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VOL. 46 | NO. 5 | Friday, February 4, 2022

Titans don’t have cash for free agent spending

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Titans linebacker Harold Landry, 58, who will be playing in his first Pro Bowl this weekend, is one of Tennessee’s 23  unrestricted free agents.

-- Photo By Perry Knotts | Ap

Where do they go from here? That is the biggest question regarding the Tennessee Titans in the immediate aftermath of their loss in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

It is probably small consolation to the Titans that the upstart Cincinnati Bengals pulled another upset this past week in Kansas City to move on to Super Bowl LVI to face the Los Angeles Rams.

The way things played out, the Titans have to be kicking themselves at the franchise’s latest blown opportunity to finally bring a championship to Nashville.

This offseason there will be many questions regarding where Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel take the Titans to try and get over the hump in the postseason.

The Titans are about $8.7 million over the projected salary cap of around $217 million for 2022, Spotrac.com reports. That’s not a terrible number, but it does mean the Titans won’t be able to spend liberally in the offseason on free agents.

In fact, the Titans might have to make a few unpleasant cuts to buy themselves some wiggle room under the cap. Tennessee currently has Ryan Tannehill, Bud Dupree, Kevin Byard, Derrick Henry, Julio Jones and Zach Cunningham, all with base salaries of at least $10 million, Tannehill leading the way with a $29 million base for next season.

The Titans have 23 unrestricted free agents, and a handful of those are key players that need to be brought back, if possible. Harold Landry, who blossomed into a standout pass rusher after other pieces like Dupree and Denico Autry were brought in, had a career-high 12 sacks in 2021. He is at the top of the list of players the Titans need to retain.

Beyond trying to re-sign or franchising Landry, though, most of the other questions are on offense.

And most of the questions start with Tannehill, who had three interceptions in the loss to Cincinnati. But the truth is, the quarterback likely isn’t going anywhere for 2022. And the Titans’ best solution is how to get him back to his 2019-20 form rather than what he displayed at times this season.

It starts up front, where the Titans have major decisions to make on the offensive line.

Center Ben Jones is an unrestricted free agent and, though he will be 33 next season, is still the glue of the offensive line. If Jones returns, does that also mean the Titans can avoid Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold being cap cuts?

Right tackle David Quessenberry also is a free agent, and while he should be replaceable, the Titans haven’t had much luck the past two years trying to find a solution at right tackle. See Isaiah Wilson and Dillon Radunz.

The Titans also need to find solutions for players they don’t have.

The team chose not to replace tight end Jonnu Smith when he left as a free agent last year. Truthfully, the switch of the offense from Arthur Smith to Todd Downing also meant a switch from two tight ends as the base package to three receivers as the Titans’ primary set.

Regardless of whether that switch was a primary culprit, Tannehill’s numbers suffered. Play action, which is Tannehill’s bread and butter, would seem to be more effective with two tight ends on the field and throwing from a run-oriented formation. Finding a dual-threat tight end who can make big plays – as Smith did – would seem to be a priority this offseason.

Additionally, with Julio Jones being in and out of the lineup with a balky hamstring, the Titans could use another receiver – preferably a slot with speed – to complement A.J. Brown and Jones and clear them out with deep routes. Those are rare but out there. Teams that played in the conference championship games seemed to have plenty of them.

Finally, at running back, the Titans expect Henry to come back and be as good as ever in 2022. But his injury this year showed he isn’t indestructible as he first appeared to be. For that reason, the Titans probably should re-sign D’Onta Foreman, who was a godsend after Henry went down.

After being the No. 1 seed in the AFC this year, losing was a bitter pill for the Titans. Many of the players who played key roles this year might not return. With 23 unrestricted free agents, some of that is inevitable.

The Titans’ window of success is open but shrinking.

And after seeing the exploits of Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in these playoffs, advancing in the postseason has become even more difficult with the formula the Titans have been using.

Terry McCormick publishes TitanInsider.com and appears 2-4 p.m. weekdays on the George Plaster Show on WNSR-AM 560/95.9 FM.

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