Titans’ offseason moves indicate a reset, not full rebuild
Life without Derrick Henry? It’s possibly on the docket for the Tennessee Titans, considering reports they’ve at least gauged his market.
Moving on from star safety Kevin Byard? It’s a thought now being entertained after the Titans recently asked the two-time All Pro to take a pay cut, which he declined. He feels his play hasn’t warranted a slash in salary, FOX Sports learned last week.
If nothing else, this much is clear: Tennessee is exploring all options in its efforts to construct a team that can contend for Super Bowls in the long term.
But with new general manager Ran Carthon, the Titans’ moves to this point don’t indicate a franchise embracing a full rebuild after a disastrous 7-10 campaign. They’ve also done much more than small tweaks around their core players. For example, they’ve let homegrown starters like inside linebacker David Long Jr. and right guard Nate Davis walk in free agency.
Tennessee’s path forward, it seems, most closely resembles an aggressive reset — maintaining a competitive roster while simultaneously building a new foundation.
“I’m as open to adding great players to our roster [as possible],” coach Mike Vrabel said at the NFL Combine. “We’ve got some needs and some holes. … I’ve asked [the personnel and scouting departments] to look for players that have an element of speed, violence and versatility.”
So far, the Titans have officially agreed to terms with six outside free agents: cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting; linebackers Azeez Al-Shaair, Arden Key and Luke Gifford; and offensive linemen Andre Dillard and Daniel Brunskill. All project somewhere between key backups and middle-of-the road starters.
Al-Shaair, overshadowed with the 49ers by Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, is expected to replace Long as the Titans’ middle linebacker. Dillard has a chance to be the starting left tackle. Murphy-Bunting is a starting-caliber corner with versatility. Key is a rotational pass rusher. Brunskill is a versatile offensive lineman who can play both sides. Gifford is a special teams ace.
With the additions, the Titans have maintained roster flexibility moving forward. Al-Shaair’s contract is for one year (worth $5 million), as is Murphy-Bunting’s reportedly. Brunskill and Gifford’s are for two (worth $5.5 million and $4 million, respectively), but they’re effectively team options after 2023 (Tennessee could release Brunskill and Gifford after the upcoming season with pre-June designations and save $2.92 million and $2 million against the 2024 salary cap, respectively). Key’s deal is for three years and $21 million, including $13 million fully guaranteed.
The overarching theme: smaller deals banking on upside, giving Carthon options for next offseason based on the direction of the team.
“It’s like putting a puzzle together, right?” Carthon said of constructing the roster. “You know what that puzzle and what that picture is going to look like when you open the box. You just have to get there. We’re still collecting all the pieces to make that puzzle picture come to light at the end.”
Former GM Jon Robinson, looking to capitalize on a contention window, restructured big contracts (quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2021, Byard in 2020 and 2022), shipped off draft picks and committed big-money to veterans hoping they could help get the Titans over the hump after a 2019 AFC Championship Game appearance. Those moves flamed out. Think Julio Jones, Bud Dupree and Robert Woods in the past two years alone.
That’s how you get to the Titans asking Byard to take a pay cut — his $19.6 million cap number, second-highest on the team and league-leading among safeties, had been inflated by the restructures to his contract — despite the fact he’s still playing at an elite level entering his eighth year.
The Titans began the offseason more than $26 million over the 2023 salary cap, 30th in the league. They’re currently $10.09 million under the cap (excluding the contract details for Murphy-Bunting and Dillard), according to Over The Cap. But they’re fifth-worst in the NFL with $36.8 million in dead money, which accounts for guaranteed cash and bonuses to players no longer on the team.
With financial constraints and just six draft picks this year, Tennessee is challenged with improving a team that went 7-10 last season, one many believe isn’t equipped to contend with the top of the AFC in 2023. That’s Carthon’s task.
“You’re building a football team. We’re not collecting talent,” Carthon said. “Every unit on the defense, offense, we want to improve.”
His apparent method of doing so? Retooling the roster.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
Top stories from FOX Sports:
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more
Source: FOX Sports