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Front Page - Friday, December 30, 2022

Rebuild or retool? Big decisions loom for Titans

Titans running back Derrick Henry can only do so much with a patchwork offensive line. - Photo by Wade Payne | AP

Once the downward spiral of the 2022 season has finished, the Titans have some major decisions that need to be made.

Those decisions begin with replacing fired general manager Jon Robinson and determining exactly how much power that person will have.

Will the new general manager be an equal partner with head coach Mike Vrabel, who is about to complete his fourth season at the helm, or will the new hire answer to what Vrabel wants in terms of personnel?

Honestly, that decision is the easy one to make. The harder and arguably more important decision the Titans’ hierarchy will have to make is what exactly to do with the roster for 2023 and beyond.

Vrabel declared the Titans were at a crossroads a few weeks ago regarding the remainder of 2022. We now know which road the Titans took to finish out this season.

The actual crossroads involves Vrabel, the next general manager and this roster. Do they think this team has one more solid run to the postseason if they can overhaul the offensive line, add a few weapons at receiver and pray for better overall health? Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, Jeffery Simmons, Kevin Byard and a few others are still in their prime, but time is moving quickly. This window of opportunity appears to be rapidly closing.

That is especially true when you consider the Chiefs, Bengals, Bills and Chargers all have young franchise quarterbacks in place and are creating a logjam at the top of the AFC. That’s not even counting the Jaguars, who might be poised to rule the AFC South with the recent ascent of Trevor Lawrence in his second season.

If the Titans are to stay in that mix of contenders, it means everything that has gone wrong in 2022 needs to balance out and go right in 2023, in addition to needing a near-complete overhaul to an offense that needs to become more explosive just to keep pace.

That won’t be an easy task, given that the Titans are roughly $15 million over the salary cap for 2023 right now, though they can shed more than $40 million by cutting ties with high-priced veterans like Taylor Lewan, Robert Woods, Zach Cunningham and Bud Dupree, who have either not produced consistently or have not been on the field enough due to injuries to justify the eight figures each is on the books for in base salaries next year.

If the Titans decide there is not enough available in the cupboard to keep the current window of contention open, then do Vrabel and the new GM make a hard shifting of gears and go into a complete rebuild?

A rebuild is never easy, and fans and even ownership at times doesn’t have the necessary patience to see it through. Truthfully, because the Titans remained a legitimate contender until the midway point of this season, they won’t be picking high enough in the first round of the draft to have a legitimate chance to begin a total rebuilding process in earnest.

If the Titans go down the rebuilding path, there are legitimate issues beyond just the decision to rebuild. Do they stick with an offense built around Henry, knowing that even the best of running backs often have a short shelf life?

And what about Tannehill? As of now, he is still the best quarterback option on the roster, and it’s not remotely close. But he will be 35 next season, which is not exactly an age where he is a long-term solution. The cameo appearances of Malik Willis this season are telling enough to say he is not ready to have the offense based around him.

Lasting rebuilds start with a franchise quarterback, then weapons are added on the outside and the line beefed up front to protect the QB. Anything less is sinking sand.

If the Titans don’t want to go forward with Tannehill, and they aren’t yet sold on Willis, their options are limited. They either roll the dice again in the draft – where they have struck out three times with high quarterback picks in recent years – or grab a bridge quarterback from elsewhere and hope he works out as well as Tannehill has.

The other issue to consider in a retool/rebuild is the new stadium. The rebuild needs to be complete by 2026 or 2027 when the new facility is scheduled to open.

No one – not the Titans, the city or the fans, all of whom have both a financial and competitive stake here – wants to open a $2 billion-plus enclosed stadium with a team going 5-12 and battling the Texans for last place in the division.

So, to whoever winds up plotting the Titans’ future, there are major decisions to be made beyond just who to pursue in free agency and the draft.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com, a part of Main Street Media.