Rare is the time when I fully condone an NFL owner meddling in football operations and handing down a directive that goes against the wishes and visions of the decision-making staff that he has entrusted his franchise’s fortunes with, but Bud Adams had it right this offseason in pressing hard to land free agent quarterback Peyton Manning.
The efforts of the Titans came up short, but Adams sent a strong message about doing what it takes to win and win soon in Tennessee, and unquestionably Manning would have helped to expedite that process.
Truth is, however, the Titans aren’t that far off from competing as currently constructed. Absent was the expert who leading up to 2011 picked this team to win nine games, much less with pricey running back Chris Johnson stumbling through his worst season as a pro.
But the Titans proved under new head coach Mike Munchak what we seem to forget and re-learn each NFL season, and that is that football is a funky game and no team is as far off from righting the ship as it seems.
Let it be clear that work remains to be done in Tennessee – the team needs to plug some roster gaps and player development will go a long way for the men in Nashville, but from a trajectory standpoint, the Titans are undeniably trending upwards.
Entering the offseason, Tennessee looked intent on making a run at Mario Williams, a pursuit that was halted by the Manning efforts. Ultimately, however, it freed up the chance for Kamerion Wimbley to become a Titan, and given the money involved, age, and skill set of Wimbley, he’s not just a consolation prize, he’s a coup.
But the Titans also lost top cornerback Cortland Finnegan this offseason, and while some will argue that there’s some addition by subtraction going on as he takes his combustible act on the road, the team still needs to find a body to replace his reps.
That takes us to the draft, where the Titans pick 20th.
What do they have in mind?
Who they will draft: Whitney Mercilus, defensive end, Titans. That lead in was a little bit of a trap, because although I think the Titans would love to draft a cornerback at this spot, the pickings are slim with Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore and Dre Kirkpatrick already off of my board. That turns us to Mercilus, a pass rushing prospect who could team up with Wimbley and 2010 first-rounder Derrick Morgan to provide Tennessee with some punch off the edge. Sure that makes for a crowded defensive end rotation, particularly with each guy being such a steep investment, but my sense is the Titans aren’t yet sold on Morgan. That’s not a great sign heading into year three.
Who they should draft: Peter Konz, center, Wisconsin. Tennessee has kicked the tires on a number of free agent centers this offseason, but nothing has come to fruition and the team needs to consider an upgrade after the unsteady play of Eugene Amano over each of the last two seasons. Konz is a man with the rugged demeanor that Munchak – a Hall of Fame guard and longtime line coach – would surely like to coach, and the type of guy who can anchor a line for years to come. Tennessee’s line is already very good; Konz could make it elite.
Who they could draft: Chandler Jones, defensive end, Syracuse. Admittedly, I’ve never understood how teams seemingly become infatuated with a player in the days or weeks leading up to the draft. After all, what could appear in April that hasn’t already been seen on months of film review and pre-draft occasions? But Jones, for a reason that I cannot even pinpoint, strikes me as the kind of guy who will continue to rise in the next 13 days and become a hot round one prospect. What I like about the guy is that he’s moldable – he has an ideal frame with room to grow, and he’s a terrific athlete. Tennessee may see that and relish the chance to unleash the potential he seems to have.
Who they shouldn’t draft: Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, North Alabama. Character, character, character. If the Titans truly do feel that losing Finnegan was addition by subtraction (and I’m just speculating that this is the case), then adding Jenkins is silly. Perhaps no player has more off-field concerns in this draft than Jenkins, some of which you can read about in this piece. Talent-wise, the guy is easily amongst the top 20 players in this draft. But solving the winning riddle in the NFL is about more than accumulating talent, it’s about constructing a roster with the ability and mentality to do what it takes to win – and that extends beyond the white lines.