centerpiece of Tennessee's offense, and simply put, the Titans need to do everything in their power to keep Chris Johnson happy.
While there has been speculation that Johnson could be traded, it seems unlikely since he sells more jerseys than anyone else on the Titans' roster. Furthermore, Johnson's value as a player far exceeds his value as a trade piece in an increasingly pass-oriented league. No one is going to sell the farm for Johnson when guys like Arian Foster and LeGarrette Blount are available in undrafted free agency.
Johnson recognizes he will be getting a lot more carries next year since the Titans are bringing in rookie QB Jake Locker. The punishment he'll take with those carries will shorten his lifespan in the NFL, so I can understand why he wants a big payday now. Unless he wants Peyton Manning's salary, CJ2K needs to be appeased to keep the Titans going.
The rumor that the Titans would move for Matt Hasselbeck was more speculation than anything else until a few days ago, when Hasselbeck's brother Tim said that Hasselbeck would be "a good fit" for the Titans. Add to that the fact that three guys in the Titans front office have connections with Hasselbeck from Seattle, that Hasselbeck has already been mentoring Jake Locker and that Mike Munchak said he wanted to add a veteran quarterback to the roster. All that adds up to a recipe for Hasselbeck to sign with the Titans.
While Hasselbeck's last year was unremarkable, he showed that he can still play at an elite level in the first round of the playoffs, embarrassing the defending champion Saints 41-36. If the Titans manage to land Hasselbeck, they get the veteran QB they need to mentor Locker, an established passer to take pressure off of Chris Johnson and a team leader who knows how to get to the playoffs and win.
Just last year, in week seven, the Titans were 5-2 and looking like a 10-win team when everything went south. Most of the pieces are still there, and if the Titans play their cards right in the short offseason, they could very well surprise everyone. If they can accomplish these seven goals, don't count them out just yet.