Titans turn from losing AFC South title to hiring new GM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans enter the offseason at their earliest point since the 2018 season with more questions than wins, and they must hire a general manager before they can start figuring out their future.

The Titans ended a streak of six straight winning seasons by losing their final seven games to finish 7-10, their worst record since going 3-13 in 2015. Owner Amy Adams Strunk hired her first general manager, Jon Robinson, after that season.

She fired Robinson two losses into this season-ending skid. Strunk didn't speak to reporters but told the team website Monday that the Titans have been working on the search for the past month.

“We’re not going to rush the process just to get someone in as quickly as possible,” Strunk said. “The way we have it planned right now is we have two rounds, and we’re going to see where these interviews take us.”

The Titans requested permission to interview a handful of candidates Monday with San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan confirming they had asked to talk to 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters and director of player personnel Ran Carthon. The Titans also requested an interview with Browns assistant GM Glenn Cook.

Ryan Cowden, the Titans' vice president of player personnel, assumed Robinson's duties after the firing. He is expected to be a candidate along with director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort. The Titans sent director of pro scouting Brian Gardner to two NFL sessions promoting minority candidates for front-office jobs.

Whoever is hired must bring in players who can stay healthy.

The Titans earned the AFC's No. 1 seed by going 12-5 a year ago despite using an NFL-record 91 players and followed that up leading the league yet again with 86 players used and 23 placed on injured reserve, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

“The short answer is that it wasn’t good enough,” coach Mike Vrabel said of a season that ended with a 20-16 loss at Jacksonville that cost Tennessee a third straight AFC South title.

SALARY CAP MANAGEMENT

The Titans are $17 million over the salary cap for 2023, the fourth-worst cap number in the league. The new GM's first job will be creating cap space with three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan, who injured his right ACL for the second time in three seasons, a top candidate for the first cut.

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree could be a post-June 1 cut after missing 13 games since being the Titans' big offseason signing in 2021 coming off a torn ACL. Injuries limited linebacker Zach Cunningham to six games. Wide receiver Robert Woods also could be cut despite leading the Titans with 53 catches for 527 yards.

BIG DECISIONS

The Titans will need to extend two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons even with his fifth-year option picked up last season after trading away Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown last April.

They also have to decide what to do with Tannehill and two-time NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry with both veterans entering the final year of their contracts. Are the Titans rebuilding or reloading as they look toward a future that includes plans to open a new, enclosed stadium for the 2026 season?

Tannehill had the NFL's highest salary cap number for 2022 after redoing his deal in 2021, but that $57.4 million dead cap number drops to $18.8 million. Tannehill was limited to 12 starts and finished the season on injured reserve with torn ligaments in his right ankle after spraining it twice, the last on Dec. 18.

“I definitely have some good years left," said Tannehill, who turns 35 in July.

Henry is going into the final year of his contract having turned 29 last week. He finished second in the NFL in rushing with 1,538 yards and set a career high with 398 yards receiving. His 1,936 yards from scrimmage were the second most of his career.

OFFENSIVE WOES

Titans fans have wanted offensive coordinator Todd Downing fired for months, and his arrest Nov. 18 for speeding and driving under the influence hours after Tennessee's final win of the season didn't help. On the field, the Titans were outscored 196-94 after halftime — managing only 37 points in the fourth quarter.

Tennessee's injury woes hit the offense with top rookie Treylon Burks missing six games, and three original starting offensive linemen finishing on injured reserve. Vrabel had made no changes to his coaching staff when he spoke to reporters near midday Monday.

“That’ll be part of my evaluation this week as it relates to the football team,” Vrabel said.

DEFENSE NOT PROBLEM

The Titans went 5-6 in one-score games. The defense did its part, holding opponents to 20 points or fewer in 11 games and finishing 14th in the NFL in points allowed (21.1 per game).

Only two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard and rookie Roger McCreary started every game on defense, and Simmons played the next most snaps at 840 despite spraining his left ankle on Oct. 23 and needing painkilling shots before each subsequent game.

Tennessee finished first against the run, giving up 76.9 yards per game, the second-lowest in the history of a franchise that began playing in 1960 as the Houston Oilers. However, the Titans finished last against the pass, giving up 274.8 yards a game.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press