|Free-agency previews: Titans||
Team overview: Plagued by injuries, the Tennessee Titans limped to a 6-10 finish in 2012, a year after nearly qualifying for the playoffs in coach Mike Munchak’s first season. QB Jake Locker could never find his rhythm after missing five games with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Locker had little time to throw behind a makeshift line missing four starters the final month of the season. Slowed by three knee surgeries, wide receiver Kenny Britt lacked explosiveness. On defense, the Titans struggled in zone coverage and with missed tackles. Munchak is trying to instill an aggressive mentality with the hiring of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as a senior assistant. [Related: CBSSports.com's Top 100 free agents]
What the depth chart tells you: Despite a stellar year from defensive end Derrick Morgan, Tennessee received little production from its backups and ended the season with just four defensive ends on the roster. There are concerns at all three starting spots on the interior line with left guard Steve Hutchinson contemplating retirement and right guard Leroy Harris recovering from knee surgery. The Titans are young in the secondary, but cornerback Tommie Campbell could emerge as a playmaker in 2013. Campbell has ideal size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and has the speed to challenge Chris Johnson in the 40. The second-year cornerback’s lack of familiarity with the playbook cost him playing time last season. If Campbell is inserted into the starting lineup, Alterraun Verner could flourish in the nickel with his instinctiveness and ability to stop the run. Tennessee already has signed former Bills safety George Wilson this offseason. Wilson can be used in the box to blitz and defend the run, and Michael Griffin appears in his natural role as a ball-hawking free safety.
The Titans’ strength on defense is arguably at linebacker, where they have three fast, physical defenders in Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy and Zach Brown. At running back, the Titans could use a bruising, between-the-tackles runner to complement Johnson. Fourth-year running back Javon Ringer may lack burst after coming off knee surgery. Matt Hasselbeck, Locker’s backup, is set to make a base salary of $5.5 million and could restructure his contract. The Titans are deep at wide receiver and will remain deep at tight end if they use the franchise tag on Jared Cook, as expected.
Ideal free agency and draft strategy: In his press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine, Munchak did not discount the possibility of selecting a guard with the No. 10 overall pick. It would buck a trend because the franchise hasn’t selected an offensive lineman in the first round since Brad Hopkins was taken with the No. 13 pick in 1993. With more than $5 million available in cap space, the Titans instead could make a push for Bills offensive guard Andy Levitre or Chargers offensive guard Louis Vasquez.
On defense, Tennessee could bolster its pass rush by signing former Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty, a towering lineman whom the Titans have already met with. Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel or Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib fall to the third round, Tennessee should consider the risky move in April's draft. Hasselbeck will turn 38 in September and the Titans could use a young quarterback to push Locker. The Titans should re-sign Rob Bironas if the one-time Pro Bowl kicker’s demands in free agency are reasonable.
What will happen: The Titans' needs at offensive guard are so pressing that the team will address the area in the draft and free agency. The Titans will target Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the No. 10 pick or North Carolina offensive guard Jonathan Cooper if Warmack is off the board. If Warmack becomes the starter at left guard, Vasquez could fit nicely on the right side. Titans free agent lineman Fernando Velasco will re-sign with the team and start at center. Canty will be motivated to play under Williams and could complement defensive tackle Jurrell Casey up front. Tennessee will select a defensive end, such as Margus Hunt of SMU, and a power running back like Le’Veon Bell of Michigan State with its mid-round picks.
-- By Matt Rybaltowski