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Front Page - Friday, November 24, 2023

Titans have massive rebuild ahead at nearly all positions

Tennessee Titans general manager Ran Carthon is facing a pivotal offseason as the Titans need to upgrade nearly every aspect of their roster. He must decide who to keep and who to cut loose. - Photo by George Walker IV | AP

Ran Carthon, you are officially on the clock.

Yes, it’s understood that you were hired to work in better collaboration with Mike Vrabel than Jon Robinson did. But with a projected $100 million of cap space to work with and very few building blocks on the roster, a much-needed rebuild needs to begin ASAP.

And while you’re at it, this rebuild needs to be done a certain way – with the quarterback and a modern passing attack as the top priority.

Nothing against Derrick Henry – who honestly should be brought back on a short deal to be a complementary piece – but the Titans have gone as far as a run-first offense can take them in today’s NFL.

That style produced an AFC Championship Game appearance in 2019 and a No. 1 seed in 2021. But that was also with the balance of a strong passing game attached in the form of a healthy Ryan Tannehill throwing to A.J. Brown.

Now, employing the legendary strategy of George Costanza, it is time to do the opposite.

The best teams in today’s NFL have accurate quarterbacks paired with talented receivers and score with ease. The Titans treat offensive firepower like a trip to the dentist.

If Will Levis has the possibility of being a franchise quarterback – and the Titans seem to believe he has that kind of talent and poise, despite some obvious rookie struggles behind a terrible offensive line – then they need to go ahead and fully hand him the reins.

The first step this offseason needs to be about completely rebuilding the offensive line – spending money wisely and using a first or second-round pick on a plug-and-play left tackle in the draft – then drafting at least two more linemen who can either be starters by midseason or by their second year.

In free agency, the Titans must do their homework better this offseason than last. No more Andre Dillards stealing $29 million to play at a practice squad level. Having $100 million to spend is great, but it must be spent wisely.

Other than Peter Skoronski, this year’s first-round pick, no other lineman who has started this season is a legitimate building block. Daniel Brunskill and Dillon Radunz are OK to return and compete to start or backup, and Jaelyn Duncan is worth hanging onto as a developmental player.

Once the protection is fixed, the next area in which Carthon has to excel this offseason is in providing weapons for Levis to work with. The running back position is in good shape, assuming Henry wants to re-sign and pair with Tyjae Spears, and shouldn’t need addressing.

Wide receiver? Well, that’s another matter altogether. DeAndre Hopkins has been money well spent and can be a good veteran leader for both Levis and the offense.

Everywhere else? That’s what the draft and some of that $100 million is for. Just like with every position group, Carthon and Vrabel have to get in a room and make some hard, coldblooded choices for the good of the franchise.

Young players like Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips, both of whom have had trouble staying healthy, are fine as role players, but they cannot be relied upon as full-time starters.

 If the Titans have a chance to draft a receiver like Marvin Harrison, Jr., or sign a productive free agent like Tee Higgins, Mike Evans or Michael Pittman, it needs to be done.

The other aspect is the receiving corps needs to get faster, and that means changing Vrabel’s style of going after bigger receivers who block downfield. Draft or sign a guy who can take the top off the defense with his speed and don’t worry about his ability to block a safety.

Tight end also needs an upgrade, as there are no playmakers at the position. Chig Okonkwo has been a disappointment after a solid rookie year, and Josh Whyle has flashed and might pan out, but there is no one here who strikes fear into opposing safeties while running a route down the middle.

Now, what about the defense? Again, this is another area that will need some improvement. The Titans made it no secret that they have built around Jeffery Simmons, but even he can’t do it by himself.

The Titans’ other two best players on defense are both impending free agents – Simmons’ linemates Denico Autry and Teair Tart. Autry is a little long in the tooth, but like Henry, bring him back if he wants to stay on a short-term, inexpensive deal.

Tart is a little trickier, as he could command a nice payday on the open market. The Titans have sometimes questioned his hustle and work habits, but he would be hard to replace if he is allowed to walk away.

The Titans are finding that out about the inside linebacker position, where they soured on David Long because he was injured last year. That was a mistake. Long signed a relatively cheap deal in Miami and has been a playmaker. His knack for finding the football and creating big plays and turnovers has not been replaced as evidenced by the Titans having just seven takeaways all season.

Tennessee needs to upgrade both inside linebacker spots to get faster and more instinctive there.

Issues also exist at outside linebacker. Arden Key didn’t produce as they hoped and Harold Landry has only shown flashes of his former self coming off an ACL tear. Perhaps Landry will bounce back. Regardless, it’s an area that will have to be addressed, if for no other reason than depth and the hope of finding a solid edge-setter.

The secondary? Ooh, where to start? Kevin Byard is fortunate the Titans shipped him out of town before the ship completely sank. Amani Hooker is in the middle of a long-term deal, so he is staying, but the other spots around him must be upgraded either in the draft or free agency.

Kristian Fulton is simply not consistent enough to warrant a second contract here. Sean Murphy-Bunting is on a one-year deal but would be OK on a cheap extension.

That said, between the draft and free agency, this team needs at least three new cornerbacks. In other words, they need enough depth that Roger McCreary can stay in the nickel spot and not be forced to play outside.

At safety, the Titans need another starter opposite Hooker, so that Elijah Molden can go back to his versatile backup role.

 The third phase, special teams, is one area in which the Titans have been really good with punter Ryan Stonehouse, kicker Nick Folk and long snapper Morgan Cox. But there are needs here, as well.

The Titans have to find a reliable return man – one who won’t put the ball on the ground.

And while we’re at it, the Titans put too much emphasis on special teams roles. There are about seven or eight guys on the 53-man roster whose only real role is to cover kicks or play on returns. That’s too many players who are contributing virtually nothing on offense or defense. That’s because they don’t appear capable of a bigger role.

Coaches, not just Vrabel, but many before him, have talked about how special teams ability is vital for the last few spots on the roster. But after seeing so many injuries, I’ll take a solid backup third or fourth cover cornerback over a guy whose specialty is covering punts. I’ll take my chances that the cover corner can learn how to properly run down the field and make a tackle on a returner rather than have to put a special teams first guy into the game and let him get exposed by today’s standout receivers.

Right now, the Titans roster is pretty bleak. When you have as many holes as they have, it is probably going to take more than the $100 million in cap space and the 2024 draft to fix everything.

That means there are likely still to be some soft areas for a year or more that can’t get immediately addressed.

But 2024 needs to be about return to respectability with the roster, and giving a young quarterback every chance to succeed by the time the talent is upgraded.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com