Prioritizing the Titans' Potential Free Agents
NASHVILLE – It is not every year that a team faces the prospect of losing their leading rusher and leading passer all at once.
That is the exact situation Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson and his staff must confront this spring. Running back Derrick Henry, who led the league in rushing, and Ryan Tannehill, who led the league in passer rating, are among Tennessee’s 23 players scheduled to become free agents when the NFL’s new contract year begins on March 18. That group also includes one who has been an All-Pro (Jack Conklin) and another who earned All-Pro consideration this season (Logan Ryan).
Franchise officials won’t be able (and won’t want to) keep all of them. Then there are some they’d like to have back who almost certainly will end up elsewhere.
Options available to the team include contract extensions – assuming those players are agreeable – before their current deals end. The franchise and transition tags are also a possibility to keep players from reaching free agency.
In the wake of Sunday’s loss in the AFC Championship, here is a look at the top 10 Titans scheduled to become free agents, ranked by how much of a priority it should be to bring back each.
• Derrick Henry, running back (2019 salary cap figure: $1.721 million): He led the NFL in rushing during the regular season and dominated through the first two weeks of the postseason. There is always a risk when signing a running back to a second contract, but Henry is one guy the Titans cannot afford to lose.
• Logan Ryan, cornerback (2019 salary cap figure: $10.667 million): He will be 29 at the start of next season, which is not over the hill but it does create concern about a long-term deal. He had his best all-around season in 2019, and the fact that he has a significant impact in the locker room should not be ignored.
• Ryan Tannehill, quarterback (2019 salary cap figure: $2.225 million): This is the age of analytics, which suggests he won’t be as good next season as he was in this one when he played better than any Titans quarterback this side of Steve McNair. Expectations for just how good Tannehill will be in 2020 must be measured against some intriguing quarterback options that also will be available this offseason.
• Jack Conklin, tackle (2019 salary cap figure: $5.02 million): The Titans’ offensive line already includes two massive contracts with left tackle Taylor Lewan and left guard Rodger Saffold. Conklin is undeniably a good fit with that unit and a quality pro, but chances are he will be able to get more money from another team than he will from the Titans.
• Kamalei Correa, outside linebacker (2019 salary cap figure: $1.234 million): He started five games, played in all 16 and arguably played the best football of his career over the last few weeks. The 2016 second-round pick by Baltimore will be 26 next season and likely has his best days ahead of him. He is not someone you want to pay big money, but he absolutely is a guy you would like to have back at the right price.
• LeShaun Sims, cornerback (2019 salary cap figure: $779,546): One thing is certain in this day and age: You never can have enough good cornerbacks. Sims is a good (not great) one. His value to the Titans will increase if Ryan decides to sign elsewhere, but even if that does not happen the 2016 fifth-round pick who has started 11 games in his career can fill an important role with this team.
• Dennis Kelly, tackle (2019 salary cap figure: $1.608 million): At 30 years old, he has a well-established reputation as a versatile and valuable backup. It is not likely anyone will view him as an option to be a starter, so his best bet would be to stick with the team that knows him well and finds way to use him (he caught a touchdown pass in the regular season and playoffs, after all). And the Titans should be eager to bring him back at the right price.
• Tajaé Sharpe, wide receiver (2019 salary cap figure: $2.094 million): Coaches routinely hailed him for the fact that he was the No. 1 backup at each of the three wide receiver positions. That would be nice except that he was a starter for most of 2016 and 2018 (he missed all of 2017 with an injury). There is a lot to like about Sharpe, but it should be possible to replace him with a younger, cheaper option who has room to improve.
• Austin Johnson, defensive line (2019 salary cap figure: $1.802 million): For four years, he has been a guy who has not produced at a level expected based on where he was drafted (43 overall in 2016, two spots earlier than Henry). Part of that has to do with the fact that he never could unseat Jurrell Casey or DaQuan Jones, which hardly is a crime. With Jeffery Simmons now ahead of him too, it likely is best for him to go and see what he can do elsewhere.
• Marcus Mariota, quarterback (2019 salary cap figure: $20.922 million): He had every opportunity to establish himself as this franchise’s long-term answer at quarterback over the past five seasons. There were times when he came close to doing exactly that, but injuries and inconsistency ultimately derailed him. His professionalism and athleticism will earn him another chance, it just won’t be with the Titans.