On Sunday the Tennessee Titans, short of quarterback Marcus Mariota and playing in a game with zero impact on the postseason, beat the Houston Texans 24-17 at Nissan Stadium.
The 2017 regular season has thus come to an end in Tennessee.
The Texans and Titans finished the year with a 9-7 record. However, Houston is advancing to the playoffs as AFC South champions thanks to their stronger interdivisional record (5-1 vs. 2-4).
As a fourth seed in the AFC, the Texans will host the Oakland Raiders this upcoming weekend. The Wild Card matchup takes place at NRG Stadium on January 7 at 3:35 PM Central.
Meanwhile, the Titans begin preparing for the upcoming season.
Some future-thinking steps have already been taken in Tennessee. Mariota, for instance, underwent surgery on December 28 in Charlotte, North Carolina to repair his right fibula.
The second-year quarterback suffered the injury in the Titans’ Week 16 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. With 0:42 remaining in the third quarter, defensive tackle Sheldon Dey broke through Tennessee’s offensive line and took down Mariota by his feet.
Running back DeMarco Murray has also begun recuperative processes. After the Titans’ loss on Sunday, Murray told media that he played the final eight games of the season with a torn plantar plate in his right foot.
What else lies ahead for Tennessee?
In late February, the NFL Scouting Combine takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. In late March, free agency begins. And in the final week of April, the 2017 NFL Draft occurs.
During the 2016 offseason, first-year general manager Jon Robinson applied principles that he learned while scouting for the New England Patriots from 2002 to 2013: address the team’s most-pressing positional needs and acquire “tough, dependable players who are team-first.”
This train of thought led to the acquisition of a number of offensive and defensive players during the Draft and free agency — center Ben Jones, guard Josh Kline, tackle Jack Conklin, running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, receivers Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe, safeties Rashad Johnson and Kevin Byard, linebacker Sean Spence, and cornerback Valentino Blake, among others.
Robinson’s principles also lead to the purging of high draft picks that had proven unproductive over the years. The Titans not only traded receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (2nd round, 2015) to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a second-string guard but also released running back Bishop Sankey (2nd round, 2014), cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and receiver Justin Hunter (2nd round 2013).
The result was transformative.
Tennessee finished 2016 with nine wins, six more than they garnered in 2015. Five Titans’ players were nominated to the Pro Bowl, while three players were named alternates. And the team’s rush offense and rush defense ranked top three in the NFL.
Considering the success of Robinson’s principles in 2016, there is little reason to suspect that he will act different this offseason.
In the first round of the 2017 Draft, the Titans have the fifth and eighteenth overall picks. The fifth pick comes from the Los Angeles Rams, who traded it to Tennessee last year in order to select quarterback Jared Goff.
As for free agency, the Titans are expected to have 71.2 millions dollars of cap space. Only the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are projected to have larger cap spaces.
This all goes to say that Tennessee is in a favorable position to address their needs at cornerback, linebacker, and wide receiver.
The Titans finished 2016 with the 30th overall pass defense, allowing 357.5 yards per game and 56 receptions of at least 20 yards. Much of this allowed yardage came at the expense of cornerback and inside linebacker.
The Titans fared better in pass offense as they finished 25th overall. However, Mariota would benefit from the acquisition of a top wideout. This year Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker led the team with 65 receptions. Next was Murray with 53 receptions.
It is difficult to speculate which draft prospects and free agents the Titans will look to acquire this offseason. Last year it was generally expected that Tennessee would select offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil with the No. 1 overall pick.
Instead, the Titans carried out two trades prior to the Draft, and they selected former walk-on Jack Conklin out of Michigan State with eighth overall pick. Some analysts considered Conklin a “reach,” but he fit Robinson’s principle of acquiring tough, dependable, and team-first players.
Whichever players Tennessee acquires this offseason, they will be fit Robinson’s modus operandi. Moreover, we can expect that the Titans will have their eyes set on the 2017 playoffs as they prepare for next year.
“I think the mindset is we [have] to make the playoffs,” said Murray as he speculated about 2017. “I mean, simple as that … We’ve seen how good we can be, and we’ve seen how close we are.”