Special Report
Tennessee Titans 2006 Offseason Preview
By Jon Small
February 24th, 2006, 06:37

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 goes.

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

The Outcome

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.

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