Tennesse Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel should look to utilize this upcoming offseason to solidify the secondary, especially at the cornerback position.
Despite a lackluster roster, the Tennessee Titans played meaningful football in Week 17 and missed the playoffs by just one game. Head coach Mike Vrabel did a fantastic job in transforming the Tennessee defense. Now, he will look to utilize this upcoming offseason to make the Titans tougher on both sides of the ball.
The mysterious cloud of doubt enveloping this football team stems from the quarterback position, where Marcus Mariota has struggled the past few seasons after a promising start as a young pro. Even under the creative Matt LaFleur (now head coach of the Green Bay Packers), Mariota mustered up a career-low 11 touchdowns passing to 8 interceptions, with a career-low quarterback rating of 53.1
The Titans, like in years past, relied heavily on the rushing attack, and benefited from their top-10 scoring defense that surrendered just 303 points the entire season, third best in the NFL. Mariota is due a staggering $21 million in 2019, all of which counts against the cap for the team should they move on. It is safe to say Mariota will be the Titans QB for at least one more season, but I expect the team to spend a later round pick on a signal-caller to develop this season.
Moving beyond the quarterback position to the rest of the roster, the Titans have three glaring areas that will need addressing in this upcoming offseason. Those three areas include the secondary (namely at the cornerback position), outside linebacker/ edge rusher, and interior offensive linemen. In this article, I will focus solely on the cornerback position.
Logan Ryan, formerly with the New England Patriots, is 28 years old and earns $10 million in 2019. In 2018, the Titans used Ryan primarily as a slot quarterback, where he logged 538 of his 903 snaps. From that position, Pro Football Focus gave Ryan an overall defensive metric of 71.6, and a coverage score of 70.1 Those numbers were both improvements from Ryan’s grades in 2017 with the Titans, but neither was as high as his best two seasons in New England (in 2015 and 2016).
If you compare Ryan’s two grades against one of the NFL’s top slot cornerbacks, Desmond King (San Diego Chargers), you’ll see that Ryan was mediocre at best. King finished the 2018 season and postseason with an overall defensive grade of 88.2 and a coverage score of 90.0. Am I saying that Ryan is a bad player? No. However, is he worth almost ten million a year when the Titans could potentially find a cheaper, better slot corner in the draft (similar to the Chargers and King)? Definitely.
On the boundary, the Titans were hoping for a lockdown cornerback when they drafted Adoree Jackson. However, the 2017 first round pick from USC has struggled in his first two seasons. Jackson finished 2018 with similar grades to Ryan and posted an overall defensive grade of 72.9 and a coverage grade of 68.9. Jackson gave up 5 touchdowns and only intercepted 2 throws.
Despite these shortcomings in the passing game, Jackson proved himself as a sure-tackler. He recorded a rushing defense grade of 84.0 and finished the year with 68 tackles. In fact, he missed just five all season. The good news for the Titans is that Jackson is still on his rookie contract and should continue to get better with more experience. Considering his cost and his potential, Jackson is safe for the foreseeable future but could benefit from a veteran addition that could push him in competition.
Filling out the starting cornerbacks for the Titans and arguably their toughest decision moving forward is Malcolm Butler. Butler will accumulate $10.5 million in 2019, all of which are guaranteed. This means that like Mariota, the starting cornerback will continue to be a piece of the defensive puzzle next season. To make it worse, the Titans don’t have an out until 2021 when his dead cap figure is $4 million. Like Jackson, Butler struggled in 2018 and finished with his worst PFF grades in his 5-year career. Butler had career lows in pass breakups (6) and gave up 7 touchdowns, the second most in his career. He was also penalized 7 times, tied for most in his career.
While I think these metrics are an efficient way to track a player’s progress, I also doubt their comprehensiveness. While there is room for improvement, Butler, Jackson, and Ryan were a big part of the Titans’ third-ranked scoring defense. I think they will improve in year two under Vrabel and continue to get better. If they don’t earn their contract, the Titans may look to trade them or bite the bullet and move on.
With that said, I do think the Titans will add at least one more defensive back to their secondary. Not to mention, this will also protect them against the chance that any of these corners regress.
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