By John Tuvey, Executive Editor Titans Offseason Needs We continue our team-by-team look at offseason needs with the Titans, who opened the season 0-5 and nearly cost Jeff Fisher his job before turning things around in a big way to finish 8-3 and narrowly miss the playoffs. After years of cap purging (and losing records), the Titans have $36 million in room and a talented young nucleus to build around. Where will their yet-to-be-hired GM take this team in 2007?
Areas of Need: The decision to draft Vince Young last year proved to be downright brilliant, as he took over the team one month into the season and sparked a serious resurgence. Despite evidence to the contrary, Young can't do it alone, so the Titans will need to populate his surrounding cast. The backfield shouldn't be an area of need, assuming they either pay Travis Henry the $8 million bonus his performance triggered or rework his contract to keep him around a bit longer at a more digestible price. Second round pick LenDale White waits in the wings, but he barely played last season and is likely slated for a complementary as opposed to feature role, while former starter Chris Brown is almost certainly headed elsewhere.
While the Titans' backfield is plenty deep, their receiving corps could use some tweaking. Of the three rookies who received significant playing time in 2005, Brandon Jones emerged as the best of the bunch. He could easily slide into the role of Young's favored receiver, especially if Drew Bennett departs via free agency. The Titans paid big money for David Givens last offseason, but a thumb injury early and a knee injury late severely limited his production. He may not be completely ready for the start of the 2007 season, and even if he is the Titans will need at least one more receiver, especially if Bennett finds greener pastures elsewhere. At tight end the Titans primarily need to get healthy, as Ben Troupe and Erron Kinney missed significant time this season and even Bo Scaife was banged up a bit. The offensive line opened the season as a large question mark but played quite well and requires only a little tweakingâ€”specifically at the guard positions, where Zach Piller and Benji Olson have logged plenty of NFL miles.
Defensively, the Titans had their problems in 2007. They ranked near the bottom of the league across the board, so any and all defensive upgrades would be greatly appreciated. If forced to prioritize, secondary help and a pass rusher to assist Kyle Vanden Bosh would be atop the wish list; then again, Keith Bulluck could use some help at linebacker as well. Unless a great opportunity for, say, a wide receiver falls into the Titans' lap on draft day, you can expect them to devote most of their picks and the bulk of their cap resources to the defensive side of the ball.
Help is on the Way? Last season the Titans had the third overall pick, and through the first five games it appeared as if they'd be on the clock even earlier this April. Their strong finish dropped them all the way down to 19, but that shouldn't be a problem. Two of their greatest needs are a playmaking wide receiver and defensive line help, and this draft appears deep in both areas.
Should they determine they need to give Vince another target, it's possible that USC's Dwayne Jarrett is reunited with his former offensive coordinator, current Titans OC Norm Chow. Other possibilities include LSU's Dwayne Bowe, whose stock has done nothing but rise through the bowl and all-star game season, or Tennessee's Robert Meachem. If the need for defensive help carries the day, linemen such as NC State's DeMarcus Tyler, Purdue's Anthony Spencer, or Florida's Jarvis Moss would be considered, along with corners Aaron Ross of Texas, Tanard Jackson of Syracuse, or possibly Marcus McCauley of Fresno State, whose plummeting stock might drop him into the Titans' lap.
There's also that $36 million in cap space to work with, which could make the Titans a player for one of the marquee corners (Buffalo's Nate Clements or New England's Asante Samuel) or big-name linebackers (Indy's Cato June, Chicago's Lance Briggs, or Baltimore's Adalius Thomas). Owner Bud Adams didn't shy away from opening up the wallet to sign Givens last offseason, and with a little more green to work with the Titans will at least garner visits from players hoping to cash in.
It appears as if the Titans have come almost full circle, through the salary cap purge and back to the days just before they rode Steve McNair, Eddie George, and a strong defense to a string of postseason appearances, including a Super Bowl berth. Obviously, then, selecting the right GM to take the Titans back down that path is the first step in what could be a very interesting offseason in Tennessee.
I am very excited about how strong of a team the Titans could potentially be next year. They had an amazing second half of the season in 2006, with a limited amount of talent, and little experience. So, this year, with so much room under the cap, the Titans can make some key additions to the team, and shore up some of the weak spots.
I would like to see the Titans make WR and CB their priorities this off-season. Pacman will be a solid cornerback next season, all the Titans need is a #2 CB to take the field with him. If Bennett does in fact leave the team during the off-season, then I would love to see the Titans bring in a rookie receiver via the draft. Giving Vince another weapon can only increase his already tremendous success.
Hopefully the Titans will take advantage of this golden opportunity. I would love to see them take the AFC South Crown in 2007, and make a deep playoff run. I'm quite eager to get rid of the Super Bowl disappointment that still lingers in my head after that heartbreaking SB loss to the Rams in the 1999 season, when Kevin Dyson came up one yard short of sending the game into overtime.
Wants and Needs: For a team that was vying for a playoff spot on the final Sunday of the season, the Titans enter the 2007 draft with a bunch of holes to plug. That's what happens when you release your leading rusher, lose your leading receiver to free agency, and have your top cornerback and return specialist suspended for the season. So you have to believe that, barring a pre-draft deal for Michael Turner or the return of Chris Brown, a running back will be at or near the top of Jeff Fisher's wish list. Vince Young would also appreciate some more targets to throw to, so pencil a wide receiver into the Titans' draft-day plans as well. And Fisher has made a habit of drafting corners even when there wasn't a need, so you can imagine the Titans will be looking to bulk up their secondary as well. Tennessee could also use some help along the defensive line, and the Titans always seem to add an offensive lineman late in the draft to develop.
Potential Selections: After grappling with the Pacman Jones fiasco, the Titans might shy away from Cal running back Marshawn Lynch even if he's still there when they pick 19th overall, due to Lynch's character concerns. That likely puts them in line for a back later on Day One, someone such as Ohio State's Antonio Pittman (worked out okay for the Titans the last time they grabbed a Buckeye back) or Florida State's Lorenzo Booker. If one of the better corners—Michigan's Leon Hall or Pitt's Darrelle Revis—is still on the board for Tennesee in Round One, they may opt to go that route; Texas' Aaron Ross could also factor into the equation if the Titans trade down or if Ross is available in Round Two. Tennessee may target a corner who returns kicks later in the draft, along the lines of Georgia Tech's Kenny Scott or Iowa State's DeAndre Jackson. The Titans could address two needs in round one by selecting Ohio State receiver/return man Ted Ginn Jr., but to replace Drew Bennett they might be more inclined to pursue a bigger receiver such as Tennessee's Robert Meachem or USC's Dwayne Jarrett, who is familiar to Titans' OC Norm Chow. Mid-round and late-round picks will likely include help for the defensive line—Utah's Paul Soliai and Notre Dame's Derek Landri are prime candidates—and a raw offensive lineman like TCU's Herb Taylor or Auburn's Tim Duckworth for Mike Munchak to groom.