2014 NFL Free Agency: Tennessee Titans Should Target RB Ben Tate This Offseason

Ben Tate

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it seems that the CJ2K era in Tennessee may be coming to an end, though some contest that it’s been over for quite some time now with Chris Johnson looking like a shell of his former self since the season that bore his nickname. He hasn’t eclipsed 1,400 rushing yards since 2009 and isn’t particularly useful near the end zone either.

Set to make $8 million guaranteed in 2014, there’s a good chance that the Tennessee Titans release or attempt to trade Johnson before the man’s able to collect his paper. With perennial underachiever Shonn Greene behind Johnson in the pecking order, the Titans’ running back situation is among the NFL‘s most dire heading into the offseason.

While Greene may be remotely useful in goal-line formations, his effectiveness as an every-down back simply isn’t there. Tennessee is currently among the middle of the pack in terms of cap space and have a little wiggle room to upgrade through free agency. If the front office decides to go this route, their main target should be Houston Texans‘ backup Ben Tate.

After Arian Foster‘s season-ending injury late in 2013, Tate was given the opportunity to improve his stock in the midst of his contract year. After consistent production in Foster’s place — he wasn’t held to under 50 yards rushing in any start — Tate’s stock has done just that as he’s ascended to the top of the free agent pool.

What exactly do scouts see in this kid? Well, firstly, from a purely physical standpoint, Tate is set to be entering the prime of his career. He turns 26 at the beginning of next season and has already impressed thus far into his career. He’s a hard-nosed runner who’s not afraid of contact but often doesn’t find it with his outstanding backfield vision.

When the Houston offensive line created a hole, Tate usually located it and picked up quality yards. His physical tools are certainly there — he’s 220-pounds and runs a 4.43 40 — but he also possesses the intangibles that a three-down NFL back requires.

While stuck behind one of the league’s top backs in Foster, Tate still found a way to produce for the Texans in 2013. Even before starting he was one of the more utilized reserve men in the league — he was seeing around 10 touches a game while spelling Foster — because he’s just too talented to keep on the bench. He finished the season with 771 rushing yards while battling several cracked ribs for much of the year.

Additionally, Tate is a perfect fit for the Tennessee offense. He’s that rare mash-up of power and speed that an offense can build their foundation around. With a subpar O-line, they’ll surely need a back who can keep their legs moving after initial contact; Tate is among the league’s best in this respect.

With new coach Ken Wisenhunt at the helm and presumably a new quarterback in 2014, the Titans will surely desire the stability that Tate provides as well. He’s a competent pass catcher who can provide a nice check-down option for what likely will be a first-year signal caller.

The single concern with Tate is his proneness to injury. He’s been nicked up in just about every conceivable way since his arrival in Houston. In 2010 he missed the entire season with a broken ankle, last season it was his hamstring and foot and then most recently it was the cracked ribs. Tate reminds me a bit of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Mr. Glass, from Unbreakable; he just can’t seem to walk down the street without catching the injury bug.

Still, I think Tate is one of the safest bets available and may come at less-than market value. Sure, the Titans could also look to scoop a back in the draft — Arizona‘s Ka’Deem Carey or Ohio State‘s Carlos Hyde should still be available in the second round — but Tate would provide the immediate impact that Tennessee needs. Expect GM Ruston Webster to look to work something out with Tate before other options are explored.

Kyle Pappas covers the Kansas  City Chiefs and NFL for RantSports.com. Follow him on  Twitter @KylePap or add him  to your network on Google+.

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  • Gary

    You actually said Injury prone and safest bets to describe Tate. That’s a contradiction if you ask me. The safest bet would be to keep Chris Johnson. Why would you want Ben Tate over Chris Johnson? CJ is reliable, hasn’t missed a game and has rushed for 1k yds every season. You say “shell of his former self”. What’s that based on? Is he supposed to rush for 2k every season? Of course not! Only 13 backs had 1k yds this past season and CJ was 11th in the league in rushing. Peterson was 5th and only had 189 more yds than CJ. Forte was 2nd with 1,339 which is only 262 more than CJ. It’s not a given that a RB will have 1k yds, much less 2k. I do understand that CJ is not a powerback like Lynch,Tate or Peterson but he is very effective if the offense plays to his strengths. He’s much better in space than between the tackles. The Titans have been absolutley horrible at runing screen plays, which are the type of plays where CJ would be the most dangerous in. So if you were to say that he doesn’t fit into the type of offense the Titans want to run, then I would understand going with a different type of back, say like a LaGarrette Blount or Carlos Hyde in the draft, but to come with “shell of his former self” is totally not accurate. He may not be 4.24 fast anymore but he’s still faster than anyone else on the field. He may still be 4.24 fast for all we know, but the point is he’s still a franchise back. The only reason this is even a discussion is because of his salary. For some reason it bothers a lot of people. Doesn’t seem the bother the guy writing the check though. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the new coaching staff has to say about it.

    • Kyle Pappas

      Chris Johnson has recorded under 50 rushing yards in a game 13 times over the past two season. He’s garbage against solid D-lines. Never beats first tackler. He is extremely overpaid as well, but his performance just isn’t there. He’s too easy to completely take out of the game now. And 1,000 rushing yards qualifies you as a middle of the pack back at best. Shonn Greene eclipsed 1,000 yards two times in his career. Shonn. Greene.

      • Gary

        You’re not taking in consideration how terrible the O-line has been the past two seasons. No back on this team has done any better than 3.8 yds per carry. Not Shonne Green, Jackie Battle, Darius Reynaud or CJ. CJ isn’t garbage against solid D-lines. The O-Line IS garbage against solid D-lines. Especially when they know what to expect from the terrible play calls. The offense has been a complete dumpster fire aside from a few games. CJ had 7 games last season where he had less than 50 yds but in those games, he only had 15, 10, 12, 9, 12, 12, 13 carries and in the SF game, when he had only 9 carries, he avg 4.3 yds per carry. Why didn’t he have more carries when he was avg 4.3 yds per carry? The O-line not only needs to block better for CJ but also needs to protect Locker better or who ever the QB is. That’s been a huge problem and Munchak didn’t get it fixed. Yeah we got new players but they were still not very good. They got better as the season went on but you have to wonder if they were getting the coaching they should have been getting. Backs are not going to have 100+ yds every game. Marshall Faulk was great but he only had 17 rushing yds against the Titans in SB XXXIV but he burned them in the passing game with 5 receptions for 90 yds. There are a lot of variables in the run game that must be looked before we can call CJ garbage. CJ is just not a powerback and if that’s the problem then ok, get a powerback but smarter teams will figure out how to use CJ’s skill set.