NASHVILLE – The departure of general manager Jon Robinson leads to a question that will have to be answered both immediately and in the long term: Who has final say on the Titans’ 53-man roster?
There was no doubt Robinson was that man until Tuesday, when controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk fired him two days after a lopsided loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
So who’s next? Who makes the call on what players might be added to the roster down the stretch – whether they’re needed because of injury or upgrade purposes?
Is it vice president of player personnel Ryan Cowden, who will serve as interim general manager for the remainder of the season – and perhaps succeed Robinson as general manager? Or will it be Titans coach Mike Vrabel?
Not necessarily either, Vrabel said Wednesday, offering up an interesting answer when asked who would have final say if a disagreement happened to arise between Cowden and the coach.
“I would imagine that (controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk would be) the person that would have the final say in every decision if we disagreed,” Vrabel said. “That’s where we would leave it at.”
To clarify, Vrabel simply doesn’t see a lot of huge personnel decisions coming up over the last five weeks of the regular season or in the playoffs. He suspects that whatever issues arise will be taken care of through traditional daily discussions between Vrabel and the front office.
“Ryan Cowden and I will continue to communicate in that process as we get down the stretch of trying to figure out the active roster, the players that are looking to return from injury,” Vrabel said. “We’ve made a couple moves here. It’s late in the season. (The moves at this point in the season are) usually some guys from somebody’s practice squad, so that process isn’t going to change.”
A team’s biggest personnel decisions are often made during the offseason, which is when the Titans will set a course in free agency and the draft.
The Titans presumably will have a new general manager in place by then, which means the roster-control question will loom that much larger.
There are only a few NFL coaches – such as New England’s Bill Belichick, Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Seattle’s Pete Carroll – who reportedly have final say on their 53-man rosters.
Some coaches don’t even desire full control of the 53, as it adds layers of responsibility – and culpability – to an already back-breaking job.
“I don't want personnel control,” Ron Rivera told NFL.com in 2020, just before he was hired as Washington Commanders coach.
"I just want to be able to pick which 46 are active for game day, and have a collaborative relationship (with a GM) – and, if there's a conflict, be able at least to go to the owner and state my case."
But what about Vrabel? Would he want to make all the decisions, instead of having to try to make things work with someone else’s players?
It’s easy to recall a comment Vrabel made on the night of the Titans’ loss to Kansas City last month, when he was asked about the sustainability of continuing to give running back Derrick Henry a lot of carries. Part of Vrabel’s response included the phrase “I mean, who the (bleep) would we throw it to?”
That wording could certainly be interpreted as Vrabel being frustrated with personnel choices – such as the trading of A.J. Brown – that had been made to the roster he had to coach.
Would that interpretation be accurate?
“No, that’s coaching,” Vrabel said. “Figure out who’s available, who you have and win the football game. We’re charged to win, and that’s all we’ve ever tried to do is take that approach, put ultimate importance on the players and try to teach them what wins in this league week to week.
“My job each and every day is … the guys we have, find ways to make them better and to reach them on a personal level, to teach, to develop and inspire them to do their job, to make a personal connection with them.”
Asked if he thought he would have more or less roster input moving forward with a new general manager, Vrabel side-stepped, saying his focus was to get the Titans ready to play Jacksonville on Sunday.
The question won’t be going anywhere in the weeks and months to come.
But we should also be wondering whether Adams Strunk would want Vrabel – as opposed to her new general manager – to have the final roster say-so.
It was Adams Strunk, after all, who gave Robinson the final word on the roster when she hired him in 2016, despite the fact coach Mike Mularkey was already in place.
In fact, Robinson talked about how important that decision was to him just a few months ago, in a podcast appearance on “The GM Journey” with former Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
“It’s important that the owner hire a GM and empower them, make sure they’re competent enough to have control over (the roster),” Robinson said on the podcast. “We’re fortunate that’s what (Adams Strunk) believes in. You’re in charge of the roster. It’s what I pay you do to, and Mike’s charge is to coach the football team.”
That, of course, was then.
Whether the same strategy still holds remains to be seen.