Jaelyn Duncan

Titans Rumors: Ridley, Gardner-Johnson, Dillard

The Titans have yearned for a No. 1 wide receiver since they traded away A.J. Brown. Literally since that exact moment, when they used the draft pick they acquired in that trade to draft Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks in the hopes that he would take over. They had also traded for former Rams wide receiver Robert Woods in hopes that he would return from injury to the form of his best years in Los Angeles.

When neither of those moves worked out quite how the wished, Tennessee signed DeAndre Hopkins. While Hopkins certainly gave them a season worthy of a WR1, it became clear that that was not quite enough, that the team still had to get better around Hopkins. Enter Calvin Ridley.

The list of free agent wide receivers this year is expansive, but it is anything but lucrative. Some of the top options like Gabriel Davis and Darnell Mooney had already signed and other top options like Mike Williams, Michael Thomas, and Odell Beckham Jr. came with their own caveats. According to Dianna Russini of The Athletic, the Titans brass was focused on a singular goal: landing the best wide receiver available.

With the options out there, they set their sights on Ridley and their focus narrowed. The team reportedly put themselves in position to land Ridley starting last night, keeping in constant contact with Ridley and company. Not wanting to allow for anyone else to obtain their treasure, they made their move, offering what they knew would be the best deal that any team might offer the 29-year-old receiver. The rest is history, they landed their man, and he will be donning Titans blue in 2024.

Here are a few other rumors coming out of Nashville:

  • With the Titans looking to add a defensive back to the roster, following the loss of Kevin Byard after his trade midseason, the name C.J. Gardner-Johnson has come up, per Adam Caplan at Pro Football Network. The veteran safety has some familiarity with the staff playing one of the best seasons of his career under new defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson when the two were both in Philadelphia. Gardner-Johnson missed nearly all of the 2023 campaign with a torn pectoral muscle, starting the first two games of the season and making a comeback for the playoffs, so he may even come at a slight discount.
  • While retaining that their plans could change, Caplan also reports that the Titans are currently expected to retain veteran left tackle Andre Dillard, who just finished the first year of his three-year, $29MM contract. Dillard started 10 games last year and was forced to the bench for six others. $6MM of his $9MM base salary for 2024 became fully guaranteed today and he will carry a $10.68MM cap hit for the season. Cutting him now would only save $2.88MM of cap space while leaving $7.79MM of dead money, while designating him a post-June 1 release could clear up $6.47MM of cap space, leaving the team with only $4.2MM of dead money. If he is retained, he would be assumed to start at left tackle, leaving Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jaelyn Duncan to battle for the right tackle job.

Titans HC Mike Vrabel Does Not Intend To Fire Coaches; Jaelyn Duncan To Start At LT

The Titans are reportedly committed to head coach Mike Vrabel, which presumably means that rumblings about his job security — along with rumors connecting him to the Patriots’ possible HC vacancy — will not amount to much. Likewise, Vrabel has no intention of firing his staffers, as ESPN’s Turron Davenport reports.

In his first year as the Titans’ offensive coordinator, Tim Kelly‘s unit is sixth-worst in terms of both total offense and passing yards per game. Since the team posted the third-fewest passing yards per game in 2022 — when Kelly served as passing game coordinator — it makes sense that Tennessee fans would be a bit restless.

To be fair, quarterback Ryan Tannehill played in just 12 games in 2022, and in his stead, the Titans were forced to turn to rookie Malik Willis — a decidedly raw prospect — and Joshua Dobbs, who was plucked off the Lions’ taxi squad at the end of the 2022 campagin. This year, Tannehill struggled before being sidelined with an ankle injury, and another rookie, Will Levis, has taken the reins. While Levis has shown flashes and is a more polished product than Willis was, he has also exhibited typical first-year growing pains.

That is to say nothing of the team’s general dearth of high-end receiving talent, as the draft-day trade of A.J. Brown in 2022 continues to sting, and this year’s signing of DeAndre Hopkins has not yielded consistent results. The Titans’ offensive line is also rife with injury and performance issues.

Shane Bowen, meanwhile, is in his third season as the Titans’ defensive coordinator. Tennessee finished 12th in total defense in 2021 — a showing that helped the club to a 12-5 record and a divisional round appearance — but slipped to 23rd in 2022 and presently ranks 22nd through the first 10 games of the 2023 season.

It is unclear whether Davenport’s report means that Vrabel is committed to his subordinates on a long-term basis, or merely that there will be no in-season firings. The fact that Kelly implemented a new style of offense upon taking the OC role suggests that he may be given another year to make it work, and Vrabel may want to keep him aboard if for no other reason than to maintain continuity for Levis. However, that is merely speculation. For Kelly to retain his position, the offense may need to demonstrate marked improvement down the stretch, and the same may be said for Bowen and his defense.

Regardless of what happens on the coaching front, the much-maligned O-line will see another major change. Vrabel told reporters, including Davenport, that rookie Jaelyn Duncan will start at left tackle in the team’s Week 12 matchup with the Panthers today.

Duncan, whom the Titans selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft, will be the fourth player to line up on the blind side for Tennessee in 2023. Andre Dillard, who joined the club on a three-year, $29MM contract in March, struggled mightily over the first five games of the year, and he was replaced by Nicholas Petit-Frere in the middle of a Week 6 loss to the Ravens. Unfortunately, Petit-Frere sustained a season-ending shoulder injury during Tennessee’s Week 9 loss to the Steelers, which re-opened the door for Dillard. Then, in Week 10, Dillard sustained a concussion, which ruled him out of the Titans’ Week 11 loss to the Jaguars and forced the team to deploy Dillon Radunz at left tackle.

Since regular right tackle Chris Hubbard is dealing with a biceps injury, Radunz will man the right tackle post today, leaving Dillard and Duncan as the only LT options. Although Dillard has cleared the league’s concussion protocol, Duncan will get the nod.

In 25 snaps at right tackle in relief of the injured Hubbard last week, Duncan acquitted himself fairly well, and it stands to reason that Vrabel & Co. would want to get an extended look at a player who had top-100 talent but who became a Day 3 choice due to concerns about technique and his passion for the game.

Plus, the Dillard/Petit-Frere/Radunz trio all struggled at LT, and it would be difficult to imagine Duncan performing much worse. Tennessee would be forced to eat a considerable dead money charge if it were to cut Dillard in the offseason, but the team would also realize a modicum of cap savings. Given the way the 2023 campaign has unfolded, a Dillard release would seem to be a realistic outcome.

Latest On Peter Skoronski, Titans’ O-Line

Entering Week 1, the Titans will have four new offensive line starters. The team’s plan was only to make three changes up front, but Nicholas Petit-Frere‘s six-game gambling suspension will force a temporary change at right tackle.

Andre Dillard is expected to start at left tackle, seeing as the ex-Eagles first-round pick signed a three-year, $29MM deal. Tennessee will also return 17-game guard starter Aaron Brewer, but the fourth-year blocker — who received a second-round RFA tender — confirmed earlier this offseason the team is planning to slide him to center. This will leave three spots open, with two likely starters’ positions to be determined.

UFA addition Daniel Brunskill has experience at both guard and tackle, and TennesseeTitans.com’s Jim Wyatt notes the ex-49er starter/swingman will be an option to start the season at right tackle. First-round pick Peter Skoronski also fits this profile, though he has less experience at guard. But the acclaimed Northwestern tackle is also in the mix to fill in for Petit-Frere to start the season.

The plan for Skoronski appeared to be a shift to guard. The No. 11 overall pick spent most of his offseason working at guard, per Wyatt, though the Titans have also gave him tackle reps during their offseason program. A number of NFL evaluators viewed Skoronski as a clear-cut guard candidate, but the former Big Ten blocker did not play guard in college.

It would be an interesting assignment for Skoronski to start the season at right tackle before kicking inside. Tennessee might aim to simplify the top prospect’s rookie-year workload by stationing him at guard only during training camp, but for now, an O-line configuration with Dillard and Skoronski as the bookends remains in play. Regardless of where Skoronski lines up, the team expects him to start immediately.

Jamarco Jones, sixth-round pick Jaelyn Duncan and 2022 UDFA Andrew Rupcich as other options to fill in for the suspended Petit-Frere, per Wyatt. A former Seahawk, Jones has made seven NFL starts over his three-year career. He spent time at tackle in Seattle but did not play last season. After Jones lost the Titans’ left guard competition to Brewer, he spent most of last season on IR. Duncan spent most of his time in College Park at the Terrapins’ left tackle, while Rupcich would be a long shot here, as he joined Jones in not seeing any game action last season.

Tennessee has struggled to fill its right tackle post over the past few seasons. After not picking up Jack Conklin‘s fifth-year option and then letting him walk in 2020, the team has used three different primary starters there over the past three years. Isaiah Wilson became one of this era’s biggest draft busts, playing all of four career snaps, while 2021 second-round pick Dillon Radunz was unable to win the job during the 2021 or ’22 offseasons. (Dennis Kelly and David Quessenberry, respectively, were the Titans’ right tackle starters in 2020 and ’21.) Radunz, who has also spent time at guard with the Titans, would have seemingly been an option to step in for Petit-Frere. But the North Dakota State alum is still rehabbing the ACL tear he suffered in December. Radunz did not participate in the team’s offseason workouts, Wyatt adds.

The Titans released cornerstones Taylor Lewan and Ben Jones this offseason, doing so a year after cutting Rodger Saffold. Tennessee let four-year guard starter Nate Davis walk in free agency in March. Skoronski will be the linchpin of GM Ran Carthon‘s overhaul effort, though the team will not have a chance to see the unit at full strength until Petit-Frere’s October return.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/11/23

With many rookie minicamps set to start tomorrow, teams were busy today inking draft picks to contracts. We’ve compiled those signings below:

Cleveland Browns

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

  • DT Cameron Young (fourth round, Mississippi State)
  • C Olusegun Oluwatimi (fifth round, Michigan)
  • S Jerrick Reed II (sixth round, New Mexico)

Tennessee Titans

  • TE Josh Whyle (fifth round, Cincinnati)
  • OT Jaelyn Duncan (sixth round, Maryland)
  • WR Colton Dowell (seventh round, Tennessee-Martin)