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VOL. 40 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 11, 2016

Free agent signings will predict what Titans will do at No. 1

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Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who played his high school football at Brentwood Academy, is still in the running for the Titans’ No. 1 draft pick. If Tennessee pursues a free agent defensive back this week, the likelihood of taking Ramsey drops.

-- Ap Photo/Jon Barash

Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson says he will attempt to keep secret what the club plans to do with the first overall draft pick.

Even though there is really no reason to hide the club’s intentions with the No. 1 pick – there is no one to fake out, barring a trade down – Robinson insists he won’t tip his hand concerning what he’ll do on April 28.

However, beginning this week, Titans fans and media should be able to pick up a few clues as to the direction the team wants to go with the first pick.

Both Robinson and Coach Mike Mularkey have said throughout this process that the Titans need to add impact players, those who can help change games in their favor.

“There’s a handful of players that fit into that,” Robinson says. “A handful could be a couple or it could be 10 according to how big your hands are. But we want to come away with somebody that is going to impact our football team.”

But there are two ways to replenish a roster – the draft to do so and free agency. The shopping spree began Wednesday and will be frenzied, probably through into the weekend, before things settle and the market stabilizes.

The first such move was made this week when the Titans acquired runningback DeMarco Murray, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year with Dallas in 2014.

Beyond that, I expect Robinson and the Titans to employ what I term “measured aggressiveness.” They won’t overspend on players who might only have a short-term or minimal impact, but if there are a couple of players who can fill holes on the roster at certain positions, I would expect Robinson to pursue them seriously.

Exactly where the Titans go in the free agency process should reveal something about their plans for the draft.

For instance, many people have paired the Titans with Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil, a choice that would help to shore up a porous offensive and better protect Marcus Mariota.

Should the Titans opt for a veteran at right tackle – Cleveland’s Mitchell Schwartz and Baltimore’s Kelechi Osemele are two of the better options available – it would lessen their need to draft a player like Tunsil first overall.

The same could be set at the safety position, where local favorite Jalen Ramsey is considered a possible top pick. 1 overall. However, if the Titans make a run at Tashaun Gipson of the Browns or some other high-profile defensive back on the open market, you can probably cross Ramsey off the list.

As for exactly what the Titans do in free agency, the goal will obviously be to improve the roster in as many areas as possible. But for the Titans, it goes far beyond that. Robinson aims for these signing to help change the losing culture that has existed in Tennessee for many years.

“Finding players that have a team-first attitude. There is nothing more important to a football team,” he says. “No one part is greater than the other. In the end, it’s about how many wins we have stacked up in that column at the end of the season.”

And how Robinson plays his hand beginning this week will determine whether or not the Titans can begin taking steps in the right direction.

Murray trade a rare, bold move

The trade bringing running back DeMarco Murray to Tennessee should have sent signals of hope to Titans fans everywhere.

Murray, disenchanted after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, is just the type of big-time player that should get Titans fans excited about the future of the team – something that has rarely happened over the past several seasons.

Yes, the Titans are buying low and hoping to find a bargain with Murray after sending Philly a low-round draft choice and reworking the running back’s hefty contract.

But remember: Before Murray was contaminated by Chip Kelly in Philly, he had been the NFL Offensive Player of the Year with the Dallas Cowboys, rushing for 1,845 yards in 2014. If Murray, now 28, can get back to anywhere close to that form, then the Titans have turned a major question mark at the running back position into a major strength.

But even if this move doesn’t work out, Titans fans should still be happy with the course new general manager Jon Robinson appears to be plotting.

No more are the Titans just shopping the closeout racks and bargain bins, looking to plug the holes on their roster with less expensive or lesser talented players.

Grabbing a player like Murray sends a message to fans and other prospective free agents that Tennessee is back on the radar as a desirable destination for NFL players, not a last stop before a player’s career is over.

If Robinson continues on this path in his approach to rebuilding the Titans, not only will he win over the team’s skeptical fan base, he might just get the Titans winning games once again.

Manning’s legacy

The only connections Peyton Manning had to the Titans – barring the rumors of him someday buying a stake in the team coming true – were that he beat them a lot, especially when he was with the Colts, and that he was heavily courted by them as a free agent when he ultimately chose the Denver Broncos in 2012.

But as a favorite adopted son by University of Tennessee fans, there is a certain bleed-over in the Volunteer State that simply cannot be avoided, despite Manning having no tangible connection to the state's professional football team.

So as Manning exits, exactly what sort of legacy does he leave behind?

Is he the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time?

That is certainly up for argument, though many will point to greater postseason success by Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman as evidence against Manning for that honor.

Some have softened on Manning because he went out winning a second Super Bowl ring, rather than just the one he claimed for the Colts in the 2006 season.

But to anyone who watched Super Bowl 50, it was evident that Manning's job was to be a caretaker who needed the Broncos' defense to rise up take down the Panthers. A Super Bowl won by the Denver defense with Manning along for the ride really should not have altered his legacy either one way or the other.

Certainly, Manning has eclipsed most, if not all, the major NFL passing records, many of which were once held by Fran Tarkenton, then Dan Marino and then Brett Favre.

For that, some critics use the backhanded compliment that Manning is the “greatest regular-season quarterback ever.” But is that really fair either?

Deciding a player's ultimate legacy seems to vary, even from sport to sport. Certain sports place a focus on winning above individual accomplishments and records more than others.

In basketball, the knock on Wilt Chamberlain was that he didn't win titles the way Bill Russell's Celtics did, despite having far better career numbers.

And talk of Michael Jordan being the greatest NBA  player only started when Phil Jackson arrived and the Bulls began winning championships, not when Jordan was merely a scorer early in his career.

On the other hand, baseball, a sport where certain numbers and milestones are regarded as sacred, is more forgiving to stars who toiled for also-ran teams.

Ernie Banks is not a tainted Hall of Famer because he excelled on some terrible Cubs teams with little protection in the lineup. Nor is Ted Williams, arguably the game's greatest pure hitter, dimished because his Red Sox teams only once made the World Series in a two-decade career.

So an athlete's lasting legacy is really in the eye of the beholder, but somewhere on the list of all-time NFL greats, there is no doubt that Manning has secured a lofty place.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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