NASHVILLE, Tenn -- With around $55 million in salary-cap space currently, Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson will have some tough calls to make on some of the 22 players who helped get the team to the AFC Championship Game. The most significant will be on quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry, both of whom just competed in their first Pro Bowl.
Three of the 22 will be restricted free agents (CB Tye Smith, RB David Fluellen, WR Darius Jennings), meaning the Titans can match any deal or let the player go and receive compensation based on the tender.
Here's a look at some of the bigger decisions the Titans face, organized by priority to the team.
Running back Derrick Henry, 26 years old
Henry was the catalyst for the offense, finishing as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,540 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns. Entering the AFC Championship Game, Henry had accounted for 69% of their offense in the postseason. The fourth-year running back put the team on his back as he gained 211 yards in the playoff-clinching win over the Houston Texans in Week 17, then picked up 182 yards against the New England Patriots in the wild-card round and 195 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.
There will be questions about signing a running back to a big contract, but Henry and the Titans could be the exception. Coach Mike Vrabel wants a physical football team. On offense, that starts with Henry.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, 31
Tannehill fits the Titans' need for an ultra-efficient quarterback. His 117.5 passer rating was tops in the NFL. Tennessee’s red-zone offense saw immediate improvement when Tannehill took over and skyrocketed to No. 1 in the NFL in just four games with him under center.
The Titans' second-half rebirth can be directly correlated to Tannehill’s stellar play. It’s going to be costly, but the ninth-year quarterback should absolutely be back with the Titans in 2020. Tennessee’s offer will be based on whether they believe Tannehill can sustain the level of play that he achieved as the starter (7-3 in 10 regular-season games, 2-1 in playoffs).
Right tackle Jack Conklin, 26
The Titans declined to exercise Conklin's fifth-year option after a rocky 2018 season, when he battled his way back from a torn ACL. But last season, Conklin displayed the same kind of dominance that made him a first-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2016, playing an important role in Henry winning the NFL rushing title. Conklin said during locker clean-out day that he wants to return. Vrabel mentioned Conklin's improved and steady play as a reason for the success the Titans' offensive line achieved.
Given the recent contract (four years, $72 million) signed by Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, Conklin won't come cheap. However, there is something to be said about continuity along the offensive line, especially in the zone scheme the Titans use. That was a focal point for Vrabel when he spoke about the offensive line going forward.
"The teamwork required to work in combination with a guy next to you, whether that's in the passing game and they're running a stunt, or they're running a game, or there is pressure or the combination in a run game, whether you're on the backside or the front side to work through a player to another," Vrabel said. "Those are things that we are going to need to have."
Cornerback Logan Ryan, 29
Ryan is coming off his best season with the Titans. He had 18 pass breakups, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles last year. The Titans used a lot of sub packages with Ryan moving inside to either cover slot receivers, rush the passer or be a force against the run. He played a key role in Tennessee's dismantling of the Baltimore Ravens' highly productive offense in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The seven-year veteran has been one of the integral voices in the locker room since joining the team as a free agent in 2017. Ryan gave up a few big plays from slot receivers last season, which could give some pause -- but he was one of the Titans' most consistent defensive backs last season. The main question is whether they can afford to retain both him and cornerback Malcolm Butler, who will cost $13.3 million against the cap in 2020.
Linebacker Kamalei Correa, 26
The edge defender position is one that could see some turnover during the offseason. But Correa has settled in after being acquired from the Ravens in 2018 in exchange for Tennessee's 2019 sixth-round pick. He made a late-season surge as a pass-rusher, finishing with a sack in six of his last eight games, including two in the postseason. Known as more of a high-effort player than a quick-twitch guy, Correa has drawn praise from Vrabel.
"I'll tell you about Kamalei -- I absolutely love his effort and his intensity in which he plays," Vrabel said during his news conference on locker clean-out day. "Guys that play hard are always going to have a lot longer leash when it relates to me and how I perceive them. And I know that he plays extremely hard. He cares about the team."
Offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, 30
Kelly was a key reserve on the offensive line after filling in at left tackle while Taylor Lewan served a four-game suspension to start the season. He also started at right tackle for five games in place of Conklin in 2018. Kelly could push for a starting spot on several teams, which makes having him on the roster a luxury. The Titans also used Kelly on tackle-eligible plays, and he caught two short passes for touchdowns last season.
Potential depth signings
Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, 25
Sharpe started six games for the Titans and finished the season with 25 receptions for 329 yards and four touchdowns. He gives the Titans a change of pace in the slot from Adam Humphries, who is a shorter, quicker receiver. Sharpe can also play on the outside. His versatility should help warrant a spot with the Titans in 2020.
Cornerback Tye Smith, 27
Smith not only pads depth at corner, he's a special-teams player, too. The Titans had a deep group of cornerbacks last season, which came in handy when Butler, LeShaun Sims, and Adoree' Jackson all missed games. Smith chipped in with two forced fumbles for Tennessee last season.
Tight end Anthony Firkser, 25
Firkser is one of three exclusive-rights free agents (along with WR Cameron Batson and OLB Reggie Gilbert) on the Titans. This means they can sign Firkser to one-year deal at the league minimum based on his accrued seasons. Firkser finished with two receiving touchdowns in the postseason. He is a consistent pass-catcher who runs excellent routes and is always in the right place for his quarterbacks. Firkser is a suitable pass-catching option behind starter Jonnu Smith, especially if the Titans decide to move on from veteran Delanie Walker.