NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans face some critical decisions as the free-agency period draws closer. Titans GM Jon Robinson will have about $55 million to work with as he figures out a way to re-sign quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry and right tackle Jack Conklin, among others.
The Titans could also be in the market for a pass-rusher in free agency. The process of prioritizing which free agents to sign is heavily influenced by what players the team can cut in order to free up cap space. Sometimes that means parting ways with a player who has sentimental value to the team.
"I think you have to always try to take the emotion out of critical decisions," coach Mike Vrabel said in his postseason news conference last month. "It's a two-way street. The player has to want to be here, and the team has to try to do its job to make sure that fits with its plans, with the plans that Jon [Robinson] and I have."
Here's a look at four players in danger of becoming a cap casualty and a prediction on how the Titans will handle each.
Dion Lewis, running back
2019 stats: 54 carries, 209 yards | 25 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown
2020 salary: $5.1 million | Dead cap money if released: $1.1 million | Cap savings: $4 million
Lewis challenged Henry for carries during the first half of 2018, but since then Henry has gotten most of the workload with Lewis serving as a change-of-pace back. Most of Lewis' snaps came on third downs; he was on the field for 80% of Tennessee's third-down opportunities in 2019.
At 29 years old, Lewis still gives Tennessee a receiving option out of the backfield and is willing to stand up against linebackers in blitz pickup. He is still capable of running between the tackles to pick up tough yards. But it might be time to take switch to a younger, less expensive option and draft a running back such as Arizona State's Eno Benjamin or Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU.
Ryan Succop, kicker
2019 stats: 1-for-6 on field goals, 24-for-25 on extra points, 3 touchbacks out of 17 kickoffs
2020 salary: $4.1 million | Dead cap money if released: $2.1 million | Cap savings: $2 million
Succop started the season on the PUP list after having a knee procedure during the offseason. The 11th-year kicker missed the first eight games of the season and struggled when he came back before being placed on injured reserve in Week 16.
The Titans signed Greg Joseph from the Carolina Panthers' practice squad. Joseph didn't have to attempt a field goal in the final two weeks of the season, but he was good on all nine of his extra point attempts. He made a 30-yard field goal in the AFC Championship Game. His low $585,000 cap number is much more palatable than the $4.1 million that Succop would take up.
Cameron Wake, outside linebacker/defensive end
2019 stats: 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 11 QB hits
2020 salary: $8.2 million | Dead cap money if released: $2.6 million | Cap savings: $5.5 million
Wake started the season with a bang with 2.5 sacks in the season opener and he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. His work ethic and disciplined diet rubbed off on younger players such as Harold Landry, Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans and others. But Wake averaged just 21 snaps per game, playing 187 snaps (17.8% of total) over nine games last season before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury in late November.
When healthy, the 38-year-old Wake can still get after the quarterback, but time catches up to everyone, even an athlete like Wake who remains in superb shape. If the Titans can get a younger player at a reasonable cost, such as 29-year-old free agent pass-rusher Markus Golden, they should pounce. But that might mean parting ways with Wake.
The Titans also have a decision to make regarding pending free agent linebacker Kamalei Correa. Tennessee needs to make sure they have a veteran pass-rusher around -- even if they decide to select a pass-rusher in the draft.
Decision: it's complicated -- keep for now
Delanie Walker, tight end
2019 stats: 21 receptions, 215 yards, 2 touchdowns (7 games)
2020 salary: $8 million | Dead cap money if released: $1.6 million | Cap savings: $6.4 million
Walker's influence on the Titans extends beyond the stats. Tennessee's emerging tight end Jonnu Smith points to Walker's veteran presence as a key part of his adjustment to the NFL. Walker at 35 years old tried to come back from a severe ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve after the 2018 season opener. Complications from that same injury led to Walker being placed on injured reserve again in Week 13 after not being active for four consecutive games last season.
The Titans re-signed pending free agent tight end Anthony Firkser and still have Smith. But tight end MyCole Pruitt is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Pruitt was primarily a blocker who lined up in the backfield. There will certainly be room for Walker to be back. The Titans could also look to draft a tight end such as Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant and UCLA's Devin Asiasi.
Decision: restructure to a lower number or release