Arguably the most intriguing spot in the first round of the draft is #2 where the Titans are picking. Ken Whisenhunt drafted Zach Mettenberger in the 6th round last year and he showed some promise as a rookie, completing 59.8% of his passes for an average of 7.89 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Whisenhunt has praise for Mettenberger in the end of season press conference, but stopped short of naming him the starter for 2015. Quarterbacks who fall as far in the draft as Mettenberger did rarely work out as long-term starters. There’s a decent chance that the Titans fall in love with Jameis Winston’s upside at #2, in spite of the off the field issues and some developing that still needs to happen on the field, or the Titans could go into 2015 with Mettenberger as their guy and hope he develops into a functional starter. Either way, it’ll be a franchise defining decision for the Titans.
The Titans really struggled for edge rush last season outside of Derrick Morgan. Other than Morgan, no rush linebacker had more than 3 sacks. Morgan is a free agent, unfortunately for the Titans, and easily could not be back next season. Kamerion Wimbley was the starter opposite him and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 44th ranked rush linebacker out of 46 eligible and could easily be a cap casualty this off-season. Quentin Groves was the #3 guy and he would have ranked 4th worst at his position (just ahead of Wimbley) if he had been eligible, despite playing just 246 snaps. He’s a free agent this off-season anyway. If the Titans pass on Winston at #2, Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory is going to look awfully attractive.
Michael Oher predictably struggled in his first season in Tennessee, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible. Considering he struggled in 2013 as well, grading out as 68th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible and that all of his 9 million dollars in guaranteed money has already been paid out, the Titans could easily cut him this off-season, that would save them 4 million in cash, immediately free up 2 million in cap space, and put a swift end to a poorly thought out free agent signing. They’d need a replacement though, opposite Taylor Lewan, who will continue to man the blindside.
Bernard Pollard should be back in 2015, after missing most of 2014 with a torn Achilles, even though he’ll be in his age 31 season, coming off of a significant injury, and owed 3.1 million dollars in cash. When healthy, he’s a solid starter. However, Michael Griffin opposite him, could easily not be back. The inconsistent former first round pick will be owed 6.3 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2015, his age 30 season, and was Pro Football Focus’ 5th worst safety last season. The Titans will need to replace him as George Wilson, who filled in for Pollard last year, was the 6th worst safety and will be a free agent going into his age 34 season this off-season.
2014 2nd round pick Bishop Sankey struggled in his first year as a starter in 2014, rushing for 569 yards and 2 touchdowns on 152 carries (3.74 YPC), but he’ll be the starter in 2015 again. They need another running back to provide competition though. Veteran backup Shonn Greene is highly unlikely to be back in 2015, owed 3.35 million in an age 30 season.
The Titans really missed Alterraun Verner this season, as Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson both struggled mightily opposite Jason McCourty this season. They graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 96th and 104th ranked cornerbacks out of 108 eligible last season. Some competition should be added this off-season.
2013 4th round pick Brian Schwenke has struggled in his first 2 seasons in the league. He’s made 20 starts, but he’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 30th ranked center out of 36 eligible in 2013 and 32nd ranked center out of 41 eligible in 2014. The Titans should add competition this off-season.
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents
OLB Derrick Morgan
A rare first round hit by the Titans, Derrick Morgan’s career got off to a slow start as he was limited to 112 snaps by a torn ACL as a rookie in 2010 and struggled in his return from that injury in 2011, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 64th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 67 eligible. However, he’s graded out above average in each of the past three seasons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2012, 11th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2013, and 8th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2014. Most importantly, he’s missed just 2 games over the past 4 seasons and doesn’t have any significant injuries on his record other than that torn ACL. His scheme versatility and his pass rush ability will make him a hot commodity on the open market.
LT Michael Roos
Michael Roos missed 11 games with a knee injury in 2014 and the Titans really missed him. Prior to 2004, he was as dependable as a left tackle could be, missing just one start from 2007-2013. Even including last season, he’s graded out above average in every season dating back in 2007. He’s going into his age 33 season, which is a serious concern as he comes off that injury. He’s reportedly considering retirement, but if he doesn’t end up retiring, he could be a nice cheap option on the open market.
QB Jake Locker
Jake Locker didn’t live up to the Titans’ expectations, after they took him 8th overall in 2011. Locker sat behind Matt Hasselbeck as a rookie and only played in 29 of 48 games over the past 3 seasons. His numbers weren’t terrible, as he completed 57.5% of his passes for an average of 7.01 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions, while rushing for 644 yards and 5 touchdowns on 95 carries. but they don’t offset the variety of injuries he’s had. The Titans sat him behind Zach Mettenberger at times last season even when Locker was healthy, opting to see what the rookie had in Locker’s contract year. That suggests they’re very likely to move on from him this off-season, in favor of Mettenberger or a quarterback they take early in the draft. However, in a league where the quarterback position is so valuable and good quarterbacks are so scarce, Locker will draw interest on the open market as a buy low quarterback and be given a chance to compete for a starting job. He’s only going into his age 27 season and he still has natural talent if he can ever stay on the field long enough to develop it.
WR Nate Washington
Nate Washington has been around for a while, playing in every game in each of the last 9 seasons, catching 411 passes for an average of 6296 yards and 40 touchdowns with the Steelers and Titans. He’s never been great, with only one season of 1000+ yards, but he’s always been decent and dependable. However, now he’s going into his age 32 season and coming off of an underwhelming season in which he caught 40 passes for 647 yards and 2 touchdowns and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 96th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible in pass catching grade. He’ll be seen as a depth receiver and nothing more on the open market this off-season.
S George Wilson
A long-time Bill, George Wilson graded out above average in every season from 2008-2012, including 3 seasons as a starter (2009, 2011, and 2012). His best seasons were 2009 and 2012, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th and 8th ranked safety respectively. As a free agent in 2013, Wilson, then going into his age 32 season, was forced to settle for a short-term deal and only played 420 snaps as a reserve in 2013, though he did play well. Wilson moved into the starting lineup when Bernard Pollard got hurt in 2014, but he struggled mightily, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 83rd ranked safety out of 88 eligible. Now going into his age 34 season, he won’t draw much interest on the open market.
DT Karl Klug
Karl Klug, a 2011 5th round pick, has never played more than 520 snaps in a season and has only once played more than 338 snaps. However, he’s graded out above average in all 4 seasons he’s been in the league, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked defensive tackle in 2013 despite playing just 330 snaps. The 6-3 275 pounder is only a situational player, but can provide valuable interior pass rush in sub packages and would be a nice pickup for anyone who signs him this off-season.
Potential Cap Casualties
OT Michael Oher
In one of the NFL’s most head-scratching moves last off-season, the Titans gave Michael Oher a 4-year, 20 million dollar deal, even though he was coming off of an awful season to end a generally inconsistent and disappointing 5-year tenure in Baltimore, after going in the first round in 2009. In 2013, his final year in Baltimore, he was Pro Football Focus 68th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible. In 2014, his first year in Tennessee, Oher predictably struggled once again, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible in 11 games, before going down for the season with an injury. The 9 million dollars they guaranteed him was absurd, but it’s already been paid so it’s a sunk cost. The Titans could easily cut him this off-season, a move that would save them 4 million in cash and immediately free up 2 million in cap space.
RB Shonn Greene
Another weird free agent signing by the Titans, Shonn Greene was a backup caliber running back masquerading as a starter in New York with the Jets for 4 years to start his career, but, even in a league where the position is becoming devalued, the Titans gave him a 3-year deal worth 10 million dollars with 4.5 million guaranteed 2 off-seasons ago. Greene rewarded them with 171 carries for 687 yards (4.02 YPC) and 6 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons, while catching 7 passes for 52 yards. Owed 3.35 million between salary and bonuses in the final year of his contract, the Titans should cut him to save that amount in cash and on the cap. He’s going into his age 30 season, got arrested this year, and shouldn’t be making anything more than the league minimum.
TE Craig Stevens
Purely a blocking tight end, the Titans still signed Stevens to a 4-year, 14.4 million dollar deal before the 2012 season. Stevens was a good blocker in his first 2 years in 2012 and 2013, but only caught a combined 25 passes. In 2014, he played just 70 snaps before going down with an injury. Considering the Titans forced him to take a significant pay cut last off-season to stay on the team, there’s little to no chance he sees his scheduled non-guaranteed 3.5 million dollar salary in 2015, which will be his age 31 season.
OLB Kamerion Wimbley
Kamerion Wimbley struggled mightily opposite Derrick Morgan last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 44th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker out of 46 eligible. Owed 2.75 million in cash going into his age 32 season in 2015, Wimbley is unlikely to be back. The Titans would save only 950K on the cap by doing so, but it would get them out of 6 million dollars owed over the next two seasons and he’d be off of their cap completely in 2016, when his cap number would otherwise be 5.15 million (1.8 million if they cut him next off-season.
DT Sammie Lee Hill
Sammie Lee Hill signed a 3-year, 11.4 million dollar deal with the Titans 2 off-seasons ago. In 2013, he graded out about average on 389 snaps and in 2014, he struggle on 597 snaps. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 4 million dollars in 2015 between salary and bonuses and the Titans would save that amount in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season. Given that he’s a marginal player and that he was investigated for sexual assault this season, they could easily do that.
S Michael Griffin
Griffin has been the picture of inconsistency throughout his career in Tennessee since they drafted him in the first round in 2007. He has had slightly above average years in 2007, 2010, well above average years in 2008 (9th), 2011 (10th), and 2013 (14th), and below average years in 2009 (87th out of 88), 2012 (87th out of 88), and 2014 (84th out of 88). The Titans gave him a 5-year, 35 million dollar deal with 15 million guaranteed three off-seasons ago. All that guaranteed money is expired and, given how horrible he was last season, he could easily be let go ahead of his age 30 season in 2015. The Titans would avoid 6.3 million in salary and 6.5 million in salary in 2015 and 2016 respectively and save 4.5 million immediately on the salary cap by doing so.
G Andy Levitre
This is one that I’ve heard rumored, but it’s not likely. Levitre signed a 6-year, 46.8 million dollar deal 2 off-seasons ago and all the guaranteed money has already been paid out. Levitre was very solid in 4 years in Buffalo to start his career, making all 64 starts over that period, including 5 at left tackle and 1 at center. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked guard in 2011 and their 8th ranked guard in 2012. He was once again solid in the first season of his contract in Tennessee in 2013, making all 16 starts and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked guard. However, last season, he graded out below average, though he did once again play all 16 games. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 6.5 million in 2015 and the Titans can save 2.3 million on the cap immediately by cutting him this off-season. However, I think it’s more likely they keep him around. They’re not that pressed for cap space and, when he’s right, he’s the kind of top level player that the Titans have a severe shortage of.