Free agency officially opens Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET and while we don’t know how quickly the Tennessee Titans will act, we know they have a lot of spots to upgrade.
It’s more than can be done with a draft class, and they need some veteran leadership at some select spots. They got a veteran starting running back with the trade for DeMarco Murray.
I figure the team still needs at least six new starters from last season’s lineup based on underperformance, lack of production or holes created by expiring contracts: A wide receiver, a left guard or center and a right tackle on offense; A free safety, a cornerback and a nose tackle on defense.
Let’s look at those spots in what I would consider biggest need to least and consider the possibilities moving forward.
1) Right tackle -- The Titans offensive line has been under construction for some time, and it’s never recovered from Mike Munchak’s 2011 promotion from line coach to head coach. Russ Grimm is the third position coach since Bruce Matthews and needs to develop a group. It needs a right tackle after a year of Michael Oher in 2014 and a Jeremiah Poutasi/Byron Bell split in 2015. The free agent class could bring Mitchell Schwartz from the Browns or Andre Smith from the Bengals. Laremy Tunsil is widely viewed as the best player in the draft. If the Titans take him No. 1, Taylor Lewan would move to right tackle.
2) Free safety -- The Titans cut Michael Griffin and if capable special teamer Marqueston Huff is the answer it would be a surprise. I’ve proposed the Titans chase Tashaun Gipson of the Browns to pair with strong safety Da'Norris Searcy, signed last year. The position is often undervalued. But a rangy centerfielder can do wonders for this defense.
3) Wide receiver -- Protecting Marcus Mariota is the team’s top priority, but protection doesn’t come only from blocking, it comes too from a better run game (which should arrive with Murray and a revamped line) and better targets. The receiver group is unproven. Perhaps Kendall Wright is revitalized under Mike Mularkey, coordinator Terry Robiskie and receiver coach Bob Bratkowski. Even if he is, he’s best in the slot as is Harry Douglas. Dorial Green-Beckham could blossom, but they can’t bank on it. Justin Hunter is hard to rely on. The team needs dependable additions here. Rishard Matthews of the Miami Dolphins could help, and if TCU’s Josh Doctson lasts until No. 34 in the draft, he could be a big get as a guy who can go up and get the ball.
4) Nose tackle -- Yes, it’s a two-down role, but the Titans have to play better run defense on first and second down to get into better situations on third down. Both nose tackles from last season, Al Woods and Sammie Hill, are about to hit the market. The Titans allowed 4.52 yards per rush up the middle last season on first and second down -- 27th in the NFL. Jason Cole of Bleacher Report says the Titans will be front-runners for the Jets' Damon Harrison, who can do a lot to make the middle less inviting. There are other good options in free agency, including Ian Williams of the 49ers and Steve McLendon of the Steelers, who Dick LeBeau knows.
5) Cornerback -- Jason McCourty will be back and healthy. But does he qualify as a No. 1 corner even in an upgraded secondary? It would be wonderful if they bring in a player who can at least challenge for it. Perrish Cox was miscast as the top guy last year after McCourty was hurt and would be best off competing with new signee Brice McCain for nickel and situational snaps. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is unlikely to last more than five picks in the draft. Could the Titans make him the first defensive back ever picked at No. 1? Or could he be their man if they deal back?
6) Left guard or center -- If they view Poutasi as the answer and can develop him there, is one line addition sufficient? A third-round pick should be capable of starting in his second year. But it’s hard from the outside to have faith at this point. Undrafted rookie Quinton Spain was playing ahead of Poutasi at the end of last year. If they don’t get a new left guard, they could get a new center. Brian Schwenke has had trouble staying healthy and Andy Gallik didn’t do much to impress as a rookie. Alex Boone of the 49ers, Brandon Brooks of the Texans or Jeff Allen of the Chiefs are all upgrade options at guard. Alex Mack is a very good center.
Other needs: A third outside linebacker who can rush the passer, a better swing tackle than Jamon Meredith, a bigger inside linebacker who might challenge Wesley Woodyard and a backup quarterback with some success in the NFL.