When the Tennessee Titans fired Mike Munchak, immediately the buzz started surrounding whether or not injury-prone Jake Locker would be the quarterback for next season. And with running back Chris Johnson due for an $8 million paycheck next season, many believe he should be cut. While so many focus on the fate of Tennessee’s quarterback, running back and new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, those are only a small part of Tennessee’s offseason worries.
The two biggest decisions the Titans must make are whether or not to keep cornerback Alterraun Verner, who is going to be a free agent and demand more money, and whether or not to keep safety Bernard Pollard, who was signed on a one-year deal in free agency last season. It sounds crazy that two defensive players are the key to the Titans’ future, but both players transformed Tennessee’s defense into one of the top pass defenses in the NFL.
Verner led the NFL in cornerback rating for a long time despite finishing fifth. For the first half of the season – a majority of which Locker was quarterback – Verner was the most dominant pass defender in the NFL, but once Locker was injured, the interception-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick took over and the defense was on the field for a majority of the game he started making errors.
The real centerpiece of Tennessee’s defensive transformation was the addition of Pollard. The Titans have always tended to lack the edge necessary to compete against the better quarterbacks in the NFL. Matt Schaub may have had a falling out last season, but in the past he torched Tennessee’s defense nearly every year. Pollard helped lead Tennessee to the No. 11 passing defense in the NFL. Not only was he a vocal leader, but he took charge in practices as well. Pollard is the veteran presence needed to lead the young Titans’ defense to playoff success.
Tennessee’s management has shown a tendency to make bad decisions with free agency and letting players go too soon. Just look at some NFL teams like the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions over the past few seasons who have multiple ex-Titans on their roster. Unlike other players that Tennessee has let go in the past, Pollard and Verner are irreplaceable. Verner is the most talented CB the Titans have had in years, and Pollard brings a ferocity to the defense that has been missing in the past.
Whether the new Titans’ coach decides to go in a new direction at quarterback and running back remains to be seen, but if Tennessee’s new coach wants to come into a playoff capable team, he must make every effort to retain Verner and Pollard. Pass defense is more important than anything else should be for the Titans, because it will be impossible to win the AFC South if they don’t have a secondary that can control Andrew Luck and whoever the Houston Texans draft No. 1overall.