Titans face important decisions on free agents

Friday, November 22, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 47

Titans running back Derrick Henry, who ran for 188 yards against Kansas City two weeks ago, has been used sparingly in some games and has been replaced by Dion Lewis in key situations. The Heisman Trophy winner is eligible for free agency following this season.

-- Photo By Mark Zaleski | Ap Photo

The Tennessee Titans are still harboring playoff aspirations with six games remaining.

In virtually all the playoff scenario graphics, the 5-5 Titans are one of those teams still “in the hunt,” a feat made mostly possible by the mediocrity of the AFC South, in which co-leaders Indianapolis and Houston stand 6-4 heading into their Thursday night matchup.

Whether the Titans can stay in the playoff hunt or not, there are big decisions that must be made for this franchise beyond the next six games.

When examining the franchise’s future, there are some key names among the 17 Titans who can become unrestricted free agents next season.

The end has already been written for Marcus Mariota in Tennessee, but what will the Titans do with such players as Derrick Henry, Logan Ryan, Ryan Tannehill and Jack Conklin?

In actuality, most of their 17 impending UFAs are replaceable, and the Titans will likely do so through the draft or with second-tier free agents. But the four mentioned above are bona fide starters. Each also comes with risks.

The biggest decision is what to do with Henry, who at this point is their best offensive weapon, coming off a 188-yard performance against Kansas City before the bye week.

The problem with Henry is he’s hardly used in some games, despite the Titans proclaiming themselves a power running team.

And for all his production, Henry still loses snaps to a largely ineffective Dion Lewis on third-downs and in the two-minute offense.

So what is Henry worth? Is he worth more to the Titans than he would be to another team, knowing most teams operate in pass-first systems, in which Henry would not be as good a fit.

Ryan has been one of Jon Robinson’s better free agent acquisitions and is having his best season for the Titans since signing here three years ago.

Ryan hadn’t had an interception in a Titans uniform before his three this season. But he has easily been Tennessee’s best cornerback this year and one of the team’s best defenders.

The Titans probably should make Ryan a priority, maybe even offering a contract before the offseason.

Titans unrestricted free agents

QB Marcus Mariota
QB Ryan Tannehill
RB Derrick Henry
RB David Fluellen
WR Tajae Sharpe
TE MyCole Pruitt
T Jack Conklin
T Dennis Kelly
G Kevin Pamphile
C Hroniss Grasu
DE Austin Johnson
OLB Kamalei Correa
ILB Wesley Woodyard
ILB Daren Bates
CB Logan Ryan
CB LeShaun Sims
CB Chris Milton

But they had better hope Ryan, who turns 30 next season, can sip from the same football fountain of youth that veteran free agent pickups like Wesley Woodyard and Delanie Walker have tasted.

Tannehill has at least stabilized the quarterback position for the Titans, making the most of his monthlong audition by leading the team to three wins in four games since replacing Mariota.

The question on Tannehill is how much do the Titans invest in him, knowing the Titans will go back to the draft in either 2020 or 2021 in search of a long-term answer at quarterback. Tannehill can bridge the gap the way Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselback and Ryan Fitzpatrick did in the past for the Titans. But sooner or later he will give way to the next guy.

And the Titans must hope that somehow that guy doesn’t meet the same fate as Vince Young, Jake Locker and Mariota.

As for Conklin, he is part of an offensive line that has been the scapegoat for much of what ails the Titans.

Conklin was an All-Pro selection as a rookie in 2016, but injuries and blocking scheme changes have diminished his play since his second season.

If Conklin gets to the open market, someone will probably give him pretty decent money. After all, young right tackles are a valuable commodity. Some team with the right offensive system would gamble that Conklin can find his early career form.

If Conklin walks, the Titans then would have to make Dennis Kelly, the longtime backup, a priority to retain as a free agent.

Woodyard and Tajae Sharpe might be difficult decisions, as well. But the four players assessed above are the key.