It's probably too early to bestow the National Football League executive of the year honor on anyone. After all, there's always a chance the NFL won't even be able to complete enough of the 2020 season to justify any awards due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
And the way the majority of the media has always fawned over former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the easy prediction for the league's best general manager will probably be Tampa Bay's Jason Licht, who not only wooed Brady and all those Super Bowl rings away from the Pats, but also made a trade allowing former New England tight end Rob Gronkowski to join him with the Buccaneers.
So it's certainly fair to assume that those acquisitions are likely to easily overshadow the outstanding work done thus far by Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson.
Still, when you look at how close the Titans came to the Super Bowl last season without an elite pass rusher — actually leading eventual champion Kansas City 17-7 deep into the second quarter of the AFC title game hosted by the Chiefs — you have to be impressed with Robinson's deft skills at signing superb pass rushers Vic Beasley and, as of Sunday, Jadeveon Clowney to send fear into offensive tackles and quarterbacks the league over.
Or as superb Titans safety Kevin Byard noted Monday on the team's website: "I kind of view (Clowney) as a guy who can wreck an entire game plan. He is going to be a guy that teams are going to have to game plan for every single game. He's great against the run, great against the pass."
Not only that, but because Robinson signed him to a one-year deal of $15 million that was $3 million to $5 million less than Clowney initially desired, the GM neither broke the bank nor the clubhouse vibe with the deal after earlier inking running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill to substantial deals.
That ability to disrupt an opponent's passing game that Byard spoke of is obvious to most. Since 2016, Clowney is one of only three NFL players with at least 60 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and 150 quarterback pressures, according to Sportradar. The other two are the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald and the Arizona Cardinals' Chandler Jones.
But as Byard also noted, Clowney is also exceptional against the run. Over those same four seasons, NFL Next Gen Stats has Clowney with the league's highest rate of tackles on run plays that result in no gain or a loss.
There's also this to be considered long term: Clowney's career-best season was 2017 when playing in Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel's defensive scheme with the Houston Texans, the year before Vrabel left his coordinator duties with that organization to coach the Titans.
Clowney posted career highs that season in sacks (9.5), tackles for loss (21) and QB hits (21). If Vrabel's system can again generate that kind of success for the former South Carolina star, he might decide he'd like to stick around the Music City awhile.
Throw in Beasley — who's also on a one-year contract — on the other side of the defense and it's easy to see the Titans going from 21st in rushing yards allowed, 24th against the pass and a woeful next-to-last in red-zone defense to one of the NFL's four or five toughest defenses in all categories.
"I think we are always excited to add players that want to be a part of our organization," Vrabel said Monday. "We are just trying to add the right pieces, the guys that love football and want to be here."
If there is a single negative to this beyond the fact that no one yet knows which Beasley will show up — the one who recorded a league-leading 15.5 sacks in the Atlanta Falcons' run to the 2016 season's Super Bowl, or the one who collected but five sacks each of the next two seasons — it's the loss of defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. The longtime captain was traded to the Denver Broncos during the offseason.
Not only does Tennessee open at Denver next Monday night (Sept. 14), but the Titans announced Monday that Clowney will now wear the same No. 99 worn by Casey the previous nine years.
Ah, nothing like a little drama to start the season. Especially since Casey told Denver reporters a few days ago (before the jersey number was announced): "First meeting in the week we're going to sit down and start hammering out things, what (Denver coaches) need tips on, what they need help on. Whatever they ask me for, the knowledge I remember, I'll make sure I give it to them."
But that's one road game, however it turns out.
For the entire season, assuming it's played, it's far better to focus on this quote from Byard, who said of Clowney: "To add a game wrecker it is super exciting."
And should Beasley again become the game wrecker he once was, the two of them just might return the Titans to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 2000, thanks in no small part to Robinson.