The NFL offseason is one of the most exciting time for football fans. We sit on the edge of ours seats as free agency moves are made, hoping that our favorite team lands the prolific players on the market. Then comes the anticipation which leads up to the NFL Draft.
Currently, we are in this waiting out phase as we listen to experts break down this year’s top prospects. Where will Johnny Manziel go? Will Jadeveon Clowney be selected number one? These are two of the many question we ask, but right now we are going to shift out attention to what lies ahead for the Tennessee Titans.
Our team of Josh Stephenson and Corey Adams will look at the moves the Titans have made in free agency, as well as what the strategy will be in the draft.
But first, let’s discuss the biggest offseason news of 2014 for the Tennessee Titans.
Titans release running back Chris Johnson
Josh – The divorce between Chris Johnson and the Titans is something that surprised no one and I feel is the best move for the team moving forward. It’s hard to say that based on the raw stats that Johnson has accumulated in his six seasons with the Titans, 7,965 rushing yards, 59 total touchdowns, never having a season under 1,000 yards rushing and a career average per rush of 4.6 yards per carry.
Also, despite his smaller stature, Johnson played in all but one game in his Titans career and that was in his rookie year. The best year of Johnson’s career was his 2,006 yard season in 2009 and it has been a steady decline in production since then. Last season Johnson had the lowest yard per carry average, 3.9, of his career and the second lowest rushing yards total of his career, 1,077.
Despite the drop in production there were still teams out there that expressed interest in a possible trade to acquire Johnson’s services. This where I feel the Titans, as an organization, dropped the ball (no pun intended). No matter what a team is offering any compensation is better than letting him walk and sign with another team. Even if it was one or two late round picks, that can still have value to it ( I’m pretty sure there is a quarterback in New England that has proven the potential worth of late round selections).
With Johnson’s exit the Titans running game next year will be by committee and the stable has a couple potential dark horses. Shonn Greene, who showed flashes last year while fighting the injury bug, Dexter McCluster, who we will talk about more later on, and don’t rule out the Titans drafting a running back in the later rounds to add to the stable.
Corey – We all knew it was coming. There was no way Chris Johnson would be a member of the Tennessee Titans in 2014 simply because of his attitude and production decrease. It’s the right move for the franchise to make in starting fresh under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, but I still think Johnson has a few more good years ahead of him.
He won’t total 1,200 rushing yards, and may not reach 1,000 for his career in a shared role with other backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. I think it’s a good place for him though — living life in New York City — but you have to question how the relationship between he and Jets head coach Rex Ryan will play out.
For the Titans, it’s not going to be easy to find a replacement to match the numbers he put up over six season. Like him or not, Johnson was the catalyst for the team with his blazing speed and quickness.
Corey – Dexter McCluster is just the type of player the Titans have been searching for.
With the loss of Johnson, the Titans were left without a game-changing speed guy on offense until the former Ole Miss standout hit the free agent market. Not only can return punts to help Leon Washington in the special teams department, but McCluster has versatility to give teams different looks on offense. It’s a perfect fit for Whisenhunt as he will use McCluster similar to Danny Woodhead in San Diego last year, except McCluster has more breakaway speed at just 24-years-old.
Josh – Speed is king in the National Football League and the Titans knew they were letting one of the fastest players in the league walk when they released Chris Johnson so they went out into the free agent market and acquired more speed in the signing of McCluster. Entering the league as a scat back with game breaking speed, McCluster never really found his groove in the backfield (sharing it with Jamal Charles might have something to do with that) so he was shifted to more of a wide receiver role in his last couple of years in Kansas City. McCluster also brings the ability to be a dangerous return man, three punt returns for touchdowns in his first five years in the league, as well as being able to line up at multiple spots on offense.
The diverse skill set that McCluster brings to the table makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses with the potential to score every time he touches the football. The hiring of an offensive minded coach in Ken Wisenhunt and the signing of McCluster are no coincidence. Look for McCluster to lineup at numerous positions during the season to exploit mismatches on the defense.
Josh – The Titans had a respectable campaign in 2013 on the defensive side of the football, ranking 14th in total defense out 32 teams according to ESPN.com. One area that can be improved on is having players that can pressure and sack the opposing quarterback, this is where the signing of Shaun Phillips comes into play. Phillips had 12 total sacks (including postseason play) and is still a very productive player at his position despite his age (31).
The Titans did not get locked down into a long term contract with Phillips either, 2 year deal worth 6-million, which leaves them flexible in the future. Phillips adds depth to the defensive end spot and provides a player who knows how to get to opposing quarterbacks.
Corey – When it comes to a veteran pass rusher, Phillips is as good as they get.
In 2013, Jurell Casey was the only Tennessee player to have more than six sacks as he broke out for 10.5. Phillips played defensive end for the Broncos last season, but should move back to outside linebacker when he suits up in the blue and white jerseys.
If he can continue to stay healthy, Phillips will provide Tennessee’s defense the spark that has been lost over the years.
Corey – The defense is led by the middle linebacker who commands his unit, and the Titans locked up a productive player in Woodyard who could be the biggest acquisition if he can stay healthy.
Each season, Woodyard was at or near the top of the list in terms of total tackles in Denver. He started off 2013 great, but dealt with a nagging neck injury that forced him to have his starting spot taken over by Paris Landon. If he can return to top form similar to 2012 where he had 114 total tackles with three interceptions, he’ll be the driving force that can help get the Titans defense back to being relevant.
Josh – Leadership and playoff experience was something that could be said was lacking from the Titans linebacker core in the 2013 season. The signing of Wesley Woodyard addresses both areas. Woodyard, a seven year man out of the University of Kentucky, brings experience that young players such as Akeem Ayres and Zach Brown can learn from and mold their play after.
Woodyard will be thrust into a starting role on a defense that will be much more important to the teams success than the one he played on in Denver. Woodyard will not overwhelm you with amazing skills or freakish athleticism but is a player that has been a steady contributor his entire career and adds depth that teams need to make it to postseason play.
Josh – The signing of Oher is the biggest gamble that the Titans have made in their free agency moves…. and it might not be that bad of a gamble. The physical stature is there with Oher, 6’4, 315 pounds of pure power protecting the blindside of whoever ends up taking the snaps for the Titans this season.
Despite being a first round pick in 2009 out of the University of Mississippi, some question Oher’s development and the price the Titans paid to get him. Initial reports had the deal at four-year $20 million contract with $9.5 million of it guaranteed but it actually works out to only $6 million guaranteed and the Titans have a buyout option after the second year.
The physical ability is there and with Jake Locker possibly taking the snaps Oher will have a much more mobile quarterback in the backfield that he is blocking for. The move could be a gamble but the Titans have reduced the risk with constructing a contract that is in their favor.
Corey – More than anything, having Michael Oher on the team provides the fan base with a recognizable name who will be liked by everyone.
We all know his story that was portrayed in The Blind Side and the road he has been down to get to the NFL. Maybe an inspirational like Oher is someone the Titans need.
In terms of football ability, yes, it is a gamble. Oher played in just one game last season, so that in itself is a risk. He also has been deceptive of getting beat off the line of scrimmage, and now moves to the AFC South where he will face JJ Watt twice a year. Oher will be the team’s starting right tackle if all goes well, and with just a one year contract, it’s a chance to prove himself to the Titans and other organizations that may look to acquire him in 2015.