Coming out of college, Chance Warmack was one of the most coveted prospects at offensive guard in NFL Draft history. The hype was well earned.
During his four-year career at Alabama, the 6’2’’, 323-pound lineman won three BCS national championships, accounted for 49 touchdown-resulting blocks, and made unanimous All-American honors in 2012.
Warmack was selected No. 10 overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2013 Draft. The pick was analytically sound on all ends. The Titans needed immediate help at offensive line for their star running back Chris Johnson, and according to Todd McShay, Warmack was “perhaps the most NFL-ready prospect at any position.”
During his first three years in Tennessee, Warmack was a bastion of consistency. Through the 2013 and 2014 regular seasons, he missed just two offensive snaps, and last season Warmack missed just two games after suffering a right knee MCL strain.
Despite this consistency Warmack has not lived up to his pre-Draft hype. In three years he has been flagged for 18 penalties, and last season he ranked 40th among all NFL guards per Pro Football Focus.
As a result, the Titans declined to pick up Warmack’s fifth-year option in May.
The fifth-year option was created during the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The feature allows NFL teams to extend a player’s first-round contract from four years to five years, provided that the extension is conducted by May 3rd of the player’s fourth season. This extension comes at a cost, though. To extend the contract of a top 10 pick, an NFL team must pay a ‘transition tender’ equal to the average of the ten highest salaries for a player’s position in a fourth-year contract.
In other words, it would have cost the Titans $11,900,000 to pick up Warmack’s fifth-year option in 2017 although he is set to make $2,064,088 in 2016 — a base salary of $675,000 and a roster bonus of $1,389,088.
This cost was too high for general manager Jon Robinson.
“At this point and time for our football team, as we manage the roster and salary cap, we believe this is in the best interest of our team,” Robinson said in a statement released by the Titans. “We talked to Chance and his representation this morning to inform them of our decision [not to pick up his fifth-year option]. We expect Chance to play well for us this year, and we are not closing the door on his long-term future with our franchise.”
Warmack, in part, attributes his early NFL struggles to inadequate coaching through 2014 and 2015, when Bob Bostad was the Titans’ offensive line coach. Warmack expressed these frustrations after the Titans released Bostad in January and hired Hall of Fame offensive line coach Russ Grimm.
“I had one dude [coach] who played D-III football at linebacker. And he’s teaching me how to play offensive line? If there’s nothing wrong with that, you tell me. I play offensive line. I don’t play linebacker. I definitely didn’t play D-III football. Not knocking D-III schools out there. We’re talking about the highest level of football in the world. And you have a guy who has never put his hand in the dirt teaching me how to block.”
During Bostad’s tenure in Tennessee, the Titans’ O-Line allowed the 6th most sacks in the league (50) one season and the most sacks in the league (54) the following season.
Under a new O-Line coach and in the final year of his four-year contract, Warmack now faces a pivotal year in Tennessee, where he must prove to the organization that he is worth a long-term contract or prove to other NFL teams that he is worth signing during next season’s free agency.
Certain factors look to benefit Warmack next season.
For starters, he will be playing alongside right tackle Jack Conklin, a No. 8 overall pick who appears more NFL-ready than the Titans’ rookie right tackle last season, Jeremiah Poutasi.
Moreover, Warmack will work under Russ Grimm whose NFL pedigree gives him “the word of God,” said a jesting Taylor Lewan. Grimm not only is entering his 20th season as an NFL offensive line coach but also played guard on a bruising Redskins’ front five nicknamed “The Hogs” because of their grit and physicality. Together, Grimm and the Redskins won three Super Bowls (1982, 1987, 1991).
Warmack has resonated with Grimm thus far. “He’s always messin’ with me,” said Warmack during OTAs, “we got back and froth. But he’s a good guy, man. I’ve already learned a lot of stuff from him, and I just want to grow. I want to steal as many tricks as I can out of him before we get on the field.”
This chemistry will be critical for Warmack as he looks to demonstrate his worth in the upcoming season. The guard has remained relatively quiet during OTAs, minicamp, and training camp — a strong sign for an offensive lineman according to coach Mike Mularkey.
Warmack is expected to debut the 2016 season on Saturday August 13, when the Titans face the San Diego Chargers in their first preseason matchup.