NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If you look at the biggest contracts on each NFL team, the list often starts with a quarterback. That could be the case for the Tennessee Titans in the near future if Marcus Mariota lives up to expectations in his fourth season.
For now, though, left tackle Taylor Lewan is Tennessee's top dog after he signed the richest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history. His five-year, $80 million contract extension that guarantees him $50 million is about more than his being selected to two consecutive Pro Bowls at a coveted position. And it's about more than his starting every game the past two seasons.
It's about energy and leadership.
Mariota is the cornerstone of the franchise, and the team picked up his fifth-year option in April, which is worth $20.9 million for the 2019 season. But he isn't much of a "rah-rah" guy. He lets his play and work ethic do the talking.
However, football is an emotional sport, and someone among the veterans has to bring the energy to the facility every day to break up the monotony. That's where Lewan brings added value. It is not uncommon to see him singing along to a country song playing over the speakers at practice. He flashes a big smile when fans in the stands call him "Deebo" to get him to sign autographs.
The 6-foot-7, 309-pound left tackle is always upbeat and talkative during practice. Lewan won't hesitate to congratulate a defensive player on a good play. He'll also talk trash to a defensive lineman before driving him to the ground during a pass-blocking drill.
The energy Lewan brings is contagious, and other players feed off it. Lewan is one of the players who will raise the intensity level, especially during the muggy summer days of training camp. That's good news for new Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who is looking to establish a resilient culture in Tennessee.
"What it comes down to is how our football team works when times are bad," Vrabel said Monday. "When something bad happens, you define what your culture is, how competitive you are, how tough you are and if you're conditioned to do it every single day, no matter how good or bad things are."
Vrabel pointed to Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells' approach as an example of refining a team: Losers sit around and complain. Winners get together and find ways to win.
Players such as Lewan can help establish a team-wide mindset of being resilient and bouncing back when challenging times arise.
"Leadership is always important. You gotta have someone you can point to that does it the right way, someone that has been through the fires and came out on the other end," wide receivers coach Rob Moore said during minicamp.
Some players elect to hold out of training camp in hopes of getting a new contract. Lewan reported to camp and participated in practice while awaiting his extension.
Sure, there was an injury risk, but Lewan felt it was what he needed to do.
"It's my obligation to be out here and sharpen my tools to get ready for a strong season," Lewan said. "I know I'm on the team this year and want to do whatever I need to make this team successful."
Vrabel summed up what it means to have players such as Lewan in the building: "Leaders bring people along and make people better."
For general manager Jon Robinson, ensuring that Mariota's personal protector is in place was a smart decision. Lewan has allowed just five sacks the past two seasons, but he brings more than pass protection. Last season, Tennessee produced 24 of its 41 rushing first downs and 23 runs of 10 or more yards when running left.
Mariota might be the most excited to have Lewan in the lineup for the long haul.
"I am happy for him and glad that's all taken care of," Mariota said. "Taylor [Lewan] has done such a great job for us. It's well-deserved, and I'm looking forward to having him here for years to come."