If the Titans were in a major market or otherwise relevant, the stream of recent reports regarding the franchise’s immediate future would have gotten more attention.
But because the Titans have largely been forgettable since squandering the No. 1 seed in 2008 with a home playoff loss to the Ravens, no one has seemed to notice or care much about the news that: (1) coach Mike Munchak likely will be fired; (2) the 2011 CBA-driven fifth-year option on quarterback Jake Locker’s rookie contract most likely won’t be picked up; (3) running back Chris Johnson most likely won’t be back; and (4) the team could be interested in quarterback Jay Cutler, who played college football at Vanderbilt.
The flaw in items two through four is that each of those outcomes depend in large part on the identity of the head coach. Even if G.M. Ruston Webster remains in the job, the next head coach surely will have input on the question of whether the team does or doesn’t want Locker, does or doesn’t want Johnson, and/or does or doesn’t want Cutler.
If Munchak goes, that would be a shame. Beyond the fact that Munchak has spent more than 30 years working for the same organization as both a player and a coach, it’s not clear how much blame Munchak should get for the decision to draft Jake Locker in 2011, Munchak’s first year as the head coach. With a roster that generally is viewed as being more mediocre than stellar when it comes to talent, it’s possible that Munchak has whipped up the best possible batch of chicken salad that he can.
Assuming there’s a new coach, the new coach possibly will want to see what Locker can do. Even if the Titans don’t pick up a fifth-year option that would grossly overpay Locker in light of what he has accomplished, they have him under contract for one more year, at a fully-guaranteed salary of $2.09 million. If he can stay healthy and play well within the confines of an offense aimed at keeping him in one piece, a new contract for 2015 and beyond not driven by the inflated fifth-year option becomes at least possible.
As to Johnson, the fourth year of his current deal carries an $8 million non-guaranteed base salary with no triggers that force a decision in March or April. It’s therefore too early to assume he’ll be cut. He could be traded to St. Louis, where he’d be reunited with former Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Johnson also could accept a renegotiated contract that better reflects his current market value. Without an obligation to pay him a lot of money early in the 2014 league year, the Titans can let things play out deep into 2014 calendar before making a final decision.
Here’s an important factor to consider when it comes to Johnson, who remains on track for the sixth 1,000-yard season of his six-year career. If he’s not on the team, who will the fans be paying to watch? On a roster bereft of star power, keeping Johnson could still be the best strategy for putting butts in the seats.
Again, the final decision will at least be influenced by the identity of the coach. Unless the Titans already have decided to fire Munchak and to replace him with someone who definitely doesn’t want Chris Johnson on the team, it’s too early to predict with certainty what will happen to him.
And that brings us to Cutler. It’s impossible to know whether the Titans would want Cutler without knowing who the coach is. What if they hire Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose first order of business as the head coach in Denver was to trade Cutler?
Will the Titans be “interested” in Cutler if he hits the open market? Sure they will. Any team without a franchise quarterback would at least have some interest in a guy who could still become in the right circumstances a true franchise quarterback — especially if the price is right.
Will Cutler be the quarterback in Tennessee? A lot of dominoes will have to fall a certain way before that ever happens.
The first domino to fall would be a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with a very long history of loyal service to the franchise. Here’s hoping that the full scope of Mike Munchak’s contributions to the team and his responsibility for its current state are considered before he’s pushed out the door.
Here’s also hoping the Titans are sure they’ll be able to find someone who’ll be able to get more out of a roster that resides far from the top of the league when it comes to assessing overall football talent.