It took roughly a week for the Tennessee Titans to dismantle a significant portion of their secondary.
They released cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and safety Kenny Vaccaro last week and dumped cornerback Adoreé Jackson days later in order to create room under the salary cap. Those three started a combined 103 games over the past three seasons, and that number would have been larger had Jackson not battled a knee injury for almost all of 2020.
The first guy they added to the defensive backfield this offseason could be the one to keep things from falling apart, according to one former head coach. The Titans have agreed to terms with Janoris Jenkins, a cornerback who has played 10 seasons in the NFL.
“With Janoris they’ve got a guy, I think, that can keep things together,” Jim Mora Jr., who was a head coach at Seattle (2004-06) and Atlanta (2009) as well as a defensive coordinator at San Francisco (1999-03), told All Titans at SI.com. “There’s a premium put on that. There’s a premium put on a guy that not only is physical, not only can make plays, not only is a leader but also can be a commander in the secondary during a down when things are changing quickly.”
Jenkins has played for three different NFL franchises and has been a starter for all three, the Rams (2012-15), the Giants (2016-19) and the Saints (2019-20). All told, he has started 125 of the 128 games he has played in the league.
Without Butler, Jackson and Vaccaro, the Titans have seven cornerbacks and safeties who have been regulars on the roster and/or practice squad in recent seasons. Between them, those seven have 85 career starts, and most of them – 71, to be exact – are from free safety Kevin Byard.
At 32, Jenkins is currently the oldest member of the defense but one who has been consistent. He has intercepted at least one pass every year of his career and set a personal best with five in 2019, when he appeared for the Giants and the Saints. He has appeared in at least 13 games in every year of his career but one.
Maybe he has not seen it all in the NFL, but he has seen more than any of his new teammates in the defensive backfield. That will make Jenkins a critical part of that group in 2021.
“They’re getting a solid, smart player,” Mora Jr. said. “They’re getting a leader. When you do what they had to do in their secondary … you have real concerns about consistency because communication in the secondary is critical. All of those players – there will be four in your base defense, five in your nickel, six in your dime – they all have to be on the same page and they have to be in concert with the linebackers. There’s so much that goes into it. Every time an offense changes formation, by shift or motion, it changes the calls you have to make.”