Unpacking Tennessee Titans

Unpacking Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans aren’t doing anything surprising, but they are doing what’s necessary.

The Titans released veterans Taylor Lewan, Robert Woods, Zach Cunningham and Randy Bullock on Wednesday, saving $37.26 million against the salary cap. Per OverTheCap, the Titans are $12.41 million under the cap, putting new general manager Ran Carthon in a better position to improve the roster this offseason.

Lewan was an obvious candidate for release. The nine-year veteran was one of the most important Titans draft picks of the last decade, making three Pro Bowls and anchoring an offensive line that led the Titans to four playoff berths. But with just one year left on his contract and coming off two ACL surgeries in three years, cutting Lewan to save nearly $15 million with no dead cap penalty was as close to a no-brainer decision as Carthon inherited. It was such an expected decision that Lewan himself was on the record in the fall and during Super Bowl media week that he expected it to happen.

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Parting ways with Woods is a little bit tougher of a decision. Woods had three years remaining on his contract and carries a minor dead cap penalty in his contract, per Spotrac, but the Titans still save nearly $10 million by releasing him. Woods led the Titans in receiving yards in 2022 but did so in the worst season of his career by yards gained and yards per catch. Woods accounted for more yardage and twice as many touchdowns in nine games with the Los Angeles Rams in 2021 than he did in 17 games with the Titans in 2022.

Injuries limited Cunningham throughout the 2022 season. He landed on injured reserve twice because of elbow injuries and only played in six games, logging 24 tackles. He made more tackles in four games with the Titans in 2021 after the team claimed off waivers. Cunningham had two years left on his contract and by cutting him the Titans are saving almost $9 million.

Releasing Bullock saves the Titans about $2 million in 2023.

Why these moves make sense

These moves show where Carthon’s sights are set. Woods, Lewan and Bullock certainly could’ve contributed to the Titans in 2023. If the Titans’ goal is to maximize the chances of winning a Super Bowl next season, these moves don’t add up. But if the plan is to build the kind of roster that can contend year after year by addressing weaknesses in free agency, this was the only move.

Offensive line and wide receiver are the Titans’ two biggest positions of need. Holding onto Lewan and Woods keeps the floor for those groups a little higher, but freeing up $28 million in cap space to use on the younger, faster and more versatile players coach Mike Vrabel wants raises the ceiling. There’s more risk of getting worse, but there’s more flexibility to build toward a stronger future.

Why these moves might not be the end

With just four moves, the Titans have climbed from having the third-least available cap space to the 14th-most in the NFL. And the Titans might not be done making moves. If they also release outside linebacker Bud Dupree and center Ben Jones, they can get $26.2 million below the salary cap. Throw quarterback Ryan Tannehill into the bunch, and the Titans can be as far as $44 million below the cap.

Carthon said at his introductory press conference that he wants to evaluate the entire roster before making decisions. The fact that he moved quickly on Woods, Cunningham and Lewan but is continuing to examine his options on others makes sense, especially with Tannehill.

But the reality is teams rarely make moves just to get under the salary cap. If a GM wants cap space, it usually means he wants to spend money. And if the Titans want to spend the kind of money needed to fix their holes, they’ll need to free up even more money.

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