[dropcap]S[/dropcap]uccess is a word the Tennessee Titans removed from their vocabulary early into the season. The Titans organization witnessed their 3rd year QB Jake Locker go down with a season ending injury after coming out firing. Locker was 111-183, resulting in a 60.7 completion percentage. He threw for 1,256 yards, 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. After leading the Titans in the direction they had once hoped for, going 3-1, Locker came crashing down. At the same time, fans watched as their prodigy running back and highest paid player Chris “CJ2K” Johnson produce yet another average season. With a lackluster offense suffering from a lack of leadership, the Titans finished 7-9 and began seeking a new head coach.
Insert Ken Whisenhunt, an offensive minded coach with a strong resume.
After the Pittsburgh Steelers’ lackluster 5-11 season back in 2003, Roethlisberger was dubbed the future and Ken Whisenhut was promoted from within the organization as the offensive coordinator. Prior to Whisenhunt’s promotion, the Steelers were ranked 22nd in yards, 14th in passing and 31st in rushing. In Whisenhunt’s first season as OC the Steelers went 15-1 and returned to playoffs. The team fell short in the AFC title game, but rebounded the following season to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. After three years in Pittsburgh, Whisenhunt had established himself as a top coordinator in the NFL and earned himself a Head Coaching job in Arizona.
Much like his time in Pittsburgh, Arizona leaned on Whisenhunt to pick-up the pieces on offense. The Cardinals had the personal, but lacked production. After just two years in Arizona, Whisenhunt was back to the Super Bowl and facing a team he knew all to well, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, Whisenhunt wasn’t able to best his former team to add another ring to his collection. Whisenhunt remained Arizona’s head coach for three more years, but was fired after their record and offensive numbers plummeted. As hot as his head coaching career began, it ended cold.
The Chargers made sure Whisenhunt wasn’t jobless for long and in 2013 he would rebound In San Diego. After missing the playoffs (7-9) due mostly to poor offensive execution, they sought out the former offensive coordinator. The impact was immediate, pushing Rivers to his greatest seasons as a pro. Rivers passed for 4,478 yards 32 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. San Diego made a late season push (9-7) to make the playoffs. As the OC, Whisenhunt once again manufactured outstanding offensive numbers (5th yards, 4th pass, 13th rush, 12 points). Although San Diego did not make it out of the AFC, Whisenhunt proved he could still be a head coach. After one season in Powder Blue, he left for Tennessee Blue.
There’s no arguing the most significant position in the NFL is Quarterback. Jake Locker was a stud out of Washington and the Titans leaped at the chance to make him the future. Year one and two showed signs of periodic promise, but not enough to convenience. Year three kicked-off with his best start then ended immediately and brought even more confusion. Tennessee’s best interest would be to keep Jake around at least one more year.
Financially, Locker is in his rookie contact and has showed signs he can be a NFL QB. The top free agent QBs in this off-season are Michael Vick and Matt Flynn. Spending money on either is not only a step back from Locker, but money that could be spent elsewhere. There are three top QBs available in the draft, Manziel, Bortles and Bridgewater. All three are likely to be selected by Titan’s pick at 11, if they remain. They could use a second or fourth rounder pick on a QB; however few top QBs have been selected outside of the top 32 selections. Unless one of the top three falls, Tennessee would be best to stick with Locker leading the offense.
The NFL is always changing and is never the same as what it was yesterday. We live in a time when offenses are flashy and explosive. QBs throw for thousands of yards, breaking records every year. The heyday of grit and grind grounding and pounding with the running backs is gone. Tennessee never got the memo and stayed true to running back Chris Johnson. Johnson stepped onto the scene with quick moves and a faster 40 time. The Titans signed on the dotted line making him the highest paid player on the team, as well as the top paid running back in the league.
Tennessee needs to hold on to Locker, but it would be best to cut ties with the overpaid back. The Titans back-up, Shonn Greene, rushed for 1,000+ yards two seasons in-a-row in for the Jets as a starter. If the confidence in Greene lacks, there’s plenty of backs hitting the market who could produce at half the price. Unlike QBs many top running backs in the league are later day draft picks. There is a plethora of skilled backs in this upcoming class Tennessee could grab, if they rather go rookie over free agent. They could use their second round pick on Carlos Hyde or KaDeem Carey. A later pick could be used on a back like Andre Williams or James Wilder Jr. There are a handful of cheaper options to work with this off-season. With a weak AFC South, a little faith in Locker, a handful of cap room with the cutting of CJ2K and an experienced leader in Whisenhunt, the Titans will gain momentum for 2014.