Have Titans ever had a legitimate difference maker?

Friday, December 27, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 52

In looking at where the Tennessee Titans franchise has gotten off the tracks, it is easy to point fingers at a variety of possible culprits.

There are those who have questioned the coaching of Mike Munchak and his staff, others would lay the blame at the feet of players who have underperformed and still others would point to the front office’s inability to provide stability in the draft and free agency.

And some would say it’s just plain bad luck.

In truth, all these things have played a role in the franchise missing the playoffs for five straight years and having now gone 10 years since its last postseason win.

One of the primary reasons the Titans have not been a successful team over most of past decade is the franchise’s consistent inability to produce a sustainable difference maker.

What is a sustainable difference maker? My definition is a player who performs consistently at a high level for at least a half dozen seasons.

Most of the time, that player is thought of as a quarterback, guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. Those are players who consistently play at a high level while making the supporting cast around them better.

And they do so year after year after year.

Quarterback is the most obvious position for such a player, but that isn’t the only position. Defensive leaders like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed have certainly fit that bill in the last decade.

The best teams always seem to have more than one such player on the roster. But even average teams often manage to have at least one: Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, Calvin Johnson in Detroit or Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, for example.

Now back to the Titans. It’s pretty easy to see they don’t have anyone on the roster who fits the criteria.

Sure, they have plenty of guys who have started off well.

Chris Johnson? His stats have declined so much that he will likely be released in the off-season, just two years after being given a $53 million contract. Team management obviously thought it had its difference maker.

But CJ isn’t the only Titans player to have regressed after a fast start in two-tone blue.

Remember when Kenny Britt was being compared to Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson? His Titans career ends next week as a disappointing washout with 11 catches in 2013.

Vince Young had his moments as a rookie, looking like a superstar and making the cover of Madden NFL 08. But his inconsistency and immaturity caused him to melt down and fade out of the league. Game over.

Albert Haynesworth put in two dominant seasons in his five years in Tennessee, then took the money and ran to the Redskins in 2009. Three underperforming seasons later – 6.5 total sacks for three teams – he was gone.

So how far back do you have to go to find the last sustainable superstar produced by this organization?

Eddie George? Maybe. He strung together five solid seasons before declining in 2001.

Derrick Mason had four 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Titans, then three more in Baltimore.

Steve McNair was the gutsy leader of those early Titans teams that enjoyed success, but really only put together three years in Tennessee in which he was truly an elite passing quarterback. Injuries, no doubt, shortened his prime performing years.

Jevon Kearse exploded onto the NFL scene as a rookie, but did not sustain that production throughout his career.

Sadly, you might have to go all the way back to the Houston Oilers days with Munchak, Bruce Matthews and Warren Moon to really find the last true sustainable superstars in this franchise’s history.

That might help explain why the Titans seem to constantly be rebuilding and patching holes instead of preparing for the playoffs.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.