Titans’ best-case-scenario wish list for NFL free agency
The Grand Introduction
FOX Sports Tennessee offers a best-case scenario wish list for the Tennessee Titans during free agency, a subjective countdown that's based on three factors: 1) The Titans' available salary cap funds ($43.27 million as of March 5). 2) The positional need/scheme fit for certain free agents, particularly on defense. 3) The plausibility of the big-name free agents relocating to Nashville. For example, All-Pro D-tackle Ndamukong Suh -- coveted by all 32 teams -- will likely re-sign with the Lions ... or a big-market/flagship franchise like the Jets, Giants, Bears, Seahawks, Eagles, Colts, Raiders or Falcons. One last note: We're expecting either Zach Mettenberger or Marcus Mariota to be the Titans' quarterback of the future. (Photos: Kevin Hoffman/Tim Heitman/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
12 -- RB C.J. Spiller, Bills
2014 STATS: 425 total yards (300 rushing), 1 TD ... SKINNY: 1) From 2011-13, Spiller was a reliable and durable asset for the Bills, averaging 1,217 total yards/5.3 TDs. 2) At 27 years old and with no severe leg injuries on his resume, Spiller should hold great Plan B value for teams that don't land DeMarco Murray (Cowboys) ... or draft studs like Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley or Tevin Coleman next month. (FYI: The 2015 class of tailbacks may be one for the books.) 3) On a smaller scale, Spiller may be the ideal complement to Bishop Sankey (702 total yards/2 TDs in 2014) -- the first running back off the NFL draft board last year. With Buffalo, Spiller shared carries with Fred Jackson. 4) Whatever their acquisition strategy, the Titans (only 1,447 combined rushing yards in 2014) must show monumental improvement in the running game.
Mark L. Baer
11 -- CB Byron Maxwell, Seahawks
2014 STATS: 2 INTs/45 tackles ... SKINNY: 1) Maxwell started a career-high 12 games last season for the Seahawks, the NFL's No. 1 defense. 2) Of its last six regular-season outings in 2014, Seattle surrendered a grand total of 39 points (or 6.3 per game). 3) At 6 feet, 202 pounds, Maxwell has the requisite size to cover the NFL's biggest, tallest receivers. 4) The Clemson product had a crucial interception of Aaron Rodgers in the NFC title game. 5) The physical Maxwell would bolster a middling Titans defense that ranked 31st against the run and 16th against the pass last year.
10 -- OT Orlando Franklin, Broncos
SKINNY: 1) The Titans already have a solid nucleus in place along the offensive line -- Taylor Lewan (left tackle), center Brian Schwenke and guards Andy Levitre/Chance Warmack. But Franklin could help raise Tennessee to elite-level status in the trenches. 2) Franklin has been an invaluable and durable fixture along the Broncos' O-line (right tackle) for four seasons, starting in all 63 games. 3) Citing Pro Football Reference, Franklin currently rates as one of the AFC's best (and most unheralded) right tackles.
9 -- LB Brian Orakpo, Redskins
STATS: 40 career sacks, 6 forced fumbles ... SKINNY: 1) Of his four complete seasons (2009-11, 2013), Orakpo has amassed a minimum of 8.5 sacks per year. As such, he should be attractive to prospective clubs -- especially now that Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul have been franchise tagged by the Chiefs and Giants, respectively. 2) A three-time Pro Bowler, a healthy Orakpo should be an immediate difference-maker in 2015.
8 -- LB Jabaal Sheard, Browns
STATS: 23 career sacks ... SKINNY: 1) Pass-rushing edge defenders are at a premium in today's NFL. 2) Sheard has incurred a mild drop-off since his monster rookie campaign with the Browns (8.5 sacks/5 forced fumbles in 2011), but that shouldn't be a deterrent for defenses which primarily operate out of a 3-4 base. 3) As a rookie, Sheard once accounted for five sacks in a five-week span. 4) Sheard would bring stability to a Titans defense which ranked 31st against the run last season -- 137 yards per game, including six outings of 150-plus ground yards allowed.
7 -- CB Kareem Jackson, Texans
2014 STATS: 3 INTS, 9 pass deflections, 48 tackles ... SKINNY: 1) Jackson would be an easy plug-and-play starter for the Titans, bumping Jason McCourty to the CB2 slot. 2) Pro Football Focus had Jackson ranked among the NFL's top 15 cornerbacks last season ... but it wasn't enough to entice the Texans to franchise-tag their former No. 1 pick (2010) -- at a 2015 price tag of $13 million. 3) In the dog-eat-dog world of NFL free agency, there's a certain coolness to plucking a major contributor away from a divisional rival.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
6 -- LB/DE Jerry Hughes, Bills
2014 STATS: 3 forced fumbles, 10 sacks ... SKINNY: 1) With Buffalo, Hughes has enjoyed back-to-back seasons of double-digit sacks (20 total). In 2014 alone, Hughes tallied two or more sacks three times. 2) Hughes has been a highly productive asset with the Bills, despite being undersized on paper (6-foot-2, 253 pounds). But that won't be a concern with other clubs ... since track record typically trumps physical stature. 3) Hughes may be the most coveted edge rusher in free agency -- getting preference over Greg Hardy, Brian Orakpo, Pernell McPhee and Brandon Graham. 4) Hughes is hardly a one-dimensional asset. His presence would help a Titans defense that -- stop, if you've heard this one before -- ranked 31st against the run last year.
Timothy T. Ludwig
5 -- LB Jason Worilds, Steelers
2014 STATS: 7.5 sacks, 41 tackles ... SKINNY: 1) Worilds has been an ideal fit with the 3-4 based Steelers, accounting for 15.5 sacks/84 tackles in the last two seasons. 2) Some scouting Web sites have Worilds ranked as the No. 2 free agent this offseason, among outside linebackers -- after Brian Orakpo. 3) Longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau now works for the Titans ... and Worilds could easily follow his mentor to Nashville. On paper, it's a perfect match.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportCharles LeClaire
4 -- Safety Devin McCourty, Patriots
2014 STATS: 2 INTS, 9 pass deflections, 59 tackles ... SKINNY: 1) It's implausible to believe McCourty would bolt the world champion Patriots in free agency, if the money offers were similar. He has professed a willingness to stay with New England and compete for another title. 2) That aside, the Titans would certainly have an inside edge amongst the other suitors ... dangling the carrot of Devin playing with brother Jason McCourty (a starting cornerback) on Tennessee's defense. 3) Devin McCourty (17 career INTs) has been a rock-solid defender in his first five pro seasons, seamlessly handling the roles of safety or cornerback.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
3 -- WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
2014 STATS: 85 catches, 1,318 yards, 10 TDs ... SKINNY: 1) Maclin has already racked up double-digit TDs twice in his career. By comparison, only one Titans player has scored 10-plus TDs since the franchise relocated to Tennessee -- Drew Bennett in 2004. 2) Kudos to Maclin for risking life and limb (professionally speaking, of course) and holding off all contract talks until after the 2014 campaign. He's now dealing in a position of power with the Eagles -- or whomever signs the Missouri product. (The Rams are reportedly the early favorites.) 3) On the down side, Maclin didn't record more than six receiving targets during last December (four games) -- a time when Philly folded down the stretch (1-3).
Jeffrey G. Pittenger
2 -- RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
2014 STATS: 2,261 total yards (1,845 rushing), 13 TDs ... SKINNY: 1) At 27 years old and coming off his first NFL rushing title, Murray still has a five-year window for dominating opponents. 2) Murray has notched double-digit touchdowns in consecutive seasons (23 in that span). 3) In fact, for 2013-14, Murray averaged 1,400 total yards, 11.5 TDs, 50-plus catches and 60-plus targets. 4) On the down side ... not every club would happily pay Murray roughly $12 million annually. From the teams' perspective, why break the bank for Murray ... when you can have future studs Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, Jeremy Langford or Todd Gurley on a rookie-scale contract?
1 -- WR Randall Cobb, Packers
2014 STATS: 91 catches, 1,287 yards, 12 TDs ... SKINNY: 1) The Titans aren't your typical 2-14 team in need of massive changes. With a potentially dynamic offensive line, great upside at QB (Mettenberger or Mariota) and workable parts on defense, Tennessee can greatly improve, sooner than later. That aside, this club needs playmakers ... and Cobb should be the absolute No. 1 choice. 2) If only the Packers had doubled-up on receiver contract extensions last summer -- they might have re-signed Cobb for substantially less than Jordy Nelson's four years/$39 million. Instead, the 2015 market for Cobb knows no bounds. 3) Cobb is a freakish athlete and potential WR1 for the vast majority of clubs. 4) The Maryville, Tenn. native and Kentucky alum already has roots in the mid-south.