Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans

INDIANAPOLIS − The Tennessee Titans hold the No. 11 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

For now.

Titans general manager Ran Carthon made clear Tuesday at the 2023 NFL Combine he’s willing to maneuver his way up or down the draft order to get the best players for his team.

“We’re always open for business,” Carthon said. “All the guys, you’ve got my number. Call me. It’s always about being open to trying to continue to add value. We’ll listen and field every call and see what comes from it.”

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Trades happen in the first round of every NFL draft, but this year’s class is expected to have more movement than usual. Plenty of teams need quarterbacks and up to four passers are projected in the top 10. Teams such as the Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles picking ahead of the Titans are set at quarterback and hold all the leverage.

On the flip side, some of the Titans’ biggest needs are at positions that figure to have plenty of talent available after the top 11 picks. If the Titans move back, they could add extra draft capital while still grabbing a starter to fill a hole.

Carthon says all options are on the table, and all options make sense. Here are the arguments for the Titans trading up, trading down and staying put in the first round.

Why the Titans should trade up in NFL draft

The Titans don’t need a quarterback in the same way the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and Las Vegas Raiders do. But Ryan Tannehill only has one year left on his contract, his production has dipped the last two years and in a conference stacked with passers like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence, the Titans are in danger of being left behind in a literal arms race.

If Carthon’s convinced Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis or Florida’s Anthony Richardson can be the Titans’ Mahomes, Allen or Burrow, moving up is worth the cost.

Trading up also presents the Titans the opportunity to set the market at offensive tackle, receiver or cornerback. If Carthon determines there’s only one player at a given position who can sufficiently plug one of the Titans’ biggest holes, making sure that player is available to the Titans is a must.

Why the Titans should trade down

ESPN’s Scouts Inc., ranks eight receivers, eight tackles and 10 cornerbacks in its top 64 prospects. That means roughly 41% of the players projected in the top two rounds fit the Titans’ three biggest needs. The Titans have options, and moving later in the first round in order to acquire more draft capital allows them to make the most of those options.

The Titans only have six picks in 2023, and only a little more than $12 million in cap space to enrich the roster through free agency and contract extensions. Building through rookie contracts is a lot easier than with pricy free agents, something the Titans learned with stellar draft classes in 2016 and 2019.

Why the Titans should stay put at No. 11

Easy doesn’t always equal best, but staying put and having a clear, concise plan for draft weekend is the easiest choice for a first-year GM. Draft day wheeling and dealing can work, but it can also lead to overaggressive teams giving away too many assets and to teams that trade back adding plenty of bottom-of-roster talents without picking up any difference-makers.

The Titans’ six picks probably aren’t enough to fill every need, and No. 11 probably won’t be early enough to draft a franchise quarterback. But when it comes to the cohesion and planning for how to best approach the Titans’ weaknesses, knowing exactly when you’re going to pick with multiple strategies reacting to the rest of the league is a huge asset.

What’s the best option?

If Carthon believes the Titans’ biggest issue is quarterback, the best move is trading up and buying high in the draft. If the goal is to deepen the roster, trading down does the most good. If Carthon deems the Titans can return to the playoffs by plugging their biggest holes in the first and second rounds, staying put makes the most sense.

Given where the Titans’ needs fall, where the strengths of the draft are, how many teams want to move up and the state of the AFC, trading down feels like it does the Titans the most good. But no team should turn down a chance at a star quarterback if there’s a path to getting one.

Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at nsuss@gannett.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.