At 3 pm CT time today, the 2016-17 NFL league year will officially begin.
What occurs at the deadline? For one, every franchise must be equivocal to or below the official 2016 salary cap of $155.27 million. That number went up a total of $11.99 million from last season, an exponential increase that is the second-largest since the salary cap was implemented in 1994.
With that said, the Tennessee Titans are in an interesting position as it pertains to the cap. According to OverTheCap.com, the Titans have the sixth most spending money available of any NFL team with $47,789,705. Bear in mind, that figure does not include the recent acquisitions of DeMarco Murray and Ben Jones. Those will not be official until the 3 pm deadline later this afternoon.
This means that Tennessee can afford to bring in virtually any of this year’s crop of free agents and it should be viewed as both a blessing and a curse.
The Titans have arguably the most talent-deficient roster in the league. Couple that with an inordinate amount of money to spend in free agency, the temptation to overspend on marquee names certainly presents itself.
Buyer beware: history has shown that spending big on free agents does not serve as a catalyze a team into playoff contention.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 10 of the 15 teams that have ranked in the top three in free-agent guaranteed spending in the past five years did not improve their win total from the previous season. In fact, only two of the 15 even made the playoffs.
For example, last season’s three biggest free-agent high rollers were:
- The Jacksonville Jaguars – $81 million
- The Miami Dolphins – $79 million
- The New York Jets – $76 million
All were absent from postseason play this year.
But overspending, when done correctly, is a necessary evil. When teams overspend, it should be to retain their own in-house talent. You need look no further than the model teams such as the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, for example.
Build through the draft, develop your own players, keep necessary pieces essential for success, and spend frugally in free-agency unless the player of a lifetime becomes available (Peyton Manning in 2012).
What, then, are the Titans’ most pressing needs? Luckily, we have a guy on-staff who used to do this for a living.
Former Titans General Manager Floyd Reese, who can be heard weekdays from 3-6 pm on Sports Night, was with the Oilers/Titans organization from 1990 until 2006. On yesterday’s show, he broke down the positions of need that have to be addressed by new GM Jon Robinson.
Floyd Reese’s Top Five Positions to Upgrade:
- Offensive Tackle
- Interior Defensive Lineman
- Wide Receiver
There are plenty of other positions that need to be confronted, as well.
The offensive line is, by far, the most important group of the five. No team allowed more quarterback sacks than the Titans’ 54 last season. That was not conducive to the success of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was plagued with injuries from the beating his front five allowed him to take.
Today’s expected signing of Houston Texans Center Ben Jones is a step in the right direction. Outside of drafting a left tackle with the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Left Tackles Russell Okung of the Seattle Seahawks and Kelvin Beachum of the Pittsburgh Steelers remain unsigned.
As far as the defensive secondary is concerned, former first-round safety Michael Griffin was released earlier this offseason and corner Coty Sensebaugh is a free agent who has disappointed in his tenure as a Titan. Janoris Jenkins of the Los Angeles Rams is a rare talent at corner but would likely come at a high cost.
As detailed in the “Top 20 2016 NFL Unrestricted Free Agents” earlier this month, this year’s wide receiver free-agent class is all but desolate. This is a position that would be better addressed in the draft as opposed to overpaying for another team’s number two wide-out.
The key to the first year of Jon Robinson’s and coach Mike Mularkey‘s new regime will be consistency.
That word, consistency, has been absent from this organization since even before the death of founding owner Bud Adams in 2013. Year after year of questionable free-agent signings and draft classes have left the Titans in the realm of the irrelevant.
Today, the foundation will be laid for the next several years of pro football in Tennessee. All we can do is watch, speculate and cling to whatever hope there may still be after countless disappointments.