Steve Underwood

AFC South Notes: Texans, Titans, Pittman

Patrick Mahomes is expected to become the NFL’s highest-paid player — perhaps by a significant margin — at some point between now and the start of the 2021 season. The Chiefs’ eventual negotiations may change because of the player picked two spots after him in the 2017 draft. The Texans have begun talks with Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle threw out a monster price range for the franchise’s cornerstone player. A Watson extension could range from $40-$42MM per year, Wilson writes. While it is not certain where Houston stands in talks with its fourth-year quarterback, Laremy Tunsil was able to move the tackle market from $18MM per year to $22MM AAV. Watson surpassing $40MM annually would be a bigger jump for QB salaries.

Watson, 24, seems a lock to surpass Russell Wilson‘s $35MM-per-year value. But with the quarterback market moving north gradually in this era — albeit with greater acceleration in the past two-plus years — Watson’s extension raising the NFL salary ceiling to this degree would represent a staggering markup that would affect other teams’ negotiations. Such a player-friendly agreement would also come at an uncertain time. With it not certain fans will be in stadiums, the 2021 salary cap could go down instead of making the once-expected $10MM-plus climb.

Shifting first to some staff updates, here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • Titans team president Steve Underwood is stepping down, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. After 40 years with the organization, which included the move from Houston in the mid-’90s, he’ll remain on board as a special advisor to owner Amy Adams Strunk. Underwood began his tenure as a legal counsel to Houston Oilers founder Bud Adams and played a key role in the franchise’s relocation to Nashville. Underwood retired previously, stepping away from the team in 2011, but returned in 2015.
  • Once NFL teams return to their respective facilities, the atmosphere will be different because of COVID-19. On that note, the Texans are hiring a hygiene coordinator. It is not certain who will fill this newly created position, but Wilson notes he or she will be in charge with overseeing the conditions of the team’s practice facility and play a key role in coordinating the cleanliness of NRG Stadium.
  • The Colts had a specific type of wide receiver in mind when they selected Michael Pittman Jr. out of USC with the 34th overall pick, and Frank Reich targeted the USC wideout well in advance of the draft. “We wanted a big body, a guy who is physically tough,” Reich said in a video. “A big body who would do the dirty work and block, make contested catches, get 50-50 balls. (Pittman) showed that on tape. From the first time I watched him, I loved him.” Pittman is 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds. He is expected to start opposite the 5-10 T.Y. Hilton. Reich compared Pittman to former Philip Rivers Chargers target Vincent Jackson, who was 6-5.

Fallout From Titans’ Mike Mularkey Firing

Mike Mularkey‘s season-ending press conference played a role in his firing. The Titans had announced their two-year head coach would be back in 2018 and given him a contract extension, but reversed course and fired him on Monday morning.

Jon Robinson said that decision was made Monday morning and added Mularkey’s comments Sunday played a role in this ouster (Twitter links via Jim Wyatt of and Ian Rapoport of Mularkey did not appear ready to make changes to his offensive staff, and it’s clear Robinson felt they were probably necessary.

Tennessee’s GM made clear Marcus Mariota‘s development will be the “highest priority,” per longtime NFL reporter Paul Kuharsky (Twitter link). Mariota regressed from 2016-17 despite steering the Titans to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons and giving the franchise its first postseason win since the 2003 campaign. The former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick threw for a career-low 13 touchdown passes — after firing 26 in 2016 — and a career-high 15 interceptions. DeMarco Murray‘s yards-per-carry figure also plummeted by nearly a yard for a Titans offense that ranked 18th in DVOA.

While Robinson made it clear all of Mularkey’s assistants were under contract (Twitter link via Terry McCormick of it’s likely some (if not most) will be searching for new jobs soon. Kuharsky tweets Robinson and team president Steve Underwood informed Mularkey of his firing, not controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk.

Mularkey’s stubbornness regarding tailoring his scheme to Mariota’s talents helped do him in as Titans HC, Cameron Wolfe of writes. Mularkey wanted to bring back his offensive staff, Wolfe reports.

The Titans are planning to interview Mike Vrabel and Steve Wilks, and hiring a defensive coach would represent a first since Jeff Fisher. A Josh McDaniels pursuit may have broken down in part because of timing, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets.

AFC Notes: Bills, Titans, McCarron, Ferguson

Roger Goodell and other league brass see it as “imperative” the Bills build a new stadium, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reports. A source told Carucci the league hierarchy regards Ralph Wilson Stadium, which opened in 1973, as one of the three worst in the league, along with the Raiders’ and Chargers’ venues.

I don’t think it’s urgent like it has to happen tomorrow,” Giants owner John Mara told media. “But I think, for the long-term best interests of that franchise, they need to be in a new building. They still have great fan support. But there’s a growing disparity in income between the top quartile teams and the bottom quartile teams, and that’s something we have to be conscious of. And a new stadium would help them a great deal.”

The franchise recently spent upwards of $130MM to renovate the stadium, but a source told Carucci the league wasn’t behind that renovation and doesn’t see it as a major upgrade.

Here’s some more from the AFC.

  • Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News is unimpressed with the way the Jets have treated veteran tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson this offseason. It’s not clear yet whether Ferguson is in the Jets’ plans for 2016, given the team’s lack of cap flexibility and the lineman’s $14MM+ cap hit, and Mehta believes the lack of communication with one of the team’s most respected veterans “has been embarrassing.”
  • Although Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk recently suggested that the team’s ownership structure uncertainties would soon be resolved, a league source tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that the NFL remains unsatisfied with the efforts to “address issues with the hierarchy.” According to that source, there’s still a very real possibility of a forced sale. Titans president Steve Underwood dismissed that idea, telling Florio, “Anonymous sources related to Titans ownership are always unreliable and misinformed.”
  • With several teams in need of quarterback help, Bengals owner Mike Brown won’t rule out an A.J. McCarron trade, according to Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. While Marvin Lewis seemed to close the door on the Bengals moving their backup quarterback, Brown said any player’s available for the right deal. The owner, however, said he doesn’t foresee a trade materializing right now. McCarron completed 66.4% of his passes last season, throwing six touchdown passes compared to two interceptions in three starts in relief of Andy Dalton.
  • Picking at No. 13, the Dolphins are very interested in Vernon Hargraves III, a Florida spokesperson told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. With the exception of newly acquired Byron Maxwell, Miami’s cornerback contingent consists of second-, third- or fourth-year players, with Jamar Taylor heading the group.

Zach Links contributed to this report

Titans Rumors: Ownership, Cap, Coach

Titans president and CEO Steve Underwood spoke on issues the NFL and the organization are having since owner Bud Adams died in Oct. 2013. Although Underwood refuted the notion the Titans are for sale, he did confirm the league and the team are engaged in dialogue regarding ownership status, according to The Tennesseean’s John Glennon.

The league has never once indicated to us that they are attempting to force the sale. I’ve never heard those words used. I think they’re continuing to work with us on trying to resolve the ownership issues, and in the meantime, none of those things are affecting the operation of the club,” Underwood told the paper.

Roger Goodell has expressed issues with the Titans’ ownership structure, which consists of controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk, Barclay Cunningham Adams, Kenneth Adams and Susie Adams Smith. But Underwood denied to expand on what kind of concerns the league has with the post-Bud Adams Titans brass.

Those issues are between our owners and the league,” Underwood said. “They don’t have anything to do with the business we conduct here, trying to put a winning product on the football field and run our football team from day to day. They’re not affecting that. … Amy has made it abundantly clear that nothing about our ownership is going to change. I’m not sure how many different ways I can say that. They’re not selling. The team is not for sale.”

Underwood told Glennon the league’s issues with the group have been ongoing since Oilers/Titans founder Bud Adams’ death, and Glennon asserts Adams Strunk’s absence at the NFL relocation meetings in her native Houston furthered this speculation. Underwood, who represented the Titans in Houston, said Adams Strunk was devoting her time to finding a new GM and coach.

Here is some more Titans-related news.

  • The end to these discussions between the NFL and the Titans will involve the league telling the franchise what needs to happen to comply and could produce a demand for the ownership to sell all or part of the equity in the team, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio writes.
  • Underwood confirmed to Glennon the issue of ownership came up often when the Titans were interviewing head-coaching candidates. “Many of the candidates asked these same questions and I offered them the same reassurance I’m offering now. The team isn’t for sale. It’s never been for sale.”
  • All 10 of the candidates who interviewed for the team’s GM and coach jobs said the primary attraction for the position was Marcus Mariota, Underwood said. “We asked every one of those men what appealed to them about the idea of working here. The first answer we got from all 10 of them was Mariota. That’s a true story, not an exaggeration. The second thing was having the first pick in the draft. The third top-10 quarterback the Titans tabbed in the past nine years after Vince Young and Jake Locker, the 22-year-old Mariota won three of the 12 starts he made before suffering a season-ending injury, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
  • The Titans’ $40.62MM of cap space ranks seventh in the NFL this offseason, and Underwood identified receiving and offensive line help as the two key issues the team must address. “We’ve got plenty of cap room available and our owner is going to be willing to spend money. [Adams Strunk’s] made that clear to me and to our head coach. I do think we’ll spend money to improve our roster. … We do need to find better protection for Marcus and more weapons to capitalize on his strengths as a quarterback. Those are all areas (new GM Jon Robinson) and Mike (Mularkey) have identified as additions we need to make.” Prior to drafting Mariota, Tennessee took wideouts (Kendall Wright) or linemen (Chance Warmack, Taylor Lewan) in the first round, while signing Andy Levitre to a lucrative deal.

AFC South Notes: Titans, Colts, Hilton

While the Titans had planned to hire a new president/CEO, that search has been put on hold, and interim president Steve Underwood will continue to hold the position through the 2015 season, writes Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.

We had applications from a number of people that I have known for many years who have been presidents of NFL clubs, who were highly qualified, and they’d be good leaders,” Underwood said. “But we didn’t interview any of them; we never got that far along in the process. I just think our ownership group, as the weeks went by, they got a better and better comfort level in the direction we’re heading and they decided they’d rather put that off if I would decide to stay and get us through the season.

As the Titans’ ownership group and front office has done repeatedly in recent months and years, Underwood also reiterated today that the franchise is not for sale, according to Wyatt.

There is no talk of selling. The owners haven’t entertained it,” Underwood said. “The people who suggest a sale are guessing and I don’t have to guess — I know there is not a sale underway. They are not entertaining offers for a sale. There is no ‘for sale’ sign in our yard.

Here’s more from out of the AFC South:

  • Shonn Greene wasn’t cut today by the Titans because he was out of shape or injured — according to head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the running back passed a physical before he was released, tweets Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.
  • The Colts aren’t pursuing Evan Mathis, and it appears unlikely that the team will reconsider that stance, a source tells Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.
  • Mike Chappell of Indy Sports Central looks at T.Y. Hilton‘s resume in an attempt to assess his value, noting that it’s far from a given that Hilton will get an extension. Colts owner Jim Irsay has rarely signed any player to an extension, including Peyton Manning, who played out his contracts before signing new ones. The Colts also have rookie Phillip Dorsett in the fold, which could give them a fallback option if Hilton is not retained in the long term.
  • Trent Cole‘s best years are almost certainly behind him, but he told reporters this week, including Mike Wells of, that he feels “rejuvenated” after joining the Colts this offseason.