It appears quite possible that other than No. 1 receiver A.J. Brown, that Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be throwing to almost an entirely new set of pass catchers in 2021.
Brown is coming off is second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season in as many years and is under contract through 2022.
Elsewhere, though, the Titans have some decisions to make at both the wide receiver and tight end positions, where numerous players are either free agents or in injury limbo.
The top two eligible free agents are wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith. The Titans declined Davis' fifth-year option, and the former fifth overall pick responded with his best season to to date with 65 catches for 984 yards and five touchdowns.
Smith, who also had a career-high in receptions, caught 41 passes for 448 yards and scored eight touchdowns, as he was one of Tannehill's favorite red zone targets.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson said he will make offers to try and retain both players this off-season, but indicated that that might not be an easy task if and when other suitors get involved on the open market.
“Proud of both of those guys. I had the same conversation at the end of the season with those guys that I had with Jack Conklin a year ago. 'You’ve done everything we’ve asked of you here, and we’re going to be competitive in trying to keep you, but at the end of the day you’re going to have a decision to make if you have suitors with other teams,'” Robinson said. “I had that same discussion with those two guys, and we’ll see what we can figure out, but at the end of the day if they choose to capitalize on free agency in the market, I wish them nothing but the best. They’ve done everything that we’ve asked them to do.”
Conklin wound up spurning the Titans to accept a deal with the Cleveland Browns.
Elsewhere, Titans blocking tight ends MyCole Pruitt and Geoff Swaim are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents as well, though one or both could come back at a reasonable price. Meanwhile, Anthony Firkser, who had 39 catches this past season, is set to be a restricted free agent. He is a player the Titans would need to retain especially if Smith walks away in free agency.
At wide out, slot receiver Adam Humphries' situation continues to be a mystery, as he carries a high cap number and did not play the final month of the season due to a concussion. Robinson was vague Tuesday when addressing Humphries' situation. Humphries suffered a concussion against the Bengals on Nov. 1, passed the protocol and returned for one game on Dec. 6 against Cleveland, and then was shut down for the season on injured reserve.
“There’s nothing more important – we’ve said it a million times – than the health and the safety of our players. That was a pretty tough hit he took there,” Robinson said. “We’re just continuing to monitor and talk to the doctors and talk to Adam (Humphries), and make sure he’s back to normal and just kind of see how that goes.”
Humphries' salary might also be an issue, given now snug the Titans are expected to be against the salary cap. He has a $6.25 million base salary and is scheduled to count $9.47 million against the cap for 2021.
Kalif Raymond is also set to be an unrestricted free agent for the Titans as well.
In working to replenish what is lost in free agency, Robinson said that players who catch the football and can run after the catch is his most important priority – more so than just adding speed at the position. He also indicated that blocking downfield is an important trait that the Titans look for in receivers.
“I think the priority for that position would be to get open and catch the football, and then run with it after you catch it. There’s a lot of fast guys in this league that can’t catch, a lot of fast guys that can’t get open,” Robinson said. “I think that when it comes to that position specifically, however they get open. A.J. (Brown) gets open different than Kalif Raymond, Kalif gets open different than Corey (Davis). They all get open different ways, but we want guys that can get open, catch the football, run with it after they catch it.
“One of the more unsung jobs is their ability to block because we’ve got a guy we like to hand the ball to a lot, and we’ve got to have guys that can go in and dig out those safeties, dig out those weakside linebackers.”