PFR Originals

How The Saints Can Replace Nick Fairley

The Saints officially placed defensive tackle Nick Fairley on the non-football injury list on Monday, ending Fairley’s 2017 season before it began and casting doubt on the future of his career. New Orleans already added one potential reinforcement earlier this month, agreeing to terms with veteran Tony McDaniel, but the club could still pursue more help on the interior.

Let’s take a look at the possible solutions for the Saints, beginning with players that could potentially be acquired via trade:

Trade options

Arik Armstead, 49ers — Now that the 49ers have made several additions to their defensive line, Armstead — the 17th overall selection just two years ago — could become expendable. Free agent signee Earl Mitchell is projected to start at defensive tackle alongside 2016 first-rounder DeForest Buckner, but a trade of Armstead could allow Buckner to see more snaps on the edge opposite Solomon Thomas. Dealing Armstead could also allow San Francisco to get Aaron Lynch more playing time at end. At 6’7″, 292 pounds, Armstead has the size to play the interior in the Saints’ 4-3 scheme.

Desmond Bryant, Browns — Bryant doesn’t fit in with a Browns team that is going young, and he’s entering the final year of his contract. He’s eminently affordable (he’d cost the Saints just $3MM), and, like others on this list, has the ability to play on the edge and inside. Bryant’s health is a question mark, as he missed the entire 2016 campaign with a torn pectoral, but he returned to Cleveland’s practice field last month. It’s possible the Browns release Bryant later this summer, so New Orleans wouldn’t even have to sacrifice a pick.Vinny Curry (vertical)

Vinny Curry, Eagles — Curry may be the unlikeliest trade candidate listed here, especially given that he just signed a five-year, $46.25MM extension last February. But the Eagles haven’t been afraid to deal recently-signed players in the past (see: Sam Bradford), and trading Curry would allow Philadelphia to part with his $7MM guaranteed base salary. Listed as a defensive end, Curry is an excellent pass rusher from the interior, but the snaps haven’t been there with the Eagles (43% in 2016). With Chris Long now in tow, Curry could struggle to find consistent playing time again next season.

Carl Davis, Ravens — Heading into the 2015 draft, Davis was considered a potential first- or second-round selection, but the Ravens ended up picking him up in the third round. After struggling through 239 defensive snaps during his rookie campaign, Davis missed all of 2016 with an ankle injury. He’s now third on the depth chart at nose tackle behind Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, meaning he could be superfluous. Only 25 years old, Davis is signed through 2018 at palatable rates.

Steve McLendon, Jets — Gang Green has already unloaded several notable veterans this offseason, and a rebuilding club like the Jets doesn’t particularly need to employ a run-stuffing defensive tackle earning nearly $3MM like McLendon. The 31-year-old McLendon played on roughly a third of New York’s defensive snaps a year ago, and that’s the type of reserve role he’d likely play for the Saints. A player-for-player trade could be a possibility here, as the Jets were the free agent runners-up for running back Travaris Cadet, whom New Orleans is now shopping.

Sheldon Richardson, Jets — I’ve banged the drum for a Richardson-to-New Orleans trade in the past, but had previously considered the former first-round pick as an ideal complement to Cameron Jordan at defensive end. The Saints didn’t do much to address their edge rushing problem, with free agent Alex Okafor and third-round selection Trey Hendrickson comprising most of the team’s attempted improvement. Richardson, then, would make a perfect candidate to play end in base packages before becoming an interior rusher on passing downs.

Free agents

Arthur Jones — Jones, who will turn 31 years old later this week, managed to appear in only 17 games through three seasons after signing a five-year deal with the Colts prior to the 2014 season. While he’s typically served as a two-gapping, 3-4 defensive end throughout his career, Jones has the size (6’3″, 315 pounds) to play tackle for the Saints. Clearly, Jones has question marks, including severe health issues and a 2016 PED suspension, but those factors should make him come cheap.

Jared Odrick — While a number of clubs have expressed interest in Odrick this offseason, he hadn’t been on the Saints’ radar as of yet. That could change now that Fairley is lost for 2017, and Odrick offers a recent track record of success. Although his Jaguars tenure was not successful, Odrick was a high-caliber player for the Dolphins as recently as 2014. Additionally, Odrick still has youth on his side, as he’s entering just his age-29 season.Vince Wilfork

Vince Wilfork — As of earlier this month, Wilfork still hasn’t decided whether he wants to hang up his cleats, as he claims he’s “50-50” on the idea of retirement. At age-35, Wilfork wasn’t very effective last season, but the Texans may have been asking too much of him, as he played on roughly half the club’s defensive snaps. Perhaps he could still play a role for New Orleans if his workload was reduced, although Wilfork may wait to sign in order to avoid another training camp.

Dan Williams — Among available free agents, Williams earned the highest 2016 marks from Pro Football Focus, as he graded as the No. 44 interior lineman among 127 qualifiers. Although the 6’3″, 330 pound Williams is viewed as a massive space-eater, PFF actually assigned him much higher marks for his pass rushing acumen than his run defense. As such, Williams could possibly push the pocket a bit, but his main goal would still be to clog the middle.

I recently ran down the best available players at each defensive position. Other free agents of interest could include: Tyson Jackson, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Sen’Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Devon Still, and Vance Walker.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chiefs GM Search Tracker

The Chiefs surprised everyone last week by firing GM John Dorsey. The timing of the move was puzzling, to say the least, since Dorsey already called the shots during the important stages of free agency and the draft.

Coach Andy Reid, who finalized a multi-year extension just minutes before the Dorsey news was announced, may or may not have played a role in the team’s GM change. And although the team press release indicated that the parting of ways was mutual, the call was actually made unilaterally by owner Clark Hunt. Hunt apparently grew tired of Dorsey’s easy-going demeanor and lack of internal communication, particularly since that did not jibe with the way Reid conducts himself.

The Chiefs will be looking at both internal and external candidates to fill the vacancy. Here’s an up-to-date list of the names involved in the search:

PFR Originals: 6/18/17 – 6/25/17

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

Top Remaining NFL Free Agents: Defense

Any NFL club aiming to seriously upgrade its roster through free agency in June is clearly not adept at personnel management, but small tweaks can still be made as the summer begins. While headliners such as Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin remain unsigned, it’s often lesser-known players that can make incremental differences once the season gets underway.

After looking at offense on Saturday, let’s examine the best remaining free agents on the defensive side of the ball:

Edge defender

  1. Dwight Freeney
  2. Mario Williams
  3. Paul Kruger
  4. Erik Walden
  5. Trent Cole

Now entering his age-37 campaign, Dwight Freeney had to wait until August to find a contract last offseason, and it’s possible he’ll be on the market until late summer once again in 2017. He’s made it clear that he intends to play, however, and the Falcons could conceivably be interested in a reunion. Atlanta will see Derrick Shelby return from an injury-plagued campaign, and the club also spent a first-round pick on Takkarist McKinley, so it’s unclear if the Falcons are searching for another pass rusher.Dwight Freeney (vertical)

Mario Williams is the bigger name, but Erik Walden has actually drawn more interest on the free agent market. While Williams hasn’t been mentioned in connection with any team, Walden has been linked to both the Titans and Jets. Per Pro Football Focus‘ grades, Williams was the far more effective player in 2016, as he ranked roughly 50 spots higher than Walden and earned positive marks in run defense.

One edge rusher who didn’t quite make this list is former Buccaneer Howard Jones, who is still recovering from a torn ACL. Jones is only 27 years old and managed five sacks in limited snaps as recently as 2015. He met with the Jets earlier this year and was expected to make a decision on a new team, but still has yet to land a deal.

Interior defensive line

  1. Dan Williams
  2. Jared Odrick
  3. Arthur Jones
  4. Vance Walker
  5. Sen’Derrick Marks

Dan Williams is the type of defensive lineman that is slowly being removed from the field as NFL offense move to more spread-based looks. The 6’2″, 330-pounder played on only a third of the Raiders’ defensive snaps a year ago before being released in the spring, and hasn’t met with any clubs since. Massive run-stuffers aren’t a need for most clubs in 2017, but if a team wants a force in the middle, Williams is the best available.jared Odrick

Like Williams, Jared Odrick received his walking papers earlier this year, but he’s drawn a bit more interest than the former Oakland defender. Odrick has been linked to the Seahawks, Eagles, and Giants, and also met with the Patriots (although Odrick may not want to play in New England). Although he played in only six games in 2016, Odrick has been a reliable defender for much of his career and isn’t yet 30 years old.

Arthur Jones and Vance Walker are very similar players: classic 3-4 defensive ends who probably are best in a two-gap scheme. Unfortunately (at least for them), NFL teams are exponentially moving towards one-gap fronts, meaning Jones and Walker might fit better as defensive tackles. Both have dealt with injuries in recent seasons and could struggle to find much — if any — guaranteed money.

Linebacker

  1. Perry Riley
  2. DeAndre Levy
  3. Daryl Smith
  4. D’Qwell Jackson
  5. Rey Maualuga

Based solely on 2016 production, Perry Riley may be the single most notable player who’s still on the free agent market. In fact, he’s one of only two of PFR’s Top 50 Free Agents who has yet to find a contract (the other being offensive tackle Ryan Clady). The Raiders seem to want Riley back, especially after not adding much to their linebacking unit this offseason, and given that some rumblings of retirement seem to have been unfounded, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Riley in silver and black by the time the season gets underway.DeAndre Levy (vertical)

While Riley posted a breakout season in 2016, DeAndre Levy regularly posted excellent campaigns for the Lions before injuries severely limited his production. In 2013-14, Levy was one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL, but he’s appeared in only six games over the past two years. Levy was reportedly planning a health grievance against the Lions earlier this year, which could suggest his knee condition won’t allow him to play any time soon.

D’Qwell Jackson and Rey Maualuga are essentially worse versions of fellow linebacker David Harris, who signed with the Patriots last week. Harris landed a two-year, $5MM deal that contains only $1.25MM guaranteed. The former Jet graded as the league’s No. 35 linebacker in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus, while Jackson and Maualuga ranked as bottom-10 at the position. Maualuga, for what it’s worth, did meet with the Chiefs earlier this year.

Cornerback

  1. Darrelle Revis
  2. Brandon Flowers
  3. Alterraun Verner
  4. Sam Shields
  5. Leon Hall

Darrelle Revis will earn $6MM in guaranteed base salary from the Jets in 2017 even though he’s no longer on their roster, and that money could complicate his free agent market. Any salary he makes from a new team will offset his New York cash, and no club is likely to offer Revis more than the $6MM he’s earning from Gang Green. Two clubs reportedly showed interest in Revis in May, but his market may be limited. I ran down the top eight fits for Revis earlier this year.Darrelle Revis

Given that both are best served in the slot, Alterraun Verner and Leon Hall are very similar players. Hall may still be the more talented defensive back, but given that Verner is four years younger, the former Buccaneer figures to draw more free agent interest. Indeed, Verner worked out for the Jaguars in May and expects to sign with a club this summer.

One player who should be listed here based on talent is former 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock. Brock, 28, posted a superb 2016 campaign but was released after being arrested on domestic violence charges. Teams were reportedly “keeping tabs” on Brock and may have been interested if the charges had been dropped, but given that Brock was officially charged earlier in June, his NFL career may be over.

Safety

  1. Corey Graham
  2. Jairus Byrd
  3. Marcus Gilchrist
  4. Rashad Johnson
  5. Steven Terrell

Corey Graham has been consistently excellent since becoming a starter in 2012, posting positive marks for the Ravens and then Bills while playing both corner and safety. He’ll be 32 years old later this summer, which could limit his appeal, but Graham would add a veteran presence to any team in need of experience in the back end. The Giants, Browns, and Buccaneers stand out as potential fits for the 10-year pro.Jairus Byrd (Vertical)

Both Jairus Byrd and Marcus Gilchrist were recently released from large contracts with the Saints and Jets, respectively, but both players could still contribute as deep safeties on cheap deals. Most depth safeties are going to be asked to play special teams, and Byrd (103 snaps) and Gilchrist (45 snaps) both did a little of that in 2016. If clubs are searching for more pure special teamers, however, Steven Terrell, Kelcie McCray, and Jonathan Meeks could be of interest.

As with the cornerback list, there’s one safety who isn’t included here based on non-performance reasons: former Dolphins defensive back Isa Abdul-Quddus. IAQ was released in March after suffering a serious neck injury last year. Certainly, Abdul-Quddus shouldn’t risk his future health in order to return to the field, but if he can get medically cleared, he should be able to contribute to a safety-needy club.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top Remaining NFL Free Agents: Offense

Any NFL club aiming to seriously upgrade its roster through free agency in June is clearly not adept at personnel management, but small tweaks can still be made as the summer begins. While headliners such as Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin remain unsigned, it’s often lesser-known players that can make incremental differences once the season gets underway.

Using our master list of 2017 free agents, let’s take a look at the best remaining free agents on the offensive side of the ball:

Quarterback

  1. Colin Kaepernick
  2. Christian Ponder
  3. Shaun Hill
  4. Robert Griffin III
  5. Zach Mettenberger

Based on pure talent, Colin Kaepernick is far and away the best free agent quarterback remaining on the board. But the myriad of explanations — or as may label them, excuses — for his inability to land a contract thus far have been well-documented. Concerns about Kaepernick’s political views, his workout regimen, and even his diet have been used as justifications for his never-ending free agent status, and the only club that’s expressed serious interest thus far is the Seahawks, who ultimately passed on the former 49ers signal-caller in favor of Austin Davis.Colin Kaepernick (vertical)

Christian Ponder‘s place as the No. 2 free agent quarterback speaks volumes about the lack of available passers, as the 29-year-old hasn’t attempted a pass since 2014. Still, he’s a former first-round pick with a more successful track record of playing from the pocket than any other QB on this list. Hill, meanwhile, is now 37 years old, but had a decent showing as the Vikings’ opening day starter last season, and was mildly effective as a seven-game starter in 2014.

While Robert Griffin III may possess the largest upside of any free agent quarterback aside from Kaepernick, he simply hasn’t shown the ability to remain on the field for any substantial amount of time. Signed to a two-year contract by the Browns prior to last season, Griffin managed to play in only five total games was subsequently released. His persistent difficulty with reading defenses and staying in the pocket could limit his opportunities.

Running back

  1. Chris Johnson
  2. Rashad Jennings
  3. DeAngelo Williams
  4. Denard Robinson
  5. Bobby Rainey

Chris Johnson‘s 2016 campaign never got off the ground, as injuries limited him to only four games and 95 rushing yards. But the 32-year-old ran for more than 800 yards the year prior, and teams have reportedly reached out to express interest this offseason. The same can’t be said for Rashad Jennings, who is now touring with Dancing With The Stars, but his ability as a third-down back should help him garner interest if he’s serious about continuing his career.DeAngelo Williams (Vertical)

While DWTS wasn’t in the cards for DeAngelo Williams, he is set to make his pro wrestling debut on July 2. It’s unclear if Williams, now 34, is ready to hang up his cleats, but his yards per carry average dropped a full yard in 2016. Denard Robinson and Bobby Rainey, meanwhile, are back-end roster types who will only earn a roster spot based on their receiving ability and special teams prowess.

Running back, clearly, is a young man’s position, and if teams are interested in more youthful players, there are backs with age on their side. Karlos Williams, George Farmer, Tyler Gaffney, Jonathan Grimes, Ronnie Hillman, and Antonio Andrews are all unsigned and age-27 or younger.

Fullback

  1. Jerome Felton
  2. Marcel Reece
  3. Will Johnson
  4. Zach Line
  5. Paul Lasike

While players such as Kyle Juszczyk and Patrick DiMarco landed healthy contracts this offseason, most NFL clubs aren’t deploying a fullback with regularity, lessening the demand for lead blockers such as Jerome Felton. While he, Zach Line, and Paul Lasike may have to wait for an injury to strike before finding a new home, Marcel Reece‘s excellent receiving ability could allow to ink a contract sooner rather than later.

Read more

Community Tailgate: Derek Carr’s Deal

Derek Carr is now the highest-paid player in the NFL…depending on how you look at it. The “new money” average annual value of Carr’s deal gives him $25MM per year, beginning in 2018 when the contract kicks in. That tops Andrew Luck‘s new money yearly average of $24.769MM, giving Carr the mantle by a slim margin of $271K per season. There’s also the matter of cashflow. Luck’s three-year value ($75MM to $67.6MM) and four-year value ($96.125MM to $87.7MM) tops Carr’s. Any way you slice it, Carr probably won’t be at the top for long anyway since Matthew Stafford is on deck for a new deal and the Lions are not hesitant about making him the highest-paid player in the NFLDerek Carr (vertical)

[RELATED: Derek Carr Discusses Extension]

When asked about his new contract at a press conference earlier this week, Carr explained that he structured the deal with his teammates in mind. The Raiders will soon begin extension talks with right guard Gabe Jackson, linebacker Khalil Mack, and (perhaps a little further down the line) wide receiver Amari Cooper. The way the deal is designed, Carr said, should help the Raiders keep all of those key pillars for years to come.

When looking at the fine print, Carr’s deal isn’t exactly the market-pushing deal that the initial reports would have led us to believe. There was speculation that Carr would push the Raiders for larger-than-usual guarantees or perhaps even a set percentage of the yearly salary cap to account for the team’s ever-increasing revenue. Neither one of those things happened and Carr didn’t exactly shatter the glass ceiling for top quarterbacks.

Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap estimates that the quarterback market should really be around $27-$30MM by now rather than $25MM. Because a few QBs like Tom Brady accepted team-friendly deals, the going rate for elite signal callers has not increased at the same rate as the salary cap. Carr’s deal will help out the Raiders and his teammates, but it doesn’t necessarily blaze a trail for his fellow quarterbacks.

Do you like Carr’s decision to structure his deal in a way that suits Oakland? Or do you think the youngster should have pushed for more? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Who Will Be The Best Top Ten Pick?

This year’s draft took a number of unexpected twists and turns. The surprises started early and the top part of the draft shook out in a way that few expected. Now, we want to know who you think the best player to come out of the top 10 will be. Here’s a refresher on each pick, followed by a poll. We also encourage you to back up your selection in the comments.

  • Browns – Myles Garrett, DE (Texas A&M, No. 1 overall): Heading into the draft, Garrett seemed to be everyone’s consensus No. 1 talent. Despite some rumblings that the Browns could take a certain quarterback at the top of the draft, Cleveland went with convention and took the Texas A&M star. In three seasons in College Station, Garrett recorded 31 sacks and 47 tackles for loss. He also graded as a top-three edge defender during all three of his collegiate campaigns, per the advanced numbers at Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately, Garrett sprained his left foot during practice and that’s a bit worrisome since he had left ankle trouble last season. The good news is that he has been able to play through the pain before and doctors say he should be ready to go in time for training camp. Myles Garrett Browns
  • Bears – Mitch Trubisky, QB (North Carolina, No. 2 overall): Few people saw this one coming. Not only did the Bears take Trubisky without warning, but they moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 in order to secure him. The pick also took free agent addition Mike Glennon by surprise since his $45MM deal led him to believe that he would be the man in Chicago for at least a couple of years. Some say that Trubisky has the potential to blossom into a star. Others say that Trubisky was merely the best signal caller in a class full of unimpressive QBs.
  • 49ers – Solomon Thomas, DT (Stanford, No. 3 overall): Thomas was among the top-ranked players on the 49ers’ board and they received extra draft compensation for taking him. You can’t argue with the value that San Francisco got in the draft night swap, but you’ll have to overlook the size concerns in order to vote for him as the best player to be drafted in the top 10. “Tweener” talk aside, Thomas had 61 total tackles last season – including 14 tackles for a loss – and 8.5 sacks. He now joins an up-and-coming defensive line in SF and the potential is there for him to do great things.
  • Jaguars – Leonard Fournette, RB (LSU, No. 4 overall): Fournette was widely regarded as the best running back in this year’s class and he silenced doubters at the combine with his faster-than-expected 40-yard-dash time. The 6’1″, 230-pound running back averaged an eye-popping 6.5 yards per carry in his final two seasons on campus, making evaluators around the league salivate at his potential.
  • Titans – Corey Davis, WR (Western Michigan, No. 5 overall): The buzz around Davis grew in the weeks leading up to the draft, but this pick still caught some by surprise. The Titans went with the Western Michigan standout with their top selection, even though he had ankle surgery in February. They believe that the 6’3″, 213-pounder will produce at the next level and it’s not hard to see why they have faith in him. Last year, he finished with personal highs in receptions (97), yards (1,500), and scores (19).
  • Jets – Jamal Adams, S (LSU, No. 6 overall): Early on in draft season, it seemed like a coin flip between Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker for the mantle of best safety in the draft. As late April approaches, more and more people in the football world went into Adams’ camp. The Jets had tons of needs on both sides of the ball, but they used the draft as an opportunity to revamp the safety position. Some say that it doesn’t make sense to take a safety early in the draft, but it seems like analysts everywhere are on board with the Jets’ pick.
  • Chargers – Mike Williams, WR (Clemson, No. 7 overall): The NFL now has another wide receiver named Mike Williams. The Bolts could have gone with a defensive upgrade with guys like Hooker and cornerback Marshon Lattimore still on the board, but they chose instead to get Philip Rivers a big target to throw to on the outside. Williams has all the physical tools to succeed, but there are some concerns about his tendency to drop the occasional ball.
  • Panthers – Christian McCaffrey, RB (Stanford, No. 8 overall): Many saw the Panthers taking Fournette with this pick, but once he was off the board, they went to McCaffrey. McCaffrey battled through injury in his final year and still finished out with 1,639 rushing yards. The running back has the ability to make defenders miss and the field vision to break off big runs, but there are some concerns about whether he’ll be able to be an every-down back given his lack of size.
  • Bengals – John Ross, WR (Washington, No. 9 overall): Speed kills and it also pushes you up draft boards. Many expected Ross to be a first round pick, but his selection within the top 10 caught some by surprise. He can torch just about any defender you put in front of him, but it remains to be seen whether he can stay healthy. Ross has suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus in the past. He also underwent labrum surgery after the combine. If those kinds of ailments are behind him, however, Ross could be a star as he lines up opposite of A.J. Green.
  • Chiefs – Patrick Mahomes, QB (Texas Tech, No. 10 overall): The Chiefs gave up quite a bit to get the No. 10 pick, so they obviously believe Mahomes can blossom into a top-tier quarterback. The former baseball pitcher has a naturally strong arm and also has the wheels to gain yards on the ground when needed.

When all is said and done, who do you think will be the best player out of this year’s top 10? Vote below and defend your pick in the comment section.

Photo via Pro Football Rumors on Instagram.

Only 12 NFL Draft Picks Remain Unsigned

The NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement’s language on draft pick contracts ensures that rookie signings are a breeze, so it’s no surprise that most clubs have already locked up their 2017 class. In fact, only 12 of 253 draft choices (roughly 4.7%) are still without a contract. Here’s a look at those players who remain unsigned:

First Round

Second Round

Third Round

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the unsigned draft picks are first-rounders. Players chosen within the top 32 selections, and especially those selected in the top 10, can often exert more leverage in negotiations in order to extricate more favorable terms. Offset language (or lack thereof) or the timing of signing bonus payment — the issue that held up Joey Bosa‘s talks with the Chargers in 2016 — could be on the table.

Other issues could be holding up negotiations between certain players. The Raiders, for example, haven’t signed any of their top three picks, which could indicate a specific contract sticking point that needs to be worked out. Saints offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, meanwhile, is battling a hip issue, and New Orleans wants him to pass a physical before signing. Cornerbacks Gareon Conley (Raiders) and Jourdan Lewis (Cowboys) are each facing legal situations which could be holding up talks.

Poll: Titans’ Playoff Chances

Little has gone right in recent seasons for the Titans, who are mired in an eight-year playoff drought. But after hitting the nine-win mark for the first time since 2011, scoring more points than they allowed (381 to 378) and narrowly missing out on an AFC South title in 2016, the Titans appear to be trending upward and may enter this season with the best roster in the division.

Eric Decker

General manager Jon Robinson has added several notable contributors to the equation since he took the reins in January 2016, with the latest being former Broncos and Jets wide receiver Eric Decker. The Titans signed the veteran red zone threat Sunday, further bolstering an offense that previously nabbed a few pass catchers early in this year’s draft – receiver Corey Davis at No. 5 overall and two third-rounders, wideout Taywan Taylor and tight end Jonnu Smith.

Decker, Davis, Taylor and Smith are part of a unit loaded with skill, as the Marcus Mariota-led attack came into the offseason with prolific tight end Delanie Walker, receivers Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe, and the enviable running back duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry already in the fold. Add that to a line which Pro Football Focus ranked as the league’s best last season, and it appears the Titans’ offense is poised to take another step forward after finishing 2016 ninth in DVOA, 11th in total yards and 14th in scoring.

Defensively, Tennessee wasn’t as well off a year ago, placing 24th in DVOA, 20th in yardage and 16th in points. The Titans were particularly woeful against the pass (26th in DVOA, compared to 10th versus the run), so Robinson used the action-packed portions of the offseason to beef up that area of the ‘D’ and give highly regarded coordinator Dick LeBeau more with which to work.

On the first day of free agency in March, the Titans handed lucrative contracts to two of the premier defenders available – former Jaguars safety Jonathan Cyprien and ex-Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan – and then used their other first-rounder (No. 18) on erstwhile USC corner Adoree’ Jackson in April. Although the Titans lost a noteworthy CB in Jason McCourty, whom they released before the draft, it’s inarguable that their secondary looks better than it did last season. Their defensive front could also improve with the signing of ex-Broncos nose tackle Sylvester Williams, a four-year veteran who’s coming off his first 16-start season and will replace the released Al Woods.

It’s clear that the Titans have brought in an array of enticing talent on both sides of the ball this offseason. At the same time, they haven’t lost any indispensable cogs – only role players such as McCourty, Woods, Anthony Fasano, Kendall Wright, and Valentino Blake, among a few others. There’s a case to be made, then, that Titans are the favorites to take the AFC South, which has been a weak division lately and doesn’t include any surefire playoff teams like the Patriots in the AFC East and the Steelers in the AFC North.

While Tennessee’s division rivals – the Colts, Jaguars and the two-time defending champion Texans – may have also gotten better since the end of last season, the additions the Titans made to an already decent foundation could push them over the top in 2017. Alternatively, a wild-card spot might end up in play for the Mike Mularkey-coached Titans, though earning one of those required more victories than winning the AFC South in each of the previous two years.

Photo courtesy of Pro Football Rumors on Instagram.

Community Tailgate: Jets’ Long-Term QB Solution?

As Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reported several days ago, Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg exceeded expectations in minicamp and has narrowed the gap between himself and presumptive starter Josh McCown. Gang Green, of course, is in full tank mode, and the team wants to give Hackenberg a chance to show what he can do in 2017, even if McCown ultimately opens the season as the starting signal-caller.

Jun 13, 2017; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg (5) throws during mini camp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

That does not mean, however, that the Jets are married to their Hack for the long haul. As Cimini wrote this morning, New York’s rebuilding plan is centered around its selecting a quarterback from the allegedly QB-rich 2018 draft. Players like USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen are generating the most buzz at the moment, though all are underclassmen and may choose to stay in college in 2018. Nonetheless, assuming (as most do) that the Jets will be bad enough in 2017 to have an early pick in next year’s draft, they could have their choice of elite quarterback prospects.

From a prospect standpoint, Hackenberg does not have the same upside as the above-mentioned collegiate passers, so there is plenty of doubt as to whether he can be a legitimate long-term starter in the league. Further complicating matters, as Brian Costello of the New York Post opines, is that it will be difficult to truly evaluate Hackenberg this year because of the fact that he really has no proven pass catcher to throw the ball to now that the team has cut ties with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Costello, like Cimini, believes Hackenberg showed significant improvement this spring, but if he struggles in 2017, it will be hard to argue that he was given a fair shake.

But now we want you to weigh in on this matter. How do you see the Jets’ long-term quarterback situation shaping up? Do you think Hackenberg will seize control of the job, thereby allowing the team to pursue other options in the 2018 draft (which was mentioned as a distinct possibility several weeks ago)? Or do you think Hackenberg will struggle to produce or just not play well enough to convince the Jets that he is the answer under center?

Or maybe you see an entirely different scenario unfolding. Maybe you see the world through green-and-white glasses and think McCown will keep the team in contention this year, which would be a pleasant surprise for Jets fans but which would not help them in their search for a long-term solution at quarterback. Or do you think Bryce Petty will emerge from the shadows and throw his hat in the ring? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.