The Tennessee Titans are one step away from winning the offseason.
Even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers generated plenty of buzz and excitement at the start of free agency thanks to the additions of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, they may have been prematurely crowned. But the Titans are coming on strong late in the process to usurp the throne.
The Titans accomplished what didn't seem possible once the 2019 campaign ended. They re-signed both quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry to long-term deals when it seemed like an either/or proposition heading into the new league year, with one likely playing under the franchise tag this fall.
The next step is simple: sign Jadeveon Clowney since the team continues to hint at the possibility and complete its perfect offseason.
General manager Jon Robinson told ESPN's Dianna Russini on NFL Live that he's "monitoring the situation" and "may or may not" have spoken with Clowney's representation within "the last week" (h/t ClutchPoints' Joe Nocco).
The Titans always made sense as a potential landing spot for Clowney because of his previous relationship with head coach Mike Vrabel. The two worked together during their stints with the Houston Texans from 2014-17.
Affordability was and still is the potential sticking point.
Obviously, the franchise prioritized Tannehill and Henry's retention, as it should have after finding something special in both based on last season's performances. As a result, Tannehill signed a four-year, $118 million contract prior to the start of free agency, while Henry agreed to a new four-year, $50 million deal on Wednesday before the league's franchise-tag deadline.
Arguments can be made against both of those moves based on Tannehill playing at an elite level for only one year after seven mediocre seasons with the Miami Dolphins and the fact the running back position is devalued in today's game due to its short shelf life.
However, the Titans accomplished two very important goals. First, Tennessee's offense is tailored to both players. Last season, Tannehill led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating and an average of 9.6 yards per attempt. Henry, meanwhile, finished first in the league with 1,540 rushing yards. Both were made possible because the system maximizes their skill sets.
"We're handing the ball off to Derrick and he gains a lot of yards. Off of that comes some play action and shots down the field," Tannehill told reporters in December. "It puts defenses in tough situations. They have to contend with Derrick making the tough yards inside and breaking long runs. Then we have the speed and talent outside to get behind defenses."
Second, continuity will be established since the majority of the unit remains intact. After what Marcus Mariota experienced during his time as the starting quarterback, nothing could be more important. Five different offensive coordinators called plays during the 2015 second overall pick's five seasons with the franchise. Tannehill will now enter his second season with Arthur Smith concocting game plans and orchestrating the unit.
Aside from right tackle Jack Conklin signing with the Cleveland Browns in free agency—a move the Titans countered by re-signing Dennis Kelly and drafting Isaiah Wilson in the first round—the rest of Tennessee's starting offense returns.
But the question remains: How much is Clowney looking to take, and can the Titans fit him under this year's salary cap?
The three-time Pro Bowler didn't enter a thriving market with numerous interested suitors ready to accommodate his salary demands. Instead, Clowney continues to wait for the right situation since no organization has been willing to meet those numbers—which were as high as $20 million annually earlier this offseason.
His most recent team, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Browns seemed to be the most interested parties earlier in the process, but both franchises decided not to wait any longer and addressed their pass rush through free agency and the draft.
But the Titans still seem like "a pretty good fit," as Robinson himself stated last month, per Jim Wyatt of the team's official site.
Currently, the Titans have the sixth-most available salary-cap space at $24.2 million, according to Spotrac. Even with that much financial flexibility after re-signing Tannehill and Henry, Tennessee is unlikely to meet Clowney's full asking price, which leaves the 27-year-old defender with two options: Either he can take what's available on a long-term contract or sign a short-term prove-it deal. The latter seems more likely since he can reenter free agency next offseason and potentially earn more than what's been offered so far.
However, Clowney's injury history will play a role in whether a deal with the Titans actually comes to fruition.
"What I've seen on Twitter, him rushing off the edge and hitting that bag," Robinson said when discussing his impression of Clowney's health with Paul Kuharsky. "Anytime you are dealing with whatever the contract is going to command, you want to make sure that the player is healthy, that you are able to allow your doctors to see him, to look at it, to make sure everything is going to be good."
The 6'5", 255-pound EDGE missed time last season with knee, hip and core injuries. Concerns date back to his rookie campaign, when he required microfracture surgery. As with any signing, a franchise's medical team must sign off on a player's physical before it becomes official.
A healthy Clowney adds a different dynamic as a dominant edge-setter with the length and athleticism to be a disruptive pass-rusher, though he hasn't quite lived up to expectations as a sack artist. But his potential in the Titans defense is exciting, even for Robinson, per Kuharsky:
"You've got [Harold] Landry, you've got [Vic] Beasley, you've got Clowney—hypothetically, to your point —you've got Jeffery Simmons, you've got DaQuan [Jones], who's got some power rush, you've got [Kamalei] Correa, who goes 100 miles an hour, you've got a lot of different pieces that you can move around. And you've got athleticism with Landry, with Beasley, with Correa, you can drop those guys into coverage and send David Long, Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown or whoever it might be. It just gives you a lot of chess pieces in that game."
The alignment of Tannehill and Henry's return alongside Clowney's addition would allow the Titans to be a significant threat after losing to the eventual Super Bowl winner, the Kansas City Chiefs, in the AFC Championship Game. Aside from trading defensive end Jurrell Casey and not re-signing cornerback Logan Ryan, the rest of the roster should be as good, if not better based on the natural growth from young contributors like Simmons, receiver A.J. Brown and tight end Jonnu Smith.
In comparison, the Buccaneers added significant name recognition on offense while retaining the majority of an impressive defense. No one can question Brady and Gronkowski's championship pedigree. But the three-time league MVP turns 43 in August, and Tannehill outperformed him last season. Also, Gronkowski's level of play remains in question after last year's early retirement. Plus, the Buccaneers offense will be coming together for the first time with these key new pieces during a truncated offseason. It won't be an easy transition.
Acquiring the biggest names doesn't always work out in a franchise's favor. Stability, retaining talent and adding key pieces to the puzzle in complementary roles is a superior strategy.
The Titans are one move away from checkmate to show they've ruled this offseason.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.