Tennessee Titans 2006 Offseason Preview
By Jon Small
Posted February 24th, 2006
For the first time in recent years, the Tennessee Titans head into the
offseason free from salary cap jail. Yes, they are technically over the
cap, but thatís just an accounting formality as they can easily free up
many millions of dollars in free cap space. While they will be letting
a few players go, it wonít be anything like cutting many high-priced
starters in their primes, as we witnessed last year on ďBlue MondayĒ.
On March 3, teams will need to be under the salary cap, which we can
conservatively expected to be around $93M in 2006 (it could easily be a
few million dollars higher). The Titans got one big move out of the way
early by signing defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch to a new 4-year deal,
preventing their best potential free agent from walking away. But that
still leaves the Titans with a few decisions to make. For starters,
their current situation leaves them with a salary cap hit of roughly
$100.6M. Letís assume they will need to free up about $8M by March 1 to
get under the cap. And then weíll have to come up with more to pay any
other free agents we want to keep around.
So, while I canít predict with 100% accuracy what the Titans will do, this is what Iíd do if I made the decisionsÖ
Unrestricted Free Agents
Tank Williams started as a
rookie four years ago and played very well. But he has been a
disappointment ever since then. He seems better suited to playing near
the line of scrimmage rather than back in coverage. He struggled
mightily for most of last year, coming off a torn ACL late in 2004, but
he did improve as the year progressed. Currently, the Titans have no
one else at strong safety, so itís possible they could bring him back
with a fairly inexpensive one- or two-year deal. And if they donít
re-sign him, they will probably attempt to sign another veteran SS to a
similar deal (which is what I would do).
Justin Hartwig has been
Tennesseeís starting center for the past two seasons. He has hardly
been great, but he has been a decent starter. If the Titans could keep
him with a cheap contract, they might be willing. But it seems more
likely that agent Drew Rosenhaus would put his client on the free agent
market and see what he can get. If Hartwig is allowed to walk, reserve
Eugene Amano would be penciled into the starting lineup. He has played
well in limited time and perhaps the Titans would prefer starting him
to overpaying Hartwig. Personally, Iíd let him walk. If they canít sign
a top free agent center (LeCharles Bentley would be expensive but a
huge upgrade), Amano would probably not be a significant downgrade.
Rocky Boiman has skills at OLB,
but hasnít ever taken advantage the opportunity to show what he can do.
When Peter Sirmon was injured in 2004, Boiman was hurt, too. Boiman
could be a good pass-rushing linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but the Titans
arenít going that direction any time soon. Expect Rocky to head off the
greener pastures unless perhaps they decide to let Sirmon go.
Brad Kassell has the heart of
an NFL middle linebacker, but sadly not the athleticism. He has
overachieved his way into being a good special teams player and solid
backup, but he was exposed last year as a full-time starter. Expect the
Titans to let him go and try to replace him with a starting caliber LB
in the draft if not via free agency.
CB Tony Beckham got beat out by a pair of rookies and never matured into a solid starter. Heís gone for sure.
Added expenses: $0
Restricted Free Agents
This yearís group of RFAs is limited to just safety Donnie Nickey and long snapper Jon Dorenbos. Neither of these guys has any real value.
Nickey was already waived once by the Titans in 2004, and has neither
upside nor trade value. Thereís no reason to bother keeping him, and
Iíd let him walk. Based on quotes from Floyd Reese, it sounds like they
may offer him to the minimum tender ($685k). But Iíll just stick my
fingers in my ears and hum real loudÖ
Dorenbos did a good job with the Titans, but that was only because
normal LS Ken Amato was injured. Since Amato is signed long term,
Dorenbos will end up elsewhere. The Titans have already made it known
they will let him go.
Added expenses: $0
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Matt Mauck, Jarrett Payton, Marcus Randall, and Cody Spencer are
all ERFAs, meaning that once the Titans tender them minimal one-year
contract offers, no other team can negotiate with them. All of them
will presumably be tendered offers. Spencer, as a two-year veteran,
will receive $385k. Payton, Randall, and Mauck will each receive $310k.
Combined, that will count $1.315M against the cap.
Added expenses: $1.315M
Likely Roster Cuts
Guard Benji Olson is due
a $3M base salary in 2006 as well as a $5M roster bonus. He seriously
underachieved last season, so you can be sure wonít get that money. The
Titans will release him, which will save nearly $6M against the salary
cap. Look for Jacob Bell, who played extremely well as a rookie in 2004
before an ACL injury, to take his place in the starting lineup.
Left Tackle Brad Hopkins is
scheduled to receive a $4.25M base salary as well as a $5M option bonus
this season, but thereís no way the Titans will pay him that much.
Hoppy is getting up there in years, and though he can still play in the
NFL, heís clearly on the downside of his career. Thereís a reasonable
chance that the Titans could sign him to a new contract with a much
smaller payout. But if they are smart, they will let him walk and save
over $3.1M against the 2006 salary cap (plus more in the future).
Michael Roos can move back to his natural position on the left side,
and he can be replaced on the right by second year player David Stewart.
Lamont Thompson has a $1.275M
base salary and a $2.5M option bonus this year. He really has never
been above average with the Titans. He has his occasional moments, but
thereís no reason to believe that heís worth a big bonus when he hasnít
stepped up yet. The Titans may feel heís worth keeping, but Iíd decline
his option bonus (making him a free agent) and save $1.3M in cap space.
Vincent Fuller, who impressed coaches last year as a rookie before
suffering an injury, could start at free safety next year.
Travis Henry is due a $1M base
salary and a $4M option bonus. There is no chance the titans will keep
him at that number after a terrible 2005 season. He didnít show much on
the field as a backup to Chris Brown and got suspended after violating
the NFLís substance abuse policy (meaning one more violation would lead
to a full yearís suspension). Itís possible the Titans and Henry could
agree to a new contract that is far less expensive, but that assume
that both sides can agree on the money, the Titans are willing to risk
the his substance abuse status, and Henry is willing to backup Brown
again. If the Titans let Henry go, they will save over $1.5M in cap
room (which is potentially what they would save with a new contract as
well). Damien Nash and Jarrett Payton would be penciled in as backups,
though a draft pick or cheap veteran would likely be used here if Henry
Total saved: over $12.5M
Steve McNair will probably be
back, itís just a matter of what they his contract looks like. He is
currently scheduled to receive a $9M base salary this year, plus $1M
(for declining his $50M option bonus that would have extended his
contract through 2009) in the last year of his deal. Donít look for the
Titans to alter his contract much before the draft. If they draft a QB
like Matt Leinart or Jay Cutler early, they could realistically start
McNair for one more year and allow him to mentor their rookie, then let
McNair walk away a year later. Or, if they donít draft a QB (or know
they wonít take a QB leading up to the draft), they could sign McNair
to an extension that would save significant cap dollars (roughly $10M).
They could also cut McNair and sign a veteran QB (which would save
$10M), but thatís unlikely. For now, letís just assume they keep his
current contract as is.
Peter Sirmon is due a $2.4M
base salary as well as a thus far unpublished option bonus payment
(letís assume for the sake of argument that itís in the $4M ballpark).
He didnít come off his 2004 torn ACL looking anything like his
excellent 2003 form. Like with Henry and Hopkins, there is no way the
Titans will pay him that. Itís entirely possible that he could be
jettisoned (if they canít agree on money or the team doesnít like his
physical condition), which would save $3M in cap room. But with Kassell
already going, the Titans may want to avoid losing Sirmon as well. They
could theoretically decline the bonus and just keep him for the final
year of his contract (saving maybe $600k), but that still leaves the
$2.4M base salary. If feasible, Tennessee should re-sign him to a
reasonable new contract which could save over $2M.
Billy Volek got hot for a
stretch in 2004, but he didnít look like a starting-caliber quarterback
in 2005. The Titans wonít cut him (though they could trade him) and
donít need to renegotiate. But they shouldnít pick up his $4M option
bonus that would add on an extra season to his contract (in 2008).
Volek would still be signed through 2007, and the Titans would save
over $1.1M in immediate cap space.
Total saved: $3.2M
After all of those moves, the Titans would end up with a salary cap
total of $86.7M, leaving them roughly $5.5M under the salary cap with
55 players under contract (only the top 51 contracts count, plus dead
money). And based on the current slate of draft picks, the Titans can
expect a rookie cap of approximately $4.5M this year, though they
basically have already accounted for $1.88M of that through the base
salaries of the last seven cheapest players still on the roster. So,
that leaves my Titans somewhere around $3.7M dollars under the cap even
after counting in the draft.
For the first time in recent history, the Titans donít have to
renegotiate with players to free up immediate cap room. They can still
do so if they would like more spending money this year, however. Keith
Bulluck could save the team nearly $3M this year by renegotiating. No
other Titan who is a likely renegotiation candidate would save more
than about $500k, but adding in Craig Hentrich and Erron Kinney would
save about $1M more.
Those moves would leave them with a little spending money during the
free agent period. Maybe they couldnít afford any big names, but they
could at least patch a few holes with veterans.