Longtime Tennessee Titans season-ticket holder Dr. Trey Carico has felt a little better about his favorite National Football League team each time he's checked the incredibly shrinking sports wire heading into the start of NFL free agency, which officially begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. EDT.
The Chattanooga dentist has watched future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady say bye-bye to the New England Patriots, the team he led to six Super Bowl titles. He's read about the Titans' top rival in the AFC South — the Houston Texans — inexplicably parting company with future Hall of Fame wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He's followed the Titans inking quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a long-term deal and slapping the franchise tag on running back Derrick Henry.
Of such seeming good fortune for the Music City's team in the wake of last season's unexpected run to the AFC title game, Carico said Tuesday morning, "This past year was fantastic. But I think the best is yet to come. I feel like we've got a great head coach in Mike Vrabel and a great GM in Jon Robinson."
If the past 12 months and three days have been any indication, it certainly would appear that way. From bringing in Tannehill to back up now former quarterback Marcus Mariota on March 15 of 2019, to promoting Tannehill to the starter's role after last year's 2-4 start, to providing cap space to possibly sign elite pass rusher and former South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney, Robinson and Vrabel seemingly have put the Titans in position to challenge for another run at their second-ever Super Bowl appearance and their first Lombardi Trophy.
And Carico, who's owned season tickets with his wife Alicia since 2003, is more than ready to watch it all unfold — at least the home schedule — from Section 142 in Nissan Stadium.
"I think I've maybe missed two home games in all these years," he said. "We've managed to buy 10 tickets total now — some came from Alicia's parents through their initial seat licenses — and we hope our kids will want to keep using them for years to come."
Though virtually everything else in sports has been shut down by COVID-19, it figures that the NFL would keep conducting business as usual. It may be the one sports entity throughout the world too big to fail, be canceled or postponed.
So starting Wednesday at 4 p.m. EDT, free agency begins in earnest, with the 42-year-old Brady certainly the headliner, if not necessarily the best player available. Also high on many teams' wish list will be Clowney, defensive tackle Chris Jones, safeties Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons and pass rusher Shaquil Barrett.
And all of those could theoretically be off the board before 4 p.m., given two words that would be an oxymoron anywhere but the NFL: "legal tampering."
If a potential free agent was unprotected on Monday — meaning unsigned or labeled a franchise player, as was the case with Henry — he could be poached by other teams, though the official paperwork couldn't be filed until after 4 p.m. Wednesday.
So even though Mariota has moved on to the Las Vegas Raiders, and cornerback Byron Jones has left Dallas for Miami, those changes aren't yet official. But they will be, as will former Titans offensive tackle Jack Conklin becoming a Cleveland Brown.
As for Brady — who was strongly rumored to be headed to the Music City, given his friendship with Vrabel and Robinson's former ties to New England — Carico says that for the moment, he's just as happy, if not more so, to have Tannehill.
"Brady's great, but he'll also be 43 before the start of the season," he said. "If Tannehill can continue to play with a nothing-to-lose attitude, throwing the ball between defenders the way he did last year — the way Mariota couldn't or wouldn't do — I think signing him instead of going after Brady was the right move."
There are other moves that need to be made, if possible. Holding onto cornerback Logan Ryan, for instance. And wideout Tajae' Sharpe. And, if possible, taking the franchise tag off Henry by inking him to a long-term contract in the $18 million-a-year range would be a nice touch.
One point about Tannehill: Those members of Titans Nation who wanted either to give Mariota one more chance or sign Brady because Tannehill's 2019 numbers were far superior to his seasons with the Dolphins want to argue that his success was due to Henry.
If anything, at least on raw numbers, Henry's grand stats down the stretch would seem more tied to Tannehill. In the six games before the quarterback change, Henry averaged 69.3 yards rushing. In Tannehill's 12 games as a starter — including the playoffs — Henry averaged 128.3 yards.
Given that, retaining both players would seem to set the Titans up nicely for the 2020 season and beyond, should both remain healthy.
Yet you can always improve, and Carico echoed the sentiments of lots of Titans fans when he said of one particular member of the free agency pool, "I feel like we need an edge rusher. We need Clowney."
The coronavirus willing, we won't need to wait extra time for the NFL season to arrive. Whatever happens in free agency, Trey and Alicia should be able to load son Weston and daughters Elle and Emery into their SUV in early September and head to Nissan Stadium for the 2020 regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, though no date has been set.
Said Carico of the expectations for the coming season: "I think we're in as good a place as we've ever been as a franchise."
Especially if the Titans can hold onto Ryan and land Clowney.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.