NASHVILLE — Ryan Tannehill has been the easy scapegoat for fans who are angry the Tennessee Titans' Super Bowl hopes ended in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs this past January.
Coach Mike Vrabel made clear after the loss by the AFC's No. 1 seed that the Titans must help Tannehill by being "excellent" around their quarterback.
Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson has tried to give Tannehill more offensive playmakers, signing tight end Austin Hooper and trading for wide receiver Robert Woods in free agency. Now he has the No. 26 pick overall along with six other selections in the NFL draft, which starts Thursday night in Las Vegas, to add some more talent on offense.
"Certainly (the draft) is a big component of that ..." Robinson said. "Being able to infuse younger players into your football team, guys that you can kind of build on, add to the foundation. But again ... we're trying to get as many good football players really at every position as we can as possible."
The Titans took a big swing at helping Tannehill last summer, trading for seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones. That didn't work out with the former Atlanta Falcons star released as a cap casualty in March.
A big challenge this offseason has been the cap figure for Tannehill, boosted by reworking his deal to free up space for the Titans last summer to sign Jones. He now has a $38.6 million salary cap hit, the largest in the NFL for this season.
A.J. Brown, in the final year of his rookie deal, wants part of the skyrocketing wide receiver market. Brown did not show up for the start of the offseason program, but Robinson said the team has no intention of trading him before the draft. The GM spoke to Brown a couple of weeks ago and made clear the Titans want him.
"Sometimes you have to make decisions that you think are best for the team," Robinson said. "Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. But we're glad Ryan's here, excited to work with him and we'll deal with you know, I feel pretty confident with (Titans executive) Vin (Marino) and his ability to work the pencil on the cap numbers."
Adding Hooper and Woods to the offense certainly eases the pressure on both Tannehill and Brown, but the Titans still need receiving depth with the trade for Jones ultimately a bust. The top receiver now is Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, who started seven games in 2021 and was second to Brown with 38 catches for 476 yards.
Tight end Anthony Firsker, who was third with 34 catches, now is in Atlanta. The Titans signed tight end Geoff Swaim to a new deal and brought in Hooper, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end his last two seasons in Atlanta before spending the past two with the Cleveland Browns, on what's essentially a one-year deal.
Targets are important, but protecting Tannehill is also a priority after the Titans allowed 47 sacks last season. Tennesssee cut left guard Rodger Saffold and reserve Josh Klein to clear cap space in March and signed Jamarco Jones as a cheaper option for the line. The team also signed center Ben Jones to an extension.
Dillon Radunz, a second-round pick a year ago, is expected to compete for more playing time.
The need to both protect Tannehill better and open holes for Derrick Henry makes adding depth on the offensive line a priority, especially after injuries cycled through the unit last season. That makes guard Kenyon Green of Texas A&M or Boston College's Zion Johnson attractive options at No. 26.
The needs aren't so glaring on the other side of the ball.
A year ago, Robinson needed to fix a defense that was one of the NFL's worst in 2020. He did just that by adding linebacker Bud Dupree, defensive lineman Denico Autry and cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins.
That leaves the Titans in strong shape, returning 10 of 11 starters. Robinson signed linebacker Harold Landry III to an extension, and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons should have his fifth-year option picked up by the May deadline. Safety Kevin Byard is coming off an All-Pro season.
Caleb Farley, their top draft pick a year ago, is recovering from a torn ACL that ended the cornerback's rookie season. He is expected to start this year, with Jenkins another salary cap cut.
Robinson has a history of drafting players coming off injuries. He selected Simmons at No. 19 overall in 2019 with the lineman having torn an ACL in February, and he took Farley at No. 22 last year with the cornerback coming off back surgery the month before.
That makes Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams an option at No. 26 if he falls that far. The Titans also could go for Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks, with Green or Johnson options on the offensive line.
2022 NFL DRAFT GLANCE: TENNESSEE TITANS
First pick: No. 26
Last season: The Titans went 12-5 during the regular season and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC despite using an NFL-high 91 players, the most ever in a year not affected by a strike, because of injuries. Two-time NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry missed the final nine games of the regular season with a broken right foot; the standout running back was among 26 Titans on injured reserve, not counting 21 who spent time on the COVID-19 reserve list. A trade for seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones didn’t pan out as injuries limited the former Atlanta Falcons star to 11 games. The Titans then lost to the upstart Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Free agency/trades: Kept OLB Harold Landry III and C Ben Jones off the market with extensions. Traded a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for WR Robert Woods. Signed TE Austin Hooper and OL Jamarco Jones. Re-signed TE Geoff Swaim, K Randy Bullock, RBs Dontrell Hilliard and Jordan Wilkins, CB Buster Skrine and LB Dylan Cole. Cut CB Jackrabbit Jenkins.
They need: WR, OL, TE, ILB, CB.
They don’t need: Edge rusher, DT, S, K.
Possible first pick: Wide receivers Jameson Williams (Alabama), Treylon Burks (Arkansas) or Jahan Dotson (Penn State; offensive linemen Kenyon Green (Texas A&M) and Zion Johnson (Boston College).
Outlook: The Titans have put together six straight winning seasons with general manager Jon Robinson using a combination of free agency and the draft to turn one of the NFL’s worst defenses into one of the league’s best last season. Now he needs to address the offense that dropped to 24th in the NFL in yards passing, and Ryan Tannehill needs more targets even beyond Hooper and Woods. Bolstering the offensive line also is a top priority after cutting LG Rodger Saffold for salary cap space and letting RT David Quessenberry leave in free agency. It won’t be easy with Tennessee’s second-round pick in Atlanta due to the trade for Jones. The Titans also don’t have a seventh-rounder, with that pick sent to the Miami Dolphins in 2021.