Despite themselves, the Tennessee Titans made the playoffs this past season. They overcame chronic injuries to quarterback Marcus Mariota to upset the Chiefs to win a playoff game. It appeared to be a mixed blessing. On one hand, it was a great experience for a young team. On the other, it seemingly meant keeping coach Mike Mularkey. Mularkey’s offense featured less creativity than the entire “Transformers” franchise. They decided they had peaked under Mularkey and rescinded their extension. Going into free agency, Tennessee had to find a way to maximize the talent around Mariota before they have to potentially sign him to a big extension next season. So with that goal in mind, let’s grade the Tennessee Titans free agency moves in 2018.
Signing Head Coach Mike Vrabel: B
Tennessee decided that they wanted to be the next team to try and emulate the Patriot way. They took Vrabel despite the fact that he only had one year as a defensive coordinator largely because he understood that culture. It isn’t clear how he’ll be as a head coach especially given the rotted Bill Belichick coaching tree. The reason why this receives such a high grade is that of what he did after being hired. His moves via free agency makes it clear he understands the best path Tennessee needs to go to build around Mariota so for the time being, this looks like the right hire.
Signing offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur: A
Vrabel understood what Sean McVay understood when he was hired by the Rams. He knew what he didn’t know and that was offense. Vrabel was smart enough to recognize his own pitfalls and make the best hire to fix that. It seems simple but many accomplished coaches never got that. He hired LaFleur away from the Rams and immediately the Tennessee Titans decided who they want to be. They want to be an up-tempo team and that’s where Mariota should thrive. LaFleur has a track record of developing quarterbacks so this is a slam dunk great hire.
Signing Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees: B
Mike Vrabel found a way to lure Dean Pees out of his brief retirement. Pees won two rings with the Patriots. He most recently served as defensive coordinator for a solid Ravens squad that almost dragged the team to the playoffs. Pees will move away from the scheme run by previous Tennessee coordinator Dick LaBeau. This should mean a lot more blitzes especially given Vrabel’s tenure in Houston. Pees should do a great job developing the young pieces on defense.
Signing RB Dion Lewis for four years, $19 million: B
Tennessee cut running back DeMarco Murray and that signaled Derrick Henry would be the man. In LaFleur’s offense that would mean he would become their Todd Gurley. That might be true but to make life easier for Henry who historically isn’t a pass catcher, they signed a back that is. Lewis is not only a solid change of pace back but the Pats utilized his ability to catch passes out of the backfield to great effect. Now that he isn’t in an offense that is running-back-by-committee and focuses on two players rather than three or four, he should flourish. Lewis and Henry in the backfield means that the offense can more effectively utilize play action and run-pass options. He also will help in establishing the Patriot way to Tennessee.
Signing CB Malcolm Butler for five years, $61 million with $30 million guaranteed: B+
Last season, Tennessee signed corner Logan Ryan of the Patriots and drafted Adoree’ Jackson. The third-year safety Kevin Byard came on strong as the season progressed. Now the Titans have added Butler to an already talented secondary. They should make life difficult for every team in the AFC South. The money seems like a lot given how Butler has regressed in the last year. He fell out of favor in New England but perhaps a change of scenery will serve him well. On top of that, he is another person who can help establish the new culture.
Re-signing Guard Josh Kline for four years $26 million with $12 million guaranteed: A
The Titans missed out on guard Andrew Norwell in free agency who signed with Jacksonville. They decided to bring back Josh Kline at guard who was a valuable run blocker. The Tennessee line is solid and should continue to get better especially if they draft some younger pieces in the draft.
Tennessee did an excellent job overhauling their team without losing any of the pieces that worked. They still need to add pass rushers and upgrade the interior of the offensive line. It remains to be seen whether or not the Titans can mimic the Patriots but they’ve put themselves in the best position to do so. They were dinged for missing out on Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels but its clear that was a blessing in disguise especially considering everyone missed out on him. The team will be in a much better spot in 2018 thanks to the moves the in Tennessee Titans free agency.