Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson continues to look for value in first round

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The start of Thursday's draft (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN, ESPN app) gives Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson another shot at adding an impact player in the first round.

Only two of the seven first-round selections Robinson has made since taking over as the general manager in 2016 are on the current roster. Up to this point, none of his selections have made it to a second contract with the Titans.

Tennessee lost 2018 first-round pick Rashaan Evans to free agency when the inside linebacker signed with the Atlanta Falcons this month.

Evans joins Jack Conklin, Corey Davis, Adoree' Jackson and Isaiah Wilson as first-round picks within the past five seasons to depart the team.

The relatively low retention rate of first-round picks under Robinson hasn't raised the level of frustration. Moreover, Robinson has found a way to make a positive spin on it.

"I think that there's different situations for every player, like when you're working through that and you're making those decisions," Robinson said during the Titans' pre-draft news conference last week."[Coach] Mike [Vrabel] and I have those conversations about, ‘What's the impact of that player being here or not being here? What's the comp pick value that you're going to get back if you lose the player?’ It was forever before we had a comp pick.

"You have to look at the return that you're going to get draft capital-wise with the compensatory pick formula versus, ‘Can I get another player to do a similar job, get a pick, and save some money in the process,’ if all of that makes sense."

Compensatory picks were added to the draft in 1994 to help maintain the competitive balance. They are awarded to teams that lost more in free agency than they gained during the preceding season, based on a formula that incorporates salary, playing time and postseason honors.

The Titans didn't receive a compensatory pick in 2020, but they were awarded a third-round pick (No. 100 overall) in 2021. The NFL awarded the Titans two picks in 2022, one in the fourth round (No. 143 overall) and one in the sixth (No. 219 overall).

It should be noted that other than Wilson and Evans, each of the players Robinson selected in the first round who were eligible to do so have gone on to sign lucrative free-agent deals.

Conklin was a first-team All-Pro in 2016 and 2020. He signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Cleveland Browns after the 2020 season.

The Titans selected Wilson in the first round and re-signed Dennis Kelly to a three-year, $21 million contract with $8.75 million guaranteed. That gave them a less expensive replacement for Conklin at right tackle. Kelly was released last offseason.

Davis and Jackson became starters despite not being brought back on a second contract. Davis came close to his first 1,000-yard season (984 yards) in 2021 before signing a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the New York Jets last offseason.

Robinson swung for the fences when he sent a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round selection to the Falcons for future Hall of Fame receiver Julio Jones and a 2023 sixth-round pick. Jones produced only 31 receptions for 434 yards and a touchdown in one season with the Titans before being released in March.

Tennessee decided to release Jackson last year rather than pay him the $10.24 million before his fifth-year option became guaranteed. He signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the New York Giants.

Robinson, instead, opted for veteran free-agent cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins on a two-year deal worth $15 million, with $7.5 million guaranteed. Jenkins was released in March, paving the way for 2021 first-round pick Caleb Farley to become a starter.

Farley played two games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of his rookie season.

"[Farley] had a really good first week, light years ahead of where he ended," Vrabel said during last week's pre-draft news conference. "So, not only just rehab, but just from a mental perspective, and just being in those meetings, and having him answer questions."

So far, the replacement plan for Evans has worked well. Tennessee acquired former Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham off waivers last season and put him next to 2019 sixth-round pick David Long Jr. to form a solid inside linebacker duo that bumped Evans out of the lineup.

Evans showed promise at times over his four seasons with the team. Most of his success came under former Titans' defensive coordinator Dean Pees during Evans' first two seasons. Pees has since joined former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith with the Falcons. It was a natural fit for Evans to follow Pees to Atlanta.

Unlike the other Titans' Day 1 picks, Wilson is no longer in the NFL. A series of off-the-field issues led to the Titans dealing Wilson and a seventh-round pick in 2022 to the Miami Dolphins for a seventh-round pick in 2021. Wilson was released by the Dolphins three days later. He landed on the Giants' practice squad last season before being released in January.

Robinson hit a home run when he selected Jeffery Simmons No. 19 overall in 2019. Simmons' 8.5 sacks during the regular season last season serve as an example of how he's become a top-10 interior defensive lineman in the NFL. He'll likely become the first Titans' first-round pick to sign a second contract under Robinson.