With Jared Cook likely headed out the door with the decision not to franchise him, you can add tight end up near the top of the Tennessee Titans’ need list.
The Titans already were going to have to work on the offensive line and the defense this off-season, and now with Cook gone, the challenge of retooling the roster just got more difficult.
You can argue the merit of Cook’s production and his use over the first four years and have a strong case not to pay him big money.
But it is still puzzling why a team not exactly overloaded with playmakers would allow a soon-to-be 26-year-old tight end to walk away without a fight. The Titans could have easily given Cook the franchise tender at the $6.07 million tight end level. Cook probably wouldn’t have signed it right away, knowing that he potentially could get $10.54 million if he could convince an arbitrator that he really was a wide receiver in a tight end position.
Had Cook won, all the Titans would have had to do was yank the tender offer and send Cook into the open market then, or scrambled to work on a long-term contract.
If Cook leaves, don’t be surprised if he tries to head home. Cook is from the Atlanta area, and his hometown Falcons have everything he could possibly want – a Super Bowl-contending team, a passing offense with weapons like Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside, a standout quarterback in Matt Ryan and a potential need at tight end with Tony Gonzalez likely retiring.
There will be other suitors as well, and Cook, because of his age, size and potential, will probably be the top tight end available on the market via free agency or the draft.
As for the Titans, what do they do now at the position? This year’s tight end draft class isn’t particularly strong. Craig Stevens is solid, but Taylor Thompson is still unproven as a receiver.
On the free agent market, there are stop-gap veterans like Dustin Keller, Delanie Walker, Dennis Pitta, Fred Davis and Martellus Bennett and Anthony Fasano. None of those players have the type of big-chunk yardage potential.
With George Henshaw returning as tight ends coach, the Titans might be better off signing a guy like James Casey of Houston, who is technically listed as a fullback, and turning him into a Frank Wycheck-type tight end.
This is a big off-season for the Titans in free agency, because the entire organization is on notice that things need to improve, and no one draft class can quick-fix all that ails the team.
Granted, Ruston Webster is still new as the general manager, but the fallout from the Mike Reinfeldt regime (and some of those still around) has not been good in free agency.
Over the past five years, Nate Washington is probably the most productive free agent the Titans have signed. Most of the others have not made much impact Re: Barrett Ruud, Kelly Herndon, Daniel Graham, Jovan Haye, etc.