Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tennessee Titans' Five Biggest Player Decisions: Free Agency Starts at Home

Assuming they get a new collective bargaining agreement done, NFL Free Agency is scheduled to begin on March 3, 2011.  I'm going to go through every team between now and then and identify their top five free agents and try to determine what should be done with each player, be it resign them or let them walk.  I've been going team by team in draft order and am at the team with the eighth pick in the draft, the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans are the hardest team to forecast for going forwards.  When they were the Jeff Fisher Titans, it was fairly easy to predict their personnel moves and their strategy because Fisher had been the longest tenured head coach in the league.  Fisher liked to control the ball on offense and stop the run on defense and was willing to take chances on guys with questionable character.  Now with Fisher out and Mike Munchak in, I don't really know what to expect.

Munchak is a hall of fame former lineman and spent fourteen years as the Titans offensive line coach.  It would be easy to assume Munchak wants to do similar things with the football team to what Fisher did, but if Munchak wanted to do the same thing as Fisher, he likely wouldn't have fired offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger.

The new Mike Munchak Titans figure to me much different from the Jeff Fisher Titans, which makes writing about what the team will do with it's free agents pure speculation.  So instead of judging whether or not the I think Titans will bring each guy back, I'm going to simply evaluate each player as a player and whether or not he's worth bringing back.

5. Bo Scaife - Tight End

Bo Scaife is a player who doesn't get much recognition despite being a player who would be used on most NFL teams.  Scaife is a very good receiving tight end who for a long time was Tennessee's most consistent receiving option.

However, Scaife most likely won't be back next season.  His odds of returning improved with Fisher's firing, but not dramatically.  Scaife still resents the team for franchising him two years ago and then not signing him to a long term deal when he was a restricted free agent last year.

The Titans are prepared to move on without him.  They drafted Jared Cook in the third round two years ago when they franchised Scaife and Cook came on towards the end of last year, catching 15 passes for almost 200 yards over the last three games.

4. Dave Ball - Defensive End

Second on the team in sacks with seven despite missing five games, Dave Ball was a huge surprise for the Titans this past year.  Despite leading the nation in sacks in his last year of college in 2003, Ball spent the early part of his career as a backup for the Jets and Chargers before being cut from the Panthers and out of football for the entire 2007 season.  As a situational rusher in 2008, Ball had 4.5 sacks but followed it up with an unproductive 2009, failing to record a sack.

The Titans have to decide whether 2010 was an aberration, or if Ball has finally arrived.  Because he is 30 and this will likely be the only contract he'll sign in his prime, I expect Ball to be willing to go to the highest bidder in free agency.  If I were the Titans, I wouldn't shell out for him.

They had a similar situation with Antwan Odom a few years ago.  Odom had one good year and went on to get a huge payday from the Bengals, but has yet to live up to the contract.  I expect the Ball situation to play out similarly.  Ball just had one good year and shouldn't be overpaid because of it.

3. Kerry Collins - Quarterback

Kerry Collins is probably the player least happy to see Jeff Fisher get fired.  Collins was the quarterback Fisher preferred because Vince Young couldn't cut down on his mistakes.  Fisher knew that Collins could be better trusted to do what he was supposed to do on the field.  With Fisher gone, Collins chances of returning aren't looking that great.

I'm assuming that Collins would like to be back with the Titans because they are one of the few teams in the league where Collins could start.  With Vince Young on his way out, Tennessee doesn't have the quarterback of the future on the roster.  If they bring in a rookie, they won't want to throw him to the wolves and would likely be looking for a Collins type to bring in anyways. They probably wont, but they should sign Collins back to a one year deal instead of bringing in someone new.

2. Randy Moss - Wide Receiver

The Titans didn't get at all what they were hoping for when they signed Moss off of the waiver wire.  In eight games, he had just six catches for 80 yards...Not at all Randy Moss numbers when Randy is trying.  Randy is so dangerous on a simple go route that it can't be the coaches fault for not getting Moss involved.  Based on those numbers, you have to assume Moss didn't want to be out there.

At this point, no matter what the Titans do with Randy Moss, it's likely to hurt them either way.  If they are crazy enough to pay him a bunch to try and bring him back, who knows what kind of effort he'll give them.  If they let him walk, he's likely to make them look foolish when he has another monster year somewhere else next year.

Personally, I think the Titans are better off letting him walk.  Better to have people going what-if while saving money than have people wondering why you're overpaying a player.  Moss is going to get paid by someone, and it shouldn't be the Titans.

1. Stephen Tulloch - Middle Linebacker

While the rest of the people reading this are saying "Tulloch over Moss?" and dismissing this as crazy, all the Titans fans reading this expected to see Tulloch's name here.  Sure, he's never made a Pro Bowl and his wikipedia page is all but empty, but Tulloch has quietly lead the Titans in tackles the last two seasons and was second this year to only Jerod Mayo in tackles across the NFL.  Also, you can't blame Tulloch for not making the Pro Bowl when Hall of Famer Ray Lewis owns one of the two spots in his conference.

There wouldn't even be a question about Tulloch if it wasn't for the labor issues the last two years.  Tulloch has truly broken out over the last two years, but the Titans hands were tied on a contract extension because of the CBA.    Now if they want to keep him, the Titans will have to pay market price for him.

If I were running the Titans, I would do everything I could to bring him back, but I don't expect the Titans to pay him enough to stay.  They drafted Rennie Curran in the third round in the 2010 draft to replace him, likely because they knew that Tulloch's agent was Drew Rosenhaus and that Rosenhaus clients always go where the money is.

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