NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are not a home for the troubled. They have not taken on the volume of questionable players we’ve seen assembled in Oakland or Cincinnati or Dallas.
But the current incarnation of the franchise that once drafted Adam "Pacman" Jones and Kenny Britt as first-rounders is, I believe, gaining a bit of a reputation as a team willing to take chances on guys that could blow up on them.
In two drafts together, GM Ruston Webster and coach Ken Whisenhunt have spent two of their most valuable four picks on guys who carried big questions.
Last year’s first-round left tackle, Taylor Lewan, arrived while facing a trio of misdemeanor charges connected to a bar fight and was accused of threatening an alleged victim who accused his friend of rape.
Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to two charges and got a year’s probation. Since becoming a member of the Titans, he’s been incident free, and showed in 11 games and six starts that he can be an NFL-caliber left tackle.
Friday, the team spent a second-round pick, 40th overall, on Oklahoma receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. He was kicked off the Missouri Tigers after three incidents -- two marijuana-related arrests and an accusation that he pushed a woman down some stairs.
I asked Webster and Whisenhunt about how they make decisions on guys with questions, about how many they feel comfortable having and about weighing risk and reward.
Webster said it’s important “that from a football standpoint,” they will fit in the locker room.
“Obviously, we don’t want a team full of guys that would be an issue and cause problems within the team,” he said.
The Titans strive to make an educated decision projecting what a player will be once he’s on their team while basing things off their own research and decision, not the prevailing opinion.
The bulk of their players arrive without these negative storylines.
While Lewan and Green-Beckham stir media and fan debate, new quarterback Marcus Mariota and last year’s second-rounder, running back Bishop Sankey, score high on the choirboy spectrum. The hope is good citizens influence the less steady ones.
“Let’s be honest, there is a risk-reward involved in the thing,” Webster said. “Sometimes a player’s talent might be worth some risk. … Sometimes they work out great and sometimes they don’t.”
Both Whisenhunt and Webster calmly put down the notion that their roster is any sort of safe haven.
“We cross guys off the list all the time for different reasons,” Webster said. “We are trying to build a team here. We talk to a lot of people. If we feel like the player checks out and is going to be OK, then we’ll take him. If we’re proven wrong, then they won’t be here.”
Said Whisenhunt: “Just like your own children, you’re never 100 percent sure that everything is going to work out the way you want it to. But there is a lot of work and effort that’s been done to make sure we try to get the right guys in here. And the ones that you do bring in here that maybe the risk-reward is a little bit greater, you look at a team like New England that’s had some guys like that, and their locker room is strong and they’ve had success with that. I’m not saying our locker room is there yet.”
The Titans crossed a handful of players off their board this season, Webster said. They harp on good behavior and smart choices for everyone on their payroll.
“There have probably been guys who we didn’t take because I had concerns,” Webster said. “And sometimes you do that and you’re watching them play on Sunday and you’re thinking, ‘Well, maybe I should have taken them.’
“It’s a difficult decision to make. It’s one that weighs on me every time I make it. Just trying to do the best thing for the team and the organization and trying to win.”