The Titans 9-7 winning season was a far cry from the predicted 4 wins and last overall ranking in the AFC South that the “experts” predicted during the preseason. With arguably the team heading into the 2011 season with the most hurdles to overcome, after having fired sixteen year Titans veteran Head Coach Jeff Fisher, Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger (Rest In Peace Dinger, Much Love), Defensive Coordinator Chuck Cecil, Starting Quarterback Vince Young, backup Quarterback (once starter) Kerry Collins, and the loss of Defensive Line Coach Jim Washburn to the Iggles. In addition having to deal with the NFL lockout (I know it affected everyone) the Titans had to acquire a new Quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, a Middle Linebacker Barrett Rudd (replaced by Colin McCarthy), a new Offensive Coordinator (Chris Palmer), a new Defensive Coordinator (Jerry Gray), a new Head Coach (Mike Munchak), a new Offensive Line Coach since Munch became Head Coach (Bruce Matthews), and last but not least a new Defensive Line Coach (Tracy Rocker). The Titans entire overhaul of the Coaching staff is by far one of the largest in NFL history, not to mention their 9-7 record and near playoff berth (first since 2008) is a true indication that the change was for the better, in my opinion, had it not been for the lockout we would be in the tournament as I write this.
You may be asking what this all means for the future, and asking why I just posted something anyone that follows the team already knows. It is merely a segway into how the Titans are going to manage the offseason, prepare for a free agency period that could very well leave us with a slew of holes on the Defensive and Offensive side of the ball with at least 20 players on contract years, and the upcoming NFL Draft in April.
Let us start with Free Agency, without out a doubt this is a highly unpredictable time period based on the sole fact that we have no clue what the hell is going on within the walls of Baptist Sports Park. But…As a Coach, I can make a few highly educated guesses. With the Titans finishing the season on a strong note, players that might have been on the fence are definitely going to want to come back, well at least a few of them are. Cortland Finnegan is the heart and soul of our Defense and the Titans Coaching staff knows it, I would expect him to be one of the sure re-signs in addition to Jason Jones, Jake Scott and Craig Stevens. Michael Griffin has expressed disinterest in the Titans and will more then likely be testing the free agency market, in my personal opinion this saddens me, I have been a huge fan of Griffin since day one. But thus is the nature of the business, players come and players go and the Titans have always been a team to let them go rather then pay them, or let them retire a Titan IE: Eddie George, Steve McNair, Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Fat Albert (the only good decision), Jevon Kearse, Jason Babin, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bulluck (still upset about that one). I am expecting the Titans to resign 5-6 players this offseason and relying on another great draft of young talent to come in and add depth, if not come in an take over a starting role. I believe with the emergence of so many impressive Rookies this past season that came in, and honestly solidified themselves as starters for this upcoming season is what ultimately helped make that decision easier for Head Coach Mike Munchak. I believe he is going to rely on his talent scouts and the rookie scouting process once again and start building a franchise of new players that truly fit into his scheme and the culture he wants to bring back to the Titans and it’s fans. The following is a full list of Titans free agents with my opinion on who we will let go and who we will resign
In saying all of that we as fans have our favorites that we would like to see stay and those we wouldn’t mind seeing leave. I think Finnegan, Griffin and Jones are the 3 top favorites that fans want to see return. Hope, Hayes, Hawkins, Ruud, Ball and Babineaux were all on evaluation years (every player is constantly being evaluated) but those six were on the brink. Maybe their declining play was due to poor systems in the past, too complicated an Offense or Defense, or even just inability to get on the field but this past season was the year to prove it and none of them took advantage of the situation. Hawkins had his most impressive year by far with 470 yards but only was able to put points up on the board 1 time while appearing in 16 games. Hayes has been inconsistent the past couple years finding himself on and off the injury list week in and week out, the Titans are looking to add a highly talented Defensive End to compliment what many are hoping to be reawakened Derrick Morgan, and a Defensive line that now can boast a 7.5 sack Defensive Tackle in Karl Klug and a run stuffing Defensive Tackle in Jurrell Casey posting 52 tackles and a forced fumble (not to mention almost 2 interceptions and a safety,) both players put up a lot of hidden plays that may not have made the stats board but looked awfully exciting during the games.
Dave Ball has been consistent but not quite able to stand out, he posted 4 sacks this season (3 less than in 2010) and forced 2 fumbles, some would see this as a decent year but with Ball entering the twilight of his career, I would expect us to possible sign him for depth or franchise him to see what another year will bring for “white chocolate”. Chris Hope has been on the decline for that past 2-3 seasons and the fans have definitely noticed. Missed time due to injuries and blown assignments have fans screaming for his release, I personally would keep one of the two (him or Babineaux) for Safety depth in case Griffin does decide to go elsewhere, a scenario I can quite possibly see is Griffin moving on and we are forced to resign both players and draft or sign a free agent (free agent is highly plausible with many high talent Safeties going on the market). This is truly a wait and see situation, you can’t really do much in the ways of prediction until you see what the player wants. Those two situations however for the Safety scenario are the most likely.
Barrett Ruud was brought in to fill the MLB spot left vacant by Stephen Tulloch leaving for the Lions, however, due to injuries and the high caliber play of Rookie MLB Colin McCarthy, I can easily see us letting him hit the market and keeping the cheaper option, we have solid depth at the position and will be able to draft a LB or two and add to the competition. Finally, I am left with Babineux or Big Play Babs as people seem to call him, though I don’t know why. Babineaux had decent play at best this year but nothing that would warrant a long term contract, he possesses a little more speed then Hope at this point in his career, but like Hope is on the decline. Munch brought him in knowing that we needed depth at the position in case Hope went down (which he did) but with Munchak and staff going into their first FULL offseason together, I can expect us to continue with the build through the draft philosophy or maybe bring in a younger free agent that can fit into our scheme. Munchak has definitely shown us he is not above choosing a Rookie or younger player over a veteran, as made evident with Casey, Klug, Ayers, McCarthy, Williams, and most notably Jake Locker all starting or coming in due to poor performance.
One thing however we can all be certain of, like many an offseason before us and many to look forward to in the future. None of us will actually know until we will all sit back and watch (better then lockout hell) as the player personnel table turns.