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3 early free agents Titans must target for 2021 offseason

The Tennessee Titans remain one of the more intriguing teams in the NFL heading into the 2021-22 campaign as the AFC South franchise has no doubt found immense success over the course of the last several seasons despite having some serious issues on defense — especially in 2020-21.

With the emergence of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry taking the league by storm, and up-and-coming wide receiver A.J. Brown already reaching the Pro Bowl, the Titans are slated to remain quite dangerous on offense for years to come. However, it remains to be seen as to whether or not the team’s defense — or lack thereof — can keep up as the Titans continue to chase both postseason berths and the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

While the Titans’ core will remain intact on both offense and defense heading into 2021-22, Tennessee does have a ton of pending free agents that will either need to be retained or replaced via the open market and 2021 NFL Draft. If the Titans can not only fill these looming voids, but also improve on both sides of the line of scrimmage, Tennessee will once again need to be considered as one of the top dogs in the AFC.

Even with a suspect defense, the Titans are just two seasons removed from an appearance in the AFC Championship Game with Tennessee also winning an AFC South title in 2020-21.

3. Matthew Judon, Pass Rusher

It is no secret that the Tennessee Titans’ most glaring need is along the defensive front as this team simply could not rush the passer in 2020-21. By far the team’s biggest weakness this past season, the Titans have to go out and find themselves another player that can get to opposing quarterbacks while teaming up with up-and-coming pass rusher Harold Landry III.

Although Landry III has been productive for the Titans through his first three seasons atop the highest level, he can’t do it all by himself. With Landry III currently serving as the team’s only reliable pass rusher with the Jadeveon Clowney-Vic Beasley experiment going south in a hurry for the Titans in 2020-21, Tennessee has to be aggressive in terms of the free agent market for pass rushers this time around.

With that in mind, Baltimore Ravens pass rusher Matthew Judon should be at the top of general manager Jon Robinson’s list. Judon has already produced 34.5 career sacks over the course of 76 regular season games across five seasons with the Ravens. He tallied six sacks across 14 regular season appearances last season and notably recorded a single-season career-high nine sacks across 16 regular season games back in 2019-20.

Although the Titans will certainly spend its late first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on a rookie pass rusher, Tennessee absolutely needs to bring in an established presence along the defensive front. Judon would also fit right in with head coach Mike Vrabel’s approach of physicality and dominance throughout his roster.

If not Judon, though, as the Ravens — and other suitors — will certainly be present as this process plays out, there will obviously be the 2021 NFL Draft in addition to some other free agent pass-rushing options like Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson or longtime Washington Football Team standout Ryan Kerrigan — among some others.

2. Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver

The Tennessee Titans previously chose to decline wide receiver Corey Davis’ fifth-year option after selecting the former collegiate standout with the No. 5 overall pick back in 2017. Such a decision had to be made before the 26-year-old pass catcher’s fourth season as Davis encountered a career year in 2020-21 — something that almost certainly would have changed Tennessee’s mind.

Nonetheless, it now appears as though the Titans are going to have to spend a pretty penny if the AFC South franchise ultimately intends to retain Davis. Although a vital piece of the puzzle down in Nashville, Davis is one of several options that the Titans can turn to at the wide receiver position.

In addition to Davis, A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, Chris Godwin and others, Chicago Bears wideout Allen Robinson seems to be the bell of the ball to most — and for good reason. Robinson can flat out play, though he has been stuck in Chicago as a member of one of the more boring and lackluster offenses in the league.

With the relationship between Robinson and the Bears brass worsening over the course of the last few seasons, it seems more and more likely that the standout pass catcher will be playing elsewhere in 2021-22.  Even though the relationship between the Bears and Robinson is beyond repair, the veteran wideout will have many suitors in the coming months as the Titans will need to be aggressive here.

It is worth noting that Robinson is one of the few free agent wide outs that would be a no-brainer upgrade from Davis as the Titans standout has really come into his own. Even so, Robinson simply has all the tools that would greatly benefit any team but especially a legitimate contender like the Titans that need just a little help getting over the hump.

Perhaps adding one last wrinkle to this potential pairing, Robinson began his career as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, arguably the Titans’ biggest rival with Tennessee continuing to beat up on their divisional foe as of late. Robinson’s time in Jacksonville didn’t exactly end well either as the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent may very well enjoy taking down the Jaguars not once but twice per season moving forward.

1. Jonnu Smith, Tight End

The Tennessee Titans will attempt to retain at least a few of the team’s slew of pending free agents while tight end Jonnu Smith should probably be near the top of general manager Jon Robinson’s list. With fellow Titans’ tight ends MyCole Pruitt and Anthony Firkser also slated to become pending free agents this offseason, their potential absences would make the presence of Smith that much more important to Tennessee.

Although multiple tight end sets are the Titans’ thing with Tennessee finding immense success with such a strategy, Smith really brings it all together with his versatility and athleticism. Smith can catch passes all over the field, utilize his size and strength to block and even run the ball out of the backfield on occasion.

Even though he isn’t quite a household name just yet, Smith continues to improve each and every season while the Titans tight end is definitely on the cusp of a true breakout season. Smith also finds the end zone pretty regularly, which helps the entire Titans offense but especially the tandem of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry, the latter of whom receives a ton of attention everywhere on the field let alone in the redzone.

With fewer tight end options out there than wide receiver options as far as the Titans are concerned, retaining Smith over a player like Corey Davis may need to occur due to the availability across the free agent market. Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry will be the most expensive option in all likelihood with Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski seeming more and more likely to stay put.

One intriguing option outside of Smith, Henry and Gronkowski is a possible reunion with New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook, who notably began his NFL playing career with the Titans. Of course, Smith a much younger option than Cook and the Titans don’t necessarily need another veteran leader in the locker room but more so as many young, athletic and prolific players as possible.