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Former Titans LB Derrick Morgan Retires

Former Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan is retiring from the NFL, as Turron Davenport of ESPN.com writes. In his post-football life, the 30-year-old says that he’ll shift his attention to helping those in need. 

My purpose in life is bigger than the game,” Morgan said. “What football taught me was the power of influence. My goal is to create better and more meaningful opportunities for marginalized communities to break the cycles of generational poverty and build greater wealth and economic mobility. I feel a deep responsibility to leverage my platform for this.”

Morgan entered the league as the No. 16 overall pick in the 2010 draft and spent his entire nine-year career with the Titans. He walks away from the game after compiling 44.5 sacks, 305 tackles, and earning upwards of $40MM. He’ll also get to heal up from a series of knee and shoulder injuries that held him back in his final season.

We here at PFR wish Morgan the best in retirement.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Titans S Kevin Byard

Kevin Byard wasn’t supposed to be this good. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, one of the best talent evaluators in football, gave Byard a sixth- to seventh-round grade when he entered the 2016 draft out of Middle Tennessee State. Here’s how one NFC scouting director assessed Byard, per Zierlein.

“Ankle tackler so that’s a concern and I just don’t trust him in coverage. I know he has all the interceptions but I don’t see a player who can match up in space against NFL-­caliber receivers. I know some scouts love him because of his football IQ, but that’s not enough for me.”

The Titans weren’t dissuaded, and used the first pick of the third round (No. 64 overall) on Byard. The 5’11”, 211-pounder became a starter for Tennessee midway through his rookie campaign, and has since proved himself to be one of the best values of that 2016 draft.

Per Pro Football Reference’s approximate value metric, which attempts to encapsulate a player’s production in a single number, Byard has been the 11th-most valuable member of the 2016 draft class. He’s produced 23 points of career AV, tied for second among defenders with 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner and Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey is first among defensive players).

Byard is now arguably the best player on the Titans’ defense (although perhaps Jurrell Casey would like a word), and of the top-graded safeties in the NFL. He led the league in interceptions (eight) in 2017, and leads the NFL in picks over the past two combined seasons. Pro Football Focus, meanwhile, has graded Byard as a top-eight safety in each of the past two years, noting both his pass coverage and run defense acumen.

Set to turn 26 years old in August, Byard will hit unrestricted free agency next March. So what would an extension between he and the Titans look like? The first factor to examine is the 2020 safety market, which is, in a word, barren. Devin McCourty is scheduled to become a free agent next spring, but the longtime Patriot will be 32 years old at that point. Other free agent safeties, such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Rodney McLeod, D.J. Swearinger, Damarious Randall, and Karl Joseph could struggle to garner significant contracts, based both on their production and the recent history of safety deals.

Byard will likely be the most attractive free agent safety available, but Tennessee does hold some leverage in the form of the franchise tag. Unless Marcus Mariota posts a breakout campaign in 2019, the Titans don’t have any other realistic candidates for the franchise tender. Under the tag, Byard would receive roughly $11.5MM in 2020; if the Titans franchised him again in 2021, he’d pick up another $13.8MM or so. That’s $25MM+ guaranteed over the next two seasons, which should create an absolute floor in negotiations.

Byard and his camp will almost certainly point to Landon Collins‘ six-year, $84MM pact with the Redskins — signed this past March — as a contract comparable, and he’d be right to do so. However, it’s possible that the rest of the NFL will view the Collins deal as an outlier (“that crazy Washington front office!”). Even when adjusting for inflation of the salary cap, Collins’ contract is the sixth-most valuable safety deal of all-time, which doesn’t exactly match his production.

Still, it shouldn’t be a surprise if Byard is able to top $14MM/year, the mark hit by both Collins and Tyrann Mathieu this offseason. He just may not surpass the record $44.5MM in full guarantees that Byard collected from the Redskins. Instead, beating Mathieu’s $26.8MM guarantee and aiming for something in the $30-32MM range seems more feasible for Byard.

NFL Supplemental Draft Order

The NFL’s Supplemental Draft order does not go by the inverted win/loss records of clubs. Instead, the order is dictated by a weighted lottery that uses a team’s win percentage as just part of the equation. Here, via Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link) is the complete order of the supplemental draft:

1. Lions
2. Broncos
3. Jets
4. Cardinals
5. Giants
6. Bills
7. Raiders
8. 49ers
9. Jaguars
10. Packers
11. Bengals
12. Bucs
13. Falcons
14. Vikings
15. Redskins
16. Titans
17. Dolphins
18. Steelers
19. Panthers
20. Browns
21. Ravens
22. Patriots
24. Seahawks
25. Eagles
26. Texans
27. Bears
28. Colts
29. Saints
30. Chiefs
31. Chargers
32. Rams

The supplemental draft is conducted via email. If multiple teams submit a pick for the same player in the same round, this order dictates which club gets the player. Of course, any team picking a player in the supplemental draft will sacrifice the corresponding pick in the 2020 draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Delanie Walker To Start Training Camp On PUP?

Delanie Walker was able to achieve his goal of participating in Titans OTAs, but that doesn’t mean the tight end is fully recovered from his dislocated and fractured ankle. The veteran told Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas that he’s uncertain if he’ll start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

“I’ll leave that up to the coaches,” the 34-year-old said. “We have great coaches and training staff. They’re probably not going to let me hit the ground running like I want to, but I look forward to getting into my groove.”

It makes sense for the Titans to operate with some caution, especially considering Walker’s age and injury. The tight end will be 35 by Week 1, and he’s also set to play in his 14th NFL season. If the team wants him to replicate the production from his first five seasons in Tennessee, it makes sense to bring him along slowly.

Walker joined the Titans back in 2013, and he earned three-straight Pro Bowl nods between 2015 and 2017. Prior to last season, the team gave the veteran a two-year extension worth $17MM ($12.6MM guaranteed). Walker ranks top-10 in Titans history in receptions, touchdowns, and receiving yards.

If Walker were to miss any time, the Titans would likely lean on former third-rounder Jonnu Smith. The Titans are also rostering tight ends Anthony Firkser, Ryan Hewitt, MyCole Pruitt, and Cole Wick.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Former Second-Round Pick Titans DL Austin Johnson On Roster Bubble

Former second-round pick Austin Johnson isn’t in great standing with the Titans. The 43rd overall pick of the 2016 draft has struggled to make an impact and might not be long for the team.

The defensive lineman is going to be fighting for a roster spot in training camp, according to Jim Wyatt of the team’s official site. Wyatt does note that defensive coordinator Dean Pees had some praise for him earlier this offseason, but he won’t be guaranteed a spot because of his draft pedigree. Last season, Johnson played around 38 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in a rotational role.

In 16 games and nine starts, he finished with 22 tackles, one sack, and two passes defended. It was by far the most playing time he’s received in his young career. Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, Johnson is scheduled to make $1.8MM in 2019. Wyatt does note that his salary won’t be held against him, and Tennessee will only cut him if he gets beat out by someone better.

The Penn State product has been a disappointment in the pros, and Wyatt writes that he needs to get more “disruptive.” The Titans drafted Jeffery Simmons in the first round back in April, but fortunately for Johnson he’s expected to miss his entire rookie season. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s safe, and it sounds like there’s a good chance Johnson is looking for a new home this fall.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans Notes: Henry, Taylor

Derrick Henry had a very interesting 2018 season. He started off very slowly and grew frustrated with his role splitting time with Dion Lewis in the Titans’ backfield. In eight of the team’s first 12 games, he had 46 or fewer rushing yards. Then he caught fire over the final month of the season, putting in consecutive performances of 238 and 170 yards on the ground. In that 238-yard game he had one of the most electrifying plays of the entire NFL season, with his 99-yard instant-classic touchdown run where he threw multiple defenders to the ground. Henry became the team’s featured back down the stretch, and Lewis got reduced to a bit role.

It created an interesting situation heading into 2019, as Henry enters the final year of his rookie deal. We’ve already heard that Lewis’ roster spot is safe, but it’s unclear how they plan on splitting up work, especially with offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur now gone to Green Bay. Speaking of his contract situation, Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com writes that it will be “complicated.” Kuharsky opines that “if he has the big year they need from him, he will command more money than he is worth. And if he doesn’t, then he won’t be worth having.” A second-round pick in 2016, Henry will likely be seeking a big payday next offseason. The coaching staff and front office have never seemed completely enamored with him even when he’s producing, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they handle his free agency. Kuharsky is vehemently against the Titans using the franchise tag on the Alabama running back, writing that the “best hope for the Titans regarding Henry going forward is that he had a very good year and the market is soft for him anyway” next spring.

  • Speaking of the Titans, it sounds like third-year receiver Taywan Taylor could be ticketed for a bigger role in 2019. The Titans’ receiving situation has been inconsistent at best the past couple of years, and they still need to figure out a starter opposite Corey Davis on the outside. “Honestly, I just think we need to give him more opportunities,” Tennessee’s receivers coach Rob Moore said recently of Taylor, per Jim Wyatt of the team’s official site. Taylor has shown a lot of promise since entering the league as the 72nd overall pick back in 2017, but hasn’t gotten a ton of consistent looks. The Titans signed Adam Humphries to a big contract this offseason, but he’ll be playing mostly out of the slot. Taylor had 466 yards in just 13 games last year, and it sounds like he could have a leg-up on the competition for the starting spot opposite Davis.

Latest On Jeffery Simmons’ Recovery

Despite two major issues that damaged his draft stock, DT Jeffery Simmons was selected by the Titans with the No. 19 overall pick of this year’s draft. When team owner Amy Adams Strunk signed off on the selection, that helped Simmons put one of those issues, an assault against a woman that Simmons committed while in high school, in the rearview mirror. And now, Simmons is a little closer to overcoming his second hurdle, a torn ACL that he suffered in February.

In early June, Simmons told Erik Bacharach of the Nashville Tennessean that he had not yet started running or jogging. He said, “I’m not rushing anything. If I don’t play this year, I’m fine with it, but my goal is to get healthy on my time and on this team’s time. There’s no time limit [on] when I can come back. Every day I come to work, I’m putting my mindset, you know, ‘I want to get back today.’ That’s how I come to work everyday and try to get better.”

But Simmons recently posted to his Instagram account a clip of himself running across a football field (h/t Titans Tape on Twitter). The clip is not long, and much of it is in slow motion, but the fact that he has been cleared to run is a major step in the right direction.

Of course, as Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk points out, the fact that Simmons is running in a straight line does not mean that he will be ready to hit the practice field when training camp opens next month. He likely won’t be cleared until the end of the regular season, and depending on where the Titans are in the playoff race at that point, he may ultimately miss his entire rookie campaign. But progress is progress, and Tennessee is doubtlessly encouraged by this latest development.

The Titans’ D-line is still a bit thin outside of star Jurrell Casey, and Simmons’ presence could go a long way towards bolstering that unit.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Will The Titans Reach .500 In 2019?

For three straight seasons, the Titans have finished with a 9-7 record. Naturally, Las Vegas has set their over/under around the eight-win mark, and they might be one of the trickiest plays for gamblers in 2019. 

This wasn’t a flashy offseason for the Titans, but they did make some quietly savvy moves. With injury questions surrounding starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, they added former Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill as a backstop. If Mariota stays healthy, he’ll have Adam Humphries and rookie A.J. Brown as new targets and distractors for defenses who may key in on incumbent Corey Davis. Meanwhile, they beefed up the interior offensive line by signing Rodger Saffold, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-best guard in the NFL last year, and drafted Nate Davis in the third-round, who could be primed to unseat Kevin Pamphile for a starting role.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans picked up Cameron Wake and first-round pick Jeffery Simmons to bolster their lackluster pass rush, and they should easily offset the retirement of Brian Orakpo and the potential departure of Derrick Morgan, who remains in free agent limbo. The common thread to the Titans offseason across every position group is this – they didn’t grab headlines, but they made some smart under-the-radar moves without losing a whole lot in the process.

How do you see things playing out for the Titans? Will they, at minimum, reach the .500 mark?

Cast your vote below (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comments section:

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