The Tennessee Titans have several roster spots that need addressing heading into free agency and the NFL draft, but their top priorities should lie in re-signing some of their own free agents.
While Tennessee has more than 20 free agents about which to make decisions, receiver Corey Davis, tight end Jonnu Smith and linebacker Jayon Brown should top that list.
The Titans had an opportunity to ensure Davis’ return next season by picking up his fifth-year option last offseason, but they declined. That presumably lit a fire under the 25-year-old wideout, who had a career year in 2020. Davis had career highs in receptions (65), receiving yards (984), touchdowns (five) and 100-yard games (five). Davis is expected to get a substantial pay raise in 2021 — $10 million per season according to Spotrac — and he could be priced out of what the Titans want to pay for a No. 2 receiver.
That said, Davis proved in 2020 that he and A.J. Brown form a terrific 1-2 punch and having them both back would make Todd Downing’s first season as offensive coordinator much easier.
There are several free agent receivers on the market that could be nice replacements for Davis including Allen Robinson, Will Fuller, Juju Smith-Schuster, Kenny Golladay, A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton. But Davis is the best option due to his rapport with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and keeping the continuity for which the Titans are famous.
In addition to Davis, Smith was an integral part of the Titans’ 2020 record-setting offense. He set career highs in receptions (41), receiving yards (448) and touchdowns (eight), and he was Tannehill’s most dependable option in the red zone.
While it makes full sense for the Titans to lock both players into long-term contracts, General Manager Jon Robinson told reporters on Tuesday that it was ultimately up to the players whether they saw their futures in Tennessee or want to test the open market.
“I had the same conversation at the end of the season with those guys that I had with Jack Conklin a year ago,” Robinson said. “You’ve done everything we’ve asked of you here, and we’re going to be competitive in trying to keep you. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have a decision to make if you have suitors with other teams.
“We’ll see what we can figure out," he added. "But if they choose to capitalize on free agency in the market, I wish them nothing but the best.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans main need is obviously pass rusher. And although Brown isn’t an outside linebacker, his return could be a huge boost to the Titans front seven.
An unsung hero in the middle of Tennessee’s defense, Brown is a player Robinson would have to think long and hard about. He’s due a nice raise in 2021 — around $11 million per year according to Spotrac (and possibly more compared to the salaries of other inside linebackers such as Shaq Thompson and Myles Jack) — and there will surely be a market for him. But Brown seems open to returning to Nashville.
"It would be huge staying with the Titans for another however-many years. I've grown to love the city," Brown recently told ESPN’s Turron Davenport. "The team drafted me, I know the system, know what's expected of me and love the fan base. There's a lot of comfort."
However, it’s hard to sell your fanbase on improving a defense when letting a key cog and productive player like Brown walk. Without Brown on the field, the Titans defense allowed nearly a full yard more per play and 25 more total yards per game.
Despite missing six games last year, Brown still led the team in forced fumbles (two) and he had the fifth-most tackles (76), third-most tackles for loss (5.5) and second-most passed defensed (eight).
“He’s a really instinctive player,” Robinson said. “He’s good in zone coverage [and] in man coverage. He’s been disruptive as a blitzer for us. He’s kind of this — I don’t want to say new age of linebacker — but just kind of this undersized, productive player who relies on his instincts, his speed, and his ability to match players. “…He’s been a good player for us. Unfortunate, we certainly could have used him down the stretch when he got hurt. But we’ll see kind of how that goes moving forward.”
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